Originally created 05/16/04

Finance memo surprises commissioners



Augusta commissioners were bent out of shape last week when a memo detailing a looming budget deficit was released to the media without first being explained to them. City Finance Director David Persaud generated the memo, actually at the direction of the finance committee, with cost cutting recommendations. Copies were placed in their mailboxes at city hall but they apparently hadn't seen them.

Commissioner Betty Beard cut out the newspaper article, brought it to a sales tax meeting and read aloud quotes by Administrator George Kolb she found offensive.

She asked whether it was true that Mr. Kolb had recommended tax increases every year since coming to Augusta.

Deputy Administrator Fred Russell, standing in for Mr. Kolb, who was in Florida interviewing for another job, said he couldn't answer that question, but he assured commissioners of their good stewardship. In case they didn't hear him the first time, he repeated it three times.

Mrs. Beard said Augusta would never be what it could be until everyone works together.

"Now I'm hopeful George will get this new job because, uh ... (dramatic pause) most administrators would understand the importance of working with the commissioners and coming up with a consensus."

Mr. Russell said he would.

CUT OUT THAT LIGHT!: Commissioner Andy Cheek wants the city to go into an energy conservation mode to help address the budget deficit. Hopefully, this will not leave too many offices in the dark.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "It's a very complex government. If you can work here, you can work anywhere."

- Augusta Finance Director David Persaud

NO LOVE LOST HERE: Former state Sen. Charles Walker hasn't even won the Democratic primary against his 22nd District opposition, Augusta lawyer Ed Tarver, but Sen. Don Cheeks already is declaring Mr. Walker as his opponent.

The incumbent senator told Richmond County Republican Party members that as he was leaving the Capitol at the end of the special legislative session, two senators who had treated him like he had "leprosy" all year approached him and told him to go back to Augusta and "beat Charles Walker's ..."

"I'm not going to tell you what they said," Mr. Cheeks said. "But two minority senators apologized. They said, 'We cannot afford to have your opponent back up here.' "

Mr. Cheeks bristled when asked to identify the senators and refused to do so.

Maybe it's just the beginning of what bodes to be a bitter contest, but Mr. Walker is saying the same sorts of things about Mr. Cheeks.

"None of the Democrats want Don Cheeks back up there," the former Senate majority leader said. "I know because I've talked to all of them. And the Republicans don't like him, either. If they did, they would have put him in the 23rd District instead of Randy Hall."

Mr. Cheeks vehemently denies being sold out by the Republicans, and City Ink does mean "vehemently." Despite Mr. Cheeks' many good qualities, he does seem quite testy as of late.

HE'S OUT: Robert Finch, the 12th Congressional District candidate City Ink told you had angered many Democrats by jumping into the race at the last minute, jeopardizing a decisive primary win for any of the four white previously declared candidates, has dropped out. The reason he gave in a news release was that it was going to take a united effort to elect Democrats in November.

Wonder why he didn't think of that sooner?

BLAME IT ON FRED: Opponents of former Gov. David Beasley are trying to portray the Republican U.S. Senate candidate as the George "No Show" Jones of politics for his MIA status at Thursday night's debate held by the Aiken County Republican Party and his absence from at least three other face-offs with the six GOP contenders. Mr. Beasley, the presumed front-runner, does appear to be pursuing a stealth strategy - he slipped into Aiken on Thursday and Friday with little fanfare and no notice to the media. Randy Page, Mr. Beasley's campaign spokesman, blamed Aiken Mayor Fred Cavanaugh for the unintentional media blackout, saying Mr. Cavanaugh was responsible for notifying local media outlets. Mr. Page also said Mr. Beasley has appeared in at least six other debates between Republicans vying for retiring U.S. Sen. Ernest "Fritz" Hollings' seat.

Look out for a LoofaH: Police are looking for the culprit who put detergent in the fountain at Broad and Ninth streets last week and made a clean getaway.

City Ink thanks Aiken County Bureau Chief Jim Nesbitt and Jeremy Craig for their contributions to this week's column.

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