Friday, January 15, 2010

15 JAN 10: Blue Lights and the Basement

It's not every day that news reporters are invited to see someone's renovated basement. But it happened in Columbus Thursday -- and plenty of young women will be disappointed to learn this is NOT a Filene's Basement.

This was a trip to the basement of the Public Safety Center. Columbus Police Chief Ricky Boren announced a three-month renovation project has been completed, to make more space for 911 operators. They now have more elbow room than ever for playing spider solitaire between calls.

More room is needed in the Public Safety Center basement because nine new 911 operators are being hired, as part of the "streets and safety" sales tax. They'll be directing the 86 new police officers hired in the last 18 months. I think that ratio of 9.5:1 even beats Brookstone School.

But here's the thing - the city of Columbus didn't need to spend much sales tax money to renovate the basement. Batson-Cook agreed to do the work for the clever discount price of $911. Wait till the Muscogee County School Board hears about this! The school sales tax which started two weeks ago might expire by summer.

(Batson-Cook managers said the extra-low bid was their way of doing a public service for Columbus. But $911 is still about 900 more than prison inmates are paid for the "service" of collecting trash.)

The Ledger-Enquirer reported Columbus 911 operators take about 450,000 calls per year. That computes to more than 1,200 calls a day, or 51 every hour. I shudder to think how high that number jumps when "American Idol" is interrupted for a severe weather bulletin.

The police chief said thanks to the 86 extra police officers with ten new beats, the response time to 911 calls has been cut in half. Police now can show up in about two minutes - even faster if your apartment complex has a history of drug-dealing.

Yet here's thing #2 - Columbus Police admitted to WRBL this week the number of burglaries went up last year. In fact, 18 of them occurred in a 48-hour period this week. With all those new officers, maybe we need the expert from "Numbers" to predict where crimes will happen.

(The burglary wave may even have struck WRBL. The video clip showing a map of Columbus, Ohio has disappeared, since we pointed it out here Wednesday.)

And sadly, extra police officers apparently did not prevent another abduction of a child on her way to school this week. Security personnel from the House of Mercy have driven all the way across Columbus to provide escorts -- and amazingly, they're doing it with NO grant money from a new Crime Prevention Director.

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E-MAIL UPDATE: Jeremy Hobbs of the Better Way Foundation may not be "going postal." But he's responding to our Thursday topic about the Postal Service....


I sat down and had a talk with two men who were leading this effort to stop this from taking place. They both told me, YES mail will be delivered later. As of now, you can take a letter to the Milgen Rd. Post Office and mail it before 6 PM and it will be where you sent it to in Columbus the very next day. They claimed they had already made up their minds about this issue and didn't give unions ample time to debate the issue. The people of Columbus still have an opportunity to make their voices heard. In order to receive the best possible service it is recommended that you send your thoughts to the following address:

Consumer Affairs Manager

U.S. Postal Service

451 College Street

Macon, Georgia 31213-9631


So what will critics do if the Postal Service decides to move mail processing to Macon, anyway? If people protest by paying all their bills online, they might find Columbus loses about half its branch post offices.

By the way, my Columbus Water Works bill arrived in the "snail mail" Thursday - only six days before the due date. Is the Postal Service to blame for this? Or has the Water Works staff been too busy stopping sewage spills?

And it's always nice to know we have readers at the Government Center:

I feel a need to clarify one statement on your blog this morning about the resolution to increase the speed limit on I-185. You noted that the television stations reported that Mayor Wetherington would approve the resolution passed by Council on Tuesday, asking the Columbus Legislative Delegation to request the Georgia Department of Transportation increase the speed limit on certain parts of I-185 in Columbus. The Mayor does not "approve" or "disapprove" resolutions passed by the Council. He will sign this resolution, as will Clerk of Council Tiny Washington, to verify that the resolution was introduced and passed by a majority of Council members. The Mayor, as you know, votes at Council only in case of a tie vote, which was not the case in this instance.

This may seem "nit-picking" but I don' t want citizens to be misinformed about the workings of our city government.

Thank you.

Judy Thomas

Executive to the Mayor

Thanks for the clarification - but I wonder what Jim Wetherington would have done if the Columbus Council vote was tied. It's hard to make public safety officers a top priority, if you encourage drivers to go faster to elude them.

Another driving issue tops the other news from Thursday:

+ WRBL reported on a new Safe Kids survey, which shows about 15 percent of all Columbus drivers were caught "driving distracted." I assume Safe Kids will use this study to lobby for a ban on cell phone use behind the wheel - instead of demanding less distracting billboards.

+ Phenix City School Superintendent Larry DiChiara told WTVM fellow superintendents were NOT consulted about a bill in the Alabama Legislature to allow charter schools. Uh-oh - Councilor Jimmy Wetzel may have struck again.

+ The Georgia Department of Revenue revealed state income tax books will NOT be in libraries until late January. This department is cutting costs so much that you can't even pre-order a book at .

+ City Council members in the Sumter County town of DeSoto told Albany's WALB-TV they forgot to hold a city election last November. Aw, c'mon - how do you forget to hold an election? I mean, unless you're in Cuba or North Korea....

(If a small town like DeSoto forgets to hold a city election, that tells me a couple of things. The city council members could be too poor to afford calendars. Or their town is so small that they don't need a lot of campaign donations to run for office.)

+ The Auburn University men's basketball team was trampled by Tennessee 81-55. In a way, I'm relieved by this outcome. The Volunteers knocked off my alma mater Kansas last Sunday - and if Auburn had won in Knoxville, I would have felt even worse.

+ Instant Message to WTVM's Barbara Gauthier: Don't feel embarrassed. I was applauding that forecast high temperature of 62 F. Thursday afternoon before you did it on the air.

COMING NEXT WEEK: We mark a rather funny anniversary....

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