Tuesday, November 24, 2009

24 NOV 09: Hello, "Larrie"

Sometimes I wonder if this blog missed the real target all along. Maybe it ought to be The Blog of Phenix City. The political fighting there nowadays puts our "Hurtsboro Mondays" of old to shame. And in Phenix City, there's more than one official doing all the grumbling.

BLOG EXCLUSIVE: Phenix City School Superintendent Larry DiChiara says it's time to "fight fire with fire," in a dispute with the City Manager and a Councilor. DiChiara told me Monday he was blasted with profane language by Wallace Hunter, then falsely accused by Jimmy Wetzel. Imagine if Central High School's football game had missed the playoffs....

Dr. Larry DiChiara says the feud actually goes back to the Phenix Friday Football Fireworks Flap. We mentioned in passing three weeks ago [3 Nov] about Central High players signing a petition in support of the fireworks. One of the players happened to be City Manager Wallace Hunter's son -- and that made Hunter upset. If they all had been signing national letters of intent, that might have been different.

Your blog has obtained a letter the superintendent sent to the Phenix City Council 4 November. Larry DiChiara says City Manager Wallace Hunter called his home a week earlier about the fireworks petition, and chewed him out for 15 minutes with a series of four-letter words. And those words apparently did NOT include "boom" or "bang."

The Phenix City Superintendent says he never knew about the fireworks petition, and it was initiated by Central High School coaches at the request of players. Yet Larry DiChiara says the City Manager let him have it, with language he'd never heard before from any other public official - proving DiChiara never served on President Nixon's White House staff.

Wallace Hunter explained his concern, during a 2 November Phenix City Council work session we attended. The City Manager said his high school sophomore son is not allowed to sign anything without his permission, but the son felt "peer pressure" from fellow players and feared the Central coaches might not let him play. The "True Love Waits" promoters might want to walk carefully....

But Superintendent Larry DiChiara says in his letter the City Manager is "a professional," who failed to act like one on the phone. I'm against profanity, and don't use it at all. But if the Superintendent thinks "professionals" never use such language, he needs to spend some time in a professional sports locker room.

The letter to the Phenix City Council doesn't stop with that one phone call. Larry DiChiara says several months ago, Wallace Hunter publicly called him "a crook" to a school board member. Of all places, that reportedly happened at a barber shop - where you'd think cutting remarks are commonplace.

If that phone call to the Phenix City Superintendent seems strange, a reply to his letter may be even stranger. Larry DiChiara says Councilor Jimmy Wetzel sent an answer the next day - and intentionally misspelled his first name "Larrie" twice. We've also received a copy of that letter, which shows sometimes even tipsters can be fair and balanced.

To be honest, I thought the reply with Jimmy Wetzel's signature on it was a satirical parody. But Larry DiChiara assured me Monday the Councilor wrote it, and "he's very proud that he wrote it." If you're proud of your spelling errors in a letter to a school superintendent, you might be a redneck....

On top of the spelling "errors," Larry DiChiara notes Jimmy Wetzel addressed him as "Mr." instead of his title "Dr." The Superintendent also described that as "unprofessional." Yet I've heard some ministers say once you get a college degree, you should immediately "get over it."

We tried to reach Jimmy Wetzel for a comment Monday, but received no response to our messages. But the Councilor's reply letter defends City Manager Wallace Hunter, saying he phoned the Superintendent as "an angry parent." Wow - is that what parents do after 9:30 p.m. in Phenix City? It's clearly not your grandfather's "Sin Town" anymore....

Jimmy Wetzel contends the Phenix City Central "coaches, teaches and mentors illegally and unethically pressure[d] a 15-year-old student to sign a petition against his father and the city he works for...." This shows how times have changed in Alabama football. Bear Bryant probably couldn't motivate players at halftime today, the way he did one Saturday -- simply by calling them girls.

(You'll recall City Manager Wallace Hunter decided three football games with fireworks displays were enough. Who could have guessed a petition drive would bring another explosion - from him?)

Jimmy Wetzel's reply goes on to make several accusations against the Phenix City Superintendent. Larry DiChiara denied Monday he ever used "curse words" in front of employees at his last job, with the Lee County schools. Of course, that could have been so long ago that four-letter words beginning with D were still considered profane.

The most stunning accusation by Councilor Jimmy Wetzel is that Superintendent Larry DiChiara is "trying to return the Phenix City School System to segregation." The letter doesn't explain that any further - but I have a hard time imagining a school superintendent spraying "KKK" on people's cars overnight.

But wait, there's more! Jimmy Wetzel speculates in his reply the Superintendent is trying to discredit City Manager "Mr. Hunter" in a "conspiracy" with "your new found little protégé, Mayor Sylvester." How shocking is this?! I mean, for the Councilor to use a fancy French word complete with accent marks....

The man Jimmy Wetzel calls "Mayor Sylvester" is known to most Phenix City residents as Sonny Coulter. But the Councilor's letter declares the mayor "the King of All Liars." Come to think of it, when Coulter cited health reasons for giving up the mayor's job last time, no one checked the medical records.

The end of Councilor Jimmy Wetzel's reply hints at upcoming political fireworks. Superintendent Larry DiChiara told me Wetzel wants the Phenix City Council to make wholesale changes on the appointed city school board -- starting with board President Eddie Lowe next spring. Does this mean Woodrow Lowe is out of the running to coach the Central football team?

(Wetzel's letter accuses DiChiara of spending a large cash reserve "recklessly." DiChiara contends Phenix City Schools are low on funds largely due to state-ordered proration. So which side will make the first move, to put the Superintendent's name on the new Freshman Academy?)

Larry DiChiara admitted he's "very concerned" about Jimmy Wetzel and his Phenix City Council allies attempting to overhaul the school board - a board the Superintendent pointed out to me is "unpaid." But of course, 2009 has proven it only takes one bill in the state legislature to solve that problem.

Education issues dominated the Monday news headlines as well....

+ The Muscogee County School Board examined a shift of students for next school year, while a new Carver High School is built. Carver students would move to Baker Middle School. Baker students would combine with Marshall Middle School students. And the old Baker High School still would stand neglected - not even worth a fix-up project by Jordan High students.

+ Former Muscogee County School Athletic Director Charles Flowers told WRBL he'll retire from high school football coaching. Flowers won state baseball and football titles at Shaw. He's currently coach at Dougherty High of Albany. And if there's any justice, his next job will be connected with Flowers Foods of Thomasville.

+ The Sumter County Superintendent denied online reports that high school football coach Mark Wilson has given up the job. For one thing, Notre Dame's Charlie Weis still has one more regular-season game to coach....

+ The first-ever Columbus "Gingerbread Jubilee" concluded. Businesses and celebrities built gingerbread houses, to raise money for the Children's Miracle Network. I'm waiting for something a little better than this. Will some Columbus charity please hold a chocolate chip cookie-eating contest?

+ Georgia cooking queen Paula Deen helped unload food for a Thanksgiving charity dinner in Atlanta - but wound up slightly injured, when someone threw a ham at her face. Deen surprised the workers, by not preparing a batch of blood sausage on the spot.

(Former WRBL reporter Chris Sweigart beat me to the best line about this incident - Paula Deen being stunned by the "swine flew.")

+ Instant Message to the Columbus Quarterback Club: How nice of you to invite the Southeastern Conference Director of Officiating to Monday night's meeting. So did he rule the main course was chicken or beef -- and was he right?

Today's main topic was the result of a blog reader's tip. 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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