Sylvia CooperCity Ink columnist and correspondent for The Augusta Chronicle.

Augusta is a city of inconsistency

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Augusta is a city of incongruities. It’s the Garden City but has a lot of funky smells. It has a Kroc Center close to a crack center. It has Arts in the Heart and the Soul Bar. It’s a city on the move until the trains roll into town.

Almost everybody gets a government check. Some get two or three. It’s the sixth worst in the nation for bad credit, but one of the best for bankruptcy lawyers.

It ranks 135th out of 159 Georgia counties in health outcomes despite having plenty of hospitals and health care providers. People in some areas of the county don’t have access to grocery stores, and some ZIP codes are so devoid of them, they’re classified as “food deserts,” but almost everybody’s fat.

It’s the Golf Capital of the World, but the local politicians can’t figure out what to do with the city golf course. It’s also the venue for the Iron Man contest, but the politicians don’t have enough backbone to even Save the A.

In 2010, Forbes magazine ranked Augusta as the 23rd-strongest metro economy in the nation, and last year it was ranked second for growth of high-tech jobs over the past five years. Still, the unemployment rate is 9 percent, but that might be because when it comes to how educated the workforce is, compared with how educated it needs to be, it ranks in the bottom five cities in the country.

ONE OLD GOAT IS AS GOOD AS ANOTHER: It was a fortuitous moment indeed when memories of the Goat Man unexpectedly popped into my head six years ago, giving me a good ending to my column and triggering reminiscences from readers:

“I woke up one day last week thinking, of all things, about the Goat Man and wondering if any of you remember him. He was a bearded character who used to travel the highways and byways of south Georgia on his way to and from Florida.

The fire whistle going off in town or the road scraper coming down the road paled in comparison to shouts of, ‘The Goat Man’s coming!’

He was a grizzled, bearded old man who went south to Florida every year in his wagon, accompanied by a herd of hard-headed companions. Wherever he went, he drew a crowd, and if I’m not mistaken, he would allow you to take a picture of him and his herd for a fee. I can’t remember how much. He used to come down U.S. Highway 41, and he also went along U.S. 129 in Nashville, Ga., because Er­nie’s daddy, a photographer who recorded all the historic events of the time in Berrien County, took still and moving pictures of the Goat­ Man.

I called Ernie to reminisce about the Goat Man, and he told me that somebody has produced a DVD compiled from various photos and remembrances about the Goat Man and that it is advertised on the Ludlow Porch radio show, which shows what a novelty it was for someone to travel around with a herd of goats.

But, you know, I got to thinking, it wasn’t really so different from all those people in cars and campers heading to Florida every winter with one old goat, except that the Goat Man probably had a lot more fun.”

REMEMBERING THE GOAT MAN: Those few paragraphs triggered more response from people than anything I’d ever written about except for the mysterious screaming creature in Hahira when I worked for the Valdosta Daily Times. People from all over the area sent their memories of the Goat Man. One of my favorites is this:

“Omigosh! It’s been YEARS since I’ve thought of him,” e-mailed Mary Wise, a domestic engineer, wife, mother and grandmother. “My parents took us to see him once. He was camped on Schultz Hill. It was a cloudy evening. He spoke to his herd, ‘Looks like it’s gonna rain, goats!’

“That became a well-worn phrase in our house whenever the weather was threatening. In fact, it still is … ah, memories.”

Since I’m the Goat Man writer for The Chronicle, Metro Editor Bill Kirby passed along a request from Jerry and Dorinda Love, of Aiken, to write something about the late Goat Man.

DIFFERENT STROKES FOR DIFFERENT FOLKS: Commis­sion­er Marion Williams says the only thing he knows about golf is that he’s seen a ball, but cars are different.

“I know cars,” he said.

He also likes to talk about them. So when the subject of replacing a car or dump truck comes up, he grills fleet manager Ron Crowden.

“I just want to know why 41 cars have to be changed out at the same time?” he asked during a recent meeting. Crowden said the cars were 2004-05 models and have 125,000 miles on them, but Williams insisted they should have at least 200,000 miles before being replaced, and he couldn’t be convinced otherwise.

The next agenda item was about leasing vehicles, a subject that fascinated Williams but bored the life out of everybody else.

When the meeting was over, I went up to tease Com­mis­sioner Bill Lockett. I said, “Well, Mr. Lockett we’ve got somebody on the commission now who talks more than you do.”

“Whew!” he said. “We’ve got to do something. We’ve got to stop putting vehicles on the agenda.”

IT’S ABOUT PAYING THEIR FAIR SHARE: Augusta lawyer Jack Long has asked the Georgia Supreme Court to hear his appeal of Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s decision that allowed former Rich­mond County Juve­nile Court Judge Willie Saunders to run for Superior Court judge last year even though he had defaulted on state and federal taxes.

Long contends that Kemp’s decision, later affirmed by a Fulton County Superior Court judge, should be reversed because the state constitution states in part that “No person … who is a defaulter for any federal, state, court, municipal or school system taxes required of such office holder or candidate … shall be eligible to hold any office.”

Even though Saunders lost the election, the issues in the case are not moot because they’re likely to be repeated, Long said.

In the July elections, there were three challenges to candidates for Superior Court judge in Georgia with unpaid taxes. The initial decisions of administrative law judges hearing the challenges showed an inconsistent application of the constitutional provision, with two being disqualified and Saunders being allowed to run.

Long contends the ruling makes the constitutional provision “meaningless and of no real force and effect.” A ruling by the Supreme Court would answer questions that have arisen from challenges and would give potential candidates direction as to the true meaning of Article 2, Section 2, Paragraph 3 of the Georgia Constitution.

