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Politics not on menu at commission's night out

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There were no bones to pick at Augusta commissioners' second social dinner Friday night at T's Restaurant, as there were when they met at Villa Europa a few weeks ago without giving public notice or inviting all the board members. This time they did and avoided cooking their own goose by holding an illegal meeting.

Unfortunately, they had to put up with me because Commissioner Joe Jackson personally extended an invitation -- I'm sure never thinking I'd actually come. But there I was with Ernie in tow, so what could we do but have fun? And we did, with lots of hush puppy humor and deep-fried diplomacy.

As Commissioner Don Grantham said when I asked each of the seven commissioners there to sum up the evening: "There were a lot of laughs. You just didn't know what you were laughing at."

It started off kind of stiff, though, with Jackson and Commissioner Joe Bowles reportedly going to the bar so they could "talk in twos" there. And the first thing you know, a quorum of the commission's Engineering Services Committee had gathered around the salad bar in another room.

Everybody loosened up after a while and started teasing me about picking up the check. Commissioner Bill Lockett said he'd seen on the 5 o'clock news that I was paying for everything. I said I thought Mr. Jackson was paying since he's the one who invited us.

I was introducing Ernie to everybody until Bowles said, "We met Ernie the first time you retired."

"I'm still retired," I said. "Just not full time."

I used to teach boys like him. Smarty pants. But cute anyway.

SEEFOOD: Everybody ordered fried catfish, except for Bowles and Commissioner Matt Aitken , who ordered fried flounder, and Ernie and I, who ordered the seafood-for-two deal, which was really enough for three. The food was fabulous. The scallops were real scallops, not punched-out shark, and the shrimp were shrimply delicious.

Our waitress, Brenda Palmer , was a pro, attentive, efficient and unobtrusive. I know, some people said the term "waitress" is demeaning, but my mama was a waitress, and I only wish I could be half the woman she was. So to me "waitress" is a word of praise.

Owner Garrett Fulcher came by to thank us for coming. He said he was able to come out front more now that his daughters are in the kitchen. Don't you just love good, hardworking families like that? This country is filled with them, or used to be, and they're so overtaxed and underappreciated. My parents owned a restaurant in Tifton, Ga., and Ernie's parents owned one in Nashville, Tenn., so we know how hard the restaurant business is. That's why I'm going to tell you a story I told you a few years ago. When you get to be my age, you do that.

Anyway, Chronicle Local News Director James Folker grew up in Darien, Ga., and worked in Archie's Restaurant as a teenager, and he would tell me about how Archie would get word that the health inspectors were coming and James would have to put on rubber boots and slosh around in cold water, hosing everything down in back.

One time, when Ernie and I were going to the beach, James insisted we stop at Archie's Restaurant. We did, and Archie came over and sat down with us when we told him we knew James. We chit-chatted awhile about the restaurant business. Then after a while, Archie leaned back in his chair and said, "Yeah, the restaurant business is not as glamorous as you might think."

We laughed all the way to the beach, and ever since when we're sweating in the garden or hauling limbs, one or the other of us will say, "Yeah, this yard work is not as glamorous as you might think."

Retired Magistrate Judge John Baxter; his wife, Norma; daughter Beverly Kesel; and her husband, Leonard, also stopped by our table Friday. Beverly said the judge has been eating at T's for 56 years. Imagine that.

SUPPER BOWL: The commissioners decided to pick the total points that would be scored in "The Big Game."

Here's the breakdown:

Jerry Brigham: 7

Joe Bowles: 73

Don Grantham: 49

Joe Jackson: 64

Alvin Mason: 77

Sylvia: 63

I asked why we didn't do it the traditional way, give a score for each team, and Bowles said because somebody might get mad at them.

"This way, they won't know who we're for," he said. "We're trying to be politicians."

FINNY FELLOWSHIP: When we'd finished eating, everybody had a good laugh when Grantham said, "Jerry's bones look like Felix the Cat's. He could comb his hair with those."

I asked them what nickname they'd prefer this time since Schnitzel 7 wasn't appropriate anymore. Brigham said "The Bottom Feeders 7" since they ate catfish, which are bottom feeders. Aitken said, "Catfish Kids." And Grantham said, "Fish Hookers."

They were in the middle of voting on the name when Brigham said they couldn't take a vote because they didn't have a clerk to record it.

Someone asked where they were going to meet next month, and a discussion ensued about which commissioner had the most restaurants in his district. Mason said: "Jerry has everything. I have nothing."

Anyway, they decided on Rae's Coastal Café, and it will be family night.

"Bring your wife. Bring your girlfriend. Bring both," Grantham said.

"Ernie," I said. "Did you hear Don?"

Ernie said he couldn't hear everything down on the end where he was. When I told him, Ernie said, "That's a brave man."

