Originally created 01/30/05

Media, parents turn up heat on schools' spokeswoman



The heat may be broken in several Richmond County schools, but it's reaching a boiling point in Mechelle Jordan's office.

The director of public information just survived an intense week of criticism about her communication skills - or lack of them. Some have called for her to be fired.

Reporters and parents are hot over the lack of answers (or misinformation) about why some heating units are broken in a long list of schools. What's even more amazing is that the lady with the answers can't explain why the new $11 million headquarters on Broad Street doesn't have the heat flowing on the first floor.

"That's a good question," she said Friday, while confirming that her fourth-floor office is cozy.

Part of the problem with her office may not be on the information, but the attitude. When media organizations, united in frustration, requested a meeting for this week with her and Superintendent Charles Larke to discuss communication problems, Mrs. Jordan sent back a terse response.

The school board would set the time and location, she said. "Let me stress that the meeting will be on Board terms," she wrote.

But media aren't the only ones turning up the heat. On Thursday, parent Brian Green organized a meeting of parents and formed a new group, aptly named CPR, or Concerned Parents of Richmond County. They are tired of not getting answers, too.

By Friday, Mrs. Jordan was taking the criticism personally. Dr. Larke was nowhere to be found, but Mrs. Jordan's husband, Lenon Jordan Jr., took up for his wife, and he threatened a local radio station with a lawsuit over the "slander" against her. In an e-mail to the station, he called it "unethical, raciest (sic), and defamatory behavior."

TAKE A SEAT, PLEASE: The Richmond County school board has nothing on the Augusta Commission when it comes to disposing of old desks and such. The school system is selling 11 vintage inkwell school desks (now there's a redundancy for you), and city commissioners approved a motion that allows them to buy their red leather chairs for $25 to make way for new ones.

THE SEVEN DEADLY TENETS: When Augusta Administrator Fred Russell took over after the former administrator left last June, he distributed a list of "Tenets for Working With Fred." Now that his status has changed to permanent administrator, we feel it's time to examine those tenets closely.

Here they are with our penetrating analysis of what they really mean:

1. "When things go right, you get all the credit. When things go wrong, I take all the blame. Try not to let that happen too often."

The key sentence here is the last one. Violate that subtle directive, and you're out on your butt before sundown. Oh wait, I forgot these are government employees. They're like broken guns. They don't work, and you can't fire them.

Calm down. That was a joke, kind of like, "What's the difference between a dead skunk and a dead news reporter in the middle of the road?" Answer: "There would be skid marks in front of the skunk."

2. "Treat people who work for you exactly the same way that you want me to treat you."

You'd better. He's a cop, and you know what they can do.

3. "Keep me out of trouble by telling me when I am making a mistake. When it is necessary for me to make a decision, I need your input to make the best possible decision."

This one is tricky. He probably does mean what he's saying, but if he makes the wrong decision based on your erroneous input, watch out. City Ink says do tell him when he is making a mistake. Just send the message by passenger pigeon.

4. "You are the experts in your areas; don't let me trespass on that expertise. You should remember that decisions are made based on the totality of the organization, and sometimes that might affect decisions I make which impact your area."

What this means is, "I know less than nothing about most of the stuff that's going on around here. So don't let me make a big fool of myself in front of anybody important."

5. "Do your homework; I like yes/no questions."

He really means yes/no answers. He just didn't do his homework.

6. "I hate useless meetings, but I am always available to meet when there is a reason."

Then you'll be a square peg in a round hole because that's all your bosses, the commissioners, want to do. That and talk.

7. "Time is our second-most valuable resource after our employees. Respect it and use it wisely."

This is the most important rule of all. What it means is before you fall asleep at your desk or in your truck, set an alarm.

FIRE PROOF: As one who's worked in the construction business many years, Columbia County Commission Chairman Ron Cross recently offered some advice to officials concerning a new fire station being planned in northern Columbia County.

At issue at the Monday committee meeting was a plan to use steel in the new North Columbia Fire and Rescue station's construction instead of having wood trestles. Mr. Cross pointed out just how little of a safety concern it would be to use wood instead.

"Hell, you shouldn't have to worry about a fire department burning down," he said.

BRING ON THE PORK: Thursday marks the annual Augusta Day feast at the Capitol.

As always, the catering's done by Sconyers Barbecue, and scores of Augustans will come up to hobnob with the politically connected.

Scott MacGregor, with the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce, said 1,500 tickets have been printed with most already distributed. He also expressed concern to the county's legislators after learning that the General Assembly decided not to meet Friday, seriously cutting into city officials' morning-after face time.

He urged them to talk to other legislators to make sure they don't leave town before the event and even promised entertainment from Fort Gordon's jazz band.

"I offered to sing, but they turned me down," quipped Sen. Jim Whitehead, of Evans.

MORE MONEY: The Augusta legislative delegation is looking at sweetening the pot for the city's next mayor, forming a subcommittee Friday to look at salaries for elected officials.

Rep. Quincy Murphy, D-Augusta, said he supports increasing the $60,000-a-year paycheck for the mayor's position in order to attract more candidates.

He has said that finding the right person who is able to bridge the city's black and white communities would be more helpful than reorganizing the government's structure.

City Ink thanks Staff Writer Greg Rickabaugh, Columbia County Bureau Chief Preston Sparks and Morris New Service writer Vicky Eckenrode for their contributions to this week's column.

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