Monday, May 31, 2010

31 MAY 10: A Judge, a King and Other Things

Happy Memorial Day to you - but if you're driving across Alabama today, please don't jump to conclusions. Some people waving flags on street corners could actually be politicians, thinking more about what Tuesday means to them than what Monday means to all of us.

The rotation of the calendar makes this holiday the eve of the Alabama Primary. In other years, primary eve is Jefferson Davis's Birthday. That's still a state holiday - but this is one year when candidates can pander to current veterans and the U.S. flag more than Civil War families and that other banner.

Change is likely across Alabama state offices, as term limits prevent Bob Riley from seeking a third term as Governor. Apparently Riley realizes his popularity is waning - because in years past, the Governor would have asked his wife to run for the office.

Bob Riley says he's not endorsing anyone for Alabama Governor. But in recent days, his name has appeared on an endorsement for an Attorney General candidate. Riley is for Republican Luther Strange, which must make Troy King feel estranged.

It was Governor Bob Riley who appointed Troy King Alabama Attorney General. But their feud over electronic bingo at Victoryland clearly has caused a political division. And you have to say the Governor is consistent in his anti-gambling stand - when it comes to this Republican race, he refuses to straddle.

We'll get back to the statewide offices - but plenty of local positions are at stake in the Alabama Primary. Have you seen the commercial with outgoing Russell County Sheriff Tommy Boswell endorsing Heath Taylor? After all these years of Taylor being Boswell's mouthpiece on television, it's now the other way around.

Sheriff Tommy Boswell appears on TV with his grandchild - and after urging you to vote for Heath Taylor, he says it's time to go fishing. Boswell wants me to think he's going after fish. But somehow I suspect he'll keep looking for marijuana patches on the way to the lake.

Heath Taylor faces Jeff Gibson in the Democratic Primary for Russell County Sheriff, with no Republicans running. Gibson told WTVM last week he's running as a candidate of change. Given his background, Gibson's first change may be to reassign deputies to track down stray dogs and cats.

Russell County Commissioner Ronnie Reed is trying to unseat State Rep. George Bandy. I'm surprised Reed hasn't caused stirred up more media attention in this race - you know, like bringing Bill Madison over from Columbus to make race-related accusations.

Then there's the Alabama State Senate seat Myron Penn is surrendering. If all you watched were Columbus TV commercials, you'd think Billy Beasley was running unopposed. You'd also conclude he'd get up at 4:00 a.m. if someone in his district wanted to hold a political rally at a Waffle House.

In reality, Billy Beasley is part of a five-way Democratic primary for State Senate. His main opponent seems to be longtime Tuskegee politician Johnny Ford - who sometimes leaves the impression he won all his campaign money by playing electronic bingo at Victoryland.

Johnny Ford blamed his last campaign loss on a failure to use the Internet. He promised to do better this time - and sure enough, he has everything from a website to YouTube and Twitter areas. I'm sure voters are especially grateful for Ford's admission on Myspace that he's a straight Virgo. [True!]

Johnny Ford warned on Facebook recently some State Senate candidates may be resorting to "vote buying." He quoted an African-American man as saying, "You've got to pay just like the White folks: $25 for my vote." A state once known for poll taxes now may be offering refunds....

(From what we can tell, Ford does NOT resort to vote buying. His approach has been very different - with online pleas for people to send HIM ten dollars for last-minute campaigning.)

While Johnny Ford has tried to ride the greyhounds use the Victoryland drama to win the State Senate election, Billy Beasley hasn't brought up the electronic bingo controversy at all. Instead, we've heard Beasley is a wonderful pharmacist with a plan to bring jobs to every Alabama county. Why he didn't think of that plan as an Alabama House member, I'm not quite sure....

Back at the top of the ballot, seven Republicans and two Democrats want to succeed Bob Riley as Alabama Governor. Democrat Ron Sparks leaves little doubt about one of his big issues, as road signs declare: "SPARKS LOTTERY." If he wins, watch for signs this fall saying: "SIEGELMAN FAILED."

Ron Sparks is challenged in the Democratic Primary for Governor by Congressman Artur Davis. One East Alabama blogger suspects Davis has tried on purpose to irritate fellow African-American leaders, in hopes of winning Euro-American votes. C'mon now - maybe he's simply one of the few House members who actually read the health care reform act before voting against it.

The Republican race for Alabama Governor includes another bid by former Chief Justice Roy Moore. During a recent visit to Opelika, Moore touted the fact that he's led a branch of state government. Of course, some of us remember how he also was led away from it....

