I thought Augusta Commission member Marion Williams would be glad when I told him last week that he would not be this year’s Turkey of the Year. But he wasn’t. At least he said he wasn’t and wanted to know why he was being deprived of the dubious honor.
“Because you’ve calmed down,” I said. “You don’t rant and rave like you did your first two terms on the commission. You’ve mellowed. Besides, when you went off the commission eight years ago I made you Turkey of the Year Emeritus in Perpetuity for being named top turkey of the year four years in a row. This year I plan to make you Leftover Turkey of the Year.”
He said he was disappointed.
“I like being Turkey of the Year.”
“You do?” I said. “OK then. You can be Turkey of the Year again.”
He seemed pleased. And I was, too, because with that out of the way I could concentrate on other turkeys, such as the Georgia Regents University researchers who were exposed in a GRUsome undercover video using dogs in their dental implant experiments. For that, they get the Turkey Butcherers’ award.
• City Administrator Fred Russell gets the Grilled Turkey award for the going-over commissioners gave him about balancing next year’s budget. Suddenly, they’ve decided Russell’s supposed to come up with $8.5 million to fill the general-fund budget deficit and present them with a balanced budget. For that, they get the Wishbone Award.
• Augusta taxpayers get the Plucked Turkey award because of the fees and taxes they’re paying and for the new ones coming their way, such as the stormwater utility fee, or rain tax, for which the government is spending $179,000 of their tax money on a PR campaign to make them think it’s a good idea; a $3-a-month street sweeping fee; a garbage rate increase and an almost certain property-tax increase.
• Augusta industries who’ve lobbied commissioners to exempt them from a 2 percent tax on the energy they use in manufacturing get the Turkey Gobbler award because they’ve already gotten a 4 percent exemption on energy from the state, and the 2 percent exemption will cost property owners as much as $2 million next year, $3 million in 2015 and $6 million in 2016.
• Commissioner Joe Jackson gets the Secondhand Smoked Turkey award for his motion to deny a proposed change to the city’s smoking ordinance that would have banished smoking in public places. The Breathe Easy lobby will have to get its second wind and try again next year.
• Commissioners Williams, Alvin Mason, Bill Lockett, Bill Fennoy and Corey Johnson get Flying Turkey awards for flying all over the country to attend national, city and county government conferences, such as the National Association of Counties conference in Fort Worth, Texas, in July.
• Earlier in the year, commission members Grady Smith, Jackson and Wayne Guilfoyle got basted in public and censured for feathering their nests by doing business with the city. Needless to say, they were burned up about being made the main dish they said some of their colleagues had relished ever since former Commissioner Calvin Holland was censured for trying to get Russell’s computer hard drive.
After that, Commissioner Donnie Smith pushed for a new ethics ordinance that would make doing business with the city in any capacity illegal. So a subcommittee was formed to rewrite the ordinance. Johnson and Mason were appointed to the subcommittee right after it became known they’d accepted tickets to ballgames and cash donations for their community outreach efforts from Heery International, the city’s consultant for sales-tax projects.
At the subcommittee’s first meeting, Williams asked them to step down because they’d accepted the gifts, but they refused, and for that, they get the Turkey Gall award.
• Commissioners who voted to give Sheriff Richard Roundtree and State Court Solicitor Kellie McIntyre big raises after less than two months on the job but turned down raise requests from Clerk of Superior Court Elaine Johnson, a 40-year employee, and Probate Judge Harry James get Turkey Jerky awards.
• Mayor Deke Copenhaver gets the Turkey Surprise award for springing a plan on commissioners to renovate King and Sibley mills right before presenting it to GRU officials and for not telling them about a proposal to create an Urban Redevelopment Area downtown and designate it as a slum to save money on Marble Palace renovations. That is, until they read it in the newspaper. The mayor and Russell will share the award.
• The mayor’s Augusta Collaboration Project consultant Matt Kwatinetz gets the Turkey Egg on Your Face award after referring to the “Save the A” campaign that residents and Augusta State University alumni waged in an effort to keep Augusta in the name of the new university as an “embarrassment.”
• Regent University in Virginia gets the Big Chicken award for dropping its trademark lawsuit against GRU.
• Housing and Community Development Director Chester Wheeler gets the Turkey Pie in the Sky award for claiming on the Laney-Walker/Bethlehem Web site there was a 10-to-1 match of private-to-public investment dollars in the Laney-Walker revitalization project. Turns out, the 10-to-1 match is “a long-term aspirational goal.”
• The Overdone Turkey award goes to the Downtown Development Authority for authorizing another study. This time it’s a $40,000 to $60,000 retail study designed to attract business downtown. Good thing they had the parking studies done, so when retailers flock downtown the DDA will know where to tell them to park. Too bad the trolley won’t be running.
• Commissioners revoked the alcohol and business license of Skittlez Bar and Grill, a gay black nightclub on Gordon Highway, for allowing a minor inside. The club was already on probation for an earlier incident involving nudity, a minor and an unpermitted dancer. Therefore, Skittlez gets the Turkey Joint award.
• State Sen. Bill Jackson, R-Appling, gets the Fried Turkey award for saying during the Legislative session, “More murders were committed last year with hammers than with shotguns, rifles or AK-47s. … If they’re going to take the guns, let’s take the frying pans and the hammers. It’s crazy. That frying pan wasn’t going to go and get up out of the kitchen and kill nobody now until that varmint got a hold of it.”