Sylvia Cooper

City Ink columnist and correspondent for The Augusta Chronicle.

Augusta Commission members love to travel at taxpayers' expense

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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.

Comments (20) Add comment
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griff6035
4286
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griff6035 07/20/13 - 07:30 pm
5
1
Comments

The good the bad and the ugly Great column Sylvia!

Riverman1
93715
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Riverman1 07/21/13 - 04:57 am
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1
Home Movie Time

I just hope the group of Commissioners on the trip didn’t make any videos to show later. A few years ago they went to Hawaii and there was a Commission meeting when they got back where they showed videos on a big screen of them playing on the island. It went on for hours with them laughing every time one of them was seen mugging for the camera. They would take breaks and eat snacks worthy of a plate at Golden Coral, come back and show more of their Hawaiian vacation. It was obvious no business would be done that meeting. Finally Commissioner Andy Cheek, who hadn't gone on the trip, after tactfully hinting several times it was time to move on to no avail, said enough, got up and left.

seenitB4
97590
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seenitB4 07/21/13 - 06:33 am
2
1
Fun at the Courthouse

I have always said it was a fun day just to listen to cases .....but marshmallows/cream...that is a new one. :)

chascushman
6653
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chascushman 07/21/13 - 07:06 am
7
5
Augusta is following in the
Unpublished

Augusta is following in the footsteps of Detroit. This is what happens when democrats are in control very long.

ganut
9
Points
ganut 07/21/13 - 08:41 am
2
3
The courthouse

I have known Paul Holloway for 30 years and never known him to have a physical confrontation with ANYONE.This is not to say they he did not hit Frank spears but sometimes in Paul Harvey words you have to hear THE REST OF THE STORY !!!! I have to wonder how this story is worth you reporting on twice. HMMMMM

Grace422
239
Points
Grace422 07/21/13 - 08:55 am
4
2
Paul Holloway

ganut, I was there when it all went down and Mr. Paul Holloway was way out of line. I was also in the courtroom and watched him plead! I know the story apparently it's you that doesn't. He needs anger management and I hope everything works out for the best for him.

ganut
9
Points
ganut 07/21/13 - 09:12 am
2
4
Grace, I am not saying that

Grace, I am not saying that he did not hit Mr Spears (which was wrong) What i was saying is that Mr Spears must have really said something to his wife that sent him over the top. (Dont think you was there for that)Besides all that both parties involved are religious people. TURN THE OTHER CHEEK!

dichotomy
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dichotomy 07/21/13 - 09:55 am
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0
"Alvin Mason, Corey Johnson,

"Alvin Mason, Corey Johnson, Bill Lockett, Bill Fennoy and Marion Williams"

Anyone surprised at this list of commissioners traveling and eating high on the hog at taxpayer expense? I certainly am not. I sure hope these taxpayer funded vacations don't interfere with any of their trips to the skybox at the ball games in Atlanta.

I don't know about the rest of you, but I am looking around from my perch in Southeast Richmond County and I don't see where I am getting any benefits from sending a bunch of big timing politicians on these little party trips. I can tell you for a fact they they are NOT teaching common sense and how to save the taxpayers money at these conferences.....and we've got the crew of downtown clowns to prove it. If fact, I think these conferences of like minded big timing politicians must be teaching how to travel and eat well at the taxpayer's expense....and how to get potential contractors to fund your big timing trips to their skybox at the ball games. I know WE taxpayer's have not seen ANY benefit from these little vacations....other than it gets them out of town and they can't do any more damage or grandstanding for the media while they are gone.

Maybe that is the secret. Maybe we should just give the commissioners a free one week vacation to Hawaii every time there is a vote scheduled on a Paul project or "redevelopment" plan. It would certainly be cheaper for us and my guess is that the ones on our frequent flyers list would take the deal. After all, they have sold us out for less.

...point to ponder
779
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...point to ponder 07/21/13 - 10:08 am
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Commissioner's conference attendance...

It was not long ago they took a "tour" of the Riverwalk. They probably forgot we had one! A very unimpressive bunch in the end.

Their time is better spent learning about Augusta. Thry need to actc proactively vs. reacting to bad elements and poor conditions that have existed on Riverwalk for years without taking corrective action UNTIL after a beating took place! The conditions have been poor for years.

