Augusta Department of Recreation drama still unfolding

Augusta Commissioner Alvin Mason’s got breathing room.

Qualifying opens this week.

Everybody’s weighing in on a name for Augusta’s new university.

Fired Augusta Recreation Director Tom Beck is pursuing his lawsuit against the city while demoted Operations Manager Melinda Pearson is cleaning out gutters and doing other work totally unsuitable for a 29-year employee with a chronic illness.

 

POSTPONING THE INEVITABLE NOLLE PROSEQUI: Mason’s domestic abuse trial, scheduled to start Monday, was postponed. His attorney, Freddie Sanders, said Mason needed “more time” and “breathing room.”

It does take a lot of oxygen once Mason gets started making a point about something, but I think the “more time” thing is a big mistake because he and his wife, Velma, must have patched things up and are singing the same tune.

But you know how married life is. Touch and go from day to day. One sour note, and she could change her mind and her story. Then poof! There goes the mayor’s race.

 

SHE BURNED HER BRIDGES AND BURNED THEM UP: Qualifying begins Wednesday for local and state offices, except county commission and the school board. It will be interesting to see whether the minority caucus will come up with a replacement for Vanessa Diane Hewitt-Quinland who signed up to challenge State Court Judge John Flythe but can’t run.

Attorney Inga Hicks is rumored to be the next choice. She’d previously worked at the district attorney’s office, but was fired by district attorney Ashley Wright.

At Hewitt-Quinland’s farewell party in the solicitor’s office, she took the opportunity to say how miserable the past two years had been and just what she thought about her co-workers which was not the least bit flattering.

Everyone there, including Solicitor Chuck Evans, politely smiled and handled the affair with class and dignity (or maybe just stunned silence).

“Everybody was quite shocked,” one said. “She offended a lot of the people she worked with. It was so classless.”

Then when Hewitt-Quinland tried to qualify, she learned she couldn’t because she hasn’t been practicing for the requisite seven years. She was apparently unaware of that requirement. So she now has no job and has burned her bridges with all of her co-workers.

Sounds like the next law department hire.

 

THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS FREE INFORMATION: Speaking of the law department, I filed a freedom of information request to inspect, and possibly copy from, the files of two city employees. A week later, I received an e-mail from staff attorney Kenneth Bray stating it would take five business days to compile the information.

Five business days to get two files together? A snail could move faster than that. I figured if I were charged for five days work, I’d end up owing about $600.

So I asked for the estimated cost and just how much material was in those two files because it was going to take five days to get them together.

And voila! The very next day, I received an e-mail stating it took only two hours for the lowest paid employee in the department to produce 409 pages of “responsive” documents at $17.62 an hour. That and the copying, which I didn’t ask them to do, totaled $71.74.

I guess I’ll have to check under the sofa cushions for change.

 

FOR SOME, IT WILL ALWAYS BE MCG: The topic generating even more interest and discussion in Augusta than a downtown baseball stadium is a name for the consolidated university.

Commissioner Jerry Brigham had a resolution drawn up for commissioners to vote on requesting that “Augusta” be in the name.

GHSU President Dr. Ricardo Azziz has described the consolidated school as a “national comprehensive university,” which doesn’t signal the word “Augusta.”

Azziz said they’re always looking for a donor to name the university. You could even have it named after you if you could come up with $150 million.

Another idea is that because Paine College is having financial problems, GHSU could buy it and name the medical school the University of Paine.

 

BIDING HIS TIME: Beck knows where all the bodies in Augusta government are buried and he’s going to dig up a few.

Since being abruptly fired last month on a trumped-up accusation of time card fraud, he and his attorney have been seeking all sorts of financial records, memos and letters from city officials that will shine the light into the tunnel of time-honored time card tinkering.

Oh goody! I can’t wait to find out who all is going to be humiliated, fired and demoted after that comes out. On second thought, it never will. There are too many bodies. RIP.

Beck said he appreciates the support he’s received from people who know him in addition to total strangers who stop him on the street to say they feel he got a raw deal.

 

WHERE’S THE JUSTICE? Pearson was demoted to maintenance worker in the same time card incident that led to Beck’s firing. She took four comp days in December, and Beck signed off on her time card. A disgruntled employee complained Pearson wasn’t eligible for the comp days. And because several commissioners, especially Wayne Guilefoyle, already had it in for Beck, a witch hunt was launched with predictable results.

Beck was found guilty and fired based on lies and politics, and Pearson was demoted although she never touched the fabled time card.

She’s appealed and written commissioners, documenting the frame-up.

She’s also trying to figure out why she was demoted while an employee she supervised and recommended for termination was promoted to her job temporarily.

Also, nothing has been done about her report of another employee threatening to “put her in a headlock.”

Operations Supervisor Samuel Smith was suspended for one day without pay in February for insubordination.

In April, Pearson’s recommendation he be fired because of “an extensive disciplinary history” was sent to Employment Relations Manager Ron Clark at Deputy Administrator Bill Shanahan’s instructions. And nothing happened.

 

WHERE IS SMACK DOWN? Nothing happened either after Pearson made this April 19 report to Shanahan:

“At approximately 3:15 p.m., Wednesday, April 18, 2012, Millie Armstrong approached me in my office, stepping to the side of my desk. I would like to bring this to your attention in light of recent events that have taken place within our department and more importantly because I am concerned for my safety, as well as others, considering the history involving this employee. … At times, I have found Ms. Armstrong’s actions irrational, including those previous documented disciplinary issues and her even drawing an imaginary line at her feet daring me to cross over to engage her.

“As Ms. Armstrong entered my office yesterday, she stated, ‘I need your help.’

“I asked Ms. Armstrong what I could do for her, and she replied, ‘I want you to meet me at Smack Down because I want to put you in a head lock, the sleeper hold.’

“I could hear snickering going on in the hallway. I replied, ‘Excuse me?’ She said, ‘I want to put you in a sleeper hold.’ I replied, ‘No m’am, that won’t happen.’ Ms. Armstrong asked, ‘Why, I’ll wake you up.’

“I suggested why doesn’t she just go back to her co-workers as they were snickering in the hallway. She replied, ‘I don’t want to do them; I want to put you in the hold.’

“I informed her that she wasn’t going to put her hands on me and she said that she would make some money if I let her do that. I told her I didn’t know what she was talking about and told her to go back to her co-workers … that I wasn’t interested. … Ms. Armstrong was persistent…. I called for Ms. Dean to assist me with having Ms. Armstrong leave my office.”

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For the record