Wednesday, December 02, 2009

2 DEC 09: Kip Kip Hooray

Well, that didn't take long! The polls closed in a local special election at 7:00 Tuesday night - and by 9:00 p.m. we knew the winner. See how much more efficient your government can be, when Republicans are the only candidates?

Kip Smith won the runoff to fill an open State House seat in Muscogee, Harris and Troup Counties. After almost winning outright in the general election, final unofficial returns show Smith smashed Steve Earles by nearly a two-to-one margin. It's almost like Smith borrowed a road grader from one of his father's highway projects.

Kip Smith will succeed father Vance Smith in the Georgia House next month. Vance Smith gave up the seat to become Georgia Transportation Commissioner. This family ought to arrange a Sunday dinner with the Hugley family, and get the big Columbus issues for the 2010 legislative session settled early.

We hinted at this issue when Kip Smith first announced his campaign - is it fair for the son or daughter of a politician to succeed that politician in office? The Republican voters in Georgia House District 129 clearly didn't mind. Maybe they figured tax money will be saved, by not changing nameplates in Atlanta.

But it strikes me that in a country founded as an alternative to monarchy, plenty of elected offices seem to stay in the same family for generations. The Republicans had two Bush presidencies out of three. The Democrats had the "Kennedy dynasty." And Alabamians even had the audacity to let Governor George Wallace be succeeded by his wife.

So far there's no sign that Columbus Councilor Gary Allen will run for mayor next year, seeking the position of his late father J.R. Allen. Given the events of last year, Gary's son Zach might want to settle for a campaign for dogcatcher.

The Sumbry family in Russell County is a bit different. The father is Phenix City's Mayor Pro Tem. The son is the county coroner. So city residents who think they're being taxed to death will have to deal with one or the other....

But as we said, voters in House District 129 didn't mind electing Vance Smith's son into office Tuesday. Kip Smith is promising some kind of "fresh ideas" - but I suspect many supporters really wanted a Kip off the old block.

When Kip Smith heads for Atlanta next month, he may encounter a man who endorsed his opponent in the runoff. Jerry Luquire will be lobbying there, as President of the Georgia Christian Coalition. Will these two men be able to get along? Or will Luquire be double-checking which Bible Smith uses to take the oath of office?

The runoff election produced a couple of curious moments. The Muscogee County Election Board reported the computers for confirming voter lists were slow for a while. This ended, of course, once everyone in the Government Center finished their Facebook updates for the morning.

And did you see WLTZ's scoreboards for the Georgia runoff votes? The screen during the 11:00 p.m. update called it "Decision '08." Why not call it "Decision '10, pre-season special"?

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

E-MAIL UPDATE: We used a comment by a Georgia Senate candidate as a one-liner Tuesday. As they say in Congress, that candidate seeks consent to "revise and extend" his remarks....

Dear Richard,

Some people may be perplexed by the quote you attributed to me in your most recent blog post (1 December 2009). As you noted, the Lobby was not an ideal location for the event yesterday due to the lack of seating. It also was probably not the best spot given the sheer number of people at the event which made it quite warm. So of course my comment, made in jest, was that they could have spent some money to air condition the building.

But while on the topic of the building, I think it is important for people to understand that at least in the case of the Muscogee County Republican Party's resolution opposing expenditures on the building, that at no time did anyone argue that there should be no administration building. Rather we argued that the MCSD should be limited to the funds approved by voters.

Voters approved in 2003 approximately $12.3 million for a new School District Administration Building as part of an E-SPLOST placed on the ballot by the MCSD. Most people agreed that the old administration building was outdated and needed to be replaced. I have been told by a number of people that one of the reasons for the purchase of the Columbus Square property in 1999 was so that the old Sears building could be renovated and used by the School District as a new Administration Building, though my limited research has not revealed any reference to that plan in the Ledger or other public record. But in any event in 2003 the MCSD got voter approval to spend about $12.3 million on this project.

Some have called the financing for the new building a "bond issue", and I noticed last night that the program for the open house stated that funding came from "SPLOST and Certificates of Participation". In fact what happened is the MCSD entered into a lease-purchase agreement with an Atlanta private equity firm on the building. I do not know if the MCSD is still leasing the building or when it will actually own the building, but they entered into a lease-purchase at the outset. Why? Because that was the only way to raise bond revenue without seeking voter approval, a practice that was only recently made legal in Georgia.

It is widely agreed that the MCSD spent over $25 million on this project and some estimates actually put the total closer to $30 million.

But let's say you and I agree $25 million was spent. That was twice what the voters authorized in 2003 and comes to something like $250 per square foot. The reason I think so many latched on to the term Taj Mahal to describe this building was not only to reflect the extraordinary price tag of the building, but also of the attitude expressed by the majority of the Board that public input or approval of the additional money was irrelevant and unnecessary. Who knows if the MCSD had made the case to the people as to why the additional funds were necessary, the public might have approved it, as they did with the 2009 E-SPLOST.

