Tuesday, March 31, 2009

31 MAR 09: C.C. or No-No?

Today is NOT a national holiday, or even a Georgia state holiday - but in a few years, it could be. It's the birthday of farm union organizer Cesar Chavez. But before you get the wrong idea - no, you are NOT supposed to eat a "Cesar salad" in his honor.

A rally is planned at the Georgia state capitol to mark Cesar Chavez Day. It's being organized by GALEO, the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials -- whose home page appears to show Columbus Councilor Mimi Woodson at the top. Strangely, she's the only "GAL" shown there....

If this topic seems familiar, you're probably a regular blog reader. Last October, Columbus Council approved a resolution endorsing a Cesar Chavez state and national holiday [8 Oct 08]. It called for marking "a day of service, learning and action" - as opposed to sitting inside El Carrizo from 1:00 p.m. on, drinking Coronas and margaritas.

We noted last October that Columbus Council merely approved a resolution to honor Cesar Chavez. It did NOT make this day a city holiday - so a group even lower than farm laborers will be out working today. You know, the prison inmates who pick up garbage....

But only five months after that resolution was approved, something stunning is happening in Columbus on this Cesar Chavez Day. That something is.... nothing. No city events are planned to mark the day. In fact, I don't know of anyone marking the day in this area -- unless a poultry plant is doing something quickly during the lunch break.

Columbus Council is meeting today, but it's a "work session" on other topics. So we checked the agenda for the last "proclamation day" 3 March, and found Cesar Chavez Day wasn't mentioned at all. But let's be fair - four weeks ago, they could have gone ahead and given Chavez his own month.

So what's going on here? Obviously "Hispanic Heritage Month" in early October was a nice time for a Cesar Chavez resolution - but why isn't Columbus city government marking the wanna-be holiday today? Or is the mayor planning a big surprise, by having a Mariachi band stroll into the work session?

To seek an answer, we e-mailed Councilor Mimi Woodson Monday morning. We chose her because her district seems to have plenty of residents who would appreciate a Cesar Chavez Day celebration. Or does that make me guilty of racial profiling?

Alas, Mimi Woodson did not reply to our e-mail by Monday night. Maybe she's in Atlanta for that big rally, which is also opposing a bill requiring driver's license exams to be administered in English. If the bill required Taco Bell to have a picture menu for the items with unusual names, I might support this....

(Opponents of this driver's license language proposal have dubbed it the "Kia Go Home bill." As if the owner's manuals for the cars made in West Point will be printed in Korean?!)

The slighting of Cesar Chavez even extends to Hispanic media outlets in Columbus. A quick online check Monday night found no mention of the day on the web sites of "Viva 1460" and "Tropical 88.5" radio. And as for Eco Latino - well, Wane Hailes apparently has to win his fight with Piggly Wiggly before he posts any content in Spanish.

BLOG UPDATE: The first sales pitch public hearing was held Monday night for the Muscogee County school sales tax issue. The meeting at Reese Road Elementary brought out supporters and critics. We have not heard whether tax opponent Ernest T. Bass used this dramatic moment to reveal his true identity.

I'm told someone brought up the inevitable thorn in the SPLOST debate - that big Administration Building taking shape on Macon Road. Superintendent Susan Andrews reportedly replied she takes no responsibility for it, because she only showed up two months ago. Does this mean school board members are going to be mysteriously absent from these hearings?

Another challenge to the SPLOST came from a resident who claimed the list of proposals should help all schools equally. He doesn't like a proposed new Fine Arts Academy - or as some skeptics might already be calling it: Mescon Prep.

By the way, we should welcome Dr. Susan Andrews to the blogosphere! She started an "Ask the Superintendent" blog last week to have "a conversation about schools." Let's not do it too loudly, now - because a teacher might make you write SPLOST on the blackboard 200 times.

Now a quick check of other Monday news items:

+ Mayor Jim Wetherington showed off the second group of new police officers hired under the "streets and safety" sales tax. Police Chief Ricky Boren says 64 of the 100 new openings have been filled. And if you saw the young woman WRBL interviewed in a police outfit, applications for the remaining 36 slots could be overrun with bachelors.

+ Rap star "Andre 3000" of OutKast was arrested for speeding in Henry County, south of Atlanta. Officers say he drove 109 miles per hour in a 65 zone. So? That's still a long way from 3,000.

+ The Columbus Cottonmouths escaped elimination from the playoffs by beating Fayetteville 5-3. That sets up a decisive fifth game Wednesday night at the Civic Center. It also sets up a confrontation Columbus hasn't seen in several years - between mid-week church services where "Jesus saves" and the hockey game where goalies do it.

The number of unique visitors to our blog is up 16 percent so far in 2009! To advertise to them, offer a story tip, 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: 665 (+ 27, 4.2%)

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.

© 2003-09 Richard Burkard, all rights reserved.

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Monday, March 30, 2009

30 MAR 09: Who Thinks You Are a Millionaire?

Did you know I work for the Federal Reserve Bank of New York? It was news to me, too. The last time I visited that area was 16 years ago -- and while I took a tour of the New York Stock Exchange, I bought a souvenir hat instead of stock.

This discovery came to my attention during Serious Spring Cleaning, when I reviewed a letter I set aside from months ago. It contained a free copy of my credit report -- and the report stated I work for the Federal Reserve Bank. That may also explain why so many of my credit card accounts were listed as "current."

I'm mailing a corrected version of that credit report to Florida - and based on what my brother told me Sunday night, I should have sent it sooner. He said the different occupation could be a sign of identity theft. If that's true, at least somebody traded up....

An online search found yes indeed, there's another Richard Burkard in government work -- except he's with the Government Accountability Office in Washington. He happens to be part of the G.A.O. "Fitness and Athletics Association." If we ever meet, I want the challenge to be in racquetball and not running.

This isn't the only case of mistaken identity I've faced lately. Several days ago the phone rang at home during breakfast, with someone offering a sure-fire investment idea. This is known in the sales business as a "cold call" - and committing thousands of dollars over the phone to a total stranger truly gives me the chills.

The man invited me to invest in a company called "Source Energy." I don't remember much about what else he said, because he had me at "invest." That is, he had me running the other direction....

"May I ask where you got my name?" I said to the man. He told me I was on a list of people with "a net worth of more than one million dollars." Which beggar on a Columbus street started spreading that story, after I bought him dinner?

The Source Energy man then admitted his offer was for people with an income of at least $200,000. Aw c'mon - I only called myself a Doctor when I was a boy because "Doctor J" Julius Erving sounded cool.

The man also figured I was in the "35-percent tax bracket." To be honest, I couldn't tell you what tax bracket I'm in - and scoring 63 percent in the NCAA basketball bracket currently has me far down in 273rd place.

I suppose I should consider these things compliments. My credit score is near the top of the scale, and someone out there must think I'm loaded with "mad money" in the middle of a recession. But I've seen my investments drop in value like so many other people - so for now, a "big spending" day might be a pricy loaf of "wheat berry" bread for $2.50.

E-MAIL UPDATE: Several recent topics have blog readers writing. We start with a response to the heat being faced by the Muscogee County District Attorney....


I've been in town visiting family and came across some of the recent criticism written about Julia Slater's decisions. I want to point out that I have had some dealings with Julia recently and have found her to be diligent and genuinely concerned about correcting inaccuracies she has inherited in her new position. Most recently, her office recovered the dog tags Richard Davis was wearing the night he was murdered. His parents have been asking for the return of these and other items for many years, but to no avail. This may seem like a small gesture, but a soldier's dog tags are sacred to military families. More than that however, is where they were found: at the bottom of a box with misc. items totally unrelated to the case. It's no surprise now that the many requests for personal evidence items fell on deaf ears in the past.

Julia has had to create a team of people to sort through and organize the evidence room at the courthouse because over the years, if someone needed a box, they would just empty the contents of one into another. This should be considered a mishandling of evidence and a concern to everyone. Hopefully, when the room is sorted out, Richard Davis's missing rib bone will be found.

As to whether or not she should have opted for the death penalty in the doctor's hospital shooting, that's not something I want to comment on one way or the other. But I would like to know where the criticism for former Muscogee County D. A's were when other murder cases just as deserving of the death penalty were passed over for the very same reasons?

Cilla McCain

Cilla has a special interest in the Richard Davis murder case, as she's written a book about it which will be published next fall. Former District Attorney Gray Conger and his aides decided against seeking the death penalty in that case, as they were concerned about a lack of evidence [21 May 06]. Who could have guessed it might be hidden under a stack of boxes?