Only one Republican has bought time on Columbus television to promote a campaign for Alabama Governor. Bradley Byrne promises in one ad he'll "clean up Montgomery." If only Byrne had cleaned up the scandals in the two-year college program before stepping down as its chancellor....

And we can't forget the Alabama race which has become an Internet sensation. Dale Peterson's commercial for state Agriculture Commissioner is now at around 1.4 million views on YouTube [20 May]. Peterson actually might be better off NOT becoming the Republican nominee -- because with his shotgun and horse, he could make more money as an opening act for Sarah Palin speeches.

It's the longstanding custom of this blog NOT to make any political endorsements. For one thing, not one single candidate in the Alabama Primary has offered me 25 dollars - not even for advertising.

If the lack of an endorsement or political advice frustrates you, I'm sorry about that. You may be reading this on Memorial Day, but for me it's simply another Independence Day. Or is that Independents?

SCHEDULED TUESDAY: E-mail related to our current Big Blog Question....

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Sunday, May 30, 2010

30 MAY 10: Outside Shooters

"Welcome soccer players," said a sign along Victory Drive Saturday night. The Georgia State Cup for youth club teams is underway through Monday at the Woodruff Farm complex. We'll see if someone changes the sign Tuesday to "Welcome basketball players" - and if that brings out police investigators.

Mayor Jim Wetherington has asked Columbus Police to look into the recent city audit of the Parks and Recreation Department. Those of you who wanted a return of the "Park Police" are getting your wish - although probably not in the way you wanted it.

The mayor admitted he was troubled by the Parks Department audit [19 May]. But asking Columbus Police to get involved?! Well, we probably shouldn't be surprised by that. That's a reflex action for longtime lawman Jim Wetherington. I'm a bit surprised he didn't order bicyclists stopped for speeding during the Aflac Outdoor Games.

WRBL obtained a statement from Jim Wetherington about the request for a police review. It says in part: "As the mayor of Columbus, Georgia, I would be remiss not to order a comprehensive investigation of these important issues." Wow -- even in paper statements, he specifies "Columbus, Georgia." Does he look THAT much like the mayor of Columbus, Ohio?

At first Mayor Wetherington seemed more concerned with the release of the Parks Department audit than the findings itself. He noted to Columbus Council a copy of the findings was released to reporters on the day he received it. You'd think the auditor would have learned a lesson from the Junior Marshal's Program - and handle those things like a North Korean government statement.

The Ledger-Enquirer isn't waiting for police to probe the parks system. It's been digging into the youth basketball program, which goes around the country on road trips - and this weekend it found more than half the players live outside Columbus. So? If my alma mater Kansas was barred from recruiting out-of-state.... well, the Jayhawks still might have lost to Northern Iowa.

The newspaper also discovered the Columbus Blazers elite basketball teams have some kind of sponsorship deal with Nike. It must not be a very expensive deal - because I don't hear any rumors about the Blazers trying to sign LeBron James.

(The Blazers are part of the Parks Department's Innovative Sports Program. The way things are looking, the "innovative" part may involve budgeting and accounting.)

One of the Columbus Blazers basketball teams is on a road trip to Los Angeles this weekend, but Parks Department Director Tony Adams did NOT go with them. It's reportedly on orders from "his supervisor" - and I hope he enjoys playing Monopoly and bid whist with one of the Assistant City Managers.

Tony Adams is in the middle of this audit whirlwind - yet he's suddenly become the quietest man in Columbus. He has yet to issue a comment, perhaps because he's under a deadline of next week to submit a response. When Adams finally makes a public statement, who is more likely to stand alongside him - among attorneys Stacy Jackson, Frank Martin or Mark Shelnutt?

In the interest of full disclosure, I should note I sought the Parks Department's help four years ago. When I tried to start a statewide sports league, I wanted to reserve a Columbus stadium for a match - and never could get anyone to confirm a date, much less a rental charge. Was that incompetence? Or did the staff know better than I did that the league would fail?

THE BIG BLOG QUESTION will cut directly to the chase in this matter. Remember when Mayor Jim Wetherington announced Fire Chief Jeff Meyer was "salvageable" after another big investigation? We want to know if Parks and Recreation Director Tony Adams is salvageable. Keep in mind that a nice winning record didn't help the Atlanta Hawks' coach keep his job this month.

Back at Woodruff Farm, Saturday's rain wreaked havoc on the Georgia State Cup soccer schedule. Action was scheduled to resume today at 7:00 a.m. I thought the only soccer games played that early on a Sunday morning were in Italy's "Serie A."

