Saving Harrisburg

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Joan Kroc doesn't live here. There's only so much she can do for Augusta.

We have to do the rest.

The late widow of McDonald's restaurants founder Ray Kroc bequeathed $1.5 billion to the Salvation Army in 2003, designating the money for state-of-the-art community centers across the country. Augusta asked to get one of them, and did: The $35 million recreation, theater, banquet, worship and multi-use campus on Broad Street recently opened for early-bird members, and celebrates its grand opening Aug. 6.

It's no secret, and it's even part of the Kroc Center grand plan, that local officials hope it will help revitalize the woebegone Harrisburg neighborhood it touches on the banks of the Augusta Canal.

But if the community thinks we can sit back and let Joan Kroc's vision be the sole savior of the neighborhood, then we'll only be fooling ourselves and dishonoring her generosity.

Even after the Kroc Center is in full swing, it will need our help in turning Harrisburg around.

That it needs turning is etched on Lori Davis' frustrated face.

The Harrisburg homeowner and lead citizen advocate is still at the end of her rope when it comes to getting drug houses, dilapidated and vacant structures, as well as drug and prostitution traffic, removed from the downtown hamlet.

At one point, she and her husband were so fed up with one vacant and nuisance-attracting house that she notified the city they'd be boarding it up themselves. A game city official met them and persuaded them to give him time to solve the problem.

But game officials are few and far between, by her reckoning. Davis managed to get momentum going on a proposed "chronic nuisance" ordinance some time ago that would've forced negligent landlords and owners to the table to work things out. After legal concerns stalled the effort -- officials say state law must be tweaked to fully account for property owners' rights -- Davis figures little has been achieved.

She does credit the city with reducing the number of cellphone-clutching loiterers on street corners -- a sure sign of drug trafficking -- and with cracking down on a house or two. But she's unimpressed with the city's response at other addresses, one of which she says had 80 pages of complaints on it.

She also wonders why she was never asked word one about her grievance filed with the city against a code inspector, which seems to have gone nowhere.

City Administrator Fred Russell said Augusta is "a big city with lots of issues and limited funds; setting the priorities on how to use those dollars is always the tough part."

Mayor Deke Copenhaver isn't so sanguine; he makes a strong case that things are indeed changing for the better in Harrisburg.

He notes that he personally made a significant donation to the Georgia Conservancy's recent blueprint for Harrisburg, and that the "Turn Back the Block" effort of the Augusta-Harrisburg Fuller Center for Housing is making big strides in rehabilitating housing and revitalizing morale. Except in summer, the group has "block party" workdays once a month, in an effort to turn renters into homeowners.

President Anne Catherine Murray said the program just had its second homebuying applicant approved.

In addition, Copenhaver told us in an e-mail:

"The Georgia Planning Association has won a grant to host an informational, hands-on session based around the concept of aging-in-place. They are calling their event 'Lifelong Augusta' and are planning on holding the event in Harrisburg (Sept. 15 and 16) to focus on some redevelopment recommendations from the Blueprints process.

"My understanding is that the GPA, along with Georgia Conservancy and other host organizations, are scheduling speakers for a day-long event in Harrisburg, with an additional evening discussion. The event will focus discussions on the mobility, public health, and housing challenges related to a community's ability to be a 'lifelong community.'

"Having the GPA take note of our progressive redevelopment efforts in Harrisburg would illustrate to me that the neighborhood is now receiving notice not just from Augusta, but from the state level as well!

"When you add all this up, I would say that there's a sustained effort by many organizations and individuals, including the city, to redevelop Harrisburg and that these efforts are definitely working."

It may be that Davis is overly critical, and may not be giving folks enough credit. But we admire her chutzpah and drive in her effort to turn Harrisburg around, and Murray has nothing but encouragement for Davis.

As the community coalesces around a revitalization of Harrisburg, we continue to urge City Hall to beef up its code enforcement efforts, and for the sheriff's office to keep the heat on the scofflaws.

There's a lot to do. A range of approaches won't hurt.

