Tuesday, November 10, 2009

10 NOV 09: Mark-Key Attraction

What could be the trial of the decade began in Columbus federal court Monday -- and the title is on a case few people could have imagined two years ago. Why, the family of Kenneth Walker probably won't even bother to travel downtown and watch....

Opening statements are planned today in the federal trial of attorney Mark Shelnutt. A 12-person jury was seated Monday evening - but in a move which seemed a bit unfair, Judge Clay Land then had the jurors stand up and go home.

The day of jury selection included a surprising admission. If I heard WTVM correctly, Judge Clay Land attends the same church as Mark Shelnutt. But it's a United Methodist Church -- so the judge can't pull an even bigger surprise, and claim Shelnutt confessed sins to him.

Several potential jurors also were excluded, because they attend St. Luke United Methodist Church. Do they attend because of the contemporary praise band, which has Mark Shelnutt as a member? Or is it something deeper -- like those nice Wednesday night suppers?

Several students also were excluded from serving on Mark Shelnutt's jury. I don't quite understand the reason for this - because Shelnutt doesn't quite have the "beatnik" look of a few years ago.

Judge Clay Land has put this trial on an unusual schedule. Instead of working "nine-to-five," the daily sessions will last from 8:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. ET. That should give TV reporters plenty of time to prepare their reports for the 6:00 p.m. news - if they can find anyone who legally can talk under a gag order.

The run-up to the Mark Shelnutt trial has made one thing clear: Columbus is split about whether he's guilty of the 36 counts against him. Former Mayor Frank Martin doesn't think so -- and he said that despite the fact that Shelnutt chose someone else for a defense attorney.

If you've followed the Mark Shelnutt case from the beginning, you know this blog was given some interesting items concerning it - a package left at our front door, with a DVD of court videos and transcripts [9 Dec 08]. But I doubt the videos will be used as evidence in Shelnutt's trial. The people who accused him of wrongdoing then probably will be in the gallery watching now.

The expected two-week trial may clear up all sorts of mysteries about Mark Shelnutt and his actions. For instance, he allegedly tried to influence the grand jury testimony of someone with the initials J.S. Prosecutors have said that's NOT Muscogee County District Attorney Julia Slater - so who could J.S. be? Shelnutt may love music, but he wasn't around to talk with J.S. Bach.

One reader has asked this blog to sit in federal court, and follow the Mark Shelnutt trial. We actually did that with a lawsuit against WRBL four years ago. But in this case, plenty of reporters will be in court. And this time, they'll cover the case in the gallery -- instead of testifying on the witness stand.

(Besides, I'm focused on more pressing personal business right now. I won't belabor you with details about that. And some readers who know what that business is will get the joke in that last sentence.)

You're invited to hear me sing this weekend, at a special "Pre-Thanksgiving" worship service and dinner! It starts Saturday at 2:30 p.m. ET at the Woodmen of the World hall on Milgen Road -- between the post office and Lumber Liquidators.

E-MAIL UPDATE: Well before we wrote Monday's item about a Phenix City subdivision, a former city official was writing us....

After reading the Kirsten Barnes article in reference to the Tuesday November 3, 2009 Phenix City Council Meeting, I feel compelled to offer the following. Mayor Pro Tem Arthur Sumbry was quoted as saying, "The people have been waiting 24 years for us to do something." I would like to "attempt to communicate" with the esteemed councilman of the following.

1. The Cochgaleechee Sewer (Sanitary) was replaced in that area at a cost of $400,000.00 eleven years ago.

2. The U.S. Corps of Engineers authorized a feasibility study for the construction of a watershed in that area. The result being the cost benefit (number of direct beneficiaries) was not acceptable when leveraged against the amount of money involved in cost for the project.

3. I personally procured a $300,000 grant (no match) which provided for the dredging of the creek from Crowell Park to Brickyard Roads. The final recommendation on that project was that in order to be effective, this creek should be dredged all the way to the Chattahoochee River.

4. During the tenure of Sam Howard as Mayor, we reached an agreement with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) whereby any resident wishing to sell their home at fair market value could do so. This project was over a one million dollar venture where the city provided a 25% match.

