Tuesday, December 29, 2009

29 DEC 09: Kit Kats or Flim-Flam?

If you want to save on your 2009 taxes, only three days remain to make a donation to charity. Charities certainly know it, because they're making appeals in all sorts of ways. One called recently, seeking donations to obtain bulletproof vests for sheriff's officers. Considering the Georgia Fraternal Order of Police once donated a set to Columbus Regional [9 Mar 05], I wonder if lobbyists prepared the priority list.

Then there was the man who knocked on my door Monday evening. He introduced himself as a "community awareness representative," dealing with drugs and homelessness. That title made me wonder if he worked for the city -- or in my neighborhood, if he might be bold enough to be offering drugs.

"Are you with the city, or...." I tried to ask.

"I'll explain, if you'll allow me to continue." But the next part of the Community Awareness Representative's speech didn't answer the question - explaining instead that we have a drug and homelessness problem, and asking if I agree with that. All I have to do is watch "COPS" on Saturday nights to realize that.

About one week before, two men from a nearby church were at my door giving me a free turkey. This Community Awareness Representative held a box containing a family pack of Reese's peanut butter cups, a family pack of Kit Kat bars and a paperback book. I must have missed the door-to-door fruit and vegetable salesman in between.

"I'm not selling anything," the Community Awareness Representative said. Instead, he was seeking donations to help needy people in exchange for his packs of candy. But he clearly was frustrated by my questions about whom he represented. I might as well have been a Republican attending a speech by President Obama.

Seconds before this man arrived, WTVM aired a report on how Columbus Police are cracking down on "gold parties" -- people trying to buy spare gold without getting city business licenses. The man's claim that he wasn't selling anything ruled out the need for a business license. But I still was wary - since a man came to my door at 7:05 a.m. years ago, selling cologne and aspirin.

The Community Awareness Representative wouldn't say which group was involved until I specifically asked him. Then he held up the paperback book, which mentioned Covenant House on the cover. That agency has assisted homeless young people for decades. But I've never heard of it going door-to-door - and not even the House of Mercy has become that desperate.

"Aren't they out of New York?" I asked the Community Awareness Representative.

"It's nationwide," he answered. A check online found houses indeed are located in several states, and even in Central America. The closest Covenant House to Columbus is in southwest Atlanta - but are that many homeless teens out hitchhiking on Interstate 185?

I never caught the man's name, but he claimed he does NOT live in Columbus. The badge around his neck said "California" on it - and he told me his "territory" includes California, Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee. Perhaps California was added because of the upcoming Bowl Championship Series title game.

To make this even more curious, the Community Awareness Representative told me he does NOT work for Covenant House. He claimed to work for a company with the web site BailoutCapital.biz . A check Monday night found the web site is registered to a man in Las Vegas, but isn't operational at all. Too many office outings to casinos can do that....

The Community Awareness Representative went on to say homelessness is an issue "close to my heart," because he's been a homeless veteran in both the Air Force and Marines. So he was looking for donations of cash, clothing - "or if you don't have anything, I'll give you the candy." I might go nibble on supermarket samples once in a while, but I'm not that broke.

"Let me see if I can find some clothing," I told the Community Awareness Representative. But after a quick search, the best I could do in terms of ready-to-discard clothes was a well-worn white short-sleeve dress shirt. The man at the door simply wouldn't accept the used underwear I had in a stack.

"Will this be used locally?" I asked the Community Awareness Representative as I handed over the shirt. His answer implied no - and he never gave me a choice of Reese's or Kit Kats in exchange for my donation. Oh well, it didn't seem like that sweet an exchange all around.

Later in the evening, a check of the Covenant House web site found nothing to indicate it raises money through Community Awareness Representatives on your front porch. In fact, I could donate online with a credit card. Instead, I left a message explaining what you've just read. We'll see if my visitor was a charitable fund-raiser - or if he believes charity begins at your own home.

Here's a taste of what else crossed our path Monday:

+ WTVM confirmed December is the wettest month on record in Columbus history. We've had more than 12 inches, with one more storm system expected by Thursday. But the good news is that shoppers may have purchased more raincoats for holiday gift-giving than ever before.

+ The 5:00 p.m. news showed city workers dredging the Charter Oaks watershed lake, to prevent a repeat of last spring's Teak Drive flooding. A lawsuit by residents against the city remains a possibility - so if the Merry Maids haven't shown up in the neighborhood yet, they'd better hurry.