Comments (63) Add comment
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jtra1n
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jtra1n 07/30/11 - 09:43 pm
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The Old Money donors who have

The Old Money donors who have it to give to a number of charities, grants, boards etc. think Lori's view is too narrow and Lori thinks their's is off base. There is some truth to both but to the children who grow up in Harrisburg and the young families that are at risk simply due to where they live it is of the utmost importance that the area see better days. In truth Harrisburg as a whole has NEVER been given the chance to thrive. People who really care about it will bring it into a bright future. Otherwise it will remain the place where Augusta's servants, underserved, and undeserving of blight have always been.

Riverman1
89955
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Riverman1 07/30/11 - 09:58 pm
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Ooops.

Ooops.

Riverman1
89955
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Riverman1 07/30/11 - 10:04 pm
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So why did the $50 million

So why did the $50 million bribe for the TEE all go to Laney Walker?

In all seriousness, the only people around Augusta with decent police protection are places like the mall that pay for their own security with many off duty police officers. The Hill hires an officer to patrol at night. It appears we can't expect too much from standard law enforcement.

Emerydan
10
Points
Emerydan 07/30/11 - 10:14 pm
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The things that Lori Davis is

The things that Lori Davis is asking for are very simple. #1 That property owners are held accountable for the mess they leave in the neighborhoods where often they never venture, except only to pick up a check. #2 That city codes and ordinances are enforced (this is clearly not being done adequately).. not some point in the distant future, but now! Public officials have been less than eager to help. For instance, when it was realized that state law needed to be amended to give communities stronger tools to combat absentee slumlords, not one city official came forward to side with the Harrisburg activists to see this through. At first Sen Hardie Davis, Jr seemed interested in exploring such legislation for the past session at the behest of the Harrisburg activists, only to abandon those efforts because he said no elected city officials came to him requesting such legislation. So do his constituents not matter? Does he only listen to other politicians, not citizens and voters? And so where was the mayor? The other commissioners? It's not like this is anything new. They have known about this problem for years and years yet give the same excuses why something substantive cannot be done. With the CNPO, the problem was with state law.. so why not work to change state law? crickets chirping (that takes too much work). So the mayor's answer to the problem is a feel-good series of seminars and speakers. While that can certainly be of some help, it hardly takes the place of the city enforcing building and zoning codes with vigor, community-based policing, and a chronic nuisance property ordinance to hold slumlords accountable for their mess. With the mayor, it's always about conducting a study or having a seminar.. anything OTHER than getting to the root cause with action. Actions speak louder than words, Mr mayor.

Emerydan
10
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Emerydan 07/30/11 - 10:26 pm
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and another thing.. Fred

and another thing.. Fred Russell says Augusta "a big city with lots of issues and limited funds; setting the priorities on how to use those dollars is always the tough part." as the reason for not responding to Ms Davis' concerns about a city code inspector. Ok, we realize Mr Russell is busy working on that Financial Transaction Plan for a new downtown ballpark, that virtually no one other than the mayor and his close-knit group of cronies want.. yes it is all about setting priorities in a city the size of Augusta with the limited funds available. It is obvious our priorities are out of whack.

Riverman1
89955
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Riverman1 07/30/11 - 10:28 pm
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How's Fred Russell's business

How's Fred Russell's business he runs on the side going?

Emerydan
10
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Emerydan 07/30/11 - 10:54 pm
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And one more thing, this

And one more thing, this effort has never been limited to just saving Harrisburg, but for helping all neighborhoods in Augusta-Richmond County facing similar problems. For whatever reason, the local media loves to portray this as a myopic effort focused on one neighborhood. Nothing could be further from the truth.

countyman
21203
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countyman 07/30/11 - 11:06 pm
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The total cost of the Kroc

