Nothing gets commissioners fired up like gasoline limits

I've declared a moratorium on writing a thing about the Coliseum Authority this week, other than to say that since Augusta commissioners asked the members to resign last week, they've been quiet. We haven't even heard from Woody Merry .

There is one other thing, though. Am I the only person who thinks it's funny the Augusta Commission is chastising people for not getting along? And what about the legislative delegation? Weren't they the ones who couldn't agree on a bill that could have solved the problem this year?

This week, I'm going to write about something that's on everybody's mind. Gas. Or, as we here at the newspaper say, "gasoline."

GAS WAR: Every time Commissioners Joe Bowles , Don Grantham or Jerry Brigham mention cutting commissioners' free gasoline allotment from 125 gallons a month to something more in line with today's prices, it burns the high-octane commissioners up.

At last week's meeting, Commissioner Alvin Mason called city fleet manager Ron Crowden to the microphone and asked him what percentage the commissioners' gasoline budget was of the city's gasoline budget. Mr. Crowden said it was 0.25 percent of the $3.7 million total.

It was a performance designed to show that what commissioners put in their tanks is no more than a few fumes, which in the grand scheme of things is probably true. Still, the leaders are supposed to lead by example. It's the symbolism of it, don't you know.

Anyhow, Mr. Bowles apparently thought he had cut a deal before the meeting to get six commissioners to vote to cut the allotment to 90 gallons a month. When Commissioner J.R. Hatney seemed to be backing off, Mr. Bowles blew up and said he wasn't going to let them agree to compromise beforehand and then come out in public and renege. But they did anyway. Mr. Mason's proposal to cut the city's gasoline budget 25 percent also failed.

But the gas war is not over.

Mr. Mason has put an item on Monday's finance committee agenda to discuss reducing gasoline use for the entire city. Mr. Brigham has put an item to talk about reducing gasoline usage except for public safety.

City Administrator Fred Russell is no doubt lobbying behind the scenes against both plans, which he said could mean the police don't come when you call them, the grass doesn't get cut and the city buses don't roll.

YOU'VE GONE A LONG WAY, BABY: Interestingly enough, commissioners who defend the current policy most vigorously, saying they have to drive around visiting constituents, are the ones who use the most city gasoline.

For example, Commissioner Corey Johnson burned 553 gallons in the first five months of the year, at a cost of $1,747.70. Say he gets 20 miles per gallon. That computes to 11,060 miles driven, which means he could have driven from Augusta to Buenos Aires, Argentina, and made it back to El Paso, Texas, before running out of gas. But he'd still have his gas card, so he could get home.

Mr. Mason burned 417 gallons at a cost of $1,329.50. At 20 mpg, this computes to 8,340 miles, which means he could have driven from Augusta to Anchorage, Alaska, and made it back to the outskirts of Philadelphia before running out. And he wouldn't get stuck because of his gas card.

Commissioner Calvin Holland , who just recently started using a city gas card, burned 270 gallons this year at a cost of $886. Twenty miles per gallon computes to 5,400 miles driven. So Mr. Holland could have driven from Augusta to Los Angeles and back and have gas left over.

Commissioner Jimmy Smith burned 186 gallons at a cost of $599. At 20 mpg, he drove 3,720 miles. He could have gone to the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone Park before running out of gas.

Mr. Grantham burned 126 gallons at a cost of $399. At 20 mpg, he drove 2,520 miles. He could have driven to Los Angeles, too, before having to use his gas card to get back.

Mayor Pro Tem Betty Beard burned 94 gallons at a cost of $313, which computes to 1,880 miles, using our 20 mpg measure. So she could have driven to Niagara Falls and back and had gas left over.

PARKING FOR P.C.'S ONLY: City employees who work in the Marble Palace are steamed that the parking spaces closest to the building that were for 30-minute parking for the public are being turned into reserved spaces for commissioners, the mayor pro tem and the mayor. Anyone else who parks in the spaces will have their vehicle towed.

Also, the mayor will get back the reserved space he allowed to be turned into a handicapped-parking spot a few months ago. The handicapped parking is farther from the building.

Though there were some spaces reserved for commissioners before the recent renovations, they didn't take up all the spaces closest to the back door.

Employees and others who use the lot say it's a shame nine spaces are being reserved for people who are regularly in the building only four to five times a month for only a few hours. They want to know whatever happened to public servants.

Ditto.

Reserved parking for commissioners got started a few years ago with spaces behind the Marble Palace farther away in the back lot near Telfair Street. It was introduced as a package deal to provide shuttle-by-golf-cart to people who have to park several blocks away. The commissioners' reserved signs were supposed to have flaps that marshals would use to cover the signs when commissioners weren't in the building. How many times do you think that happened?

Needless to say, the shuttle for the public never came up again.

AND THEY THOUGHT NOBODY NOTICED: It's now part of the official public record that competing media outlets of the broadcast persuasion steal from The Augusta Chronicle.

In arguing why The Chronicle should not be allowed into a juvenile court hearing Wednesday, defense attorney Brendan Fleming said it without hesitation.

He repeatedly commended the newspaper's reporting. However, one of his many arguments against opening up the hearing was that TV stations tend to read our Web site, change a few words to cover their tracks, then report the news inaccurately.

We don't know for sure that Mr. Fleming's argument was the reason the judge didn't let the media in, but we like to think so.

THIS IS THE ONLY PLACE ON EARTH THEY MOW WILDFLOWERS: I read that Columbia County road crews mowed down the wildflowers that attorney Jim Wall planted in the right of way of his yard in Appling.

We know how he felt.

One time Ernie planted bluebonnets on the right of way in front of our house hoping to surprise me when they bloomed. Then the power company came along spraying weed killer on the right of way and killed them. But they were doomed from the start. All we had to do to know that was listen to the Nanci Griffith song Gulf Coast Highway .

"Highway 90

The jobs are gone

We tend our garden

We set the sun

This is the only place on Earth bluebonnets grow

Once a year they come and go

At this old house here by the road."

And that's in Texas.

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.

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