Wednesday, November 25, 2009

25 NOV 09: I Before E?

Long ago and a few generations of movie stars away, presenters at Hollywood awards shows carried nothing on stage. Someone had to ask, "May I have the envelope, please?" We felt like asking that Tuesday afternoon, after chatting with a Phenix City Councilor - but no, they're not handing out awards there for the King of All Liars.

BLOG EXCLUSIVE PART 2: Phenix City Councilor Jimmy Wetzel confirmed Tuesday he wrote the 5 November letter to Superintendent Larry DiChiara that we initially thought was a parody - the one where the first name is misspelled "Larrie" twice. Wetzel phoned me instead of writing a letter. That's OK - people have had trouble spelling Burkard for a long time.

The Councilor explained the Superintendent really started the "-ie" fuss. "He misspelled my name in his letter," Jimmy Wetzel said. That led me to scan Larry DiChiara's 4 November letter - which never names Wetzel at all. It doesn't even claim a City Council member is all wet.

"It was on the envelope," Jimmy Wetzel then added. He says the Superintendent had Phenix City Mayor Sonny Coulter personally pick up the 4 November letters, then hand-deliver them to the Council members. Wow -- are Phenix City schools so tight for funds that they're scrimping on postage stamps?

(You'd think Jimmy Wetzel would be happy with Sonny Coulter doing postal duty. That means the mayor probably was in his office at least once.)

"Jimmie Wetzel" is how the Councilor says his envelope was addressed. So he responded in kind, by writing to "Larrie DiChiara." Wetzel says the Superintendent should have known better, because "he's known me for years." I should have asked Wetzel if he made some of those late-night "angry parent" calls.

The hand delivery of the Superintendent's letter by "Mayor Sylvester" Coulter (as Jimmy Wetzel's reply calls him) may explain why Wetzel thinks there's a two-headed conspiracy against Phenix City Manager Wallace Hunter. Then again, Larry DiChiara seems certain there's a three-headed conspiracy against the Phenix City School Board - also known as a council majority.

We asked Jimmy Wetzel about several of his accusations against Larry DiChiara. Did the Superintendent use profane language in front of staff members, when he worked for the Lee County Schools? "I'll let that stand for itself," was all Wetzel would say. Translation: someone will have to e-mail us the secret recordings.

When it came to the contention that Superintendent Larry DiChiara wants segregated schools, Jimmy Wetzel was more detailed. He says it stems from a proposed school reorganization plan [6 Dec 05], which would have built a new grade school on the north side of Phenix City but NOT on the south side. Wetzel's argument could be summed up as "South Seale or No Deal."

Jimmy Wetzel notes the Phenix City School Board rejected the Superintendent's reorganization plan. But Board President Eddie Lowe later said a proposed primary school near Lakewood Elementary was designed "to attract white students from Lee County." Wow - bring segregation to Smith Station at the same time?!

Jimmy Wetzel added Phenix City is "growing all over," and developers of new southside subdivisions have requested annexation into the city. That's strange - a letter to this blog during the summer suggested Councilor Arthur Sumbry was recruiting homeowners outside town against their will [9 Jul]. And to be honest, Russell County HAS been more successful at baseball lately.

Councilor Jimmy Wetzel also is unimpressed by the new Phenix City Freshman Academy. He says the gymnasium alone cost at least four million dollars. But at least that gym is being used for big events, such as a high school wrestling meet last weekend. Now if Great Championship Wrestling please will reserve it once a month, so the costs can be repaid....

So is Jimmy Wetzel plotting what might be called an "Extreme Makeover, School Board Edition?" He left that question open, but said: "The citizens of Phenix City voted for change last year." The city council may get around to proposing its own health care reform plan in 2010.

Yet while Jimmy Wetzel told me about changes on several Phenix City boards in the last year, he noted the City Council voted unanimously to grant School Board member Florence Bellamy another term. Isn't this amazing?! I mean, the Phenix City Council being unanimous on something....

So now we have both sides of the latest "Phenix City Story." Councilor Jimmy Wetzel admitted to me he's poles apart on issues with Superintendent Larry DiChiara. Here's hoping both men learn the basic spelling lesson of our title today - and not put the "I" of self before the "E" of educating children.

BLOG UPDATE: Months of debate about public safety ended Tuesday night, when Columbus Council approved a new Office of Crime Prevention. But can't the name of this be adjusted a little? Make it something like the Crime Office for Prevention - so it spells COP.

The vote was 7-3 in favor of an O.C.P. in Columbus, with a Director and seven-person board. Councilor Gary Allen voted for it, after being absent last month. And Glenn Davis switched his vote from nay to yea - which shouldn't be surprising, since baseball players prefer people saying "yea" from the stands.