Brigham summed up the evening by saying, "Best hush puppies in town. Good fried food and just eatin' it up."

"I'm, I'm, I'm going to ab-ab-ab-abstain," Mason said, laughing. "Something I haven't done before."

"I concur," Jackson said.

"I couldn't think of anything better than dinner with Sylvia Cooper on Friday night," Bowles said.

Do you think he meant it?

Aitken, likewise, said it was great having dinner with me. Lockett said, "It was real nice to break bread with my brother commissioners under the watchful eye of you know who."

"Nothing like waking up on Sunday morning, getting a Bloody Mary and reading Sylvia's column," Bowles said.

"Yes," Lockett added. "Before I became a commissioner, her article was the first thing I read on Sunday. Now it's the last."

THEY SAID HE SAID: Former Richmond State Court Solicitor Harold Jones says reports he wants the city attorney's job are false, and he doesn't know where they're coming from.

"I'm not interested in it at all," he said. "And I haven't mentioned that I did to anybody. Nor have I had anybody putting out feelers for me."

Jones, who lost his bid for the District 22 state Senate seat to Hardie Davis on Tuesday, said up until then he was planning to be in Atlanta.

"It's crazy, really," he said. "Not before the election or after the election, not one word to anybody. I don't know where it's coming from."

Before the election a TV reporter interviewing him said, "So whoever doesn't win is going to be county attorney?"

Jones said, "I didn't know Hardie was an attorney. Unless he's taken the bar, I don't think he can be county attorney.' "

When asked whether he would take the job if it was offered it to him on a silver platter, he said, "I doubt it very seriously."

OH, LORD, WON'T YOU BUY ME A MERCEDES-BENZ? An unidentified man left a phone message asking for an investigation into parking spaces at James Brown Arena being reserved for Mercedes-Benzes only.

He said he pays his taxes and supports the civic center and doesn't think it's right for people who drive the luxury cars to get such preferential treatment.

City Ink jumped right on it and called Kayla Ott, the director of marketing for the Augusta Entertainment Complex, who said Mercedes-Benz bought sponsorship and has the naming rights to the parking lot. Within that agreement, the company has a number of spots delegated to people who drive Mercedes-Benzes to the complex for ticketed events.

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Riverman1 02/07/10 - 12:49 pm
Corgimom, of course it is

Corgimom, of course it is apples and oranges. When you said it was "unconstitutional" I wanted to point out it wasn't. It's a totally unenforceable law. Sure Commission meetings should be open to the public and press, but not social gatherings. I'd really like to see this type of thing tested in the highest courts.

eachoneteachone 02/07/10 - 12:59 pm
I am glad that they put

I am glad that they put Sylvias' photo back so that this spot is easy to find. Sylvia and Jhonny are the best!

Newsreader 02/08/10 - 10:44 am
Social gatherings are not

Social gatherings are not newsworthy, nor really anything the public must witness. However, if the commissioners were allowed to have "social gatherings" without the press and public being notified, how long would it take for a social gathering to become a discussion of matters that pertain to the city? I do not think that Sylvia went to this dinner to report or socialize, she went to prove to the commissioners that she cares about the Sunshine laws. The commissioners did not expect that any reporters would show and they would then be free to have a good social time without public scrutiny. I am not saying that they should not have true social time, but my concern would be where it might lead to back door private meetings, where the city's business is decided and only voted on in the public meeting. Also what would prevent a commissioner from inviting someone with "special interest" in a pending city business matter? The TEE Center would have been decided before it appeared on the City Commission Meeting Agenda. Contracts for construction made before the public even knows we need a new Law Enforcement Center. It is a thin line between social and private get the business done without public knowledge, lets not let the City Commission cross that thin line. Thanks Sylvia and Scott Hudson.

Riverman1 02/08/10 - 01:29 pm
Does anyone actually believe

Does anyone actually believe Commissioners don't call each other, relay messages from one to the other, make conference calls and use group emails back and forth to get their points over? All that's legal and allows them to share more than enough information with each other without the public knowing. How often do they meet and vote without any public debate? Someone's been talking to someone when that happens. It's like a kids game now to dodge the Sunshine Law, but it is done.

Riverman1 02/08/10 - 01:33 pm
Newsreader, you say it's a

Newsreader, you say it's a thin line between social and business meetings with Commissioners. Actually, there's no line at all. All meetings have to be open to the press and public. There are no social get-togethers that are exempt. It's just plain silly. Where do we draw the line? Watching the Super Bowl together? Funerals?

jb1234 02/08/10 - 05:54 pm
Justus, who is this 'U know

Justus, who is this 'U know who' that you always speak of? Is he the same as 'He who shall not be named' AKA the Dark Lord Voldemort? And disssman, having sponsored parking areas at venues is very common, Lexus sponsors a lot at Turner Field in Atlanta, the lot is open to Lexus owners only.

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