It was stunning enough for us to learn Richard Davis's remains were kept in a box inside the Government Center [29 Mar 07]. But now we learn one of the bones is missing?! Let's all hope some sick city employee doesn't try to sell it on eBay.

On the other side of the issue, we have this:

Ms.Slater needs to wake up and face the music...Murder 3 times over calls for the death penality . When is election time again?

For the District Attorney, it's not until 2012. And with so many so-called "prophets" predicting the apocalypse by then, the only ouster may come from a Higher power.

Let's move to an issue where there now seems to be some unity. We received a "Press Release," which we're editing a bit....

We are excited to announce that two great Social Blog Sites of Columbus Georgia are now Joining Forces and Merging to become The Hottest Diverse Social Blog in Columbus Georgia.

www.columbusga.ning.com is now merging with www.columbusgeorgia.ning.com

We are taking Social Blogging to a whole new level and we hope you will join our diverse vibrant community of leaders, readers, writers, artists, and forward thinkers....

The owners of the two social blogs have decided to combine our efforts and create the number one major Social Blogging Empire of the Southeast....

These two S-Blogs broke away several weeks ago from InTown Columbus -- and now they're talking about an empire?! You don't even hear the Amos family talk about Aflac with language like that.

The merged web sites empire promise free membership and free advertising. This is how you can tell the operators have regular full-time jobs - because otherwise they'd be operating their "empire" from public access computers at the library.

Let's take one more e-mail, from a man we mentioned Friday:

"Sir" Richard:

Your recent cliche about my coming out of retirement is well worth considering. Here's the deal! I'm trying to contact Yella Fella, and if he will help me I will get back in the saddle.

The mayor of "Hurt'sboro has promised to buy us whiskey and to provide beer for our horses if he can scrape up the cash.

I'm plannin' a party for those varmints - a necktie party that is. Would you like an invite?

Your Pard,


R.J. Schweiger

Robert Schweiger attached a picture of himself upon a horse named Sheba, ready for duty. But I hope he doesn't wind up in one of those Western barroom brawls -- because that "disabled" Hurtsboro Police Chief might have to come to his rescue.

I've never been invited to a "necktie party" before. This sounds like fun - and I'll bring the brown worsted wool knit one which had co-workers impressed a few weeks ago.

We thank all of you who write us - and now let's quickly check some Sunday headlines:

+ The Phenix City Amphitheater stage remained under water, due to a high level of the Chattahoochee River. This was a great illustrated sermon on faith waiting to happen, but no church moved its service there.

+ The Columbus Cottonmouths lost at Fayetteville 4-3 in overtime, and face an elimination game tonight. You can tell the hockey is getting serious - because not one player was penalized for fighting. [True!]

+ Columbus State University held a reunion for the 1984 baseball team, which went to the Division II College World Series. The game truly has changed in the last 25 years. Back then, fans were more concerned about the size of George Steinbrenner's mouth than the arm muscles of players.

+ Instant Message to the Auburn University College Republicans: Did you go ahead and stage that outdoor "tea party" Friday? Or were you afraid the rain might leave brown stains on the sidewalk?

SCHEDULED TUESDAY: The city of Columbus wants it, so why isn't the city marking it?....

The number of unique visitors to our blog is up 16 percent so far in 2009! To advertise to them, offer a story tip, 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: 638 (- 54, 7.8%)

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.

© 2003-09 Richard Burkard, all rights reserved.

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Sunday, March 29, 2009

29 MAR 09: Wetter Now

So did you join in the "Earth Hour" event Saturday night -- where people turned off their lights at home for an hour? Or did you do what thousands of people in the Columbus area did? They took Earth Hour early, because their power went out.

Thousands of people lost electricity Saturday because of the grand finale from a three-day.... well, perhaps I shouldn't call it a storm. Meteorologists like to call these things "rain events" now. It's as if they're encouraging stores to have special sales on umbrellas and galoshes.

The church service I attend had to be cut short, because the power went out during the "sermonette" message. The speaker finished his message in the dark - yet for some reason, he did NOT encourage our group to be "lights of the world."

Did you see what the high water apparently did to a different Columbus church? A sewage backup covered the floor of New Bethel Tabernacle Church of God in Christ on Winston Road with filth -- and the same thing happened 28 February. The Pastor ought to do a Bible study, to see if 28 is a number of the devil.

The wife of the New Bethel Tabernacle pastor told WXTX "News at Ten" the city took responsibility for the February sewage spill through the toilets. She says that one included dead rats on the church floor. There are a few Georgia churches which might have rooted for snakes to come out....

Columbus had more than 3.6 inches of rain Saturday alone. We've received approximately six inches over the last three days - yet it still isn't enough for the Aflac duck to go swimming in the Chattahoochee River. Stardom seemingly has inflated this animal's ego.

The latest federal drought map shows Muscogee County barely inside the "moderate drought" zone. Hopefully the last few days will take care of that. If it doesn't, some people might consider it an Obama administration plot to seek more money for wetland protection.

Enough rain fell to move the level of West Point Lake above full pool. It's gained 13 feet of water in the last 18 months - so the fishermen in Apalachicola are welcome to drive up with big buckets, and take some to save their livelihoods.

Flash flood alerts were posted in parts of the area Saturday night. Several creeks in Harris County overflowed, including Ossahatchie Creek. Where are those Native American dancers when we need them - to do a "pow-wow" and appeal for sunshine?

Flash flooding occurred across east Alabama as well. A creek in Hurtsboro overflowed, leaving parts of the town flooded for the first time in four years. This is simply the wrong way to resolve the city's problems with trash removal....

In a rare public appearance, Hurtsboro Mayor Rayford Tapley said he hopes to obtain federal stimulus money for flood control. And former Constable Robert Schweiger had better not complain about it, or the sewer lines might be directed toward his house.

The Chattahoochee River in Columbus rose more than two feet between Friday morning and Saturday morning. On Saturday night, there was scattered flooding on the Riverwalk - but when I went running (yes, I turned the lights out), the only thing I saw was people fishing. You'd think at least one kayaker would have tried it.

Yes, I went jogging after sunset on the Riverwalk. The rain had stopped for several hours, and the 1.2-mile section I ran had standing water in only one or two places. It was nicer than the three-mile run I made in the rain two weeks ago - which was more like the song, "Splish splash, I was taking a bath/ 'Long about a Saturday night...."

The Chattahoochee was about one foot from Riverwalk level at South Commons, with water stopping about five yards from the trail. A large number of people were out fishing in the high water - as if their Saturday morning trip to the grocery store was canceled because of rain.

The Riverwalk includes a short wooden bridge between the Georgia State Docks and Port Columbus. The west gate to that bridge was open, but the east gate was closed. Being the good law-abiding citizen that I am, I obeyed both of them - and thankfully, I saw the west gate first.

But my southbound run down the Riverwalk had to turn around near the V.F.W. hall, when flood water covered the course. I remembered the warnings they issue on TV at times like this - if you can't tell the depth of the water in the dark, you might drown. And on top of that, your nice running shoes might be ruined.

At least the Columbus area escaped damage from thunderstorm and tornadoes this time. But who decided to proceed with the regular Saturday test of the severe weather sirens, as the rain was falling? Was it a double test, to see how many scared residents would turn on the TV for updates?

As you might expect, the weekend rain canceled several activities. One was connected to "The Big Read" of a Mark Twain classic, as a "community fence painting" was called off. Don't worry, though - enough college students are still doing Habitat for Humanity spring break projects to take care of that.

-> How did our Thursday night poker game? Check the results and more at our other blog, "On the Flop!" <--

BLOG UPDATE: The front page of Saturday's Ledger-Enquirer was startling on several counts. A page-one commentary?! Supporting the death penalty?!? And actually criticizing a Democrat?!?!

Ledger-Enquirer Executive Editor Ben Holden wrote a blistering commentary against Muscogee County District Attorney Julia Slater, for a series of "missteps." And he didn't go all the way with his attacks -- because he could have challenged that post-election haircut.

Ben Holden says the last straw for the Ledger-Enquirer was Julia Slater's decision NOT to seek the death penalty for accused Doctors Hospital killer Charles Johnston. He actually indicated that was an acceptable time to seek capital punishment. Such a commentary simply couldn't appear in the paper if Kaffie Sledge was alive - although based on another Saturday column, she still might be.