+ WRBL reported the veterinarian on duty at the Phenix City-Russell County Animal Shelter has been fired. Police Chief Ray Smith explained the building is a shelter, "not an animal hospital." This leaves me wondering if suspects in the city jail are allowed to get flu shots.

+ Alabama Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks promised to announce today if he'll abandon his campaign for Governor to run for Congress. Considering Sparks was endorsed by Larry Langford before the Birmingham mayor was found guilty of bribery, I think a switch is fairly safe.

+ Georgia toppled Texas A&M 44-20 in the Independence Bowl. The Bulldogs wind up with eight wins for the 13th season in a row, the longest streak in major college football - yet Jim Donnan can't get a coaching job to save his life.

(The Georgia broadcast team noted much of the stadium in Shreveport, Louisiana was filled with Texas A&M fans. Perhaps those "dumb Aggies" knew something Bulldog fans didn't - that the Shreveport area has several casinos.)

+ Instant Message to Westwood One broadcaster Kevin Harlan: Bud-dee! We shared a college sportscasting class, remember? Now you're a pro football voice on national radio - but trust me, Kev. After hearing the second quarter Monday night, you do NOT have to recite the colors of the uniforms four times in a period.

2009 IN REVIEW CON'D: September brought cooler weather to the Columbus area, but seemingly hotter emotions. Some parents of schoolchildren demanded an "Obama opt-out." A health care town hall meeting in Lee County led to a scuffle. Yet for some reason, the Columbus Tea Party never staged a march in support of Orly Taitz's lawsuits.

Columbus voters went against many predictions in September, and approved a new school sales tax. The outcome might have been different - but Bert Coker and Paul Olson simply could not resist joining in public debates.

There were other signs of an economic rebound in September. St. Francis Hospital announced a major expansion. And the Phenix City Council was able to give city workers a four-percent raise - which I guess was due to a short break from paying off city lawsuits.

But there were also signs of continuing difficulties in September. The Columbus USO office dropped its paid director position. The Ledger-Enquirer ordered mandatory furloughs. And when the "Honor Flight" of World War II veterans returned home from Washington, a few people were surprised that Army recruiters were NOT waiting with enlistment papers.

Several long Columbus traditions came to an end in September. At River Road Pharmacy, the reason was a fire. At WRCG radio, the reason was a move away from 13th Avenue. And at the Greater Columbus Fair, it was a simple case of funnel cakes being tastier than foot-long hot dogs.

A curious police call in September involved a man who burglarized Pizza Pronto on Second Avenue - then was found sleeping behind the business. Once you've played "Grand Theft Auto" over and over, all other crimes seem boring.

September meant the start of football season across the area. This year, even Columbus State University fielded a club football team -- and somehow did it without building a $750,000 temporary building for uniforms and weights.

But when the calendar turned to October, football took a more serious tone. The head coach of Russell County High School was indicted on charges of painting graffiti in a school driveway. By comparison, the Phenix City Manager settled for leaving verbal graffiti in the superintendent's ear.

Signs of change went far beyond the autumn leaves of October. The Columbus Mayor decided one term was enough. The Postmaster was placed on leave, amid controversy. And a Blog Exclusive found Judge Doug Pullen somehow received a promotion - far above replacing Magistrate Mallon Faircloth, to spokesman for God.

Fort Benning closed its Infantry School in October, in a major step toward base realignment. Leaders of SOA Watch were unimpressed, and held a protest in November anyway.

The economic comeback remained somewhat shaky in October. Goldens' Foundry filed for bankruptcy protection. The Phenix City-Russell County librarian admitted to this blog she had to reduce staffing and hours. And the Jay Auto Group reached an agreement to.... wellll.... am I allowed to mention what happened at the Nissan dealership BEFORE the critical e-mails came?

Every Democratic candidate for Georgia Governor came to Columbus in October for a dinner - and the mainstream news media ignored them all. This is how you know the Republican takeover of state government is complete....

Yet famous area Democrats were not overlooked completely. A section of road in Columbus was named Tom Buck Parkway. The airport in Americus was named after Jimmy Carter. And you could hear about Democrats more clearly than ever, after WRCG started an FM simulcast - albeit from critical Republicans and libertarians.

The Liberty Theater presented an award for acting in October to TV reporter Chauncy Glover. He's now at a station in Jacksonville - but that's still close enough to Orlando for him to hit it big, in a show at Walt Disney World.

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