Augusta Commission members love to travel at taxpayers' expense

Augusta Commission members’ love of learning is exceeded only by their love to travel. For the third time in as many months, they’re at a conference. Five of them anyway. Alvin Mason, Corey Johnson, Bill Lockett, Bill Fennoy and Marion Williams are attending the four-day National Association of Counties conference in Fort Worth, Texas.

“I’m deep in the heart of Texas trying to get educated,” Williams said. “I’m trying to learn something to bring home. There’s a lot going on. We’re looking at their transit system. The bus system is working so good in Texas, they run every 15 minutes.”

Commissioners who love to get out of town are lucky. Because the city and county are consolidated, there’s only one governing body, but when it comes to travel, they act like there are still two. The city pays hefty dues to separate state and national organizations that represent city and county governments, and commissioners can go to any group’s conferences – expenses paid by you.

So far this year, local taxpayers have paid for commissioners and other city officials to attend the Georgia Munic­ipal Asso­ciation conference in Savannah in June; the Asso­cia­tion County Commis­sioners of Georgia conference in Savannah in July, plus their legislative conferences in Atlanta. Then there’s the NACO conference and the National League of Cities conference in Seattle in November. The only commissioner to attend the latter in recent years was Johnson, who went to Denver in 2010.

Commissioner Joe Jackson, who signed up for this year’s NACO conference but backed out, said he tried to get commissioners to agree to drop the pricey memberships in the national organizations two years ago, but then-Commissioner and Fi­nance Committee Chairman Jerry Brigham prevailed when he argued for continuing them.

I’m thinking, while the sheriff’s office and city are selling downtown property owners on a new tax to pay for more deputies, commissioners who love to travel should push for an IBEM (I’ve Been Everywhere Man) tax.

 

WASTED TAX DOLLARS BY ANY OTHER NAME: After weeks of arguing whether Jacquelyn Humphrey and Yvonne Gentry are coordinators or directors of the city’s Equal Opportunity Office and Small Business Department, commissioners are nowhere close to agreement.

City Attorney Andrew Mac­Ken­zie opined last week that they are coordinators because those were the titles the commission voted on when they hired them. Williams and Mason disagree.

The debate came out from behind closed doors after Jackson proposed hiring an EEO/minority business director, since that’s what the consolidation law calls for and that position has never been filled. Suspecting some ulterior motive (of which there certainly must be one), Williams and Mason got their hackles up and insisted Humphrey is definitely a director. And so it went.

Then out of the blue Tuesday, Com­mis­­sioner Donnie Smith moved to make Procurement Di­rec­tor Geri Sams the EEO/minority business director. Well, that motion failed, as he surely must have anticipated. It was sort of comical when before the vote someone asked what her salary would be, and everybody just looked around.

Then they voted on Mason’s substitute motion to direct Mac­Ken­zie to draw up an amendment to the law that would make both Humphrey and Gentry directors and – incidentally – give them big fat raises. That motion failed, too, which was just as well because so would a vote on changing the law because it would take eight commission votes to do it.

They also voted to rotate commission committee meetings at two-month intervals so Lockett, the Administrative Services Com­mit­tee chairman, last in the rotation, wouldn’t be left with a long agenda and an empty room when it came time for his meeting.

They also voted to change the time regular meet­ings begin back to
2 p.m. from 5 p.m., a move that caught some folks by surprise. The meeting time was changed to accommodate Matt Aitken’s work schedule after he was elected in 2009, though he said that wasn’t so.

 

FROM THE KING OF SOUL TO THE BOY KING: There’s a new man in the mayor’s office. Al Dallas, the 37-year-old son of Thomson attorney Buddy Dallas, is the mayor’s new administrative assistant. Former assistant Karyn Nixon resigned to work in the chief of staff’s office at Georgia Regents University.

Al was previously marketing director for LeanCor Supply Chain Group. He said he’d been working the Southeast territory and wanted to settle in Augusta and develop stronger relationships.

“There are exciting times,” he said. “So many good things are happening in Augusta.”

Dallas was married in Decem­ber. His wife, Lauren, from Lex­ing­ton, Ky., is marketing coordinator for the Augusta Sports Council.

Al said his claim to fame is having danced onstage for James Brown when he was 9 or 10 years old. That was when his father was Brown’s lawyer.

That’s nothing, said our neighbor, Merri McCorkle Stephens, Al’s contemporary and friend.

“I danced onstage with James Brown to Sex Machine,” she said.

 

SEEMS CIVILITY IS IN SHORT SUPPLY: A few weeks ago, I told you about former Columbia County Commissioner Frank Spears being assaulted at his insurance office in May.

A man he didn’t know came into his office and railed at him about harassing his wife, an employee of the church Spears attended, over reimbursement of mission-trip expenses Spears had put on his American Express card.

Spears said he tried to calm him down and walked him outside his office, and the next thing he knew he was lying on the concrete sidewalk. Spears filed charges against the man, Paul Holloway, and obtained a restraining order.

On Friday, the two men went before William D. Jennings III, chief judge of Richmond County Magistrate and Civil Court. Holloway’s attorney, Bill Sussman, said there was probable cause to substantiate the charge and that Holloway had agreed to be arrested. The judge issued a warrant for his arrest on a battery charge, set a $5,000 bond and allowed the defendant to turn himself in.

Since I’d gone to all the trouble to get there, I decided to stay awhile to observe.

Next on the docket was a case of road rage. One woman was seeking a warrant for the arrest of a woman she’d been driving behind who kept stopping in the middle of the road. The plaintiff said she passed the woman’s car to get away from her, but the woman followed her to her workplace and got out with a tire iron, but drove off when the plaintiff called the police. If the defendant had driven away, that might have been the end of it, but she circled back around just in time for police to stop her.

The judge questioned both women thoroughly before asking the plaintiff what she was seeking.

“Are you seeking retribution, justice or a pound of flesh?” he asked.

“Retribution,” she replied.

Jennings issued a warrant for disorderly conduct.

Another case involved a fight between sisters-in-law that ended with a set of car keys dangling out of one woman’s back. The next was a man seeking criminal damages against a former girlfriend who’d come to his house, cut his screens and damaged his car by smearing it with marshmallows and topping it off with an ice cream cone.

“Marshmallows?” the judge asked. “That’s a new one on me.”

Another case involved a couple who’d met online and had a date that ended up badly.

“I’m from an older age, but is that the way it’s done now?” Jen­nings said with a sigh.

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