The total cost of the Kroc Center is $100 million.. The surrounding projects(Broad Mill Village, Martha Lester School, and future developments(renovated Sibley Mill) creates millions of extra dollars. Laney Walker, Bethlehem, and Harrisburg are receiving more national and state attention compared to local coverage... The section of Central Avenue in Midtown continues to add commercial development.. 5 O'Clock Bistro recently opened on Kings Way joining the other popular restaurants(Crums, etc). Cardinal Health opened the first cyclotron facility on Central Avenue in GA in the middle of June. The section of Broad street in Harrisburg is a great location for multiple kinds of businesses.. The First Thursday event is growing in Midtown and Harrisburg can create they're similar type of events..

countyman
21203
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countyman 07/31/11 - 12:05 am
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The funds generated from the

The funds generated from the hotel tax are being invested into both Laney Walker and Bethlehem.. I believe Wrightsboro rd is the dividing line between the two neighborhoods.. Laney Walker takes up the area between Walton Way and Wrightsboro rd.. The proximity of Laney Walker to the Central Business District and Medical District will allow the neighborhood to become stable before Bethlehem.. In the future tons of young professionals and students will be walking/biking up and down Laney Walker Boulevard.. Since GHSU wants to close a section of the street they should build a dorm in the neighborhood.. If GHSU really wants to experience major growth they need additonal land around downtown.. Student housing at the old Fatman's property next to Paine College is nice, but clearly nowhere enough if you want the students Emory is attracting... GHSU desperately needs to build a research park somewhere downtown.

Craig Spinks
817
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Craig Spinks 07/30/11 - 11:40 pm
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(C)ountyman, Borrowing and

(C)ountyman,

Borrowing and tweaking a line from Jerry Maguire, "Show me the $100M."
Produce the documentation proving that $100M was spent on the Kroc Center. Otherwise, I'll consider your assertion a "crock."

Craig Spinks
817
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Craig Spinks 07/30/11 - 11:53 pm
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0
Great editorial, ACES.

Great editorial, ACES.

countyman
21203
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countyman 07/31/11 - 12:12 am
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Augusta Chronicle July 15,

Augusta Chronicle July 15, 2011

The $100 million arts, worship and multipurpose center is part of the legacy of McDonald's heiress Joan Kroc, whose $1.7 billion gift to the Salvation Army is being used to plan, construct and permanently support community centers in many cities, including Augusta.

Emerydan
10
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Emerydan 07/31/11 - 04:00 am
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Regardless of how much was

Regardless of how much was spent on the Kroc Center, it's not a magic bullet to solve the problems of Harrisburg. Now granted, it is a wonderful amenity that is greatly appreciated by the residents there (and not one dime in tax money was used to build it) BUT the Kroc Center will not address the lingering issues of absentee landlords, drug and gang activity, dilapidated out of code buildings, and the need for community-based policing.

In fact I am not aware of any code inspectors that will be employed by The Kroc Center. I also don't believe they will be hiring more police in the area or demolishing the dilapidated out of code structures that fester in the neighborhood like infected sores.

Not to take anything away from the kroc Center.. it's a great facility, but it cannot tackle all of those problems, and in fact its not even its mission in the first place. Those are duties of the city. There is no guarantee that The Kroc Center will be able to attract more middle class home owners to Harrisburg, or any homeowners period if the other issues are not dealt with by the city.

The mayor's thinking on everything seems to be that as long as you throw enough money at one big ticket building project, it will solve all of the other problems in a particular area. That also seems to be his reasoning with a new ballpark. If that theory worked then all we need to do is build bigger and fancier school buildings to produce better students. Sorry, but things aren't quite that simple.

This reminds me of the tactics of Mayor Richard J Daley of Chicago. In his book, "Boss", author Mike Royko talked about how one of mayor Daley's main answers to dealing with blight and crime issues in some of the city's poorest minority neighborhoods was to embark on a campaign to build fancy public swimming pools. Whereas the pools provided a place to cool off during sweltering Chicago summers, they did little to combat the root problems that were plaguing the neighborhoods.

Of course when it came around to election time the city politicians could always point to the swimming pools as indicators of how much money they were putting into those neighborhoods.

I can show you fancy community centers, pools and tennis courts in some of the worst neighborhoods in the nation like Watts, East St Louis and The Bronx.. with rotting neighborhoods still just right around the corner. Suffice to say, middle class professionals are still not beating a path to open houses in those neighborhoods.