“The decision of the sec­re­tary of state and Judge (Alford) Dempsey makes the constitutional provision meaningless,” Long stated in an e-mail. “This case has never been about Willie Saunders, but has always been a public policy issue. I believe that as we approach April 15th, taxpayers will appreciate the purpose of this constitutional provision. Those who seek to hold public office and get paid with OUR TAX DOLLARS should pay their fair share. Taxes are the price of a free society, and we need public officials who set a good example for the people by paying their fair share.”

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rational thought trumps emotion
rational thought trumps emotion 03/24/13 - 12:18 pm

I see your point of concern and in a few cases, you may be correct. However, in most cases (at least with the deputies) you are assigned a vehicle that only you use, the same goes for Columbia and most neighboring counties. This being the case, most take pride of ownership in their vehicles because they know it will be theirs for 6 years or so. However, the vehicles must go where they must go and that often means over curbs, through fields, hitting potholes, etc. with a lot of stopping and starting, idling and other rough driving that is not normally done with other county vehicles or personal vehicles. Also, most personal cars aren't running 12 hours a day 3 or 4 days a week which also puts a toll on the engine and other parts of the car.

All of that being said, the fact still remains that vehicles that go into the shop with less than 100,000 miles are covered under fleet management and those with excess mileage are billed for all repairs and maintenance. It goes without saying that those with 100,000 miles or more are going to be in the shop quite often so we are wasting good money on vehicles that need to be retired. Also, at 100,000 miles they can go to auction and we the county will get a few thousand dollars for them towards the purchase of new vehicles but when you run them to death, you get nothing. Lastly to consider is newer vehicles run cleaner, better and are less expensive in fuel costs. Therefore, is simply is the best economical decision for the county to replace vehicles at around 5-6 years or 100,000 miles vs. using them until the fall apart on the road, get someone hurt or when they stay in the shop more than they stay on the street which is a poor use of manpower for various reasons.

Riverman1 03/24/13 - 12:21 pm
Ok, Rational. You know the

Ok, Rational. You know the situation better than I do. Good luck.

seenitB4 03/24/13 - 12:26 pm

I think Rational is starting to like us a little bit....just a little though..:)

TrulyWorried 03/24/13 - 01:05 pm

Harley 52 - there is more than one side to every story!!

pimpernell 03/24/13 - 01:55 pm
A Good Place to ........

Let me get this straight. Augusta is 135 out of 159 in Medical Outcomes despite being the home of GRU..some Ricardo's Hideaway Hospital and is at the same time 2nd in places to retire. From these factoids it is obvious that Augusta is not a good place to live but a great place to die! Perhaps we should turn The Golf and Gardens into The Elephant Burial Ground. Perhaps we should become the home not only of the Masters but of the International Morticians' Convention as well.
This would give a contrapuntal meaning to the phrase 'a hole in one' to 'one in a hole'. Did the Nitty Gritty Dirty Band have it right when they sang "Augusta, Georgia is just no place to be!" But alas! that was before the Gods of Political Misfortune reagailed us with such a Winter of Govermental discontent made inglorious Spring as we witness nightly on the 6PM local news. Cirque de Soleil has nothing up on the clown princes enthroned upont the seat of our municipal government center. It is, regretably, the greatest show (of buffoonery ) on earth! :)

rational thought trumps emotion
rational thought trumps emotion 03/24/13 - 04:50 pm

Not many people I don't like and can debate even with my best friends - not always right but try to do what’s right. Never dislike anyone for their views on others, religion, politics, etc. - if we all thought the same, this world would be a boring place. Have a great day.

seenitB4 03/24/13 - 07:19 pm
I'm with you Rational

If we all thought alike this would be a boring place....& few would darken the doors....
Have a good night.....& to the sweet guys on here...great night to yall too...♥
Sean too..

IAmISaid 03/30/13 - 05:59 pm
Forest for the trees, and all that...

Y'all are arguing about the color of the paint when there's a 6 foot hole in the floor. That gaping hole is the fact that there doesn't seem to be ANY published fleet policy for ARC vehicles - at least not one available to the public. This is horrifying, and is certainly no accident - it means that folks like Fred Russell (or anyone he delegates) have essentially unfettered authority to provide city vehicles to any city employee he/she chooses.

Without a known policy, there is no accountability - fiscal OR behavioral. What are the criteria for issuing a city vehicle to a city employee? How do ARC taxpayers know with any confidence that only those employees who have legitimate need to operate a city vehicle in the course of their duties receive them? What are the conditions for that custodianship? Are they used for city purposes only? Are they taken out of the city? May the city employee allow non-city employees to ride in the vehicle with him/her? Is the employee responsible for reimbursing the city for personal use of the vehicle? Is it established that a city employee needs a permanent vehicle assignment or would access to a fleet vehicle by multiple employees on an as-needed basis be more fiscally prudent?

Without knowing the answers to the questions above, arguing about the mileage to be used on the cutoff on swapping out of police vehicles is a childish topic to argue about.

Oh, and to the officer living outside ARC but driving an ARC patrol car to and from work - if I had my way, you wouldn't be allowed to do so. The entire point of allowing police officers to drive their patrol cars home is to provide a sense of security to the neighborhood in which they reside. Why should Richmond County be paying for the security of a neighborhood in a different county? Why are they paying the fuel and maintenance costs of a vehicle just so you can live outside the borders of the area where you work? Or do you just feel entitled to it because you're a police officer and take to entitlement like a duck to water?

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