After simmering down for the holidays, politics was back on the front burner in Augusta.
Four new commissioners were sworn into office; a new mayor pro tem was elected; the U.S. Justice Department rejected state Rep. Barbara Sims’ legislation to move Augusta Commission elections from November to July; and Richmond County Sheriff Richard Roundtree’s inaugural ball was a smashing success.
Retired Augusta Judicial Circuit Chief Judge William M. Fleming Jr. administered the oath to District 3 Commissioner Mary Davis; Superior Court Judge Carl Brown did the honors for District 1 Commissioner Bill Fennoy and Super District 9 Commissioner Marion Williams; and Richmond County Civil and Magistrate Court Chief Judge William D. Jennings III swore in District 7 Commissioner Donnie Smith.
The commission then elected Commissioner Corey Johnson as mayor pro tem, but not without a challenge. Commissioner Joe Jackson nominated Johnson and immediately moved that the nominations be closed. Williams said the nominations shouldn’t be closed before others could be made because that would mean they’d have only one choice. He was overruled by City Attorney Andrew MacKenzie, who said that if the first candidate nominated wasn’t elected, other nominations could be made and voted on.
Many in the audience disagreed. Some said that wasn’t right because Jackson had actually made two motions instead of one – the nomination and the motion to close the nominations. When one lady leaned forward and asked city Administrator Fred Russell whether he could do that, Russell said he could under the city’s rules.
Anyway, Johnson was elected with nine votes, and Williams abstained, neither of which surprised anybody.
CAN’T WE JUST ALL SIT ALONG: Though Mayor Deke Copenhaver had said he planned to rearrange commission seating so Williams would not sit to his immediate left, where the 9th District commissioner traditionally sits, he apparently changed his mind because Williams was sitting right there beside him at Wednesday’s meeting.
When asked what happened, Williams said the mayor understood after they talked it over.
THE LAW OF UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES: In response to Georgia’s request to pre-clear Sims’ legislation, moving the date of Augusta Commission and mayoral elections from November to July, U.S. Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez said it was a veiled effort to dilute minority voting strength.
Personally, I think Mr. Perez should come and take a look around and see who the minority is.
Sims’ legislation, along with the state Senate Redistricting Committee drawing part of Republican Sen. Bill Jackson’s district into Richmond County, backfired, so to speak. It angered Augusta’s black community, motivating them to challenge white incumbents and turn out to vote in last year’s elections.
AND A GOOD TIME WAS HAD BY ALL: Roundtree’s black tie inaugural ball was a “fabulous” affair that raised $30,000 for charity, according to former Mayor Bob Young and his wife, Gwen.
“I told Bob I felt like I was at a Hollywood gala,” she said.
The Youngs were among 300 people attending the ball, which featured a cocktail hour; color guard; seated dinner of filet mignon and crab cakes; a live auction; remarks by Young, Copenhaver, State Court Judge David Watkins and Roundtree; music; and dancing.
“It was a very classy evening,” Gwen Young said. “The sheriff did the live auction. He was outstanding. He kept it moving. He was very funny. It was hilarious and fun. There were 32 full tables. The music by Wesson and Preston was wonderful. The evening was wonderful, and I’m so glad I went.”
State Sen. Hardie Davis gave the invocation. The mistress of ceremonies was WJBF-TV personality Dee Griffin.
Watkins administered the oath of office to Roundtree, a reaffirmation of the sheriff’s earlier oath. He alluded to the Biblical tale of David and Goliath – Roundtree, of course, being David, who against all odds defeated Goliath, who no doubt was a giant good ol’ white boy. The difference between this David (Roundtree) and Goliath is that after David knocked Goliath down, Goliath got up and embraced him, according to Watkins.
Among a number of other notables attending were Davis’ wife, Yvette; Copenhaver’s wife, Malisa; Merle and David Alalof; Richmond County Clerk of Court Elaine Johnson and sheriff’s Maj. Gene Johnson; Commissioner Bill Lockett and his wife, Jewel; Commissioners Corey Johnson and Marion Williams; Judge Carl Brown; Minnesota Fatz and Cher Best from WKSP-FM’s “Fatz and Cher Morning Show”; Augusta Judicial Circuit District Attorney Ashley Wright and Donnie Smith; Richmond County Democratic Party Chairman Lowell Greenbaum and his wife, Gloria; and attorney Randy Frails.
During his remarks, Young asked Williams whether he was sitting in the chair the mayor assigned him, which delighted the crowd. He also put Roundtree’s election in the context of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in baseball 65 years ago. Robinson said that when Pee Wee Reese put his arm around him, he knew the team accepted him.
“There’s no question that we accepted Richard Roundtree,” Young said, with his arm around him.
“It was a non-racial, non-partisan occasion,” Young said later.
I GUESS THE GUNS MADE THEM DO IT: What a sad state of affairs it is that a man who has contributed so much to the children and youth in his community should be robbed at gunpoint, possibly by some he helped. But that’s what happened to J.R. Riles, the owner of J.R.’s Stop and Shop on Martin Luther King Boulevard, on Dec. 29.
Riles and six other men at the store were robbed and forced to take off their pants by three men, one of whom was armed and had a scarf around his face.
“He said if I kept looking at him he was going to turn this into a homicide,” Riles said. “He threatened to kill me three times.”
The robbers took Riles’ four-carat diamond ring and other jewelry and the keys to two cars, which were later abandoned near the Cherry Tree Crossing apartments.
Each year, Riles puts on a block party for children in the neighborhood and gives away five computers.
Somebody around there knows who these culprits are and should step up and help solve this crime.
TWO BITS, FOUR BITS, SIX BITS: It seems people don’t make New Year’s resolutions like they used to. I called several and asked whether they’d made any this year and, if so, have they kept them so far.
“I did not make any New Years resolutions,” Bob Young said.
Marion Williams said, “I don’t traditionally make any because it’s hard to keep them.”
Real estate broker Johnny Hensley said, “I made one I know I will keep. I made a resolution not to make any resolutions.”
Former state Sen. J.B. Powell said, “I always break them, so there’s no reason to make them. I was going to stop cussing, and I didn‘t make it very long.”
I, like Powell, also resolved to stop swearing. I told Ernie on New Year’s Day that I was going to get a jar and put it on the counter and every time I said a foul word, I was going to put a quarter in the jar.
On Thursday, out of the blue, Ernie said, “You need to go to the bank.”
“Why do I need to go to the bank?” I asked, puzzled.
“To get some quarters,” he said.
“Quarters? Why do I need quarters?”
“You owe that jar about $12.50,” he said.