Taxpayers' new $10,000 headache

There seems to be no end to Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority's stubbornness and stupidity. The panel makes one bad mistake, then compounds it by doubling down.

Meanwhile, taxpayers are groaning under the burden, and the local legislative delegation should be kicking themselves for not abolishing this reckless institution when they had the chance earlier this year.

The latest flap involves the embarrassing rumble some weeks ago between Authority member William Fennoy and community activist Woody Merry. Both men were charged with misdemeanor simple battery and were urged in Magistrate Court to apologize, shake hands and get on with their lives. But Fennoy would have none of it, insisting on going to trial. So both men pleaded not guilty and await a trial date for later this month in Richmond County State Court.

Fennoy might not have been so eager to go to court if he had to pay with his own money. But a majority of his Coliseum colleagues let him off the hook, voting for taxpayers to fund his defense. The first bill paid to Fennoy's attorney, Evita Paschal, was $3,000 to represent him in Magistrate Court.

A second bill, presumably in preparation for the state court trial, was for $10,000 -- so the board majority approved not just doubling down, but tripling down. Another vote was not necessary, said member Janice Jenkins, because they'd already approved paying Fennoy's tab last month.

So, it seems, however much Paschal charges for her services, the Coliseum board will pay it. She must feel like she's won the lottery. Astonishingly, her $10,000 bill itemized no particulars concerning the "extensive research" she claimed she did, such as hourly rates or times spent interviewing witnesses.

Chronicle staffers Sylvia Cooper and Sandy Hodson checked with a number of other area attorneys on what it usually costs to defend a misdemeanor simple battery charge. Suffice it to say none came close to $10,000. The lead defense attorney for rapist-serial killer Renaldo Rivera charged the city only $15,000.

Hopefully, this unnecessary and expensive case will be one more nail in the Coliseum Authority's coffin when lawmakers convene in January.

It was a huge mistake not to put this relic of a board out of its misery this year. It would be a willful neglect of duty if they don't do it next year.

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