The fact is, there are no magic bullets, and throwing millions of dollars into a prestige building project won't solve all the problems in a neighborhood. It may improve the cosmetics of the neighborhood, but, well you know how the saying goes.. "you can put lipstick on a pig."

Mayor Daley's pool building campaign was a 1960s approach.. just as were building stadiums, convention centers, and all of the other "urban renewal" projects that were promised as panaceas to solve the ills of inner city neighborhoods.

That approach has been proven to be a failure. Because communities are far more complex systems that require far more than a "build it and they will come and all the problems will vanish" attitude . We need a 21st century approach not a 1960s one, and we need elected leaders who understand that.

Brad Owens
4838
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Brad Owens 07/31/11 - 02:39 am
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Ok, this will be a long reply

Ok, this will be a long reply but this merits it,

I am disappointed in the editorial. I mean what a LOUSY editorial about the problems in Harrisburg.

"Harrisburg needs help and the rich white folks are giving it what it needs by hiring consultants to write plans and by hosting a seminar!"

Is is bringing attention to the problems or is it a commercial for Deke?

We don't need a seminar, we need ACTION!

All these folks want to do is TALK about the problems.

These complicated redevelopment schemes are nothing but money makers for the developers and welfare job creation programs for bored rich kids who are over educated and don't want to work. I am talking about the people running these "non-profits" who make careers out of studying a problem and hold "fund raisers" to pay their own salaries while coming up with expensive solutions that just don't work.

A couple of houses have been redone? Great, how much was spent to accomplish that? How long before we get about 500 of them done?

The problems are crime, blight, and giverment apathy. If Deke cared about this he would make code enforcement do its job, but the slum lords all live in his neck of the woods, so he doesn't REALLY care about the issues affecting people like Lori and her neighbors.

If Deke cared he would fight to get the sheriff all the funds he needs to put deputies in the street; he would fight to get the courts more money to clear dockets faster and encourage stiffer punishments; he would fight to expand the detention centers to keep the criminals behind bars where they belong.

If he REALLY cares he would be trying to get higher paying industrial jobs brought to Augusta. Harrisburg was destroyed by the decimation of the urban industrial manufacturing base; crime is just a natural symptom of the disease. That is the problem; we never fight the disease which is poverty and low wage jobs.

He COULS help and fight for us, but what does he do? Fight for Ripken baseball to get $40,000,000.00 for a new stadium we don't need and can't afford.

This editorial makes it sound like things are looking up and that its all sunshine and lollipops; it even calls people like me and Lori "overly critical" and says we are, "not be giving folks enough credit"

WOW, now the trust fund brigade is to receive credit for helping get "master plans" and "blue prints" written by other out of town trust fund babies who will never even spend a night down there. Gee, thanks I guess.

Crime and drugs plague many of the "less affluent" neighborhoods, while the coins in Surrey Center's fountain are well protected.

Well, at least all these programs that never work make the rich FEEL better about crime and poverty. I mean who is Lori to complain just because she lives there and cannot even get the mayor to respond to an ACTUAL complaint?

You all keep having your parties, sipping your Champaign cocktails, and telling each other how wonderful you all are for being there...in the meantime folks like Lori will be out in the trenches fighting to actually change things.

The CABAL must be getting nervous to run a full length Sunday editorial like this.

Brad

Riverman1
89955
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Riverman1 07/31/11 - 07:24 am
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Harrisburg is an area in

Harrisburg is an area in transition and it hasn't been determined which way it is going. The Hill section is secure and isolated with their own privately hired officer patrolling. East Augusta is a crime ridden environment where the residents don't expect more. Harrisburg is ground zero in the battle and where the conflicting forces clash. After whatever side wins, things will quiet down.

