Commissioners go to sheriff over bribe

The warden threw a party in the county jail. The prison band was there and they began to wail. The band was jumpin' and the joint began to swing. You should've heard those knocked out jailbirds sing.

Let's rock everybody, let's rock.

Augusta was already rocking last week as news spread that someone had attempted to bribe Mayor Pro Tem Alvin Mason and Commissioner Corey Johnson and that an arrest could come as early as Tuesday.

Mr. Mason and Mr. Johnson were offered posts as part of the management team of a $16 million parking deck that would be built near the planned trade and exhibition center in exchange for their votes to start construction.

The two were said to be highly offended and paid a little visit to the sheriff, who started an investigation about 10 days ago. All 10 city commissioners have been questioned by sheriff's investigators and the FBI. Some showed up with lawyers. Sheriff Ronnie Strength will neither confirm nor deny that there is an investigation, but other city officials did.

The offer to share in parking concessions in exchange for their votes is in writing and is in investigators' hands. After Commissioners Don Grantham and Jerry Brigham learned of the bribe offer, they met with the other white commissioners to discuss the situation, but they took no action.

Mr. Grantham said that the five white commissioners often meet to discuss issues that are expected to come up in commission meetings but that they did not meet specifically to discuss the bribe offer.

"That was briefly mentioned, and everybody there was totally appalled," Mr. Grantham said. "I said it would be some source of extortion, and somebody could be going to jail. When it was first mentioned to me, I told them they were as crazy as hell."

ALL FOR SOME OR NOTHING AT ALL: Well, I suppose everything is anticlimactic after all that, but life goes on, along with talk about the TEE center.

Mayor Deke Copenhaver , the two Joes -- Commissioners Jackson and Bowles -- Mr. Johnson and Commissioner J.R. Hatney were supposed to meet this week to try to come up with a plan at least six commissioners can vote for to end the TEE center impasse.

The mayor first asked Mr. Mason to serve on the five-member panel, but he is said to have declined, citing work issues. Insiders contend he has his eye on a possible run for the state House seat now held by Rep. Hardie Davis, who plans to run for state Sen. Ed Tarver's seat if and when Mr. Tarver is appointed U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Georgia.

Mr. Mason doesn't want to be on the TEE center panel because he'd almost have to vote for any plan the committee came up with, which would alienate many potential voters who oppose the center.

So the mayor had to settle for Mr. Hatney, who is expected to make another push for $300,000-a-year more on top of $750,000-a-year already slated to go to Laney-Walker/Bethlehem redevelopment. The additional $300,000 would come from beer and wine taxes that now go to the Coliseum Authority and would be used to pay the interest on bonded projects. That proposal was floated several weeks ago, and many people, including white commissioners, called it "extortion."

Where have we heard that word before?

POLITICAL MANEUVERING: Subcommittee member Mr. Jackson said Friday he would not support funneling more money to Laney-Walker unless the $750,000 a year was spread throughout all eight commission districts.

"Just drive around Augusta and look at the roads," he said. "Calhoun Expressway looks like an abandoned runway."

Bitter feelings about the TEE center emerged from Commissioners Betty Beard , Mr. Hatney and others during Commissioner Calvin Holland's breakfast a week ago. In his remarks, state Rep. Quincy Murphy congratulated them for "standing firm against the powers to be."

The prevailing sentiment was that the TEE center would benefit the rich, white power structure.

Meanwhile, in his subcommittee choices, the mayor snubbed older, more experienced commissioners who might pretend publicly they don't give a rip. But don't believe it.

BIRTH OF A SUBCOMmItTEE: In case you don't know, the way the five-member committee came about was through a last-ditch effort by the mayor and a racially divided board to save the long-delayed TEE center.

As last week's commission meeting was about to end without a resolution on the stalled project, the mayor reminded commissioners that the city stands to lose a $25 million hotel/convention center and a $1-a-night bed tax.

Mr. Grantham said he was about ready to throw in the towel on the whole thing.

Then they all did what politicians do when they reach an impasse in public. They formed a committee. In this case, a subcommittee, led by the mayor, who was charged with appointing four commissioners, two from each super district, to work out a proposal to bring back to the full board for a vote.

Mr. Grantham wanted the mayor and Administrator Fred Russell to work with all 10 commissioners to try to find a plan to present to the full commission.

"We've had so many doggone subcommittees we can't even remember who's on them," he said.

