Sylvia CooperCity Ink columnist and correspondent for The Augusta Chronicle.

Augusta Department of Recreation drama still unfolding

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Augusta Commissioner Alvin Mason’s got breathing room.

Qualifying opens this week.

Everybody’s weighing in on a name for Augusta’s new university.

Fired Augusta Recreation Director Tom Beck is pursuing his lawsuit against the city while demoted Operations Manager Melinda Pearson is cleaning out gutters and doing other work totally unsuitable for a 29-year employee with a chronic illness.

POSTPONING THE INEVITABLE NOLLE PROSEQUI: Mason’s domestic abuse trial, scheduled to start Monday, was postponed. His attorney, Freddie Sanders, said Mason needed “more time” and “breathing room.”

It does take a lot of oxygen once Mason gets started making a point about something, but I think the “more time” thing is a big mistake because he and his wife, Velma, must have patched things up and are singing the same tune.

But you know how married life is. Touch and go from day to day. One sour note, and she could change her mind and her story. Then poof! There goes the mayor’s race.

SHE BURNED HER BRIDGES AND BURNED THEM UP: Qualifying begins Wednesday for local and state offices, except county commission and the school board. It will be interesting to see whether the minority caucus will come up with a replacement for Vanessa Diane Hewitt-Quinland who signed up to challenge State Court Judge John Flythe but can’t run.

Attorney Inga Hicks is rumored to be the next choice. She’d previously worked at the district attorney’s office, but was fired by district attorney Ashley Wright.

At Hewitt-Quinland’s farewell party in the solicitor’s office, she took the opportunity to say how miserable the past two years had been and just what she thought about her co-workers which was not the least bit flattering.

Everyone there, including Solicitor Chuck Evans, politely smiled and handled the affair with class and dignity (or maybe just stunned silence).

“Everybody was quite shocked,” one said. “She offended a lot of the people she worked with. It was so classless.”

Then when Hewitt-Quinland tried to qualify, she learned she couldn’t because she hasn’t been practicing for the requisite seven years. She was apparently unaware of that requirement. So she now has no job and has burned her bridges with all of her co-workers.

Sounds like the next law department hire.

THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS FREE INFORMATION: Speaking of the law department, I filed a freedom of information request to inspect, and possibly copy from, the files of two city employees. A week later, I received an e-mail from staff attorney Kenneth Bray stating it would take five business days to compile the information.

Five business days to get two files together? A snail could move faster than that. I figured if I were charged for five days work, I’d end up owing about $600.

So I asked for the estimated cost and just how much material was in those two files because it was going to take five days to get them together.

And voila! The very next day, I received an e-mail stating it took only two hours for the lowest paid employee in the department to produce 409 pages of “responsive” documents at $17.62 an hour. That and the copying, which I didn’t ask them to do, totaled $71.74.

I guess I’ll have to check under the sofa cushions for change.

FOR SOME, IT WILL ALWAYS BE MCG: The topic generating even more interest and discussion in Augusta than a downtown baseball stadium is a name for the consolidated university.

Commissioner Jerry Brigham had a resolution drawn up for commissioners to vote on requesting that “Augusta” be in the name.

GHSU President Dr. Ricardo Azziz has described the consolidated school as a “national comprehensive university,” which doesn’t signal the word “Augusta.”

Azziz said they’re always looking for a donor to name the university. You could even have it named after you if you could come up with $150 million.

Another idea is that because Paine College is having financial problems, GHSU could buy it and name the medical school the University of Paine.

BIDING HIS TIME: Beck knows where all the bodies in Augusta government are buried and he’s going to dig up a few.

Since being abruptly fired last month on a trumped-up accusation of time card fraud, he and his attorney have been seeking all sorts of financial records, memos and letters from city officials that will shine the light into the tunnel of time-honored time card tinkering.

Oh goody! I can’t wait to find out who all is going to be humiliated, fired and demoted after that comes out. On second thought, it never will. There are too many bodies. RIP.

Beck said he appreciates the support he’s received from people who know him in addition to total strangers who stop him on the street to say they feel he got a raw deal.

WHERE’S THE JUSTICE? Pearson was demoted to maintenance worker in the same time card incident that led to Beck’s firing. She took four comp days in December, and Beck signed off on her time card. A disgruntled employee complained Pearson wasn’t eligible for the comp days. And because several commissioners, especially Wayne Guilefoyle, already had it in for Beck, a witch hunt was launched with predictable results.

Beck was found guilty and fired based on lies and politics, and Pearson was demoted although she never touched the fabled time card.

She’s appealed and written commissioners, documenting the frame-up.

She’s also trying to figure out why she was demoted while an employee she supervised and recommended for termination was promoted to her job temporarily.

Also, nothing has been done about her report of another employee threatening to “put her in a headlock.”

Operations Supervisor Samuel Smith was suspended for one day without pay in February for insubordination.

In April, Pearson’s recommendation he be fired because of “an extensive disciplinary history” was sent to Employment Relations Manager Ron Clark at Deputy Administrator Bill Shanahan’s instructions. And nothing happened.

WHERE IS SMACK DOWN? Nothing happened either after Pearson made this April 19 report to Shanahan:

“At approximately 3:15 p.m., Wednesday, April 18, 2012, Millie Armstrong approached me in my office, stepping to the side of my desk. I would like to bring this to your attention in light of recent events that have taken place within our department and more importantly because I am concerned for my safety, as well as others, considering the history involving this employee. … At times, I have found Ms. Armstrong’s actions irrational, including those previous documented disciplinary issues and her even drawing an imaginary line at her feet daring me to cross over to engage her.