Riverman1
89955
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Riverman1 07/31/11 - 07:23 am
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0
Brad, the editorial is a

Brad, the editorial is a result of Lori Davis' leadership, radio appearances and comments in recent weeks. She has turned it up a notch. If she can continue to galvanize the public, Mayor Copenhaver-Boardman and Sheriff (Whitey's friend) Strength will have to do something. There's a Tea Party like frustration building in Augusta that could sweep incumbents away like they were run over by that sweeping truck that goes down Broad Street.

broad street narrow mind
348
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broad street narrow mind 07/31/11 - 07:34 am
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well, the plan to "reclaim"
Unpublished

well, the plan to "reclaim" harrisburg isn't as new as augusta's awareness of lori davis. this plan by the georgia conservancy is nothing more than streetscaping and turning driving lanes into bike paths. oh, and another along the canal. fine. how much did that study cost? i don't know, but i know who paid for it? wanna guess? augusta tomorrow and some augusta tomorrowans like osteen and boardman. also deke and the harrisburg association and lori davis. i wonder which group is happier with the plans. the chronicle seems happy with it to let the mayor's quote promoting it to run on so many paragraphs. the mayor must be happy with it too. and no it has nothing to do with code enforcment or increased police presence, but it does have faith in streetscaping.

Ushouldnthave
0
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Ushouldnthave 07/31/11 - 07:43 am
0
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Silk purse - sows ear.

Silk purse - sows ear.

seenitB4
93263
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seenitB4 07/31/11 - 07:54 am
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Keep turning up the heat

Keep turning up the heat Lori......you are right.....

Riverman1
89955
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Riverman1 07/31/11 - 08:33 am
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I like to think I'm pretty

I like to think I'm pretty good at reading the intent of the editorials and I detect more than a little sarcasm when reading Mayor Copenhaver-Boardman's rose colored glasses comments.

RogerDavis
11
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RogerDavis 07/31/11 - 08:34 am
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0
Everyone, Thanks to Mike Ryan

Everyone, Thanks to Mike Ryan for being willing to write about this issue. Those of us who live it everyday are happy for any light that can be shone on this and many other neighborhoods in Richmond Co. But the sad reality is, it seems those in positions of power are still apathetic about addressing the real reasons people leave these areas. No one in power wants to address stopping the continued criminal elements who rule the streets of the neighborhoods at night.
Lori and I as well as many many others are tired of the same old"no money, no manpower" bromide continually heaped on us by those who will not help us solve this problem. We are sick of studies and seminars and talk. We need and expect action.
Lori has been in the trenches for over three years now with very little help from anyone in city government or law enforcement. It's been told to her that city hall views her as a "pain in the a**" She wears that title with honor.
Bottom line we're not going away nor are we giving up just because certain people within city gov and the RCSO seem to want things just as they are.
Lastly, certain "cut and paste" posters who are constantly regurgitating stats ad nauseum, just know we consider you part of the problem and you only serve to steel our resolve to hold leaders accountable and make them do what they were elected to do.

broad street narrow mind
348
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broad street narrow mind 07/31/11 - 08:51 am
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0
discussions to focus on
Unpublished

discussions to focus on mobility, public health, and whatever else. who cares about a daylong discussion? how about the city just do what it's supposed to do? we're tired of financing streetscaping for the chosen ones. flower trickle down? when mayor deke says something is "definitely working" who is it working for? his revenue ideas have been "definitely working" to improve schools, crime and poverty since he came into office. i remember his unfounded assurances of that years ago. have schools, crime, poverty, transportation, public health or anything like that improved on his watch?

Lori Davis
968
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Lori Davis 07/31/11 - 09:13 am
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First of all I would like to