Ben Holden raises a good question: if District Attorney Julia Slater doesn't consider the Doctors Hospital killings a capital crime, then what is? The widow of one victim told WRBL she wanted Slater to seek the death penalty. Was that widow outvoted? Or has the D.A. decided the voters last November wanted THAT much change?

Now let's see what else is interesting this weekend....

+ Columbus State University held its spring "visitation day" for prospective students. I saw a sign promoting this on Gentian Boulevard - and for some reason, my first thought involved visits to see jail inmates.

+ An Acworth, Georgia man claimed a million-dollar Georgia Lottery prize at a Columbus convenience store. He bought the winning ticket here, while visiting his mother to repair her house. Of course, now he may have a lot more renovation to do....

+ The Chattahoochee Valley Beekeepers Association held a "short course" for the public. Lesson one: don't try to pet one like you would a dog.

+ The Columbus Lions lost their first game of the year, 55-36 to Florence. And if that's not enough, someone burglarized several players' cars which were parked outside the Columbus Civic Center. Whoever did this should be sentenced to a game against the Lions - one player versus eight.

+ The Columbus Cottonmouths lost game two of their semifinal series 7-3 to Fayetteville. Coach Jerome Bechard changed goalies in the second period, when the score reached 6-1. At the University of Kentucky, they might have changed coaches.

+ Instant Message to WEAM-AM: You're "Sports Radio 1580," right? Yet Saturday night you had no Lions game, no Cottonmouths game - and I had to turn to WWL in New Orleans to hear the Villanova-Pittsburgh basketball game in my car. How much are you paying Mike Vee, anyway?

SCHEDULED MONDAY: E-mails about a local merger, and a man upon a horse....

The number of unique visitors to our blog is up 16 percent so far in 2009! To advertise to them, offer a story tip, 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: 692 (- 76, 9.9%)

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.

© 2003-09 Richard Burkard, all rights reserved.

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Friday, March 27, 2009

27 MAR 09: So-Called Geniuses

Regular blog readers know this is the time of year when we engage in Serious Spring Cleaning. It's going very well so far - and when you can watch college basketball playoff games while you clean the living room, so much the better.

The cleaning of the living room uncovered some very interesting newsletters we received in the mail almost a year ago. They're "tip sheets," promoting stocks which alleged experts claim are sure to soar. To their credit, none of the tipsters recommended AIG or major bank stocks.

The companies mentioned in these tip sheets usually are low-priced stocks you've never heard of. So my attention was focused when two different newsletters recommended Jayhawk Energy last spring. It certainly worked in my basketball bracket, as my alma mater Kansas won the national championship....

The "Contrarian Press" of California put a BUY recommendation on Jayhawk Energy at least twice last year, in April and June. It claimed operations were expanding in the "prolific Cherokee Basin" of Kansas. In 2009, mention "Cherokee" in the Midwest and people are more likely to think of profits at tribal casinos.

The Fagan Report gave Jayhawk Energy a "strong buy signal" last May, calling it "the next great American oil company." Yet for some reason, you're more likely to find low-priced gasoline in the Kansas City area at QuikTrip stations....

"You can buy Jayhawk under $2.75 and watch it go over $80," The Fagan Report assured me. Yet I'm admittedly skeptical when offers like this come in the mail, Especially when people I don't know offer stocks I don't know -- and even more when Jim Cramer isn't gushing over it on CNBC.

So while I didn't buy Jayhawk Energy, I held onto those tip sheets. And what happened? As trading begins today, the stock is selling NOT for 80 dollars -- but for about 23 cents. This "Jayhawk" is more like the baseball team, which does well to make the conference tournament each May.

The one-year chart for Jayhawk Energy shows it peaked last 30 April at $2.50. So even when gasoline prices hit four dollars a gallon, the stock didn't soar. It's as if all those oil wells in southeast Kansas evaporated due to global warming.

The Fagan Report's web site shows no sign of any apology, for how Jayhawk Energy has dropped 90 percent. Instead, its latest alert last July predicted the price would hit "four dollars in the near-term." Well, no - the price now is near terminal, as in cancer.

It turns out the Contrarian Press recommended a number of other low-priced stocks. So I couldn't resist checking their results:

+ Purple Beverage was hyped when its price doubled to three dollars a share. It dropped from there, and opens today at less than three-tenths of a cent. So if you went purple, you wound up in the red.

(I'd heard of penny stocks before - but three-for-a-penny stocks is even worse.)

+ Panglobal Brands was supposed to have an "extended upward move" last June. But it's dropped from 70 cents a share to seven -- and the only upward extension has been in investor anger.

+ Western Standard offered "potential oil and gas" from projects in Montana and North Dakota. Its stock has dropped from 40 cents to five. This also explains why people shouldn't bet on the outcome of American Idol.

To borrow from the fine print of these reports, this blog is not recommending any investment decisions. We're merely presenting the facts on how these.... hey wait. We just checked the Contrarian Press fine print. It includes this sentence: "The author is not a registered investment advisor." Is this one of those guys who throws darts at the Wall Street Journal financial pages?

But anyway: the lesson to me from this review is clear. "Contrarian Press" is well named - because wise investors might want to go contrary to anything it recommends.

As for the Jayhawks who really ARE successful - I'll have to miss the "Sweet 16" game against Michigan State tonight. It begins well after sundown for the Sabbath. But if it's like their meeting in East Lansing two months ago, the sun will set on the Kansas season as well.

By the way: our title today about stock pickers actually borrows from a sports talk show host on radio. "Papa Joe" Chevalier once called baseball player Eric Davis "another so-called genius." I think the reason had something to do with his contract - because you don't hear about Davis submitting doctoral dissertations anywhere.

Now for some more local items, from the Thursday news:

+ Muscogee County District Attorney Julia Slater announced she will NOT seek the death penalty for accused Doctors Hospital attacker Charles Johnston. Uh-oh - Republicans are going to say that list of transferred criminal cases has one too few.

(The District Attorney explained Johnston is 64, and wouldn't be eligible for parole if he's convicted until age 94. Besides, inmates serving life sentences are far less likely to inspire lengthy protest marches at the state Capitol.)

+ Marshal Greg Countryman unveiled a new talking dog robot, which can speak to children about staying safe. For obvious reasons, I listened carefully to the robot's voice - and it did NOT sound like Rep. Sanford Bishop.

+ WRBL reported Russell County authorities made two arrests for cattle rustling. Fifteen head of cattle were stolen from a farm in Hurtsboro, and were recovered in Buena Vista. This could bring Robert Schweiger out of retirement -- because ranchers would want to hire an old cowhand to ride on a horse, and prevent this.

+ The afternoon news visited Mulberry Creek Elementary School in Harris County, where people camped out one night in advance to register children for pre-Kindergarten. If Harris County residents line up all night for this, maybe we've found the perfect spot for a new baseball stadium.

(Some parents say lining up all night to register for "Pre-K" is better than the Muscogee County system, which draws names on a lottery basis. So they'd rather not "gamble" on enrollment, but they want to be part of a program funded by gamblers who play a lottery....)

+ The Columbus Cottonmouths opened the hockey playoffs by flattening Fayetteville 9-3. The Snakes scored five goals in a span of about four minutes - which was faster than Villanova and Duke scored at times in their basketball game.

The number of unique visitors to our blog is up 16 percent so far in 2009! To advertise to them, offer a story tip, 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: 768 (+ 14, 1.9%)

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.

© 2003-09 Richard Burkard, all rights reserved.

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

26 MAR 09: Welcome, Doughboys

Blame it on BRAC. I heard a man say the other day the unending construction work at Interstate 185 and Victory Drive is due to base realignment. Until then, rough patches of roadway could throw your car out of alignment.

It's not clear when all that renovation will end. But when it does, I-185 and Victory Drive apparently will be the fanciest intersection in Columbus. Some new details were revealed this week at an unexpected location - WDAK radio's "Viewpoint." Yes, Mike Gaymon of the Chamber of Commerce had breaking news instead of one-liners against labor unions.

The guest on Viewpoint was John Flournoy, who is in charge of the "Gateways" program to beautify Columbus intersections. You know, the locations with landscaping so impressive that you might become distracted and miss your exit ramp....

John Flournoy said about five million dollars is being spent to beautify Interstate 185 and Victory Drive. That's higher than the estimate of three to four million which he gave to the Keep Columbus Beautiful Commission in October 2007. But then, most of it isn't Flournoy's money -- it's from taxpayers.

A mix of federal funds and private donations is improving the I-185 and Victory Drive interchange. The project apparently made the list for federal stimulus money - which is shocking, because I didn't realize the work was about to run out of funds. Now President Obama will claim he saved the jobs of an entire landscaping crew.