“As Ms. Armstrong entered my office yesterday, she stated, ‘I need your help.’

“I asked Ms. Armstrong what I could do for her, and she replied, ‘I want you to meet me at Smack Down because I want to put you in a head lock, the sleeper hold.’

“I could hear snickering going on in the hallway. I replied, ‘Excuse me?’ She said, ‘I want to put you in a sleeper hold.’ I replied, ‘No m’am, that won’t happen.’ Ms. Armstrong asked, ‘Why, I’ll wake you up.’

“I suggested why doesn’t she just go back to her co-workers as they were snickering in the hallway. She replied, ‘I don’t want to do them; I want to put you in the hold.’

“I informed her that she wasn’t going to put her hands on me and she said that she would make some money if I let her do that. I told her I didn’t know what she was talking about and told her to go back to her co-workers … that I wasn’t interested. … Ms. Armstrong was persistent…. I called for Ms. Dean to assist me with having Ms. Armstrong leave my office.”

Comments (11) Add comment
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Insider Information
Insider Information 05/19/12 - 10:29 pm
How about Augusta National

How about Augusta National University?

It keeps Augusta in the name, reflects a "national comprehensive university" (whatever that means in English), and pays homage to our Masters.

JohnBrownAug 05/20/12 - 06:24 am
Augusta government offices

Augusta government offices have become a surrealistic work with mud wrestling going on and administrators up ladders like a Dali painting. Workers have been freed from rationality, restrictive customs and structures designed to maintain order. Underlying ambiguous relationships exist in opposition to the reality of the department structure. It’s cubism or something with the pieces that make sense scattered about. It’s okay though. Once you understand the hopelessness in a bad dream you are better off than those who believe those government offices are real.

seenitB4 05/20/12 - 07:51 am
Say what..

Smack down---head this a wrestling match....??

what he said
what he said 05/20/12 - 08:08 am
Sylvia, your personal

Sylvia, your personal relationship with Linda Beasley has seriously clouded your judgement on the situation at recreation. If you were posting this as opinion only, it would be one thing. You have reported blatant lies as fact. Have you grown too lazy to bother checking? It really is sad, given you reputation. You might concider digging a little deeper before yours suffers the way Beck's and Pearson's have.

Talk to the right people and you will find that Beck and. Pearson have their own fairly substantial skeleton closets.

Gage Creed
Gage Creed 05/20/12 - 09:17 am
Wow, that post by what he

Wow, that post by what he said seems rather like a personal attack. It sounds kind of like the "hit dog hollers" syndrome to me.

what he said
what he said 05/20/12 - 11:05 am
Not really Gage. It is more

Not really Gage. It is more disappointment. Until this fiasco, I had always considered Ms. Cooper to be one of the best and most ethical journalists in the CSRA. Just another of life's little disappointments.

Conservative Man
Conservative Man 05/20/12 - 11:40 am
My thinking is this is less

My thinking is this is less about Beck and Pearson, and more about a systemic corruption of the normal "checks and balances" approach to responsible governance. When you have top administrators and elected officials getting "pet" projects for their handlers and cronies pushed through and paid for by the taxpayers to the tune of MILLIONS, how would you expect mid-level management to behave any differently?This fish is rotting from the head down....
Again, I care less about the guilt or innocence of these two and more about the fact that those who are at the very top run such a shoddy ship. Unless it comes to something THEY want done....

Little Lamb
Little Lamb 05/20/12 - 04:05 pm
Freedom of Information

The law is actually called the Georgia Open Records Act (GORA). The law requires city, county and Georgia state government to search their files and produce the records within three days of the request. The law is written as if the requestor first wants to read the contents of the files and decide what he/she wants to copy. You can bring your own copier (or scanner or digital camera if you don't want the government to copy for you). The law does give the government the right to make reasonable charges for copying.

It looks like Augusta automatically copies everything. If you make an open records request, be as detailed, yet concise as possible. Then make it clear that you want to decide how much to copy.

Little Lamb
Little Lamb 05/20/12 - 04:06 pm

Just call the new school Augusta Comprehensive University.

kissofdeath 05/20/12 - 06:51 pm
Stop the frivolous lawsuit wasting taxpayer money.

Tom Beck take your walking paper like a man, what goes around comes around. Everytime I read the news a disgruntled fired city employee always filling lawsuit. Mr. Beck fired Dennis Stroud who is black and now his termination by the commissioners was justified. "Breaking News former assistance director Dennis Stroud file a lawsuit too."

madgerman 05/20/12 - 06:56 pm
Isn't it just wonderful to

Isn't it just wonderful to have such highly educated employees working in our government? To begin with, what was Armstrong supposed to be doing when she was walking around soliciting sporting events - did she have a job with tasks that needed to be performed? I think Ms. Pearson will be right up there in the winners circle when she gets finished with her law suit. Ande if she is smart she will wait 23 months before filing it, that way minds will be blank but the records will still be there.

Iwannakno 05/21/12 - 01:49 pm
I kind of like "Cal Ripken

I kind of like "Cal Ripken Mixed Use School of Medicine & Studies As Near To the River As We Can Get it".

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