With January almost upon us, Janus looks back on the old year and forward to 2014.
Looking back to December, Janus was as shocked as the rest of us by the arrest of Richmond County Coroner Grover Tuten on a charge of stealing a car from a deceased man or his family. Janus was also dismayed by the arrest of former Richmond County Commissioner Bill Hiers on a charge of shoplifting. Hiers told police he did not want to stand in a long line, so he decided not to pay.
Janus can’t imagine how Tuten got himself in such a fix, but he does somewhat sympathize with Hiers over the long line situation.
Janus is equally puzzled by the predicament Columbia County Tax Commissioner Kay Allen is in over fees she received from Grovetown and Harlem to collect taxes. Columbia County officials voted to send a letter to Gov. Nathan Deal reporting “possible malfeasance” by Allen.
Janus saw many triumphs and tragedies in Augusta in 2013, along with winners and losers, and predicts more coming in 2014.
IT’S GOOD TO BE BOY KING: All in all, 2013 has been a good year for Augusta’s Boy King, Mayor Deke Copenhaver.
He and Matt Kwatinetz, the consultant for the mayor’s Augusta Regional Collaboration Project, unveiled what has become known as the Mills project to the Augusta Commission, which agreed to spend $300,000 to investigate the potential of renovating the old Sibley and King textile mills for use by Georgia Regents University.
Of course, GRU and the University System of Georgia Board of Regents haven’t said yes to the proposal, and they haven’t said no, although a consultant deemed it “the least attractive of the three scenarios” studied.
Meanwhile, plans by the mayor and Kwatinetz to renovate the old Chamber of Commerce building downtown into a jazz bar, coffee house and collaboration space is under way. The $300,000 for the ARC Project that was in next year’s budget makes it one of the few new programs budgeted that didn’t get cut.
Also, after abruptly firing Administrator Fred Russell this month, commissioners voted to make the mayor acting administrator until they hire Russell’s successor, which means for the first time, the mayor has some real power.
Last but not least, Copenhaver beat his record in this year’s Ironman triathlon.
BIGGEST KNEE JERK OF 2013: Russell’s firing after he’d agreed to retire next year when a new administrator was on board.
Now they’ll probably have to pay him six months’ salary and benefits – as called for in the city’s policy and procedures manual – and another severance package commissioners approved in his 2005 engagement letter, which includes six months’ pay and benefits, the pension plan and leave time of a 20-year employee.
But that’s not the worst of it. Next year’s general fund budget, which goes into effect Wednesday, is balanced with a 2.4 percent cut in every department’s budget. Russell was to have each department head present a plan for meeting that goal.
Also, after commissioners approved the budget, Russell read into the record that the budget did not include a proposed garbage fee increase and $3 a month street sweeping fee.
WORST OUTRAGE OF 2013: The Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center kept a group of high school students from Augusta’s Alleluia Community School from singing traditional Christmas songs to its veterans. On Monday, a spokesman announced that the hospital is taking a stricter stance on its policy banning carolers from singing religious Christmas music in public patient areas.
Not only is hospital negligence killing patients, but the administration is also trying to keep them from being saved.
MOST ILL-TIMED TOUR: After ignoring a national, state and local survey that indicated proposed names for the new university with “Augusta” in them received by far the most favorable responses, GRU President Ricardo Azziz said he was going on a listening tour.
MOST TROUBLESOME WORD: “Slum.”
BIGGEST LOSER: Former Commissioner Jerry Brigham lost 160 pounds this year.
CATCH OF THE YEAR: Cabela’s
LOSSES: Former state Rep. Jack Connell died in February at age 93. Before his retirement from the House in 2002, he had represented Augusta since 1969. For the last 26 years, he held the second-highest position in the House, speaker pro tempore, the longest of anyone in the U.S. in a similar post.
He was an officer and a gentleman.
Former Rep. Quincy Murphy, D-Augusta, a state representative for 11 years, died in August at age 60. He was described as an “extra-compassionate public servant” who loved his constituents. Brian Prince won the District 127 state House seat vacated by Murphy’s death.
JANUS LOOKS FORWARD
• Augusta commissioners will spend $40,000 searching for a new administrator who will leave three months into the job when Commissioners Marion Williams and Bill Lockett give him his first wedgie.
• Russell and Williams will get into a runoff for mayor. Russell will win, and Williams will go to court to have the election voided on the grounds that Russell was ineligible because he’s still being paid by the city.
• When Augusta taxpayers learn commissioners are attending a convention in Las Vegas, they’ll seek an injunction ordering whoever went to Las Vegas to stay in Las Vegas.
• Azziz will announce that GRU will stop using animals in experiments because a researcher made pigs fly.
• An Augusta official will be arrested for stealing pennies off a dead man’s eyes.
• A Columbia County official will be arrested for moonlighting but keeping it in the dark.
• In anticipation of leaving office, Copenhaver will take up the saxophone and become a regular performer at the jazz café in the renovated Chamber of Commerce building.
• Commissioners will implement a rain tax during the worst drought in Richmond County history.
• The Historic Preservation Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources will remove the Confederate monument on Broad Street in the dead of the night without notifying anybody and store it at Mistletoe State Park along with the historic plaque they confiscated from Broad Street. They removed the plaque without notice because of a single complaint that a quote about slavery by British author William Makepeace Thackery was offensive.
Janus says the HPD of the DNR is offensive and needs to be removed.