Some details of the interchange improvements already had been announced, but they were still new to me. John Flournoy said two 12-foot-tall statues are being cast right now in Colorado. They'll display soldiers "Old Bill" and "Iron Mike." I can't wait to see how Mike Gaymon's face looks in cast-iron.

(In a 2007 newspaper interview, the statues were described as ten feet tall. Isn't this amazing? The statues grow with the cost of the project.)

John Flournoy added the interchange will have 20 fountains - perfect for returning soldiers to throw away the Iraqi coins they can't use in this country.

But John Flournoy took care to note NO tanks will be displayed at the Victory Drive interchange. They probably won't be necessary, anyway. If gas prices jump to four dollars a gallon again, a couple of drivers will park Hummers there permanently.

John Flournoy said the goal of the 56-acre interchange project is to boost Army morale. He explained right now the Interstate 185 entrance to Fort Benning looks like "you're entering the Atlanta Federal Pen." Yet it didn't scare a few SOA Watch protesters away last November....

In another interesting tip, John Flournoy revealed the city of Columbus is accumulating land slowly around the "Spiderweb" - the messy section of Buena Vista Road which includes Andrews Road, St. Mary's Road and a railroad crossing. There might be a Gateways project in the works there someday. But there's one little problem - it would miss the planned Lonnie Jackson memorial by about a mile.

E-MAIL UPDATE: Exit west (or is that north?) on Victory Drive from I-185, and you'll come across this issue....

Richard, Just read your reply today [19 Mar] reference the ownership of the two commercial businesses at the new Infantry Museum. You stated Valley Hospitality operates the restaurant. I've been under the impression that Jack Pezold owned Valley Hospitality unless it's been sold. (That shouldn't be too hard to find out) A friend told me he ate there on opening day and the meals were $25. each. And some folks have been complaining they can't get any good restaurants to locate in South Columbus! If that really is the price they must be expecting a lot of retired Generals and Colonels to visit (and eat). By the way, are they serving alcohol?

So my original implication remains. If you are a member of the Board of Directors of the National Infantry Association or the National Infantry Foundation you may have an advantage in getting these contracts.

I wonder if both of these organizations are Non-Profits. My CPA tells me that the IRS takes a dim view of Board members of non-profits making money from them.

Thanks for prompting us to dig deeper - and indeed, John Pezold (using his proper name) operates Valley Hospitality. So it's a bit strange that the Valley Hospitality web site doesn't list him among the "team" members. Plenty of sports team owners still consider themselves part of the team -- and even get fined for getting too involved.

But remember something important about Pezold Management. If the 25-dollar dinners are too expensive for new members of the Infantry and their families, there's always the Pezold-run McDonald's down Victory Drive....

The web sites of the National Infantry Association and National Infantry Foundation's show they're both nonprofit. But really now - would the Internal Revenue Service dare to go after these boards? This is the Army, Mr. Jones (or whatever your name is). This is considered a time of war. It's easier to go after not-so-American names like Joché.

We have one more e-mail, that's a mix of invitation and something else....

Visit www.citizenofeastalabama.com and take a look at our new website. The website is in its infancy now, but we will be updating and improving it daily. Get all you East Alabama news NOW at www.citizenofeastalabama.com!

The "something else" smells to us like an attempt at free advertising. But then again, so many newspapers are in financial trouble that this one probably could use some.

The new web site looks like it will be updated far more often than once a week. For instance, the death of a former local athlete was posted there Wednesday night -- less than a day after he passed away. Compare that with the Ledger-Enquirer, which sometimes doesn't get to stories mentioned on television until two days later.

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

OVERHEARD OVER HERE: People in a local office are talking about the Twitter phenomenon, when someone joins the conversation.

"Isn't that what you use -- like, to pluck out your eyebrows?"

While you mull over that, we'll wrap up the Wednesday news headlines:

+ The start of promised days of rain was delayed in Columbus. Muscogee County schools canceled all outdoor events for the afternoon - and the decision makers wound up looking like a shot putter who dropped the ball on his foot.

+ Executives with Jack Hughston Memorial Hospital in Phenix City warned restructuring is coming in the next few days, and dozens of jobs could be cut. I was tempted to call this major surgery - but then someone reminded me the hospital actually might keep doing that.

(A group of doctors took control of the old Summit Hospital 13 months ago. They even gained their own nice new interchange off the North Bypass. Yet now it's continuing the old ownership's tradition of cutbacks - making you wonder if they really "know Jack.")

+ Columbus Water Works issued a statement explaining a brown tint in the water is NOT from the recent sewage spill. It was blamed on a large amount of manganese in the Chattahoochee River - and this ethnic community should be warned not to ride its kayaks so often.

(What's that? What do you mean, the "manganese" isn't an ethnic community? Haven't you heard of its biggest export - Phillips' Milk of Manganesia?)

+ Mayor Jim Wetherington held a kickoff meeting with local leaders, to prepare for the 2010 Census. City leaders say it's essential that every resident is counted - if only to figure out how many more portables to order for school parking lots.

+ Instant Message to Zula Battle of Wadley, Alabama: Our apologies, and congratulations! We didn't realize you turned 107 years old last weekend. You've lived long enough to see a lot of things come and go - so which one rose higher? Income taxes or poll taxes?

The number of unique visitors to our blog is up 16 percent so far in 2009! To advertise to them, offer a story tip, 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: 754 (+ 23, 3.1%)

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.

© 2003-09 Richard Burkard, all rights reserved.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

25 MAR 09: SYN. Secrets

The first hint of trouble came Monday evening, during the dinner hour. A man wondered why the "huge layoffs today at CB&T" didn't make the news. Maybe the reporters don't get paychecks to take to the bank until later in the week.

The man claimed people with as much as 26 years' experience at Columbus Bank and Trust were let go. But this man was NOT one of them, and the supposedly laid- off workers didn't want to talk about it. They probably wanted to pass through the Columbus Career Center as quietly as possible - hoping unemployment checks were on accounts from Wachovia.

A spokesman for Synovus Financial didn't know Monday night about any layoffs. But that didn't stop the rumors. Tuesday afternoon I talked with a concerned Synovus shareholder, who noted her stock has gone "down the tubes." And for so many people who invest close to home, this is a YourTube display.

The woman claimed to know some of the newly laid-off Synovus employees - but she added they were under a severance agreement requiring them NOT to talk about their situation. It's hard to expose a "cover-up" when the people being covered up don't want to come out from under the covers.

So we had the makings of a classic standoff -- Synovus denying layoffs, other people saying they happened, and the affected workers refusing to go public. I could feel for the employees in the middle. It's like the day I umpired youth league baseball, when a runner missed home plate and went to the dugout without
being tagged. Is he safe, out - or something in between?

The shareholder offered an idea for resolving this matter. I should stand outside the Synovus headquarters as Chairman Richard Anthony left the building for the day. Oh thanks a lot - the humor blogger becoming an "ambush journalist." And I don't even own a video camera, to record executives shoving me to the sidewalk.

Thankfully, I didn't have to head downtown and stage a 5:00 p.m. vigil. A Synovus spokesman finally confirmed late Tuesday that the company is cutting 200 positions. There will be 74 cuts in Columbus by the end of May - which is actually about one percent of the corporate staff. So is this really a "huge layoff," or a layoff with a huge severance plan?

It's not clear how many of the 200 positions are open, and how many are actual layoffs. But workers who face elimination apparently can apply for other corporate jobs. This makes a cutback at Synovus sound a bit like cutting dead wood from the federal government....

So where are there open jobs at Synovus? Richard Hyatt's web site found dozens of them in South Carolina. A new call center will open in Sumter next year, employing 100 people. They couldn't even be put in Sumter County, Georgia?!

(I can hear the skeptics now - claiming Synovus finally found a place in the South where workers were willing to work for less money than in Columbus.)

That wasn't the only job cut making news Tuesday. Alatech Healthcare announced its Eufaula plant will lose about 300 employees - workers who spend their days making condoms. I hesitate to call this "bad news," because plenty of fundamentalist preachers probably are rejoicing.

Be honest now -- doesn't it seem strange that a major producer of condoms is located in Eufaula? In the heart of the "Bible Belt?" Shouldn't this be the area leading the world in making chastity belts?

Alatech had a contract with the U.S. Agency for International Development to produce condoms. But AID decided it could obtain condoms from China for less money. Given what we've heard about other products made in China, this news might scare a lot of people into a life of abstinence.

