Tale of one city is an endless source of drama

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.

So what if that’s not an original beginning? It’s still a fair description of the latest goings on in Augusta, such as City Administrator Fred Russell making a pitch to sell the Deans Bridge Road landfill and Commissioner Bill Lockett calling for a criminal investigation of just about everything in city government.

And then there’s the Richmond County school system coming in at the bottom in adequate yearly progress, Augusta being ranked the No. 10 “brokest city” by an online news magazine, Russell being one of eight finalists for the county manager’s job in Sarasota, Fla.; sparse commissioner participation in a workshop aimed at solving next year’s projected $7.39 million budget deficit, and David Fry headed to trial on bribery charges. Perhaps.

 

GARBAGE IN, GARBAGE OUT: Russell called selling the Deans Bridge Road landfill “a 30,000-foot high idea.”

“These are strange times we live in, and people that are willing to take advantage of those times will be successful as we go forward,” he said.

Commissioner J.R. Hatney, who hates privatization, outsourcing and enterprise funds with a purple passion, said he was puzzled by the idea.

“Are we drinking before we try to do this, or do we get drunk after?” he asked.

Russell probably thinks he must have been drunk to take the administrator’s job. But I don’t think selling the landfill is a good idea either. With as much garbage that comes out of commissioners’ mouths, unless they could get a “political rhetoric” rate they’d bankrupt the city.

 

SIX OF ONE, HALF A DOZEN OF THE OTHER: Lockett says city officials are either incompetent or criminal and he wants an outside forensic audit that must include but not be limited to the TEE Center parking garage, land acquisition, leases and financing; utility department water rates for golf courses and other special agreements, the landfill, the transit department and municipal golf course privatizations, retroactive pay raises, SPLOST projects and the land bank.

“If we come up with nothing illegal, that will be fine with me,” he said.

 

A MATTER OF PERSPECTIVE: The bad news is the Richmond County school system performed the worst statewide among districts with similar student demographics, according to final 2010-11 “adequate yearly progress” results.

The good news is that if you start reading from the bottom of the list, we’re No. 1.

School Board President Alex Howard said, “It’s embarrassing to me.” School board Vice President Venus Cain said, “The way it’s done is unfair.”

So what else is new?

 

I’M LATE. I’M LATE: Mayor Deke Copenhaver didn’t have time to comment on Augusta’s No. 10 “brokest city” ranking by online news magazine The Daily Beast, he told a columnist in Columbus, Ga., which was No. 1 in the national survey.

Apparently, his time is worth more than 2 cents.

 

THAT OUGHT TO FIX HIM: Russell was a finalist for the Sarasota, Fla., job, but rumor has it that when he heard Commissioner Alvin Mason say on TV he’d be happy to see Russell leave, Russell withdrew his name from contention.

 

FROM SMORGASBORD TO CHECKERBOARD: Only the mayor and commissioners Jerry Brigham, Wayne Guilfoyle and Hatney heard the various options Russell’s offered for balancing the 2012 budget. Several others are still confused about what year they’re balancing.

“As for the budget, it’s going to be a smorgasbord of going to the Subway shop and deciding whether you want ham or turkey or whether it’s going to be banana peppers or lettuce,” Brigham said after Russell had gone over the options.

“I think we’re at the veggie stage now,” Russell said.

One option includes cutting funding for all outside agencies, including the library and health department. Surprisingly, the conservative Brigham spoke against the cuts, especially Project Access which provides indigent care.

“Overall, it does affect quality of life in this community,” he said. “I don’t think this commission wants to eliminate that.”

“You sound a lot like a Democrat,” Russell said.

“The longer I sit up here, the more I find out there’s less difference between Democrats and Republicans,” Brigham said. “We have certain obligations we have to look at. We have a nice big checkerboard with lots of options.”

Russell agreed. “At this point, you’ve got pieces on the checkerboard to move around.”

 

ONE MAN’S BRIBE IS ANOTHER MAN’S BUSINESS OPPORTUNITY: Richmond County Superior Court Judge Carl C. Brown Jr. did not accept a plea deal that would have meant a probated sentence for David Fry, the lawyer accused of trying to bribe Commissioners Alvin Mason and Corey Johnson two years ago for their votes to approve the Trade, Event and Exhibition Center. The judge said there was obviously a difference of opinion between Fry’s attorney, Pete Theodocian, and Assistant District Attorney Adam King about what constituted bribery. So Fry seems to be headed for trial. We can only imagine when that will be.

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