DIFFERENT FIGHTERS, SAME FIGHT: Qualifying for five Augusta Commission seats, the District 5 seat on the Richmond County School Board and marshal of civil court ended Friday with only a few surprises, one of them being that District 3 Commissioner Joe Bowles drew two challengers, Cleveland O'Steen , a teacher, and Joy B. Mitchell-Booker , a banker.

In District 1, Matt Aitken , James "Butch" Palmer , Anthony Jones , JoRae Jenkins and William Fennoy are running for the seat Ms. Beard decided to relinquish when her current term ends.

Mr. Aitken, who is white, said his biggest challenge will be to create a trust factor in the campaign in the district that is 65 percent black and 31 percent white.

However, his past won't be overlooked. Mr. Aitken was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 1989 for dealing drugs, became a Christian, was paroled in 1990 and pardoned by the state in 1997.

Since his release from prison he has started a prison ministry, directed the local urban ministry AGAPE and graduated from Leadership Augusta.

Mr. Fennoy, who is black, said he doesn't see any challenges, only opportunities. That might be because he was a member of the Coliseum Authority. While on that board, he got into a shoving match with citizen activist Woody Merry after Mr. Merry got in his face, chastising him for not attending a meeting.

Mr. Palmer, also white, is an advocate of getting the riffraff out of Harrisburg, where he lives.

POWELL VS. JOHNSON, ET AL.: At last week's hearing of Mescherie Powell vs. Chiquita Johnson and Richmond County in Richmond County Civil and Magistrate Court, Ms. Powell represented herself. Ms. Johnson, the city's general counsel, had Quinton Seay , a Cornell University-trained lawyer arguing her case and a staff attorney as a witness.

Not that she really needed them that much. She could have represented herself because she had her ducks in a row and went into such detail under questioning that Judge William D. Jennings III finally said, "Ladies, so that we can get out of here before snow is on the ground, please answer the questions with a yes or no."

Ms. Powell did as well as a lay person could do, going up against a $225-an-hour attorney and his inch-thick briefs, attorney Johnson and her staff attorney Andrew Mackenzie, who testified against Ms. Powell. She was just no match for the pros.

Ms. Powell claims Ms. Johnson tried to fire her after she went out on family medical leave. She was transferred to the transit department with longer hours but was not paid for them. She is seeking $13,555 in back wages, insurance premiums, attorney fees and punitive and defamation of character damages.

The U.S. Labor Department investigated the case and ruled in Ms. Powell's favor, but Mr. Seay responded by saying the city would not pay the back wages.

Judge Jennings delayed ruling on the case until he has had a chance to review the hefty stack of briefs and other evidence in the case.

ANCHOR, ACTOR, AUTHOR, EMCEE: BY ANY OTHER NAME: Former Augusta Mayor Bob Young emceed the Stop Obama Care rally at the Jessye Norman Amphitheater on the Riverwalk last week.

He is also writing a book about the Confederate gold that disappeared at the end of the Civil War. He has already completed the first draft of The Treasure Train , a historical novel based on real people, places and events.

Asked about his political future, Mr. Young asked, "Do I have a political future?"

I don't know, but I hear he wants one and could run for mayor again or for Mr. Grantham's Super District 10 seat, which will become vacant after 2010.

Mr. Young keeps saying he's flying under the radar, but that couldn't happen unless the radar was in outer space.

BY ANY OTHER NAME: Did I tell you that our darling Molly died? Well, she did. In February. And we almost did too when we and our wonderful neighbor Sammy McCorkle buried her in the hard, hard ground in the back pasture.

But it wasn't long before we decided to get another border collie. So we drove to Cleveland, Ga., and got a brown and cream colored puppy with green eyes we later named Juleighanne Renee in honor of the sweet ladies at McDuffie Animal Hospital, Julie Fulmer , Leighanne Davis and Renee May .

Well, so far Juleighanne Renee has chewed up $400 worth of shoes, two rugs, the corner of a sofa and a $650 pair of eyeglasses. And she's not ashamed of it either.

Now I know why they call female dogs bitches.

Lets rock, everybody, lets rock. Everybody in the whole cell block Was dancin' to the jailhouse rock.

Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228.

More

City Ink: Governments only get bigger and bigger

About two-and-a-half hours into a Friday commission work session on the 2017 proposed budget that was presented and praised for being balanced... Read more

City Ink: Augusta government keeps growing

Augusta City Administrator Janice Jackson presented her proposed 2017 budget just in time for Halloween and frightened the commission's Finance... Read more

Reader's letter means I've got apology to give ...

Well, as my first editor Archie McKay always said, “Don’t try to bury the mistakes you make in... Read more