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

E-MAIL UPDATE: Before Tuesday night's main event at Columbus Council, we received a lengthy comment about the topic in question (yes, sent as one long paragraph)....

Legacy Apartments are too expensive. They rent for $500, no utilities. The fence is not high and the area looks dangerous. The scenery is not something to relish in, railroad tracks, the prison, unattractive apartments to the left of them. It gives the impression of being a dangerous area. Still, as poor as I am, I checked into them. I was very surprised that they were $500 a month. They are also for people 50 years old or older only. They are rentable on section 8. No one seems to know that though. Columbus needs apartments for the disabled very badly. The rich elderly are fairly well served, but the poor elderly are greatly underserved in this area. When I went to Legacy Apartments, they were sort of cute, but there was no one there; no tenants, no management on the premises, just nothing. The outdoor fans and porches looked somewhat inviting, but not one person could be found anywhere. I thought perhaps they were just built and were not yet being rented out. I called the number and I believe it is Elite Ventures who is managing them. I am surprised that much smaller towns have websites for their housing authorities. Columbus does a terrible job as a whole, when it comes to information about different apartments. Some are rent controlled, but it is never advertised, some are available for section 8, and even people at the Housing Authority are not aware of it. Our Housing Authority is in great need of a web site. Even many smaller cities have a web site up for their Housing Authority, listing the various properties and pertinent information about them. Columbus does not. One gets referred to GHS, an anacronym for Georgia Housing Service, but covers the entire state, not just Columbus. On GHS many housing authorities have a link to display their web site for available rentals, Columbus does not. Columbus is much bigger than a lot of these smaller Ga. cities, yet Columbus still does not have a site. They had one for years that claimed to be under construction. When I click on it now, it says the account has been cancelled. It is hard for the poor elderly, or disabled to find a place here in Columbus. Ralston Towers keeps changing their policies. One year tenants can smoke, the next they can't. The same is true with food. At present meals are mandatory to reside there. Meals are served at 6:45 a.m. and at 10:45 a.m. and no dinner. I probably should not say this, but it is true, I had an appointment to see a unit, the lady said she had made a mistake, and did not show units on Fridays, so I was a little peeved, but also had to use the restroom. I went to the side of the dining area to look for a bathroom. It lead me into the food area. The food was in industrial cans and some were expired. There were droppings from bugs and mice also. I am a vegetarian so I guess Ralston is out for me, although they said I could get a letter from my doctor proving my vegetarianism; however, my doctor said that a blood test to confirm vegetarianism was not covered by insurance and could not positively confirm that a person even is a vegetarian. So much confusion and disheartenment. Mandatory meals are very expensive at Ralston, for those on very limited incomes. Very few elderly or disabled are awake to eat before dawn. I think it is unfair and silly, not to mention, that even I would not want to eat that food.

Who needs the downtown trolley route, when you have this tour? About all we lack is a review of the Booker T. Washington Apartments - but they make the news so often, they might not need an introduction.

Not only is the Columbus Housing Authority's web site down, a related web site for the Ashley Station complex doesn't appear to have been updated since last May. You'd think those after-school computer labs for children at Elizabeth Canty Homes would be accomplishing something....

It's sad to read about the changing policies at The Ralston. You'd think a compromise could be struck on smoking - such as putting the smokers on the top floors, so smoke drifts up and away from the residents practicing their yoga.

Of all the things to learn from writing this blog - I didn't know you can take a blood test to prove you're vegetarian. Shouldn't a simple trip to a pizza buffet settle this matter?

But we're digressing here - the issue before Columbus Council Tuesday night was Legacy Terrace. And after nearly two hours of discussion, the vote was for the city to buy the housing complex on Ninth Street. So the next time Columbus residents drive by it, they're welcome to sing: "Legacy, our Legacy."

Other e-mails will have to wait until another day, as we need to wrap up the rest of the Tuesday news:

+ A Georgia House committee voted 4-3 against changing the state law, to require buckled seat belts inside pickup trucks. Does NASCAR play by these rules when truck races are held at Atlanta Motor Speedway?

+ A Columbus businessman withdrew a proposal to open a bar next door to an Auburn day care center. Supporters tried to argue the businesses would operate at different times of day -- but opponents then noted the Auburn men's basketball team might play well enough next season to earn a lunch-hour tournament game on a Thursday.

+ Those Auburn Tigers were bounced by Baylor 74-72, in the National Invitational Tournament semifinals. If Jeff Lebo's team wants to go to New York, he should ask Charles Barkley to buy the team round-trip tickets.

(The Baylor-Auburn game was nationally televised on ESPN, after the end of spring break - and still it failed to sell out, with an attendance of less than 6,600. The football team's opening night of spring drills again showed which coach REALLY is in charge.)

+ Brookstone bruised Shaw in high school baseball 18-0 - and the game took only three innings. Yes, a little school routed a big school. But then again, Brookstone has the money to recruit World Baseball Classic reserves from Japan.

+ Instant Message to the Ledger-Enquirer: I don't care if it took place at Shooters. Since when did suicides earn a front-page story? Especially if it's someone hardly anybody knows? Why not take the next cost-cutting step, and reduce the paper to tabloid-size?

SCHEDULED THURSDAY: Plots along Victory Drive -- involving land, and maybe other things...

The number of unique visitors to our blog is up 16 percent so far in 2009! To advertise to them, offer a story tip, 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: 731 (+ 14, 2.0%)

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.

© 2003-09 Richard Burkard, all rights reserved.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

24 MAR 09: Five-Car Studs

"You got some of our fan mail," the woman at Phenix City's City Hall told me Monday. That was putting things humorously and optimistically. She could have borrowed a line from Bullwinkle J. Moose in the cartoons, and called it "fan mail from some flounder."

Phenix City Clerk Charlotte Sierra was ready with some answers, when we called Monday about the latest snail mail letter from a critic of city government. We can now put a name on that writer - as the latest letter is signed "The People." If the writer has a child, its name must be "Wee."

The latest letter raises several issues, including one which The People finds "mind boggling." Last week's Phenix City Council agenda included a line for purchasing five new vehicles. "Is this really necessary?" The People asks. "Other municipalities do not have such lavish spending habits." For instance, Hurtsboro barely can afford one new garbage truck.

It turns out Phenix City Council approved those five new "lavish" vehicles last week - and yes, many people might consider them necessary. The agenda clearly shows they're police cars. I suppose with times tough and budgets tight, the city could have opted for two vehicles and a car-pooling schedule....

Four of the new Phenix City police cars are Dodge Chargers. The fifth is a Ford Crown Victoria, and described as a "police interceptor." The love of football in Alabama truly knows no off-season.

The City Clerk told me money for the five new police cars was already allocated in the current Phenix City budget. Perhaps The People wants some of that spending delayed during a recession -- or perhaps he thinks the improved Broad Street will be so packed with cars that police bicycles will work better.

The letter from The People also requests a public "schedule of all city salaries." Charlotte Sierra told me some of those numbers are in the city budget. But she admitted the printed budget is kept at City Hall, with NO copies anywhere else. Is this city government, or the Masonic Lodge?

I asked Charlotte Sierra if the Phenix City Library has a copy of the city budget. She didn't think so -- but perhaps it should. Then people with questions about city spending could look up the answers. And then Phenix City Council meetings would have their answer to Paul Olson.

The biggest concern of The People was a bond issue Phenix City issued in February for almost eight million dollars. The City Clerk admitted she didn't know much about that, and promised to pass my interest on to City Manager Wallace Hunter. We had no response from him Monday night - so maybe he was checking to make sure the bondholder hadn't applied for a federal bailout.

The People raises several other questions in his letter, such as the "letting date" for The Phenixian. WRBL reported two weeks ago the high-rise condominium has been delayed, with no clear construction date. The developer already has invested one million dollars in the project - so compared with Legacy Terrace in Columbus, this land is cheap.

E-MAIL UPDATE: Speaking of government critics using pseudonyms, let's head to Columbus....

Feel free to visit me at www.votenosplost.com

More to follow.


Ernest T. Bass

At first glance, a click on that link might convince you an online campaign is underway against the one-percent school sales tax question. But why would Mr. Bass care about Muscogee County schools, when he doesn't have a "Pro Shop" anywhere around here?

Some deeper digging Monday night revealed the "Vote No SPLOST" campaign isn't really based in Columbus at all. The site is registered to a web design company on the Florida coast - and it was taken in November 2007. Superintendent Susan Andrews probably wasn't a gleam in any school board member's eye back then.

