Summer is officially here, but we’re still getting a snow job from Washington.
Gen. Keith Alexander, the director of the National Security Agency, testified that they weren’t trying to hide the government’s massive cyber snooping programs. They want to tell us what they’re doing. He said it’s all a matter of trust.
Also last week, FBI Director Robert Mueller admitted his agency uses drones in the United States for surveillance on occasion.
SPEAKING OF DRONES … That reminds me of Augusta Commission members. Not that they’re spying on anybody. They’re just boring them to death, droning on and on.
For example, the subject of rotating meeting times for committee meetings was back on the agenda last week for about the fifth time. Commissioner Bill Lockett has been pushing for the rotation because the committee he heads is scheduled last, so he often doesn’t have a quorum.
Several commissioners weighed in on the matter, pro and con, with more words than necessary to get the point across.
Mayor Pro Tem Corey Johnson said they just needed to think about the number of items they put on the agenda.
“We’re just having too much discussion up here,” he said. “As a unit, we need to be more cognizant and be more considerate of the people here waiting for us to get to their item.”
The room was packed with residents from National Hills subdivision, there to voice concerns about a new apartment complex in the works near their neighborhood.
Next, Commissioner Bill Fennoy spoke in favor of rotation, repeating what had been said more than once on several occasions.
Then it was Commissioner Grady Smith’s turn to ramble.
“I’d like to agree with Commissioner Johnson to a point,” he said. “Some comments are not necessary. … I’m not going to sit down here six hours and sit here waiting for my turn. To come down here and sit and listen to some of the redundant conversation that goes on about some things – but some of it goes on and on and on. I’ve got a direct dial to Domino’s, and that’s what I’m going to do next time.”
When it appeared they’d never stop talking, Mayor Deke Copenhaver said, “We’ve got a lot of the public sitting out here, and how much time are we spending discussing this issue?”
Too much was the obvious answer. So Commissioner Joe Jackson moved to send the matter back to committee for more discussion.
Then Lockett said, “It’s kind of ironic that people wonder why this commission can’t get along on bigger items, and something as simple as rotating the schedules they can’t come to agreement on it. I put it on the agenda … it was sent back. Now you’re wanting to do something different.”
Apparently offended by Smith’s remarks, Marion Williams started ranting about commissioners’ duties and the amount of time it takes to do the job right, taking up a lot of time in the process.
“Those who don’t want to be a servant ought not to run for the job,” he said, among many other things too numerous to mention here.
And on it went until they voted to discuss it more in all five committees.
THE GREATEST IS CHARITY: Next up was the extension of Heery International’s construction management contract. City Administrator Fred Russell said he’d been negotiating with Heery since the last meeting and that Heery had agreed to reduce its fees by $188,435.
At a committee meeting the week before, Heery manager Forrest White and subconsultant Butch Gallop were caught off guard by Williams’ and Wayne Guilfoyle’s questions about Heery’s billing and salaries, particularly Gallop’s. On Tuesday, reinforcements arrived in the form of project executives Dennis LaGatta and Glenn Jardine.
Williams had grilled Gallop about what he did as community liaison, so Gallop delivered thick packages detailing everything Williams had asked for to the city clerk three days later. But several commissioners said they’d just gotten it.
“I’m afraid to open mine because it might have baseball tickets in it,” Smith said, referring to reports of Heery plying commissioners with tickets to Atlanta Falcon and Braves games.
Prompted by Johnson, a regular recipient of Heery’s generosity, Jardine assured everyone that Heery always acts with the highest integrity.
“Like thousands of other companies in the United States, we participate in the political process and in charitable contributions because we’ve invested in the community,” he said. “Everything we’ve done here has been above board and legal. We’ve made contributions to charitable events, scholarships, the Wheeless Road playground, the Alzheimer’s Foundation. These are all perfectly legal, above-board charities.”
The commission finally voted to extend the contract, but not before Lockett had his say.
“This campaign money thing has just completely been blown out of proportion. … Now there’s only been one person that financed his campaign himself, and that was Abraham Lincoln, and he almost went bankrupt. All of us sitting up here today, even the mayor with all his money, have received campaign contributions.”
YOU NEVER MISS THE WATER TILL THE WELL GOES DRY: Williams and Lockett are gunning for General Counsel Andrew MacKenzie. Williams wants to hire an outside attorney to handle commission business and have the in-house attorneys do the other legal work.
Lockett wants his colleagues to approve a no-confidence vote on MacKenzie.
When Williams’ motion came up Tuesday, former city Attorney Jim Wall was present to brief the board on another matter.
“I see my good friend Mr. Wall is standing by the wall back there,” Williams said. “I didn’t think I would tell him this: I miss you, Jim.”
When Lockett’s item came up, Russell advised them not to discuss it publicly but to hire an outside attorney to come to the next legal meeting and hear Lockett’s complaints if need be.
“Are we going to pay him to show up to see if we need him?” Williams asked.
“Yes, sir,” said Russell.
WHAT PART OF NO DIDN’T HE UNDERSTAND? Lockett asked MacKenzie four times whether they could tell a potential vendor that the city expected a certain percentage of minority participation even though the court struck down the city’s minority business program several years ago. MacKenzie told him four times that the city should abide by its current race- and -gender neutral small business program.
“It’s my advice there not be any communication relating to any minority participation,” MacKenzie said.
“Let’s skip the semantics,” Lockett replied. “Is there anything that we could have done with this contract?”
MacKenzie advised they follow the regulations of the local small business program.
HIS CHEEK IS TOO SORE TO TURN: This week I saw a police report involving former Columbia County Commissioner Frank Spears. I called Frank to ask what happened. Turns out, he’d had quite an experience – and not a religious one either, though it was church related.
He said he’d prefer not to give details until he has his day in court, but he did confirm the events outlined in the report. He was physically assaulted at his insurance office May 16; he was struck in the face, fell back on the concrete sidewalk and was knocked unconscious for several minutes. He’s still bruised and has a loose tooth or two. The church folks want his attacker to apologize, but Frank preferred a restraining order and got one last week.
The wheels of justice seem to be moving at a snail’s pace. The police came to the scene but couldn’t arrest his attacker because they didn’t see the man deck Frank. So Frank had to go to State Court to file charges. His court date has been postponed twice because of attorney delays. You know what they say about the legal system – delay, delay, delay; delay until it goes away.
Meanwhile, Frank says, “I could have been killed. I was a county commissioner for four years. You’d think somebody would have got me then instead of over a mission trip.”