Originally created 04/09/00

McDill still under fire; crazy vehicle policy



THE EXCITING Skyfest 2000 last weekend at Augusta Regional Airport at Bush Field, featuring the famed U.S. Navy Blue Angels, the Army Golden Knights Skydivers and other aerial acts, was marred by massive traffic gridlock. The political ramifications are just now being felt.

The Chronicle is continuing to publish a blizzard of irate letters from among the thousands of would-be attendees turned away when the airport abruptly closed on opening day. Getting heat from these scribes are Airport Director Al McDill and, to a lesser extent, Mayor Bob Young, the Richmond County Sheriff's Department and the well-meaning but unprepared volunteers who were trying to park incoming cars.

McDill, especially, didn't help matters by dithering until Wednesday to announce refunds for angry paid ticket-holders who couldn't attend. It would have been a smart public relations move if he had trumpeted such a policy last Monday morning. (Even before Skyfest ended, McDill was getting pressure from various Augusta officials to do the right thing.)

Chief Deputy Ronnie Strength, who's running for sheriff, quickly made it known he advised McDill weeks before to plan on utilizing and paying for more deputies for traffic and parking control. It's a shame that advice went unheeded. (As Strength notes, it's obvious there is going to be a traffic problem when 40,000-to-60,000 vehicles are trying to cram into two airport entrances.)

In the aftermath of all this grumbling, look for a move this week within the Aviation Commission to oust McDill as director.

The mayor, who deserves high marks for working to bring the show here, is also taking hits for televised statements he made that people shouldn't have waited so late to attend. He may be right, but the unprepared parking volunteers would have still been in over their

heads, there would still not have been

enough deputies on the roads and, besides, most who were trapped in their cars for hours didn't want to hear such talk from Young as they were wondering if they would ever get refunds.

City micro-management

The Augusta Commission voted to take away the vehicle drive-home privileges of 19 department heads and other employees. At first glance it appears to be a cost-saving move. It also prompted Commissioner Jerry Brigham to propose that commissioners give up their free up-to-100 gallon per month gasoline allotment they can receive. (He didn't get support on that one.)

But Commission micromanagement is really the issue.

The way the policy will be now, for example, is that Utilities Director Max Hicks gets his car taken away while a young press aide to Fire Chief Ronnie Few gets to keep hers. There are other "senseless disparities," in the words of one commissioner.

Administrator Randy Oliver, who all the department heads report to, can be pretty effective at suggesting cuts. He should be the manager determining who gets to use what vehicle, based on need, within municipal government.

Most of the commissioners may mean well, but now the vehicle policy is all fouled up.

Grumbling over Cheek

New south Augusta Commissioner Andy Cheek is the subject of growing discontent on the part of constituents and some other white commissioners who tell me they think he "sides" with black commissioners far too much. Cheek and new commissioner Marion Williams may also have attained a majority commission vote to oust Jim Wall as city attorney. They would replace him with some sort of in-house legal department -- a radical change.

Candidate notes

Ron Beul, an environmental engineer at Bechtel Savannah River, has been openly saying he's "a potential candidate" against state Rep. Ben Harbin, R-Martinez, in a summer GOP primary. The only trouble is, he apparently didn't tell high Bechtel supervisors. Under their rules, he could do no campaigning from his work site, and would have to take time off without pay if he planned to do extensive campaigning.

Dana Owens Pavey, a former staffer for U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood, R-Ga., planned to enter a GOP primary for the seat of state Rep. Bill Jackson, R-Appling. But family friend Jackson finally announced for re-election after weeks of indecision, so she scratched her announcement. Lee Anderson, who narrowly lost to Jackson when he first won the seat, is positioned to run again.

The Georgia Republican Party says "with two thirds of voters in Senate District 23 choosing Republican ballots in Georgia's recent presidential primary," it expects "to pose a serious challenge" to state Sen. Don Cheeks, D-Augusta. There's just one problem: Local party officials haven't yet found a strong conservative challenger who could attract major donors.

Phil Kent is senior editorial writer for The Augusta Chronicle. He can be reached at (706) 823-3327 or philkent@augustachronicle.com