Ex-senator's levee talk runs dry as he puts campaign in wife's hands

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Former state Sen. Frank Albert says the notion he floated last week about tearing down the levee in Augusta is nothing new.

"That's been talked about forever," he said, "especially before they built that Riverwalk. But it's like moving the railroad tracks. Mayor Pop Newman talked about it."

Actually, it wasn't Mr. Albert's idea to resurrect the subject, but his wife, Sister's, who started it as a joke in response to Commissioner Andy Cheek's Ellis Street Canal idea.

"Because I used to be in politics, everybody thought it was my idea," he said. "It would be a good idea, but the Corps of Engineers is never going to let them do it."

Mr. Albert said he sort of stood in for his wife in an interview, so he got credit for it, but that's all he's going to do about the levee.

"Sister can go down there and dig a hole in the levee if she wants to," he said. "That thing will still be here 100 years from now, but I won't be here, so I don't care."

So now what is Mrs. Albert going to do with the 500 bumper stickers that say, "Mr. Copenhaver, Tear Down That Wall" - a play on President Reagan's "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall"?

Oh well, most people didn't get it anyway.

IT WON'T BE THE RIVIERA THOUGH: In response to last week's column about a proposal to use the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame property for the Medical College of Georgia's dental school, Philip Verduce e-mailed to propose an Augusta beach.

"On the Russian River in Sonoma County, California, there are several beaches; Veterans Memorial Beach in Healdsburg, Calif., Forestville Access Beach, Johnsons Beach, Monte Rio Beach and Steelhead Beach," he wrote. "These are beaches right in the city, you can check them out at www.sonoma-county.org/health/eh/Russian_River.htm. These beaches are full-service beaches that make the communities into resort-type communities bringing millions of visitors and bushels of money.

"Can you imagine a real beach just south of Augusta where you can play in the sand, swim, sail, with a concrete boardwalk with shops and eateries? All within the city limits. There is plenty of room between I-20 and Augusta. It's low land and the river fans out. Augusta Beach. ... With a beach, Augustans can get back in touch with nature down on nature's level, not 40 feet away on top of a flood control levee. Why should we let the developers grab up all the land along the river and build million dollar homes that only a few can possess? Augusta Beach would be a great draw for our city. ... The heck with the canal. Lets push for a real beach."

A LAME DUCK FLIES ON: Mr. Cheek intends to spend the time before his term ends pushing his Ellis Street canal plan. He'll ask his colleagues to approve the expansion of the Ellis Street study and to add a $200,000 utility survey for Ellis and Seventh streets to the existing Broad Street utility survey.

SCORCHED EARTH POLITICIANS: People thought all the hot air we've been having recently was from global warming, but I think it was from all the hot air the candidates for Augusta Commission seats are blowing. Some of them are full of it. Voters need to look at what they do, not what they say.

FINANCIAL FREEZE: The recent chill, meanwhile, might be the precursor of the 2008 budget proposal City Administrator Fred Russell will unveil at Tuesday's commission meeting. Everything was fine until Sheriff Ronnie Strength asked for $2.5 million more to upgrade deputies' pay, and some employees balked at paying higher co-pays on doctor visits, at which juncture commissioners caved and told Mr. Russell to come up with another plan, which he did, and that turned out to be that the city (actually taxpayers) will pay a higher premium - 72 percent instead of 70 percent, a $709,000 increase. But this is easy to understand. Some commissioners are on the city's health insurance plan.

City health insurance costs for next year increased 11.2 percent, and there are warning signs that employees are going to be required to either quit smoking and shape up or pay higher premiums. That is unless they object, of course.

ONCE MORE INTO THE BREACH: The commission subcommittee charged with finding another general counsel and attorney for the in-house legal department have gone back to the same city where they got the last general counsel they ended up firing for a candidate they will ask the commission to approve Tuesday.

The panel will recommend City of Macon Attorney J. Pope Langstaff as general counsel, who at one time was the boss of Eugene Jessup, who was fired four months into the job.

They also will recommend Chiquita T. Johnson, an associate with Deming, Parker, Hoffman, Green and Campbell in Norcross.

Hiring and firing lawyers for the in-house department has turned into a long-term project. Meanwhile, Attorney Stephen Shepard and company just keep on keeping on.

BROKEN HEARTS NEVER MEND: Last week, Sherry Chrisco called to say she'd read in the newspaper that the man who struck and killed her 8-year-old daughter Laura Jean in 2001 as she ran across old U.S. Highway 1 had been arrested again in Columbia County. She said Killian Leonard Palmer, 24, has been charged with going into Kohl's at Mullins Crossing, stealing three pairs of pants and taking them outside to put them in a bag. Then he and Terriel O'Bryan Ealey allegedly went into the store to return them.

She just wanted me to know.

I got to know Mrs. Chrisco in the hospital where she was taken after having a heart attack when Laura was killed. It was without a doubt the saddest story I have ever written.

Mr. Palmer and four other teens were on their way from a friend's house when the little girl darted into the road toward her mother, who was across the street walking their dog. No charges were filed although Mr. Palmer had collided with an ambulance eight days earlier. The fact that he was on probation for marijuana possession did not show up. During the next three months, he received three more tickets and did not report to court for any of them.

It was not until the Chriscos received a toxicology report on Mr. Palmer indicating the presence of marijuana that a warrant was issued. The warrant, however, was not executed for two months, and only after Mr. Chrisco called the sheriff's office and insisted that Mr. Palmer be picked up. He was sentenced to five months and 12 days in prison.

39 AGAIN: I woke up Friday morning another year older but no wiser. Only a little more forgetful. The hunters were out shooting in the woods at daybreak. I lay there thinking about all the evil in the world and how they've cut down all the trees between the Bel Air and Washington Road exits, and I just wanted to die. Then I reconsidered.

I hope the hunters don't shoot the pair of European Collared doves we've been watching outside the kitchen window. They're bigger than the native doves and have become rather common in the Southeast, they say.

We don't know why people want to shoot them. Ernie used to hunt, but one day when he was a boy, two doves flew over, and he shot one and watched its mate follow it down as it fell. He never went bird hunting again.

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


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