Wednesday, September 16, 2009

16 SEP 09: For a Few Pennies More

Tuesday was a wet day in Columbus -- as I counted four separate rounds of rain outside my window. Yet Tuesday night at a campaign office on Macon Road, I assume someone from the Muscogee County Schools started singing, "Every time it rains, it rains -- pennies from heaven."

Final unofficial returns show the Muscogee County School sales tax question passed by a 57-percent margin. So voters in Columbus now have approved two sales tax questions in 15 months - which may confirm more and more Republicans are moving to Harris County.

Come to think of it, the weather may have worked in favor of passing the school sales tax. Reports last winter indicated the new Muscogee County Administration Building would be finished in July [3 Feb]. Yet it's still not open -- perhaps due to a rainy year, or perhaps due to construction workers borrowing from football teams and running out the clock.

Nancy Boren with the Muscogee County Election Board admitted the SPLOST turnout was low. Only about ten percent of the eligible voters cast ballots -- and I can't believe the other 90 percent are stuffing their children into Brookstone, Calvary Christian and Pacelli.

The SPLOST vote is a victory for Muscogee County Superintendent Susan Andrews, who made herself the face of the sales tax question. But I'm not sure it's a victory for the school board - because if certain members had appeared in campaign commercials, voters would have thought of that administration building all over again.

(The Superintendent kept pleading for votes, even after the polls closed - as a campaign commercial appeared on WLTZ at midnight during "The Tonight Show." Early voting is legal, but I don't think late voting is yet.)

Susan Andrews put some money where her campaign mouth was. Records filed two weeks ago with the Georgia Ethics Commission show she donated 300 dollars to "The New Day Campaign." But it appears the only school board member to make a donation was Philip Schley's 500 dollars. Perhaps the other members stopped at donating school supplies to August giveaways.

The New Day Campaign built a bankroll of more than $60,000, to win approval of the school sales tax. By my count, at least $9,000 in donations came from businesses with a stake in building schools - such as contractors, engineers and architects. So it may be "about the kids," but it may also be in part about employers' families in Carrollton and metro Atlanta.

The New Day Campaign also built a wide range of influential support across Columbus. It's easy to do when Common Cause has to practically beg for opponents to show up at a public forum....

Cynics might say the local news media were biased in favor of the SPLOST. Take Monday's front-page headline in the Ledger-Enquirer, as best I remember it: "Vote Tuesday for One-Percent Sales Tax." Well, 57 percent were FOR it - but 43 percent were voting ON it, saying no.

And did you notice the commercials for The New Day Campaign included the voice of Dick McMichael? He never would have done that, when he was a TV news anchor. But he's retired from journalism now - well, unless he stumbles upon another speech by William Calley.

But by their own admission, opponents of the SPLOST never organized themselves. And while they found fault with Muscogee County Schools in some areas, they missed some other points - such as the fact that the Superintendent commutes to work every day from Harris County [True/The Courier]. At least she's not in the line of cars parked outside Northside High School.

Superintendent Susan Andrews told WXTX "News at Ten" the process of spending SPLOST money begins today, with the development of a bidding process and school plans. But the local sales tax will not take effect until next January - so your process of spending money to save one cent per dollar also can begin today.

For its next trick, the Muscogee County School District may settle the prolonged lawsuit over land behind the Columbus Public Library. The school board heard a suggestion the other night to set up standards for public greenspace. I assume the Education Park Coalition would be allowed to determine what color "green" actually is.

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BLOG UPDATE: Our search for "The Courier" ended Tuesday, with a phone call from its publisher. Wane Hailes assures me he's "alive and well" - and his new location is an office building on Front Avenue downtown. He's moving on up, but not quite with the River Club crowd yet.

(Come to think of it, The Courier now is practically across the street from the Ledger-Enquirer. Wane Hailes may be preparing for the day desperate managers run to his office, and offer to sell him a daily newspaper for $100.)

Wane Hailes explains he didn't need as much space to publish The Courier/Eco Latino. In fact, he described his operation as "a man and a computer." Hey, that sounds familiar! Hailes probably could save even more money by doing what I do, and moving into my apartment complex.

Wane Hailes assured me Eco Latino has NOT gone away - but its publishing schedule has. It comes out with The Courier every other week, and alternates with Hailes's new crime paper "The Joint." I forgot to ask if that paper also is published in Spanish - where "joint" can be translated "restaurante de mala muerte," or Restaurant of Bad Death.

Wane Hailes says his one-dollar paper "The Joint" is selling "like crazy" in parts of Columbus, such as the businesses along Milgen Road. He's found people want to know who's been arrested. And let's face it - people don't get a head start on the process like they used to do, by visiting the post office.

By the way, Wane Hailes told me his newspaper dispute with Piggly Wiggly is settled now. He explained his point about advertising in minority media was made, when the supermarket chain began running commercials on WFXE-FM "Foxie 105." Good - this clears the way for ME to whine about supermarkets not advertising with local bloggers.

While I reach for a handkerchief to add dramatic effect, let's consider other Tuesday news:

+ Muscogee County Judge John Allen dismissed five of the 11 counts against accused family murderer Michael Curry, and allowed him to post a $300,000 bond. I'm not sure why Curry's attorney still wants a change of venue - because it appears asking for a bench trial could give Curry a fighting chance to win.

(These rulings come after District Attorney Julia Slater announced she would NOT seek the death penalty for Curry. If this trend continues, Mayor Wetherington may go beyond the 100 new police officers and ask voters for a few new judges and prosecutors.)

+ Columbus Water Works officials finally announced what caused the April collapse of a giant steel water tank near J.R. Allen Parkway. They say a faulty weld seal gave way -- so please do NOT start rumors about ghosts at Port Columbus going out for an all-night fling.

+ The owner of the Albany Herald filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy. This was surprising to me - because I'm not sure that newspaper even publishes 11 sections on Thanksgiving Day.

+ The Chattahoochee Valley Sports Hall of Fame announced five new members. Baseball pitcher Tim Hudson makes sense. But Ben Hardaway III - for fox hunting?! That's not even a sport ESPN shows, and that channel shows spelling bees and poker tournaments.

+ Instant Message to WLTZ News: Aw c'mon! Bear O'Brian shaves his beard and puts on a dress for a publicity stunt - and that's your "Just for HER" story?! I'm not sure that appearance was even for O'Brian's wife....

COMING SOON: A man who may be trying to start a big new beauty contest....

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