The points that at least I and the members of the Muscogee County Republican Party who approved a resolution opposing the expenditure were trying to make were:

#1)--the School Board should be held to its word as provided in the plain language of the 2003 SPLOST

#2)--that if monies over and above the $12.3 million had to be spent, that the School Board should have to ask voters to approve such an expenditure and

#3)--that in the absence of seeking voter approval that the School Board at least seek public input before committing such a large amount of taxpayer money to a project.

It seems that at a time when unemployment is at 10%, when schools are suffering from overcrowding and teachers are having to be furloughed due to plummeting revenue at the state and local level, that it might have been the prudent course of action for the MCSD to have held on to that borrowing capacity and perhaps built a more modest building that could have been expanded as times, and sources of revenue, warranted.



Yes, Josh McKoon -- I recall the talk of converting the old Sears building on Macon Road into a school district administration building. But as I remember it, asbestos then was found in that building. And you'll notice no one even speculates anymore about building a Wal-Mart store in that area.

The dedication program for the McPEC (Muscogee County Public Education Center) indeed says some of the funding came from "Certificates of Participation." I could get one of those for free, by taking a CPR review course.

This blog actually coined the phrase "Taj Mahal II" for the McPEC when the Muscogee County School Board approved a payment plan two years ago [25 Sep 07]. Newcomers may not realize the original Columbus Taj Mahal was the public library down the street, with a final cost of $49 million. But at least if your tour the library, you can buy souvenirs at a book shop.

If you think the McPEC really is a Taj Mahal, the designers actually could have done more in terms of embellishments. For one thing, the hallways on the upper floors are simply too narrow for holding indoor track meets.

State Rep. Richard Smith attended Monday's McPEC open house for a while. But I don't recall seeing State Senator Seth Harp there -- the man who claimed the administration building had critics at the state and federal levels [5 Dec 07]. Of course, Harp's too busy these days trying to raise his own matching millions of dollars. He's running for Georgia Insurance Commissioner.

Several former Muscogee County superintendents also attended the dedication -- including Dr. John Phillips, on whose watch the project was approved. Phillips told me he was given a private tour of the McPEC, before the staff moved in. I should have asked if the third-floor executive washroom matched his specifications.

It's been nearly a year since John Phillips ended his service with Muscogee County schools. Phillips told me he now does consulting work for the boards of several education-related companies. One deals with school construction. Another is involved with education software. But there's apparently none giving advice on hiring aides without prior school board approval.

There's one other quirk we found about the new McPEC, but we'll keep that in our pocket for another day. Let's check other Tuesday tidbits....

+ A big rainstorm moved into Columbus, strong enough to cancel classes at one area community college. Yet before it arrived, I jogged more than three miles non-stop on the Riverwalk. In my perfect dictionary, run comes before rain.

+ A Russell County judge dismissed charges of record tampering against Hurtsboro Mayor Rayford Tapley. It turns out former Constable Robert Schweiger now has the documents he wanted to see, but reportedly couldn't because an audit was underway. Schweiger can't wait to spill the beans about those records to WRBL's Tim Reid - as soon as Schweiger can find him.

+ The Alabama Public Service Commission approved a four-percent rate cut for Alabama Power customers. Some Barbour County residents might celebrate by leaving their front porch lights on all the way to daybreak.

+ Court officials in Birmingham reported a woman showed up for jury duty claiming she had changed her name to Jesus Christ. But she was excused, because she kept answering questions with more questions. If only Ms. Christ had quoted the Bible verse about not coming to abolish the law, prosecutors probably would have loved her.

+ TV sportscasts indicated Auburn's football team will play in Tampa's Outback Bowl. The game has an 11:00 a.m. ET kickoff on 1 January -- so for once, married male Auburn fans may get a break from being forced to watch the Tournament of Roses Parade on TV.

(Yes, I know - the Outback Bowl seems to be named after a well-known restaurant chain. But remember, this game is played in the South. So "out back" may refer to the football field sitting behind a clubhouse.)

+ The Auburn men's basketball team assailed Alabama A&M 87-52. For some reason, Tiger broadcaster Damian Fishback declared it a "critical point in the game" when Auburn led 63-35. What WAS the Las Vegas line on this game, anyway?

+ The Atlanta Falcons released placekicker Jason Elam. Elam shares the record for the longest field goal in National Football League history. But he made less than half of his field goal attempts this season, so he was.... well, you know.... Elam-inated.

+ Instant Message to the Claxton Fruit Cake Company in southeast Georgia: Did I hear it right on the noon news - your plant will make five million pounds of fruitcake this year? Do you keep track of how much of that is used as doorstops?

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