Originally created 11/18/99

Subcommittee criticizes mayor, editorial writer

An Augusta Commission subcommittee that is punching out a new city ethics ordinance has taken a few jabs at Mayor Bob Young and The Augusta Chronicle's senior editorial writer Phil Kent.

Commissioners are angry with Mr. Young for proposing a strict ethics ordinance on the heels of a Richmond County grand jury's scathing report on city government operations. They are equally outraged by Mr. Kent's editorials on the grand jury's findings and his stance on the ordinance.

In a Tuesday subcommittee meeting where Mr. Young's proposal landed for revisions, Commissioner Willie Mays referred to Mr. Kent as "Phil Copycat Kent," pointing to the writer's March 4, 1998 "correction and apology."

In a previous editorial, Mr. Kent had failed to credit some sentences to a quote found in a 1989 Reader's Digest by columnist Pat Buchanan. He apologized and pledged to rededicate himself to checking and rechecking everything he wrote.

Mr. Mays used that lapse in his swipes at Mr. Kent.

"Maybe now that Mr. Buchanan has switched parties, he can leave my good friend a few speeches and he can get them free of charge and write them like he wants to, and he'll have something else to do," Mr. Mays said.

"The last time I checked I do believe that there were some ethical standards about what you write and whose stuff you borrow and who you take that from too before you go around and start writing editorial about folks."

Mr. Kent said the comments won't dissuade him from writing it like he sees it.

"I'm sorry that some commissioners have to resort to lies and personal attacks against me," Mr. Kent said. "We will not be intimidated from speaking out editorially about commissioners' ethics."

Subcommittee member and Commissioner Jerry Brigham also took a shot at Mr. Kent during a statement about his concerns over the requirement in Mr. Young's proposed ordinance that would require elected officials to report token gifts. He said he would vote for the ordinance.

"Ethics does not bother me at all, contrary to Willie's good friend at the newspaper that likes to make personal attacks on politicians," he said. "It's amazing. He needs to look at some of his own ethics."

Mr. Young took a couple on the chin with Mr. Mays' reference to the $25,000 ad the mayor encouraged the city take out with Forbes magazine earlier this year.

The mayor caused a flap among commissioners when he sent his wife, Gwen Fulcher Young, to represent him at a seminar in Atlanta in connection with the ad. The city paid some of her expenses, according to city finance records.

The ad also includes a dinner cruise for several couples on the Forbes yacht. That trip is coming up next week, but Mr. Young said he won't go.

Mr. Mays said he is amazed by the hypocrisy of some people.

"You know, a $25 dinner ought to be what that is, and the $25 disclosed," Mr. Mays said. "Whether it's a $25 dinner or a $25,000 ad and a trip down to Savannah, that ought to be the same way. But you ought not to be hypocritical."

Mr. Powell said he didn't see anything in the proposed ordinances about travel and recommended that the new ordinance prohibit the government from paying for any travel other than elected officials and employees.

After the meeting, Mr. Young seemed unperturbed.

"Well, let them be mad," he said. "This won't be the first time or the last time."

Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228 or sylviaco@augustachronicle.com.


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