Latest ideas to draw visitors to Augusta: Fines, towing and wheel locks

The Downtown Development Authority don't need no stinkin' badges to be your parking police. The DDA's latest proposal for managing downtown parking is to enforce parking laws and use the fine money to pay expenses and revitalize downtown.

This new-sheriff-in-town proposal has been in the works since the DDA's lead balloon to install parking meters failed to soar. With what sounded a little like trolley bells ringing in the background, this latest sniper shot at the people still coming downtown was approved by the city's administrative services committee last week with almost no discussion.

Are we surprised? This even though it's something that would have such a drastic impact on the public and the DDA, which doesn't know what it's getting into, according to one top cop.

Drivers who parked more than two hours in one spot would come back to find a $25 ticket on their windshields or those who parked in a loading zone, at a yellow curb or blocked a driveway or alley would find a $50 ticket, and so on. The current fine for all illegally parked vehicles is $20.

Under the new ordinance, any illegally parked vehicle could be towed. And if there were three or more unpaid tickets or tickets not paid for 90 days, the vehicle would be immobilized with wheel locks that wouldn't be removed until all overdue fines and an immobilization fee were paid.

There would be a $400 charge for damaged or stolen boots. Drivers also wouldn't be allowed to buy or renew vehicle tags until they could prove to the tax commissioner they'd paid their fines.

This ought to be a really big draw for downtown.

The proposal is supposed to go before the full Augusta Commission next week, but Commissioner Don Grantham wants to put a boot on it. He said it needs more study and has asked that it first come before the finance committee he chairs, which could mean that it dies with its boots on. Or, the real sheriff could step into the street at high noon and say there's not room enough in this town for both of us.

MIGHTY BIG WORDS FOR A ONE-TERM BIG MAN: When gubernatorial candidate Roy Barnes spoke to some of Augusta's VIPs during a luncheon at the Pinnacle Club a few weeks ago, he told a story about President Obama calling him the day after his primary win in July. Barnes said he was dog tired when his cell phone rang, and the person on the other end said, "This is the White House. President Obama wants to speak to you."

"Well, put him on," Barnes said, whereupon the president congratulated him on his win and said, "Do you want me to come down to Georgia and cuss you out?"

Barnes said he said, "No, Mr. President, I want you to leave me alone."

Barnes also said he said, "If I were you, I'd go down the hall at the White House and fire every one of your economic advisers," and Obama said, "You're not the first person who's said that."

According to two VIPs present at the luncheon, Barnes also said he told the president, "If you think the recession is over, come down to Georgia and ride around with me."

THE LUNCH BUNCH: A couple of years ago, developer and all-around bon vivant Rodger Giles invited a few other folks to an off-the-record lunch at the Augusta Country Club. It was such a success, he arranged another one the next year and named it the "Lunch Bunch." This year, he expanded the guest list to include Georgia Health Sciences University President Dr. Ricardo Azziz , plastic surgeon Dr. Randy Smith , Superior Court Judge Danny Craig , banker Robert Osborne , state Sen. Hardie Davis , attorney Sam Nicholson , Sheriff Ronnie Strength , Ann Boardman , developer Clay Boardman , Johannsen Sporting Goods owner Pat Johannsen , Augusta Blueprint owner James Kendrick , Georgia Department of Education board member Bill Kuhlke and me. It was such an illustrious group, I was scared and grabbed the sheriff's hand and asked him to sit by me for protection.

We met Tuesday, and our genial and generous host (he could be an event planner if he weren't a rich developer) called on everyone to say a few words, which elicited some tall tales and lots of laughter. It was all off the record, except for some comments I got permission to tell you, one of which came from Judge Craig, who is assigned to the Domestic Relations Division of Superior Court, after having served as district attorney of the Augusta Judicial Circuit for 15 years.

"Having mainly prosecuted killers, including four serial killers, for over 15 years, I encountered probably 10 or 15 true sociopaths," Craig said. "Well, I encountered that many in my first two weeks in divorce court."

Sheriff Strength said, "Danny Craig is responsible for putting more people on death row than anyone else in Georgia, but that was when he was a defense lawyer, not when he was a prosecutor."

A good while after lunch, Dr. Smith stood up and said he had to leave. "I've got to operate on a patient," he said.

About two minutes later, Kuhlke stood up and said, "I've got to leave, too. I'm his patient."

Dr. Azziz told a funny story, too, but I didn't have the nerve to call him to ask if I could repeat it. He also made some serious remarks, and I can tell you without a doubt he is jam up and jelly tight.

JOE BIDEN? The big news leak in Augusta last week was that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas had agreed to be the keynote speaker at the dedication of the Augusta Judicial Center and Judge John H. Ruffin Courthouse in the spring.

The leak came from some members of the black community, opposed to Thomas because of his stance on affirmative action. One of them is Paine College professor Mallory Millender , who said if Thomas speaks he would not attend and would encourage others to do likewise, although he would respect their decision if they did.

Well, we did our best to cover all the bases in writing the article that came out in The Chronicle on Thursday, but not everybody was pleased. Dr. Charles Smith , the president of the NAACP, Augusta branch, wanted to make a statement but couldn't get it cleared by the national offices in Baltimore and Washington in time for deadline. That, however, didn't lessen his unhappiness at not being quoted, so I told him I would put something in this column. Here's some of it:

"It is the position of the NAACP, that in this honorable instance, a more streamlined choice of a person who values our convictions and principles of democracy, render the dedication of the John H. Ruffin, Jr. Courthouse/Judicial Center. There are many other prominent leaders who should have been considered. Some national leaders who fit the mode could have been Vice-President Joe Biden (Delaware), Congressman John Conyers (Michigan) of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Congresswoman Shelia Jackson Lee (Texas) of the Senate Judiciary Committee, House Majority Whip James Clyburn (South Carolina), or Senator Patrick Leahy (Vermont)."

GETTING THERE IS ONLY FUN IF YOU GET THERE: Augusta Commission District 8 candidate Doug Lively 's fish fry was the place to be Thursday, so they say. Almost 200 people came to the fundraiser in McBean, including Sheriff Strength, former sheriff Charles Webster , former Augusta Commissioner Ullmer Bridges , Commissioner Jimmy Smith , District 10 candidate Grady Smith and former school board president Jeff Padgett .

Mayoral candidate Lori Davis also had a fundraiser, at Casa Blanca on Broad Street, and said it was a big success. They raffled off a dinner for two at Casa Blanca and a bottle of wine for $5 a ticket; Butch Palmer won.

Davis keeps saying she's not a politician and won't play political games. "People tell me I need to go see this one or that one for help, but I think the people they tell me to go see are all part of the problem," she said.

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