Originally created 10/25/02

Groups defend Walker's visits



Future tours by legislators may be done in groups to avoid the appearance of special treatment, although the Medical College of Georgia went through the proper procedures for a recent visit by Senate Majority Leader Charles Walker, officials said.

The Augusta Ballet also tried Thursday to explain its recent reception for Mr. Walker.

Both events have provoked responses from Sen. Don Cheeks, D-Augusta, and Randy Hall, Mr. Walker's Republican opponent, who accuse Mr. Walker of bullying the groups into honoring him.

MCG President Daniel W. Rahn said Thursday he was meeting with Mr. Walker several weeks ago when the Senate majority leader requested a tour. The request was approved by senior personnel at the University System of Georgia Chancellor's Office, Dr. Rahn said, and Mr. Walker was invited to visit Monday. Plans are being made to bring in the whole delegation, and future requests from legislators may be handled together, Dr. Rahn said.

During Mr. Walker's visit, R. Bryan Ginn Jr., MCG's vice president for external affairs and governmental relations, was asked if the visit was at Mr. Walker's request or at MCG's invitation. Mr. Ginn said it was at MCG's invitation. He said Thursday, however, that he might not have heard the question because of the noise in the room or might have misunderstood. But he was being truthful, he said, because the visit was at MCG's invitation.

"Do I feel I was being misleading? No, not at all," Mr. Ginn said.

The Augusta Ballet also stands by its decision to hold a recent reception in honor of the senate majority leader and Augusta legislator.

In an e-mailed response to a Chronicle phone call Wednesday, ballet President Julie Brakenbury said the group "sincerely appreciates" the value Mr. Walker places on the performing arts in Augusta.

"It is customary for the Augusta Ballet to publicly acknowledge its benefactors," Ms. Brakenbury wrote. "The company has recognized Sen. Walker for his efforts on our behalf in the past and did so again when the artistic director hosted a reception for him, to which ballet supporters and board members were invited."

The senator said he has attended more than 30 private receptions this political season, and he denies that there is any impropriety in attending such functions.

Reach Tom Corwin and Heidi Coryell Williams at (706) 724-0851.