Let's see what else is making news on a wet holiday weekend - or perhaps we should reword that Halladay, after what happened Saturday night:

+ Our best wishes to Richard Hyatt, who resumed online writing Saturday after a prolonged hospital stay. Hyatt reports he went to St. Francis Hospital for surgery, then became infected and (ahem) wound up losing a testicle. Time will tell whether Hyatt's next book will be co-authored by attorney Gary Bruce.

+ Military veterans staged a protest downtown, urging Georgia's Governor to veto a proposed change to driver's licenses. Drivers could note if they have post-traumatic stress disorder. I can understand the concerns about discrimination - but show that PTSD license to a potential mugger, and it could be a great crime prevention tool.

+ Muscogee County Schools wrapped up a weekend of graduation ceremonies at the Civic Center. The last high school to have a ceremony was Carver - and if you have a picture of a senior wearing a ceiling tile for a mortar board, please e-mail it to us.

+ Scott Ressmeyer's second "ride for miracles" ended downtown. His motorcycle "posse" raised tens of thousands of dollars for the Children's Miracle Network over the last three weeks - and Harris County Sheriff Mike Jolley may have tens of thousands of forms waiting for him at the office this week.

+ The Georgia AAA high school baseball final round was postponed by rain. Ringgold and Columbus now will play a doubleheader Monday at Columbus State University - which tells me they forgot to put the tarp over the Golden Park infield again.

+ The Columbus Lions lost at Louisiana 51-31. The Lions wind up 2-1 on a five-week road trip, and return home next weekend for "Cancer Awareness Night." A better promotion might be "Are You Aware We Still Exist Night."

+ Instant Message to the Muscogee County Tax Commissioner: Thank you for moving on to the "BLU" Georgia license plates. I've seen so many "BLB" plates lately that I thought a new movie version of "The Blob" was coming out.

SCHEDULED MONDAY: Our first primary preview of 2010....

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Friday, May 28, 2010

28 MAY 10: From Riccis to Rags

Many stories of history are "rise and fall" stories. In the last century, the Soviet Union rose and fell. The Nazi Third Reich rose and fell. And some people probably don't want me to keep bringing up WRCG radio.

A classic case of rising and falling reached a sad end in Columbus federal court Thursday. WTVM reported Jose Ricci pleaded guilty to money laundering, and will spend nearly four years in prison. If only he had settled for laundering his staff's uniforms....

Jose Ricci owned the Ritmo Latino Club on South Lumpkin Road with his brother, Gerardo. He pleaded guilty to money laundering as well, but was sentenced to only six months in prison. It's not clear why Gerardo's sentence is shorter. Did his attorney spend less time in the "spin cycle" - trying to claim he was innocent?

Federal prosecutors believe the Ricci brothers illegally sold cocaine, then transferred drug money from their personal bank accounts into an account set up by drug agents. But clearly the trouble started with cocaine - at a club which certainly wasn't known for rock stars.

But it's Jose Ricci's name who grabbed my attention, because of his background. Ricci turned a job as executive chef at the Columbus Civic Center into a restaurant, then a weekend radio station and a monthly magazine. It seemed the next logical step was for Ricci to buy a minor league baseball team.

Former Mayor Bob Poydasheff still may shudder a bit over writing these words for the City of Columbus 2003-2004 annual report: "Ritmo Latino, Inc., with a sharp new office on Victory Drive, leads various enterprises that serve the growing Columbus Latino community...." Only days after that was printed, Jose Ricci was indicted for embezzlement [8 Jul 04]. While his office was sharp, his criminal skills were not.

The Jose Ricci case disappeared from media attention after the indictment. It was left to your blog to track down what happened, in the wake of an e-mail question [11 Sep 08]. Ricci admitted in court in 2007 he stole at least $150,000 in Civic Center concession money, so he could accept a business proposal. This was before officials set aside city money to steal businesses from Ohio....

An Assistant District Attorney told me in 2008 Jose Ricci still had not repaid all the money he embezzled. If he still owes money now, he'll have to repay it very slowly - selling one pack of prison cigarettes at a time.

Then came the F.B.I. raid of the Ritmo Latino Club 13 months ago [26 Apr 09], which led to Thursday's guilty pleas. No real successor to the nightclub has emerged for the Columbus Hispanic community. Why, Café La Vaca on Victory Drive changed its name before I could check what "La Vaca" means in English.

The only Hispanic music left on Columbus radio can be heard Saturdays on WRCG. And while "Eco Latino" offers a little news in Spanish every two weeks, former radio personality Gladiola Unzueta now is publishing her own Hispanic business magazine - making this Gladiola a hardy periodical.