Mayor Jim Wetherington apparently gave Glenn Davis what he wanted, by announcing the Crime Prevention Director would have a lower city pay grade. The salary reduction is in the range of $10,000 to $14,000 - which could require the director to live in a lower-class neighborhood which needs crime prevention most.

Columbus Council also approved a seven-person Crime Prevention Board. The mayor will appoint four members. The council will appoint three members. And one of their first assignments could be to check all bridal shops for stashes of champagne.

-> Our other blog starts with poker, then goes in directions you might not expect. Check "On the Flop!" <--

THE BIG BLOG QUESTION stemming from Columbus's big corruption trial closed Tuesday evening - and seven out of 11 voters said the acquittal of Mark Shelnutt should make a difference in the next round of voting for judge and district attorney. This should inspire Shelnutt to offer himself as a spokesman in campaign commercials.

The comments in our weeklong pathetically non-scientific poll reflected both sides in the Mark Shelnutt case. One supporter of the attorney called for an investigation of local law enforcement and prosecutors. But an opponent wrote the federal trial was filled with "so many improper things" - although Judge Clay Land drew a line at reporters sending Twitter messages.

One critic of Mark Shelnutt bluntly wrote: "Even his appearance is creepy." Aw, c'mon - Andy Griffith wore plenty of bright-colored sportcoats on "Matlock," yet he still won almost all his cases.

(That comment also described Shelnutt's supporters as a "cult-like following." I've never heard United Methodists compared to a cult before - but then again, maybe a hard-core Baptist wrote that.)

Another commenter brought up the fact that Judge Clay Land attends the same United Methodist church as Mark Shelnutt. "Why didn't the federal prosecutors object?" the writer wondered. The St. Luke schedule may offer an answer to that. Shelnutt plays in the 9:00 a.m. contemporary service, not the 10:55 formal one.

To answer a question from that writer: Judge Clay Land was appointed by President George W. Bush earlier in this decade, and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. So a longtime Republican sat over the trial of a Democrat attorney, and threw out four of the 40 counts during trial. Combine that with the Orly Taitz tussle, and Land could wind up on a short list for President Obama.

Mark Shelnutt gave his first in-depth interview since the federal trial Tuesday. He told WTVM the thought of him accepting "big bags of money" at his office are absurd. He's right, of course - as I've seen enough movies and TV spy dramas to know briefcases are more commonplace.

Mark Shelnutt expressed concern that federal prosecutors played selected short clips of secret recordings to Torrance Hill, to get the admitted drug dealer to turn against his longtime lawyer. Those prosecutors may be preparing for future work as producers for cable news channels....

Mark Shelnutt added he plans to write his book about his experiences of recent months. This could turn out to be the most unusual item ever sold on "Songwriters' Night" at The Loft.

As if these items didn't make Tuesday busy enough, there was other news as well:

+ The announcers with WBOJ-FM "103.7 The Truth" revealed the move down the dial to 88.5 FM (which we broke here two weeks ago) officially will happen next Tuesday. Afternoon host Brian Hite said going noncommercial "will give us a lot more freedom." Well, until a foul-up leads to a drought in donations....

(For those of you adjusting to the "New Truth," be sure you turn the FM dial all the way to 88.5. If you stop too soon, you'll wind up at a station whose founder practically says modern Christian music is a tool of the devil. Adding a drumbeat to "Amazing Grace" could turn you into a mindless zombie.)

+ Defeated Georgia House candidate Jerry Luquire was named the new President of the Georgia Christian Coalition. So Luquire will go to Atlanta after all - and as a former talk show host, he won't need any advance training in lobbying lawmakers.

+ The Ledger-Enquirer revealed RiverCenter Executive Director Enoch Morris is resigning. How ironic that his Twitter page is now out of service - the one with the shorthand name, "EX Dir Morris."

+ WTVM interviewed Billy Brescia, who's still selling homes in Columbus at age 92. When he tells you a home is historic, you'd better believe it....

+ East Alabama Medical Center announced smoking will be banned throughout its entire complex next year. I smell an economic opportunity here - with someone opening a "cigar bar" nearby for new fathers.

+ GPB News reported Kellogg's is laying off employees at its bakery in Augusta. Uh-oh - does that mean a cutback in Columbus is coming next? The thought of Keebler elves standing in line at the Career Center is almost too hard to comprehend.

+ Columbus State lost to Alabama State in men's college basketball 64-58. This game was unusual, because NCAA Division II Columbus State usually doesn't step up to play Division I opponents. But then, maybe the C.S.U. athletic staff was told only about the A.S.U. football program....

Our main topic the last two days 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.

BURKARD BULK MAIL INDEX: 399 (+ 21, 5.6%)

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author -- not necessarily those of anyone else in Columbus living or dead, and perhaps not even you.

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