Augusta is a city of incongruities. It’s the Garden City but has a lot of funky smells. It has a Kroc Center close to a crack center. It has Arts in the Heart and the Soul Bar. It’s a city on the move until the trains roll into town.
Almost everybody gets a government check. Some get two or three. It’s the sixth worst in the nation for bad credit, but one of the best for bankruptcy lawyers.
It ranks 135th out of 159 Georgia counties in health outcomes despite having plenty of hospitals and health care providers. People in some areas of the county don’t have access to grocery stores, and some ZIP codes are so devoid of them, they’re classified as “food deserts,” but almost everybody’s fat.
It’s the Golf Capital of the World, but the local politicians can’t figure out what to do with the city golf course. It’s also the venue for the Iron Man contest, but the politicians don’t have enough backbone to even Save the A.
In 2010, Forbes magazine ranked Augusta as the 23rd-strongest metro economy in the nation, and last year it was ranked second for growth of high-tech jobs over the past five years. Still, the unemployment rate is 9 percent, but that might be because when it comes to how educated the workforce is, compared with how educated it needs to be, it ranks in the bottom five cities in the country.
ONE OLD GOAT IS AS GOOD AS ANOTHER: It was a fortuitous moment indeed when memories of the Goat Man unexpectedly popped into my head six years ago, giving me a good ending to my column and triggering reminiscences from readers:
“I woke up one day last week thinking, of all things, about the Goat Man and wondering if any of you remember him. He was a bearded character who used to travel the highways and byways of south Georgia on his way to and from Florida.
The fire whistle going off in town or the road scraper coming down the road paled in comparison to shouts of, ‘The Goat Man’s coming!’
He was a grizzled, bearded old man who went south to Florida every year in his wagon, accompanied by a herd of hard-headed companions. Wherever he went, he drew a crowd, and if I’m not mistaken, he would allow you to take a picture of him and his herd for a fee. I can’t remember how much. He used to come down U.S. Highway 41, and he also went along U.S. 129 in Nashville, Ga., because Ernie’s daddy, a photographer who recorded all the historic events of the time in Berrien County, took still and moving pictures of the Goat Man.
I called Ernie to reminisce about the Goat Man, and he told me that somebody has produced a DVD compiled from various photos and remembrances about the Goat Man and that it is advertised on the Ludlow Porch radio show, which shows what a novelty it was for someone to travel around with a herd of goats.
But, you know, I got to thinking, it wasn’t really so different from all those people in cars and campers heading to Florida every winter with one old goat, except that the Goat Man probably had a lot more fun.”
REMEMBERING THE GOAT MAN: Those few paragraphs triggered more response from people than anything I’d ever written about except for the mysterious screaming creature in Hahira when I worked for the Valdosta Daily Times. People from all over the area sent their memories of the Goat Man. One of my favorites is this:
“Omigosh! It’s been YEARS since I’ve thought of him,” e-mailed Mary Wise, a domestic engineer, wife, mother and grandmother. “My parents took us to see him once. He was camped on Schultz Hill. It was a cloudy evening. He spoke to his herd, ‘Looks like it’s gonna rain, goats!’
“That became a well-worn phrase in our house whenever the weather was threatening. In fact, it still is … ah, memories.”
Since I’m the Goat Man writer for The Chronicle, Metro Editor Bill Kirby passed along a request from Jerry and Dorinda Love, of Aiken, to write something about the late Goat Man.
DIFFERENT STROKES FOR DIFFERENT FOLKS: Commissioner Marion Williams says the only thing he knows about golf is that he’s seen a ball, but cars are different.
“I know cars,” he said.
He also likes to talk about them. So when the subject of replacing a car or dump truck comes up, he grills fleet manager Ron Crowden.
“I just want to know why 41 cars have to be changed out at the same time?” he asked during a recent meeting. Crowden said the cars were 2004-05 models and have 125,000 miles on them, but Williams insisted they should have at least 200,000 miles before being replaced, and he couldn’t be convinced otherwise.
The next agenda item was about leasing vehicles, a subject that fascinated Williams but bored the life out of everybody else.
When the meeting was over, I went up to tease Commissioner Bill Lockett. I said, “Well, Mr. Lockett we’ve got somebody on the commission now who talks more than you do.”
“Whew!” he said. “We’ve got to do something. We’ve got to stop putting vehicles on the agenda.”
IT’S ABOUT PAYING THEIR FAIR SHARE: Augusta lawyer Jack Long has asked the Georgia Supreme Court to hear his appeal of Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s decision that allowed former Richmond County Juvenile Court Judge Willie Saunders to run for Superior Court judge last year even though he had defaulted on state and federal taxes.
Long contends that Kemp’s decision, later affirmed by a Fulton County Superior Court judge, should be reversed because the state constitution states in part that “No person … who is a defaulter for any federal, state, court, municipal or school system taxes required of such office holder or candidate … shall be eligible to hold any office.”
Even though Saunders lost the election, the issues in the case are not moot because they’re likely to be repeated, Long said.
In the July elections, there were three challenges to candidates for Superior Court judge in Georgia with unpaid taxes. The initial decisions of administrative law judges hearing the challenges showed an inconsistent application of the constitutional provision, with two being disqualified and Saunders being allowed to run.
Long contends the ruling makes the constitutional provision “meaningless and of no real force and effect.” A ruling by the Supreme Court would answer questions that have arisen from challenges and would give potential candidates direction as to the true meaning of Article 2, Section 2, Paragraph 3 of the Georgia Constitution.
“The decision of the secretary of state and Judge (Alford) Dempsey makes the constitutional provision meaningless,” Long stated in an e-mail. “This case has never been about Willie Saunders, but has always been a public policy issue. I believe that as we approach April 15th, taxpayers will appreciate the purpose of this constitutional provision. Those who seek to hold public office and get paid with OUR TAX DOLLARS should pay their fair share. Taxes are the price of a free society, and we need public officials who set a good example for the people by paying their fair share.”