The "Vote No SPLOST" site is linked to a ten-year-old campaign called "In God We Trust." Its issues include making sure the national motto is displayed in every public school classroom in Georgia. Better to trust God, than the classmate whose exam you're secretly copying.

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

BLOG UPDATE: Despite our recent poll, the end of WRBL's "First Edition" now appears more certain than ever. The station is promoting "back-to-back" daily episodes of "Two-and-a-Half Men" at 5:00 p.m., beginning 6 April. They would replace Phil Scoggins, Jennifer Serda and Bob Jeswald - so it sounds like an even swap.

Now for other things we noticed on Monday:

+ Columbus Police reported seeing a man on horseback, near the Piggly Wiggly store on Brown Avenue. It's nice to know someone at Aflac celebrates the eccentric life of Elena Amos at least once a year.

+ The evening news revealed Joché and Associates was sued two years ago by the Alabama Department of Revenue. The tax preparation firm settled for a $10,000 settlement, and agreed to leave the state. So much for these tax guys being "experts," because I think Mike Gottfried and Tommy Tuberville worked out better buyouts than that.

+ Rutgers rolled over Auburn in the NCAA women's basketball tournament 80-52. Tiger coach Nell Fortner made no excuses for the second-round loss - and she didn't dare repeat any comments made last year by Don Imus.

COMING SOON: Believe it or not, a "Jayhawk" I do not trust....

The number of unique visitors to our blog is up 16 percent so far in 2009! To advertise to them, offer a story tip, 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: 717 (+ 29, 4.2%)

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.

© 2003-09 Richard Burkard, all rights reserved.

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Monday, March 23, 2009

23 MAR 09: Surrender of Liberty

I've driven by it several times, and it looks as good as new. But I've frequently wondered why I never saw any people there. Now before you jump to conclusions - no, I'm NOT talking about the Columbus airport.

Our thanks to Richard Hyatt's web site for leading us Sunday to new details on this neighborhood. It's called Legacy Terrace - a complex on Ninth Street in the Liberty District, designed for older people to live. And it had that name "Legacy" long before Emanuel Jones came to town.

But Legacy Terrace apparently isn't doing very well. Tuesday's Columbus Council agenda includes a proposal for the city to buy the complex for one million dollars. Yet as we say, the complex looks nice - so you can't really accuse Councilors of becoming Slumdog Millionaires.

The agenda item prepared by City Manager Isaiah Hugley explains the problem at Legacy Terrace very simply: "only four of the 17 units rented." And seven of the units are set aside specifically for low-income and moderate-income people. Shouldn't the number of applicants there increase with every unemployment report?

Legacy Terrace opened three years ago, as a project of "Fourth Street Tower, Inc." - an arm of Fourth Street Baptist Church. Part of me wonders if that name is part of the problem. The church already meets on Fifth Street, and has a day care center on Eighth Street. Advancing to Ninth Street may have encroached on someone else's turf.

Other factors could explain why Legacy Terrace doesn't have many residents. It was supposed to be a first step toward revitalizing the Liberty District, but other development simply hasn't happened. Allen Woodall gutted an old building at Eighth and Sixth, and it remains an empty shell today - with not even his statue of a monster moved there, to scare people away.

Another problem could be the way Legacy Terrace is designed. It was meant to be a "gated" facility, probably to assure residents would live safely. But those black iron gates are all around the complex -- and people driving by it without knowing better might think it was a halfway house for jail inmates.

It cost $2.5 million to build Legacy Terrace. By offering to sell the complex to the city for one million dollars, Fourth Street Tower leaves the impression it's giving up on the Liberty District - at least for new residents there. The number of children needing day care isn't likely to go down. Especially if that new study on out-of-wedlock babies is accurate....

City Manager Isaiah Hugley proposes to buy Legacy Terrace by using money from the 1999 sales tax issue. That's bound to make a few people upset. The city can't afford to build an indoor swimming pool, but it can afford 17 townhomes?! At a complex which doesn't even seem to have an outdoor pool?

The proposal gives the city and Columbus Housing Authority control of Legacy Terrace until a 20-year "affordability period" ends, so a federal grant for the project can be erased. The City Manager says the alternative is a complex in foreclosure. But this might not be a bad thing -- because the Bill Heard family might consider it a bargain, compared to that mansion.

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

E-MAIL UPDATE: Now an update on the battle of the S-Blogs - as in local social networking web sites:

Check out 'We Are Celebrating 25,000 Page Views on ColumbusGeorgia.Ning.Com'One Month Old and 25,000 Page Views and Growing.

The updated scoreboard stands at 92 members for the "Columbus Georgia" site, compared with 58 for the "Columbus Ga." site. That second site hasn't had any new items posted in a couple of weeks - and it really shouldn't take THAT long to recover from spring break.

As for the original S-Blog, InTown Columbus - well, we don't know how many members it has these days. The entire site beyond the home page is now for members only, including the membership count. It's as if the real "coup" there was a takeover by managers of the Ledger-Enquirer.

The lovely start of spring inspired another reader to write us:

We need to bottle all this pollen and send it to the executives at AIG. Maybe it would put some scents (sense fits better here) in their heads,if they don't sneeze them off first..I don't think they have their heads on straight to start with..Hey,this description sounds like Congress..

Would sending yellow pollen to AIG really send the right message? Wouldn't bottles of red ink do it better?

I'm told at least one local insurance agent now has instructions to answer his phone "American General" - and no longer say "AIG," which is the parent company. But things could be worse for this company. Before its radio stations were sold, Archway Broadcasting wasn't even listed in the Columbus phone book.

I heard one person express concern over the weekend about people protesting outside the homes of AIG executives. He compared it to angry gatherings outside the homes of Jews, in the years before World War II. Apparently this man missed the woman who has protested across the street from the White House for more than 28 years.

Keep those e-cards and letters coming - and now let's mull over some Sunday news headlines:

+ Columbus State University President Tim Mescon told the Ledger-Enquirer the arts program will be turned into a separate college. Most of it already is downtown, in a separate location. Now all we need is for Troy University to build its new building across the river, and start the bidding war.

+ An annual jazz festival was held at Golden Park. This opens the door for minor league baseball fans, who want to sing the blues there later in the year.

+ The Columbus Lions advanced to 2-0 on the indoor football season by conking Carolina 68-37. Troy Bergeron caught ten passes and scored two touchdowns, only four days after he was signed to a contract. All you have to do is put on the sticky gloves, and take the field....

+ Good ol' Kansas advanced to the round of 16 in the NCAA men's basketball tournament. But WRBL had several strange minutes where it showed the Kansas-Dayton game, while airing audio from the Xavier-Wisconsin game. I was already going back and forth between a pro basketball game, a hockey game and a NASCAR race, but this was a little too much.

+ Instant Message to my neighbor several apartments away: I stepped onto the front porch in my pajamas with a small U.S. flag in my hand to make a point. If the sight of me seemed absurd, setting off fireworks at 1:15 in the morning to mark your birthday is every bit as weird.

The number of unique visitors to our blog is up 16 percent so far in 2009! To advertise to them, offer a story tip, 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: 688 (- 35, 4.8%)

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.

© 2003-09 Richard Burkard, all rights reserved.

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Sunday, March 22, 2009

22 MAR 09: You Must Be Joche-ing

It wasn't simply any Saturday -- it was "Super Saturday." That's what the Internal Revenue office in Columbus called it, as staff members provided free tax assistance to low-income people. Trouble was, other I.R.S. employees went on raids the day before - and some people waiting for refunds might call that "Freaky Friday."

Agents from I.R.S. criminal investigation raided two tax offices, which had a ripple effect on several others. One of the targets was Joché and Associates on Auburn Avenue. We told you there was something funny about Danny Glover mispronouncing that name in the commercials....

I.R.S. agents stacked up several boxes, and took them away from Joché and Associates. Several computers were removed as well - so now we'll know for sure which employees wasted time watching the NCAA basketball tournament online.

Joché and Associates reopened the Auburn Avenue office Saturday, but only for a short time. One hour after the TV news stopped by, it was closed for the day. Employees needed to get bargains at local yard sales, while they had jobs to pay for them.

At another Joché office, an employee explained the raid with the same language the Internal Revenue Service used: it was "official business." In some big cities, federal agents aren't the only ones who use that phrase -- Mafia bosses do.

The I.R.S. explained "official business" is something on the order of a search or arrest warrant. So criminal agents apparently were hunting for something. Did someone stash away a pile of money he saved by switching to Geico?