First of all I would like to thank Mike Ryan for writing this editorial and for spending time with me on several occasions to get the facts. I also know that he has to write both sides of the story. The sad part about the other side of the story is that is is always fluff. More wasted tax payer's money on research that we can google and read about on line. No real ideas and action to put in place for those of us who are battling this neighborhood daily. No one is happier than me that the Kroc Center chose Harrisburg as it's home, but I have encouraged both Mike Ryan and Carole Hawkins of the AC to contact other cities to see if the Kroc Center ALONE turned their neighborhoods around. Did code enforcement and police forces continue to ignore the real problems in these areas, or did they get busy with the real problems at hand? This we have yet to see in Harrisburg. I have been personally involved with all things Kroc from the very beginning, however, not one person from Harrisburg serves on their BOD. Not one person from Harrisburg serves on any BOD concerning Turn Back the Block or the Fuller Foundation. We are the true stakeholders, however, we do not matter in the big scheme of things whatever that scheme is. The Ga. Conservancy came in and did a great job,"Studying Harrisburg," and all of us who care came dutifully to the meetings and presentations like sheep to the trough. We even donated to the cause. Sadly, most times, we were the only ones at these meetings. Those you read about in this Editorial doing great things for Harrisburg, were not there. Now we are having another, "Session," put on with a grant by the Ga. Planning Association. Whoop de do! I'll venture to say that those of us who have been so loyal and have tried to get along with those who are planning for us, will opt to do other things besides listen to continued feel good programs. We want our city leaders to listen to us concerning the real problems we are facing in Harrisburg and then do something about them. Funny how I received an email this week from our Mayor letting me in on the plans for Harrisburg to host the Georgia Planning Association. This came after my meeting with Mike Ryan. Funny how the Mayor never responded to a request from me last Summer that he help me close down a drug house operating next to a woman who worked for his family. I got no response, the woman moved. The felony drug dealer is still there running his enterprise. I've worked on all sides of this Harrisburg issue, and have hit it from every angle. It's time to consider drastic measures.

Lastly, to clear up a bit of the Fred Russell debacle. I filed a complaint against a city Code Enforcement officer, and Fred, after three months, did answer my complaint. The only thing that I did not appreciate was that I was never called to personally give my side of the story. I do know that a rather large meeting was called and one side of the story was heard and believed. Something about Sunshine Laws. So much for citizen complaints in Augusta.

seenitB4
93263
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seenitB4 07/31/11 - 09:20 am
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Lastly, certain "cut and

Lastly, certain "cut and paste" posters who are constantly regurgitating stats ad nauseum, just know we consider you part of the problem and you only serve to steel our resolve to hold leaders accountable and make them do what they were elected to do.

You are so right Roger.....this is part of the problem...some problems can't be sugarcoated.....& we only want the leaders to do what they were elected to do.

Riverman1
89955
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Riverman1 07/31/11 - 09:26 am
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Well Butch brings up an

Well Butch brings up an interesting point. If certain cut and paste posters actually are being paid by the county, it makes their remarks much more open to examination. Are these people being paid with county money to undertake the cut and paste comments? Is that the policy of some entity that receives county money? With Richard Roundtree the Chronicle went to great lenghts to verify a screen name actually belonged to him. Is that in order now?

RogerDavis
11
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RogerDavis 07/31/11 - 09:39 am
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River, don't know if you are

River, don't know if you are referring to seenit or to me as Butch but I'm not. I'm Lori's husband.Just wanted to clarify.

Riverman1
89955
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Riverman1 07/31/11 - 09:45 am
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Oops, sorry Roger. Then it

Oops, sorry Roger. Then it was you who made the positively valid point about the cut and paste posters. If they work for something that gets county money and this is their method, I suggest we take a harder look.

seenitB4
93263
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seenitB4 07/31/11 - 09:48 am
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Yeh...river knows I'm not a

Yeh...river knows I'm not a butch----we do need to know if county $$$ pays for lalaland posts. So glad you brought that up riverman.

Riverman1
89955
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Riverman1 07/31/11 - 09:59 am
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Seenit, who is definitely not

Seenit, who is definitely not a butch, we are onto something here. Is it the policy of any Richmond County organization being funded with county money to encourage employees to post comments for certain Chronicle articles? Is this encouraged during work hours from the offices especially?

CorporalGripweed
0
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CorporalGripweed 07/31/11 - 10:06 am
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I was having lunch yesterday

I was having lunch yesterday with a few like minded people who spoke of this "cut and paste "poster. A few names were bandied about, but the most likely of these names (if true) does indeed work for the city.The plot thickens,eh?

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