The bottom line regarding this issue is as follows; Crowell Park and lower Meadowview were constructed in a flood plain, and such construction was approved by the city of Phenix City. The city, by maintaining (dredging) the creek through these residential areas can mitigate or eliminate such problems. The city has the equipment (track hoes, etc.), but must use the equipment which the taxpayers have provided. Thus this is a management problem of the city Public Works and Engineering Department. A maintenance schedule should be adhered to in this most problematic area.

In conclusion, Crowell Park is in a flood plain, and was in a flood plain when the City of Phenix City approved it years ago. It will remain in a flood plain unless Arthur Sumbry could orchestrate a seismic event or divine intervention. Federal funding for watershed development as a result of prior attempts is questionable at best. Some councilmen are probably most effective when they remain "at sleep."

The Citizens of this community deserve more consideration on an investment of $144,250.00.


Greg Glass

This is the same Greg Glass who used to be Phenix City's Utilities Director. Last time we heard about Glass, he was suing the city after leaving office amid controversy [5 Jun 08] - but he's apparently not satisfied simply with communicating through his attorney.

Greg Glass seems to be saying the Army Corps of Engineers played a numbers game in Crowell Park. Not enough people would be helped to justify spending money on improvements. That doesn't seem to stop Senator Richard Shelby, when it comes to federal money for Alabama.

I don't recall any of Greg Glass's four points being mentioned during last week's Phenix City Council work session. City Manager and longtime city employee Wallace Hunter didn't even mention them -- but then again, the former Fire Chief didn't have to worry much about fires in rain-soaked neighborhoods.

Oh, by the way -- Arthur Sumbry is a funeral director by trade. If he really wanted to "orchestrate.... divine intervention," he'd lose a lot of casket sales.

Our next e-mail involves a sighting in the sky:


Around 2 o'clock Monday afternoon - coming in from the west , looked like a painted up B-29 landing in Columbus. What's the occassion.

The occasion is called Veterans Day. TV newscasts reported the "Wings of Freedom" tour has brought several World War Two-era fighter planes to the Columbus Airport through Thursday. But they mentioned B-17's and B-24's, instead of B-29's. Admittedly, I thought the planes stopped at B-15 - based on standard bingo cards.

If you want a close-up look at the historic planes at the Columbus Airport, it will cost around ten dollars. If you want to take a flight in one, it will cost about $400 -- and you'll notice the "Honor Flight" program for World War Two veterans is staying away from that.

While we're thinking historically: Monday marked 20 years since the opening of the Berlin Wall. It was a memorable day for me, for the wrong reason - as CNN picked that day for a building-wide fire drill. When the big announcement came in East Berlin, practically every CNN Center employee was lined up outside the building. I should sell that story to "The Office"....

We have SEVERAL e-mails about one other topic, but I'm waiting for a call to be returned on that. So your patience is appreciated, as we check other Monday musings:

+ Columbus began feeling the rainy impact of Tropical Storm Ida. We've had so much rain already this year that the storm isn't needed. In fact, there's a much more appropriate place for it -- Ida-ho.

+ WXTX "News at Ten" reported Lee County is changing its tornado siren policy to a "Storm Based Warning System." So much for those weekly and monthly tests, which make some people think they live in North Korea....

+ Georgia's Governor announced the city of Columbus will receive almost two million dollars in stimulus money, for a new network of traffic cameras. They'll be set up along Veterans Parkway, and monitored from the Government Center Annex. Maybe now a radio station will bring back traffic reports, so the rest of us can know what's happening.

+ Alabama cornerback Javier Arenas was named Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Week. After even further review, the league still didn't think that Louisiana State player made a great interception....

(I'm a bit surprised Arenas won the defensive award - since L.S.U. radio announcer Jim Hawthorne mistakenly said Saturday Arenas caught a long touchdown pass, instead of Julio Jones. Alabama's program hasn't been stripped of THAT many scholarships.)

+ Instant Message to the producers of "Jeopardy": Thanks for sending a member of your "Clue Crew" to Fort Benning's Loyd Elementary School Monday. But why didn't she visit a Muscogee County school, too? Are you implying Muscogee County educators are clueless?

To offer a story tip, advertise to our readers, make a PayPal donation or comment on this blog, write me - but be warned, I may post your e-mail comment and offer a reply.

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