Before the Augusta Commission approved a revamped ethics ordinance last week, Commissioner Bill Lockett gave his colleagues and the media a mighty lecture on ethics, accusing the former of turning a blind eye to repeated local, state and federal violations and the latter of failing to be government watchdogs.
“The credibility of this government is suspect,” Lockett said. “Your continued silence sends a message to our constituents that you not only condone such despicable and deplorable behavior but support policies that could conceivably be financially detrimental to this government.”
When it became apparent where Lockett was headed, Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle pushed his glasses to the top of his head, leaned way back in his chair and stared up at the ceiling, while others began looking around, laughing and whispering among themselves.
After quoting a former Hewlett Packard CEO by saying the most effective check and balance on government has been an independent press, Lockett added, “You the media must be able to distinguish fact from fiction. We are in need of watchdog journalism, the practice of investigative journalism. … Where are our investigative reporters? The people have the right to know.”
When it was over, Commissioner Grady Smith muttered, “He got off on another one. Whew!”
It was such a farce, the only way I could get it out of my mind was to create my own farce: “Foghorn Leghorn, or Gone With the Windbag.”
“You’re a crook, ah say, you’re a crook, son, even if we do peck in the same barnyard,” Foghorn said. “And you, huddling over there with your cameras, tape recorders and notebooks, you’re just Yeller Dog Journalists. Ah say, I’m gonna take this board and whack you good, son. Whack, whack, whack, whack, whack, whack, whack, whack! Now go be a Watch Dog, I say, a Watch Dog, son, not a Yeller Dog. The guvmint’s raiding the henhouse, and plucking our constituents right under your Yeller Dog nose. We might as well have a fox on duty.
“And you, you Tasmanian Devil Advocate, start advocating for Foghorn Leghorn, ah say, not these other fowl birds up here. Don’t be afraid to ruffle a few feathers, ah say. Just don’t ruffle mine, or you’ll be forced to fly the coop. Remember this, it’s my way or the flyway, ah say, it’s my way or the flyway, son.”
THE IMPOSSIBLE DREAM: Seriously, though, I couldn’t figure out where Lockett was coming from any more than I could when he and commissioners Marion Williams and Alvin Mason berated city attorney Andrew Mackenzie in public three weeks ago.
Then I saw the item Lockett put on Monday’s committee agenda about discussing methods of improving public perception of the commission and how “through its actions and decorum, it can inspire further residential, commercial and industrial development in Augusta,” and decided to seek professional help.
I asked former commissioners and mayors who have perspective from inside and outside the government what they thought the commission could do to improve its image.
Larry Sconyers, consolidated Augusta’s first mayor, said, “The image is that everything is strictly around racial lines. They need to get together and work for all of the people. Our racial relations in Augusta are worse than they were 20 years ago. People talk about the Southside Mafia, but they got things done and brought industry to Augusta.
“The public perception should be that the commission is for all of the people first, and put it out we are a business-friendly county, and we’re really going to make it easy for you to come into the county. Be business friendly, not anti-business.”
Consolidated Augusta’s second mayor, Bob Young, said commissioners could improve the image of the commission by resigning.
““That’s the answer. Mass resignations,” he said.
The city’s oldest living mayor, Lewis Newman, said he had no idea what to suggest.
“I’ve been out of politics so long,” he said. “I’m 94 years old. I like the idea of what they’re trying to do anyway.”
Former District 3 Commissioner Joe Bowles said Lockett proposing to improve public perception of the commission after bashing his colleagues and the attorney in public was one of the most ironic, or moronic, things he’s ever seen.
“I would go back and think of recent actions and see how certain commissioners treat department heads, the administrator and the attorney when they disagree with them. I disagreed with department heads many times, but I never beat up on them in public,” he said.
Bobby Hankerson, a former District 5 commissioner, said he always looked at commission effectiveness as the art of compromise and working together.
“If you don’t work together, you’re not going to get anything done. That’s what people are saying. They aren’t getting anything done.
“Commissioners need to know the cameras are on them. People don’t want this. Where are south Augusta commissioners working together? I’ve been observing there’s a lot of focus about downtown, but we seem to have forgotten about south Augusta.”
Former District 1 Commissioner Matt Aitken said, “You’re not going to inspire people to come to Augusta when you beat up your employees in public. I feel sad for Augusta. I got on the commission to see Augusta boom. We’re not there now, but hopefully we’re moving that way.”
Aitken lost his job with Olin Corp. when the company closed its Augusta plant. He was offered a job at one of its other plants or a retirement package. He chose to stay in Augusta and is taking a real estate course. His ideas of where commissioners should focus differs from Hankerson’s.
“The commission is going to have to start looking at how we promote our city with downtown being the prime component. I understand the southside doesn’t like to hear that, but you have to look at where the major events are, the shops and restaurants.”
Jimmy Smith, District 8’s commissioner from 2004 through 2011, said the commission can improve its image if commissioners would do what they agreed to do when they came onto the board.
“Conduct yourself like gentlemen,” he said. “Certainly not to act like they act. It’s worse now than ever.”
GOING WHOLE HOG: Richard Isdell, the president of the Committee for Good Government, reported that the club’s annual barbecue at Julian Smith Casino last week was a smashing success. Oscar Baker sold 771 tickets beforehand, 82 at the door and expects to collect for 80 more.
Dishing out Sconyers barbecue, hash, potato salad, slaw and white bread were District 12 U.S. Rep. John Barrow; State Court Judge John Flythe; Civil and Magistrate Court Judge Scott Allen; District Attorney Ashley Wright and Commissioner Donnie Smith. Harry Moore kept things organized and moving while Isdell smoozed with the crowd.
Several other elected officials were present, including state Sen. Hardie Davis, who announced last week that he’ll run for mayor of Augusta next year – although City Ink told you that three months ago.
Speculation was rife about who’ll run for Davis’ Senate seat and late Rep. Quincy Murphy’s House seat this fall. There are many potential candidates, including Hankerson, who is eligible for both. Attorney Harold Jones’ name is mentioned a lot, but he’s keeping mum. A lot depends on whether Rep. Wayne Howard will run for Davis’ post or re-election to the House.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, COREY: Commissioner Corey Johnson celebrated his 40th birthday Saturday Caribbean-style with a big party at Lewis Blanchard’s party place on Azalea Drive. About 140 people were expected to attend.
Happy Birthday, Corey.
City Ink thanks Robert McKimson, creator of Foghorn Leghorn, for his contribution to this week’s column.