City Ink: Augusta's leaders might learn something in Savannah

The Fourth of July looms. Political signs jockey for position on Washington Road. And candidates jockey to raise enough green to make their rivals green with envy when the next financial disclosures come. A big war chest serves the same purpose as war whoops – it scares off the enemy and attracts defectors who want to be on the winning side.

While Augusta bakes, and business slows at City Hall, Augusta commissioners are at the Georgia Municipal Association’s annual meeting in Savannah, where we hope they learn a lot at the seminars and lectures, especially the ones on Georgia’s sunshine law.

Commissioner Grady Smith said he’d been signed up for the ethics class and thought they all should go. Commissioner Jerry Brigham said he’d already taken the course.

Fireworks are expected to start this week when they meet and consider City Administrator Fred Russell’s recommendation to “approve the Reynolds Street parking deck construction, operating and reciprocal easement agreement, Reynolds Street parking deck management agreement, conference center parking lease and assignment of parking deck management agreement, the management agreement for the conference center parking lease and parking deck management agreement.”

That’s a mouthful.

Commissioners almost certainly will ask questions about allegations of missing Conference Center kitchen equipment, though it’s probably not really missing but stored somewhere, possibly in the Cloud.

 

MEET, GREET, EAT, PONY UP: At least 400 people showed up at sheriff candidate Capt. Scott Peebles’ free feed at Julian Smith Casino last Monday.

“It was a great success … we think,” he said. “We’re having another meet and greet, open to the public, on Wednesday from 6:30 to 8:30 at Dyess Park Community Center. It will be very similar, but smaller with free food, etc. We’re importing hot air so we don’t run out.”

At the CSRA Republican Women’s Club’s meet and greet Monday, where enough hot air for the Hindenburg was expected, there were more candidates and family members than regular folks. State House candidate Barry Fleming brought his life-size elephant on the back of a truck. He said he’d parked the elephant just off Robinson Avenue in Harlem but had to move it because it was causing fender benders.

While there, I learned that state Sen. Jesse Stone now represents McDuffie County. Stone and his wife, Amanda, and I really hit it off, especially after I learned they have nine dogs, too, mostly strays that wandered up. I told them I was so relieved to have found somebody as nutty as Ernie and I are. They said nine weren’t so many, that Nancy Bobbitt, Sen. Johnny Isakson’s representative, had more than that because she rescues beagles.

When I saw Bobbitt later, I told her I’d heard she had more dogs than we did, and she said, “Yes, but I’m down to fewer than I have fingers and toes.”

I think she said she has had as many as 43.

Supporters of sheriff candidate Lt. Robbie Silas held a fish fry at Blythe Recreation Center last week, and, according to former state Sen. J.B. Powell, who did some of the cooking, 127 people partook. Sheriff candidate Lt. John Ivey’s supporters held a meet and greet Saturday at the Henry Brigham Center.

At 7 p.m. Thursday at Dia­mond Lakes Community Center, 100 Black Women of Augusta are sponsoring a forum for sheriff candidates.

 

DON’T PLAY WITH FIREWORKS: As the holiday approaches, health and safety officials are warning of the dangers of consumer fireworks, which injure thousands of people each Fourth of July, most of them children and teens.

When I was a teen, my sister June shot me with a Roman candle which caught the sleeve of my dress on fire. I screamed, and Daddy came and put the fire out, then turned around and broke the Roman candle over June’s head. Mama went to the drugstore to get some ointment for the burn while I cried and said every bad word I knew. They should have taken me to the emergency room, but back then people didn’t go there unless they’d been shot, injured in a car wreck or were dying.

 

SO MANY SCANDALS, SO LITTLE TIME: Augusta Chronicle columnist Glynn Moore e-mailed to say he’d noticed my newsroom mailbox was overflowing and that if I didn’t come in soon and get it he was going to open the mail and use it to write a column. I e-mailed him to go ahead and do it, but he didn’t, so I went by the newspaper last week and picked it up.

The stack included a Christmas card from editor Bill Norton, which must have gotten lost in the mail because it hadn’t been that long, had it? There were also three anonymous letters, one of them asking why a firefighter with a felony record that involved burglary and explosives had been hired in 2007. I checked around and was told the firefighter qualified despite the criminal record. That contradicts what city officials said when I was researching a story two years ago about city employees with criminal records. They said the city didn’t hire people with felony records for public safety positions. They probably just forgot about this one.

Another letter in the stack from “Concerned Citizen” had 15 paragraphs beginning with “Did you know” followed by allegations of irregularities in the city’s Housing and Community Development Department running the gamut from favoritism in promotions and raises by Director Chester Wheeler to overpayments to one particular construction company.

Concerned Citizen also wrote “Where there is smoke, there is always a fire!!!!!!!!!”

To that I say, “Where there is federal money, there is always enough to burn.”

It’s an Augusta tradition that every time the housing department runs afoul of U.S. Housing and Urban Development and has to reimburse federal funds, commissioners hold a big pow-wow, supposedly to get things straightened out. The director at the time defends his position, and officials of the Community Housing Development Organizations – which received the federal money but have no responsibility for reimbursements – defend theirs. Separating fact from fiction is impossible to everybody but the ones in the know.

It was time for another pow-wow after HUD ordered the city to reimburse more than $300,000 or lose future funding because the money hadn’t been spent in time and had been spent on ineligible projects. So commissioners held a “workshop” Monday with Wheeler and his staff and CHDO officials, most of whom reported successful housing efforts. But the city’s general fund will still take a $300,000 hit.

 

TO THINE OWN NAILS BE TRUE: Also among the stack of mail was a book by award-winning Augusta author Marsha Maurer, Whatever is Lovely: Design for an Elegant Spirit.

Inside the dust jacket, it states, “The women we admire seem to approach style, family, career, home, relationships, and spirit as one seamless whole. Their inner and outer beauty is one. We aspire to order our own multifaceted lives with such grace. Often, however, our self-improvement efforts do not relate to the rest of our busy lives.”

That struck a chord.

After moving to the country and taking up gardening and stray dogs, my fingernails are worn down to the quick. In an effort to order grace into my multifaceted life, when I ran across some false fingernails in a drawer last week, I glued them on. I must say they are extremely grotesque, and I’m glad only six are still in place. That’s the good news. The bad news is I don’t know where the other four are.

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