Tuesday, November 03, 2009

3 NOV 09: Booms Busted

Sure enough - some serious words were exchanged during Monday's Phenix City Council work session. In fact, we can expand the tongue twister we started last week. The Phenix Friday football fireworks flap turned into a time of tense terse talk.

"This City Council has a lot more important stuff to deal with than fireworks at the high school football games." So said Phenix City Mayor Sonny Coulter Monday - but he was outnumbered when it comes to Friday night's playoff game. Three Councilors spoke out against a pyrotechnic display. So Central High students will have to drive to the edge of town, and shoot explosives themselves.

Chris Blackshear of the Phenix City Central Booster Club tried to offer a compromise. He proposed only shooting fireworks when the football team takes the field Friday night, with no explosions after touchdowns or at the final whistle. In other words, Blackshear offered the Oklahoma plan -- Boomer Sooner.

But if Chris Blackshear didn't understand the concerns of fireworks opponents before Monday, he heard personally about them at a crowded work session. One Phenix City resident said the explosions had dogs near the football field "going wild." Considering Phenix City Central was playing the Opelika Bulldogs, one purpose was accomplished.

Retired real estate agent Helen McCullar lives north of Garrett-Harrison Stadium. She told the work session the fireworks at a football game in October sounded to her like a storm erupting. She may not know the running backs known as "Thunder and Lightning" left the New York/New Jersey Giants several years ago.

Retired Sergeant Major Carlos Sellers next said several older people had complained to him about the fireworks. But he reported they were reluctant to appear at the work session, because they feared some kind of retaliation. You can't really blame them - because most of today's high school students know how to find homes with Google Maps.

Carlos Sellers listed three reasons why the fireworks are shaking homes around Garrett-Harrison Stadium. One of them was meteorological, and involved barometric pressure. I didn't catch all of it, but I think we've found the "Ask Derek" weather question for next week.

Carlos Sellers reported the fireworks were SO LOUD that his home ceiling lamp shook, and a U.S. flag in a box was knocked off a shelf. Do Fort Benning soldiers ever have this problem during live-fire exercises? Or are they well-trained enough to make sure everything has extra screws?

Scheduled to follow those comments, Chris Blackshear clearly considered himself on trial. He said the fireworks shot during football games were NOT the loudest boom available. If those had gone off, the Phenix City hospital would have switched to emergency mode....

Chris Blackshear defended the fireworks by saying it's about 89 teenagers on the Central football making "the right choice." He explained there isn't much in Phenix City for young people to do, besides play high school sports. Exactly when the bridges to Columbus became toll bridges, I'm not sure.

Chris Blackshear admitted he should have communicated the Booster Club's plans better to residents around Garrett-Harrison Stadium. But he said the fireworks are bringing back football fans who have stayed away for several years. Apparently Central's 9-1 record isn't good enough to attract a crowd anymore.

Chris Blackshear explained the Booster Club took out a $10 million insurance policy on the fireworks displays. But an unimpressed Leon McCullar responded: "You broke the law, you're putting people in danger...." He almost seemed ready to throw a flag and call a 15-yard personal foul penalty.

But then the work session took an unusual turn. Phenix City Manager Wallace Hunter said he took "full responsibility" for the fireworks displays. By permitting the pyrotechnics for two October games, "I took a chance.... I stuck my neck out...." Not close enough for the ash stains to get on his hands, though....

Wallace Hunter revealed he was asked to approve a third night of Friday fireworks by Phenix City School Superintendent Larry DiChiara. DiChiara was NOT at the work session - as he's apparently trying to figure out how Phenix City parents which oppose school taxes can afford to write checks in the hundreds of dollars to have fireworks shows.

The Phenix City Manager said he drew a line at a third Friday night fireworks show - "That's it." He added Central High School boosters should be true to their word, and NOT request one more display for a playoff game. But as most of us know, sports fans want every call to go in favor of the home team.

Wallace Hunter explained he fulfilled his promise to allow fireworks at two Phenix City Central football games -- and in fact went one game beyond. Now he wants to fulfill a promise to nearby residents, by stopping the displays for the year. If you can't please everyone, have everyone kindly take turns.

The work session then devolved into a sharp exchange between Wallace Hunter and Chris Blackshear. It involved personal meetings to get approval for displays, campaigns on Facebook to demand one more show, football coaches asking players to sign petitions in favor of the fireworks -- yet Councilor and veteran football referee Max Wilkes never intervened.

But the final lid on the fireworks box may have come from the Phenix City Attorney. He pulled out the city ordinance banning fireworks, and noted it allows NO exceptions for special events - not even on Independence Day. That's why Columbus firefighters oversee Thunder on the Hooch, while Phenix City settles for flag-waving songs and a water slide.

(Columbus fireworks maven Stephen King tells me Phenix City has held NO organized pyrotechnic show since the early 1990s. That may explain why WWE wrestling fans don't show up in big numbers for those weekly local cards at the roller skating rink -- they have to settle for fireworks on tape recordings.)

Phenix City Mayor Sonny Coulter admitted he thought the fireworks during the football games were "great." He liked the entry-only compromise for the playoff game, as did Councilor Max Wilkes. But the other three Councilors did not - so this Friday night, it's BYOB: Bring your own boombox.

While no formal vote was taken at the work session, the 3-2 NO result is surprising on a couple of levels. The two men who seem to be "elder statesmen" in Phenix City government supported fireworks for high school football players - yet the three younger Councilors sided with older and critical residents, who confined their big racket to telephone calls.

Booster Club President Chris Blackshear tried a line of reasoning which many conservatives have come to abhor - the "it's about the kids" argument. Yet Phenix City Council members which some might consider liberal decided against the fireworks display. They seem to think older people have rights, too - especially since they're more likely to hold the city liable for property damages.

(BLOGGER'S NOTE: Monday's work session had another interesting discussion, but we're choosing to hold that item for another day.)

BLOG UPDATE: Last Friday we sent an Instant Message about our failed sports league, Power Frisbee of Georgia. We discovered Monday what's causing several confused phone calls about it. If you type in "Georgia Power" and "Columbus" at the Yellow Pages web site, Power Frisbee is the top listing! Maybe those energy-sniffing dogs chase frisbees in parks to stay in shape.

Since we're sports-centered today, that might as well lead off our wrap-up of other Monday news....

+ The Atlanta Falcons fell to unbeaten New Orleans 35-27. The Saints scored two touchdowns in 23 seconds, late in the second quarter -- then the second half had six video reviews which seemed to last for hours.

+ Georgia head football coach Mark Richt reported Joe Cox will start at quarterback next weekend. If he can't turn the offense around against Tennessee Tech, then we'll know it's time for a change.

+ Aflac showed off a new foam recycling device it calls a "densifier." Single guys like myself could use a modified version of this - to identify which blondes in nightclubs are dense and dumb, as opposed to the geniuses.

+ A weeklong tour of Muscogee County grade schools began, by a guest promoting the "magic of recycling." You mean it's magic?! Area police officers have another name for it - air conditioner theft.

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