But Joché and Associates may not have been surprised by the raid. An employee said the Internal Revenue Service warned last year a search could happen at any company which handles more than 500 returns. I'm tempted to say to that: better the auditors visit them than me.

The other target for I.R.S. agents Friday was Tax One on Buena Vista Road. Yet I happened to pass a Tax One office on South Lumpkin Road during the afternoon, and found it was closed as well. Perhaps the combined staffs gathered at a restaurant, for a tax-deductible "working lunch" and group hug.

A sign outside the Tax One office on South Lumpkin Road said it was closed for the day "due to circumstances beyond our control." Hmmm - does getting arrested fit under that definition? Well, maybe if you're really not guilty....

The Tax One on South Lumpkin reopened Saturday. But the office on Buena Vista Road had a sign directing customers to a Macon Road location - only it was closed as well. At least the business finally was living up to its name - you know, one open office.

People who had tax returns prepared by these companies probably are a bit concerned by the I.R.S. intervention. Were their forms mishandled? Are the refunds they're expecting really going to come? And why don't they raid the offices of AIG, and grab those big bonus checks?

Raids like this make me thankful that I still prepare my tax returns the old-fashioned way. I write them out myself, and don't even "e-file" using software such as TurboTax. That way, I wind up saving money - or in my case this spring, I pay out about 50 dollars less.

-> How did our Thursday night poker tournament go? You would have to ask, wouldn't you? Find out at our other blog, "On the Flop!" <--

THE BIG BLOG QUESTION on Columbus State University closed Saturday night. It showed 64 percent of our voters oppose the new policy, requiring most first-year students to live on campus (7-4). There's a second hidden message from this vote - few C.S.U. staff members read our blog, or they would have stuffed the ballot box.

"I think that this is crazy," wrote one opponent of the new policy. That writer predicted Columbus State enrollment actually will drop, instead of increasing. And she wondered "what Cougar Village thinks of this arrangement since they are set up for college rentals." Actually, the apartment complex might not mind - since sophomores are much more grown-up than freshmen.

Another voter in the week-long poll accused Columbus State University of "totalitarian" policies. I don't know if I'd go that far. They're not requiring first-year students to eat Einstein Brothers Bagels once a week.

But one supporter of the new policy wrote, "So many universities do it across the nation...." - adding on-campus living "provides some measure of structure for students." Since the Structure store at Peachtree Mall closed a few years ago, students need this more than ever.

Now let's see what else is making news on a gorgeous March weekend:

+ The Columbus NAACP called for the Georgia Attorney General to investigate the police department. This time, it's based on officer J.D. Hawk's call to a state trooper who pulled him over for speeding [8 May 08]. The civil rights group could have asked District Attorney Julia Slater to look into this - but she probably would have passed it on to someone from Albany, anyway.

(The police chief and former District Attorney Gray Conger decided Hawk said nothing threatening. But an attorney for trooper J.D. Perry says Hawk tried to intimidate Perry, by claiming he'd reveal something embarrassing at trial. Yet Hawk never did that in Recorder's Court 14 months ago - and you figure someone would have left an unsigned envelope at our door by now.)

+ Columbus Fire crews were called to a house on Maui Court. Neighbors claimed the homeowner was cleaning his carpet with something powered by propane. Next time, rent an industrial-strength shop vac that plugs in a wall.

+ A big crowd attended the opening day of the "Thunder in the Valley" air show. Organizers may be pleased to know when pilots roared over the place where my church congregation meets, the pastor compared it to the second coming of Jesus.

+ Blakely, Georgia held a "Peanut Pride" festival, weeks after the Peanut Corporation of America plant was closed due to salmonella. The roaches and rats in this part of the country simply get no respect....

+ The Columbus Cottonmouths clinched second-place in the standings, with a weekend sweep of Huntsville. Friday's 4-3 win came on coach Jerome Bechard's 40th birthday -- and the teams gave "Boom Boom" something he could appreciate, by combining for 122 penalty minutes.

+ Auburn tore up Tulsa 74-55 in men's basketball, to advance to the National Invitational Tournament quarter-finals. Coach Jeff Lebo said his team of "country boys have never been to New York." Uhhhh - after checking the roster, I have to ask how far out in the country Chicago, Houston and Cincinnati are.

+ Instant Message to all NCAA basketball watchers: Your blogger has picks posted in the "My Bracket is Money" game. Simply look for the name "Blog of Columbus" - where you'll find right now, my bracket is more like burnt toast.

BUT SERIOUSLY: Our best wishes to "Buckblog," an online friend we've made who blogged for several years in Columbus, Ohio. He's announced an end to his blog, because his wife is seriously ill. May his family be blessed with peace, perseverance -- and even better, healing.

SCHEDULED THIS WEEK: A complaint about five cars....

The number of unique visitors to our blog is up 16 percent so far in 2009! To advertise to them, offer a story tip, 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: 723 (- 120, 14.2%)

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.

© 2003-09 Richard Burkard, all rights reserved.

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Friday, March 20, 2009

20 MAR 09: When Johnny Came Marching Out

After years of preparation and millions of dollars in donations, the first phase of the new National Infantry Museum was opened Thursday. It was a true reminder of the U.S. Army in 2009 -- with a lot of history, but at the same time an emphasis on making money.

The big ceremony of the day was the first graduation of new soldiers on the National Infantry Museum's new parade grounds. It's a lovely open green space with a viewing stand - yet something seemed missing. When are they installing the goal posts, so Spencer High School can play home football games?

The first graduation ceremony included a "sacred soil" ceremony, where dirt from eight key military battles in U.S. history was spread across the grounds. Let's all hope no peace activist responds to this by spreading Agent Orange from Vietnam.

Descendants of famous military men were invited to the ceremony as well. WRBL noted the great-grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt was involved. So what about relatives of Franklin D. Roosevelt? Did they somehow think the new museum would be on Warm Springs Road?

To watch the evening newscasts, the view from the far end of the parade grounds looked a little familiar. The National Infantry Museum in the background looks a bit like the Columbus Public Library. But since the museum cost $100 million and the library cost $49 million, the museum can afford grass in the back instead of asphalt.

The new museum also allows people to stroll a mock Fort Benning street from the 1940s. And unlike similar displays in other cities, you don't have to worry about mouse and duck characters starting a parade every evening.

As for the moneymaking, the museum's on-site restaurant had its grand opening at 5:00 p.m. Thursday. The National Infantry Foundation is promising "fine dining" there - so I wouldn't expect the Fife and Drum to cost merely a five or dime.

The evening news showed some of the first diners at the Fife and Drum. They included Fort Benning deputy commanding general Milo Miles, as well as Cissy Doll. If the Army ever starts using Nissan tanks, you'll know our country is in deep trouble....

The Soldier Store also opened Thursday afternoon - offering things such as boutique-size bags of "Infantry cookies." Aw, c'mon! A real souvenir from this museum would be a "meal ready to eat" autographed by retired General Hal Moore.

The first movie to be shown at Thursday's grand opening of the museum IMAX theater was "Mysteries of Egypt." Huh?! They couldn't find a film that's all-American and patriotic - like M*A*S*H?

But Thursday's big ceremony actually was the first of two. The National Infantry Museum itself won't open until June. Its artifacts reportedly still are stored in a basement - and I hope it has nothing to do with that self-storage business on Victory Drive going on Fort Benning's "off-limits" list.

An online search for the National Infantry Museum reminded me the original plan called for a grand opening last October. Now it appears the big event will be eight months late. This is one situation when most people should NOT "follow them...."

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BLOG UPDATE: The Thursday TV news offered more about our exclusive story on an investigation of withholding taxes. It showed the November letter from the Georgia Revenue Commissioner to Mayor Jim Wetherington -- and it had a "Mayor's Office" stamp on it. So he may have known about the request for names. But if he keeps those details at his office computer, he has more power than we realized.

City Finance Director Pam Hodge said it's the responsibility of city employees to fill out G-4 withholding forms properly. But the Georgia Revenue Commissioner said city officials need to make sure employees do that. Oh dear - another item for the city auditor's growing "to-do" list....

Charles Willey from the Georgia Department of Revenue called us back Thursday, with more details on the withholding tax investigation. He said four counties, one city and one consolidated government have yet to provide names. That consolidated government is NOT Columbus, but Augusta. Quit planting flowers for The Masters, and cooperate.

