Originally created 03/12/06

Commission can't agree on what judge's ruling means



Reaction to Superior Court Judge Carlisle Overstreet's ruling last week on Augusta Commission abstentions reminds me of the story about the blind men of Hindustan feeling different parts of an elephant and trying to describe it.

Everybody had a different interpretation of what the judge's order means.

Everybody, that is, but Mayor Deke Copenhaver, the one it has put on the spot. He was too busy rubbing elbows with the governor and with meetings, speeches and dedications to have seen it.

Woody Merry, who filed the petitions asking the judge to oust Mayor Pro Tem Marion Williams from the seat and rule that abstentions be counted as no votes, declared victory even though the judge dismissed or denied his petitions.

"It's a great day for Augusta," Mr. Merry crowed via e-mail to everyone on his CSRAhelp's mailing list. "Judge Overstreet has agreed with us. The items that he dismissed or denied simply don't matter. This 'order' resolves the issue."

How's that for declaring victory and going home?

David Hudson, attorney for Commissioner Don Grantham - who joined the plaintiff's side, more or less - said the ruling means it's up to the mayor to rule on how an abstention will count and whether it makes a tie.

Mr. Williams disagreed. Naturally.

"The mayor can't do that. He's out of order. An abstention is what it is. An abstention," he said.

Ben Allen, who represented Commissioners J.B. Hatney and Calvin Holland, said the judge has given commissioners the road map to get back in court.

"The bottom line is nothing has been changed," he said.

What I can't wait to see is whether the mayor will try to count an abstention as a no vote.

As Commissioner Jimmy Smith said after the judge's ruling: "There ain't no telling what will happen down there now."

WOOL GATHERING: At last week's meeting, City Attorney Stephen Shepard spent almost three minutes explaining in detail a proposed new ordinance that would change the way distances from churches to bars are measured downtown for the purpose of obtaining alcohol licenses.

When he had finished, Mr. Hatney said he keeps hearing everybody talking about "one Augusta" but then they come up with divisive notions.

"I see panhandlers all over Augusta," he said. "If you're going to get hard on panhandlers, it should be throughout the whole city of Augusta."

"Rev. Hatney, but we're on No. 40," Mr. Copenhaver said.

"Why didn't you tell me that?" said Mr. Hatney, to the merriment of all. The panhandling ordinance was No. 41.

"LAFAYETTE SUPPER: ADMIT THE BEARER": In 1825, Revolutionary War hero Lafayette visited Augusta during his tour of the country, accompanied by his son, George; his secretary, Lavasseur; his servant Bastien; and his dog Quiz.

On Thursday, he returned, at least in spirit, to a reception at the Old Government House during a re-enactment of that memorable event by the Augusta-Richmond County Historical Society.

Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roche Gibert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, the "Guest of the Nation" otherwise known as Preston Russell, arrived in a horse-drawn coach to be greeted by Augusta's finest dressed in period costume of velvet and feathers and top hats and tails.

The marquis was greeted by Mr. and Mrs. John P. King, (Joe Leonard and Bonnie Givens) Lafayette's companions on the voyage to America and hosts for the occasion.

After passing through the receiving line, he was conducted to his seat by William H. Crawford, (Robert Nesbit), the Treasury secretary and presidential candidate, and Mrs. Crawford (Mary Gail Nesbit).

Curiously enough, none of the women in 1825 seemed to have had first names.

Greetings followed by Augusta Mayor Robert R. Reid (Edward Cashin) who was accompanied by Mrs. Reid (Mary Ann Cashin). Then Nicholas Delaigle (Edouard Servy) accompanied by his wife, Cheryl, spoke for the French community. They were a stunning couple. He in his top hat, tails, vest and ascot. She in her green satin gown and feathered hat. Mr. Delaigle delivered his welcoming speech in French without a script.

Next came the inestimable William Cumming, (Brian Mulherin with companion, Neita) to speak for the citizens of Augusta.

Henry Shultz (Peter Hughes), founder of Hamburg and owner of the steamer Henry Shultz on which Lafayette traveled from Charleston, also spoke.

Henry H. Cumming (Hugh Connonlly) recently returned from a lengthy stay in France, and member of the American legation to Spain, offered the first toast.

Emily Tubman (Sutton Stracke of Augusta Ballet fame) in a wine dress and white wig, danced the minuet with Peter Paulus.

Jim Nord played the harpsichord and Angela Morgan the violin.

Guests dined on popular fare of the day, including barbecued pig, fried okra, black-eyed peas and corn bread. There was lots of wine. And a good time was had by all.

STUCK IN THE PAST: Augusta commissioners had nothing on the old Augusta City Council, which beat them to touring the city on a bus by 25 years.

In 1979, Mayor Lewis A. "Pop" Newman; council members Bernard Mulherin, chairman of the waterworks committee, S. Herbert Elliott Jr., M.L. DeWitt, Sebron Butler and Carrie Mays, Council Clerk Charles Phillips, waterworks department officials and the news media boarded a city bus to tour the waterworks system.

At the Old Lock and Dam off Stevens Creek Road, waterworks operation Superintendent Fred S. Gary Jr. directed the bus driver down a steep hill on a narrow dirt lane to park, according to Don Rhodes, who was then an Augusta Herald staff writer.

When the tour group walked back, they found the bus stuck in a ditch, its back bumper lodged into a small hillside, Mr. Rhodes reported in the next day's Herald.

The mayor surveyed the situation and said, "I think we better get some shovels and cut that hill down."

On the mayor's direction, they went to a nearby caretaker's house and called for help.

"A large dump truck pulled in front of the bus and a thick chain was hooked onto the bus. Mayor Newman waved his hands and yelled directions to the drivers of the dump truck and bus as both vehicles spun their wheels."

The city council members, waterworks officials and news media stood around watching the rescue operation with a couple of dogs and children who gathered from out of nowhere.

The bus also had to stop for two trains, which was funny because the mayor had campaigned on doing something about the trains blocking intersections in downtown Augusta.

AMERICAN IDOLATRY: Those waiting for more than two hours for Richmond County school board members to come out of closed session waited on pins and needles, often turning suddenly any time a door opened, hoping the board members would be coming through.

That is why spectators grew quiet and turned to board secretary Deidra Johnson when she began talking excitedly on her cell phone, assuming she was getting word from inside the closed session.

As it turns out, her enthusiasm had nothing to do with the executive session and everything to do with the TV show American Idol.

She explained she was too nervous and had to do something to calm her nerves, so she called her mother to ask who had been voted off the hit TV show.

City Ink thanks Staff Writer Greg Gelpi for his contribution to this week's column.

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