They don't need to travel anywhere to learn....just take a TOUR of your own back yards!

afadel
547
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afadel 07/21/13 - 10:15 am
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4
Criticism of Commissioners' Traveling to Conferences is Wrong

I'm happy that Augusta commissioners make an effort to learn about how to govern. Don't be penny wise and pound foolish. How much money does it cost Augusta or Columbia County or any local government when it makes decisions which expose it to a lawsuit? How much money does it cost when a lease or service contract is not properly understood or when a pension fund is not invested properly? No, I'd rather spend $5,000 on travel and education if the commissioners learn how to do their work $50,000 better.

nocnoc
49160
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nocnoc 07/21/13 - 10:18 am
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Waste and Downtown Commissioner

OK you county taxpaying people.

Take note: NO South Side/ Old County Commissioners had
any part in wasting your tax money.

Again those downtown, that always seem to need more new taxes, were those listed as spending it YET again.

Riverman1
93715
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Riverman1 07/21/13 - 10:45 am
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Afadel said

Afadel said, "How much money does it cost Augusta or Columbia County or any local government when it makes decisions which expose it to a lawsuit?"

Hey, don't be getting Columbia County in this mess.

itsanotherday1
48334
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itsanotherday1 07/21/13 - 11:23 am
6
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afadel

If they don't have the education/common sense to make decisions in the public interest, they have no business running for office.

As far as lawsuit exposure is concerned, that is what they pay the attorney to do.

If they have a specific project to look at to gain ideas from, then maybe an onsite view of things is in order for a couple of commissioners to gather info and report back on. They didn't learned a "D" thing in Dallas that couldn't have been gained from a video conference.

98% of the time it is a waste of taxpayer money and a pleasure junket for the participants.

GnipGnop
12744
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GnipGnop 07/21/13 - 11:40 am
5
0
Fred Russell should be fired

commissioners should be recalled. The trash tax and any dealings with paul Simon should be audited and investigated. There is so much corruption in ARC politics and yet nobody cares to do anything about it.

chascushman
6653
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chascushman 07/21/13 - 11:51 am
5
2
"President Obama returning to
Unpublished

"President Obama returning to Martha’s Vineyard for August vacation"
Hey these are guys just following the entitlement mentality of Obama.

Sweet son
11649
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Sweet son 07/21/13 - 12:31 pm
4
0
Another commissioner should make a motion to reduce the

Commission's travel budget and limit travel to the State of Georgia!

But that idea is not logical!

itsanotherday1
48334
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itsanotherday1 07/21/13 - 12:40 pm
5
0
Not to mention..

Many, if not most, of their constituents are thinking a) "They are just getting theirs. It is about time 'we' started getting some". or b) They don't pay any significant taxes going to run the county, so they could not care less how it is frittered away.

Little Lamb
49069
Points
Little Lamb 07/21/13 - 01:16 pm
5
0
Both And

afadel posted:

How much money does it cost Augusta or Columbia County or any local government when it makes decisions which expose it to a lawsuit? How much money does it cost when a lease or service contract is not properly understood or when a pension fund is not invested properly? No, I'd rather spend $5,000 on travel and education if the commissioners learn how to do their work $50,000 better.

The trouble is that we send them on these junkets year after year after year, and they still expose us to lawsuits (most of which the city loses), and still do not understand our leases and service contracts, and still do not invest pension funds appropriately. They are incapable of learning anything helpful at these conferences, as they demonstrate to us at great cost.

corgimom
38451
Points
corgimom 07/21/13 - 03:40 pm
4
0
"No, I'd rather spend $5,000

"No, I'd rather spend $5,000 on travel and education if the commissioners learn how to do their work $50,000 better."

BUT THEY DON"T!

corgimom
38451
Points
corgimom 07/21/13 - 03:43 pm
2
1
Chascushman, it's not any

Chascushman, it's not any different than Ronnie's visit to his buddies in California, 41's visits to Maine and Texas, Richard's visits to San Clemente, DDE's visits to Augusta, Roosevelt's visits to GA, ME, JFK's visits to Florida and California and New Jersey, and on and on and on...

Riverman1
93715
Points
Riverman1 07/21/13 - 06:22 pm
0
0
What would have been funny

Know what would have been funny? If Joe Jackson had actually gone to Dallas with them.

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