Unfinished investigation top our other news, from the official final day of winter:

+ Aayesha Owens Reese learned she's no longer under investigation in DeKalb County for "double dipping" -- taking a salary there, while working with the Muscogee County Junior Marshal program. That's reassuring to hear, if only because Junior Marshal probably are restricted to single-dip ice cream cones.

+ Shatoya Wright resigned from the Columbus Police Department - the woman accused of assisting in a bank robbery before joining the force. At least she served with police officers long enough to learn who the most annoying defense attorneys are.

+ The Ledger-Enquirer reported District Attorney Julia Slater has asked the Georgia Attorney General to appoint special prosecutors in 87 different cases. After about 25, that prosecutor won't seem so "special" anymore....

+ St. Francis Hospital showed off a new procedure in gall bladder surgery. An operation now is possible by making a single incision in a patient's body. So we've moved from Ken Nugent with "one call, that's all" to St. Francis with "one cut in your gut."

+ Inessa Levi was named the new provost at Columbus State University. Her background is in mathematics - so maybe she'll be able to explain how C.S.U. was able to cut half-a-job last week.

+ Meanwhile, Columbus State's Honors Program held its annual "pie toss" - and President Timothy Mescon took one in the face. That's the way to live up to the "mess" part of your name....

+ The Columbus Cottonmouths twisted Twin City 5-2, to remain in second place with two games left in the regular season. The only fight of the game occurred with seven seconds to go - else the fans expecting "March Madness" would have gone home with nothing at all.

The number of unique visitors to our blog is up 16 percent so far in 2009! To advertise to them, offer a story tip, 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: 843 (+ 15, 1.8%)

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.

© 2003-09 Richard Burkard, all rights reserved.

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

19 MAR 09: A Zero-Sum Game

So how are you doing on your tax returns? Mine have been ready for several weeks. Well, almost ready. Only the final signatures are lacking. When you owe the government money, the "rapid refund" becomes more like a slow burn....

BLOG EXCLUSIVE: Today we break news that 21 Columbus city employees are under investigation by the Georgia Department of Revenue -- or better put, they're about to be. We found out about this because a local political activist sent us e-mail:


I hope you are doing well.

I am glad to share with you the following letters from the State Department of Revenue to our Mayor. I would be interested to learn, as I am sure your readers would be, to find out why the City has not responded.



That's Josh McKoon, the former Muscogee County Republican Chair. You can tell our mayor has a Democratic history when McKoon is "glad" to share such letters.

But let's start at the beginning, and explain what this is all about. The Georgia Department of Revenue began checking city and county tax records last year, when a DeKalb County worker wanted to run for public office. It turned out that worker had no state withholding tax taken out of paychecks. If your withholding is zero, you might not become a hero.

Revenue Department spokesman Charles Willey told your blog Wednesday a review in Atlanta found more than 400 municipal employees had no state withholding tax taken from paychecks. But please don't get confused here - this is NOT where "Georgia 400" from Buckhead to Dawson County got its name.

Charles Willey says after the discovery in Atlanta was made, the Georgia Department of Revenue expanded its investigation to other locations across the state. So last November, a letter was sent to Mayor Jim Wetherington asking for a list of Columbus city employees with no state tax withheld from their checks. Hopefully their extra money wasn't spent buying scratch-off lottery tickets.

It's relatively easy to learn which city employees have no state tax withheld. They file state G-4 forms claiming they're exempt. By comparison, the federal W-4 instructions make it almost impossible for anyone to have zero exemptions. You have to pay Uncle Sam up-front - so executives at AIG can get their bonuses up-front.

Trouble is, you're only supposed to claim a state withholding exemption if you owe no tax. Based on my Georgia tax return book, that only seems possible if your taxable income is less than 100 dollars a year. Are that many municipal employees taking a big deduction for "combat zone pay"? In parts of Atlanta, I suppose that might be fitting....

Charles Willey says the Revenue Department is finding more city and county employees than expected claim to be exempt from withholding tax. Some do it to have extra take-home income during the year, then pay the state at tax time. But Willey admitted some may be doing it as a tax dodge. It's "pay up or shut up," and they do the latter.

Charles Willey told me state agents are finding the city and county employees claiming a withholding tax exemption are "all over the map." Some are honest, and pay the balance with their state return. But some apparently are skirting the law -- and if they really aren't exempt, they could be charged with perjury. Of course, then someone else's taxes would pay for their prison cell....

So Mayor Wetherington was sent a letter in November asking for the names of Columbus city employees claiming exemption from state withholding taxes. But last week, a second letter was sent from Georgia Revenue Commissioner Bart Graham - claiming the city never responded to that request. Doesn't Graham realize how busy the city's been, searching for new police officers?

We called the mayor's office Wednesday for an explanation about these letters - and that turned into an adventure. The woman who answered the phone heard "taxes" and transferred us to 311, the city services number. No, we don't want to donate anything extra....

After a couple more transfers, we were back at the mayor's office - and an aide to Mayor Wetherington provided us the answers. The most recent letter from Atlanta never reached the mayor. Instead, it went to the city Finance Department. At least someone in the mail room knows how to delegate authority.

The Finance Department told the mayor's office it now has complied with the state request, and provided the names of 21 city employees who claim exemptions from withholding taxes. Finance Director Pam Hodge says the names are a confidential matter -- so you'll have to guess how many of them work with the Junior Marshal's Program.

The city Finance Department reports all 21 employees in question filed G-4 forms claiming they have "zero tax liability." The only way we may find out who they are is to watch for indictments, check on arrests - or see which city workers take spring vacations in the Cayman Islands.

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E-MAIL UPDATE: Today is a big day for Columbus South development - but around here, that means yet another list of questions:

Richard, I read in the newspaper that parts of the new Infantry Museum will be opening this week. Two of those are the commercial businesses - the restaurant and the gift shop. I've heard through the grapevine that the owner of the restaurant is Pezold (the owner of all the area McDonald's and the owner of the gift shop is Paul Voorhees, owner of Ranger Joe's. Have you heard the same? I'm wondering if they had to submit bids or did they get these opportunities by knowing the right people. I would think that these businesses should do quite well as they will have a rather captive audience.

And whatever happened concerning the land across the street (the old trailer park) that the city paid a fortune for. (I think it was Paul Olson who pointed out that the city paid way more for the property than the city had it appraised for) It was said at the time that they wanted a high rise hotel on the property to accommodate the many museum visitors. Are they still working on that? Or have they dropped that idea since one new hotel opened on Victory Dr last April and two more are under construction on Victory Dr right now?

I hadn't heard any rumors about those businesses. But a check online found the Fife and Drum restaurant actually will be run by Valley Hospitality -- the people who bring you the Cannon Brew Pub. So Spencer Green Wave territory might be under attack by Red Jacket Ale.

Since this writer dropped some names: Paul Voorhees is a director of the National Infantry Association, and Jack Pezold of Pezold Management serves on the National Infantry Foundation's Board of Directors. Yet from looking at the foundation's board, you wonder why Rob Doll is building a new car dealership on the other side of town.

We had no time Wednesday to look into the other questions. And we barely have time to review the Wednesday news headlines:

+ Concerned Citizens for a Natatorium claimed city officials misled them about the plans for an indoor swimming complex on Macon Road. But they stopped short of demanding City Manager Isaiah Hugley take a flying leap from the ten-meter platform with two somersaults.

+ The U.S. Army admitted 23 soldiers from Fort Rucker were sent to Samson, Alabama during last week's murder spree. The right-wing conspiracy theorists will go ballistic over this news -- the ones who are waiting for Fort Stewart to send trained troops here, when those inevitable tax protests break out at Maple Ridge Golf Club.

+ Roundball Night in Dixieland (tm) found Auburn's men topping Tennessee-Martin 87-82, in the opening round of the National Invitational Tournament. Some people expected a huge crowd, yet the announced attendance was 4,008. It's strange but true - if the game had been televised on ESPN, the crowd probably would have been bigger.

(Auburn advances to a second-round home game Friday night against the Tulsa Golden Hurricane. I lived in Oklahoma for several years, and never understood why a college in a landlocked state didn't take the nickname Tornado instead.)

+ Instant Message to Arby's: OK, I apologize. I tried that "Roast Burger" Wednesday night, and it was pretty good. It actually has roast beef, not hamburger. But shouldn't an "All-American" version have bleu cheese, to go with the red tomato?

Today's main topic was the result of a blog reader's tip. To offer a story tip, make a PayPal donation, advertise to our readers 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: 828 (+ 24, 3.0%)

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.

© 2003-09 Richard Burkard, all rights reserved.

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