You can draw your own lessons and conclusions from the story of Jose Ricci. I see a man who made several good steps on the road to success, then made an ethical misstep which ruined it all. Keep your business affairs clean, and you won't need to resort to laundering of any kind.

Other criminal matters begin our review of other Thursday headlines....

+ Columbus Police told WLTZ the city has had nearly 500 car thefts so far this year. Yet preliminary F.B.I. figures show that's a pace below last year, when the city had more than 1,500 thefts -- so which video game has become more popular than "Grand Theft Auto?"

. (Officers say a surprisingly high number of auto thefts occur because people leave their keys in plain sight, inside the car. There's a crime prevention marketing idea waiting to happen here - involving fuzzy dice with hidden zippers.)

+ Officials with the "Georgia Meth Project" came to Columbus, showing their latest graphic billboards and commercials. While the images may seem shocking, they could have been worse. They could have hired that guy with the big glasses from Six Flags to dance and sing.

+ City Manager Isaiah Hugley told WTVM once Columbus Council meetings are moved to the planned Citizen Services Center, the current council chambers in the Government Center might be converted into courtrooms. Considering how many times Ed DuBose and Paul Olson have grilled councilors there, it would be only fitting....

+ Almost all Columbus city swimming pools opened for the summer. I assume at some point in the next ten weeks, the Columbus Tea Party will throw tea bags in them and demand they be sold to Gold's Gym.

+ Long-distance runner John Teeples began a five-day jog from Columbus to Savannah, raising money for the House of Heroes program. Teeples ran 85 miles on the opening day - so I assume he was carried along for a while by one of those pop-up thunderstorms.

+ Alabama and Auburn won their games in the Southeastern Conference baseball tournament. Auburn eliminated South Carolina 3-1 in 12 innings - but there's no word about whether the South Carolina coach threw his visor on the ground in disgust.

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Thursday, May 27, 2010

27 MAY 10: The Centers of It All

It's been a landmark in downtown Columbus for about 40 years. In fact, it's practically the only skyscraper downtown has. So it's sad to think the Government Center may be on the downward slope toward the wrecking ball -- although an implosion might give our city big national TV exposure.

Why am I sounding nostalgic about the Government Center? Because of the news Wednesday that Columbus Council will move its meetings out of the building. The vote was 6-4 to hold future meetings at the planned Citizen Services Center near Macon Road -- proving those commercials promoting Midtown Inc. really work.

The Citizen Services Center will house not only Columbus Council meetings, but several city offices and the new natatorium. So if the city is drowning in red ink, that will be easier for the City Manager to illustrate.

The Ledger-Enquirer reports the new Citizen Services Center will honor the late Mayor J.R. Allen. But of course, the November election could change all that. If Teresa Tomlinson becomes mayor, a statue outside the building saluting her as a Midtown pioneer.

Councilor Gary Allen (the son of J.R.) says he supports moving the meetings to Midtown because it's a "more centralized location." Of course, he lives on the north side of town. Every mile of driving he saves is valuable -- even if it's only five miles for every round-trip.

But Councilor Red McDaniel said moving city meetings away from downtown Columbus is "stupid." He may have a good point there. After all, there are a lot more bars within walking distance of the Government Center, for having a "spin room" after meetings.

I wondered Wednesday night how many other cities have done what Columbus is about to do. A check of 12 other major Georgia cities revealed ALL of them have City Council or Commission meetings at their "City Hall" building, or something with a similar name. They certainly don't meet in buildings where lost swimmers could wander into the audience.

If Columbus Council wants to move to Midtown, why not save the city a little money - and hold meetings in the fancy new meeting room of the Muscogee County School Board? I can't recall the last time the two bodies held meetings on the same day. It didn't even happen when the groups disliked each other.

I think it was Tim Chitwood who first raised the idea of moving the "center point" of Columbus government from downtown to Midtown. The shift of Columbus Council meetings is another major step toward doing that - on top of the central library and the Public Education Center. Not to mention the fact that Publix refuses to open a supermarket on Broadway....

But how far should this shift to Midtown go? Should new courtrooms be built on Rigdon Road, to cut down the distance to Rutledge State Prison? Or would that spark such a big shift of law offices that half the homes in the Historic District would be vacant?

You really could blame the U.S. Postal Service for starting the shift away from downtown. I'm not sure when the main post office was moved to Milgen Road. But the person who made that decision clearly sent a warning message to Columbus - because now local mail will be processed far down U.S. 80, in Macon.

That was the other big shift of Wednesday - the Postal Service confirming most of Columbus's mail processing will move to Macon in July. The exception will be large bulk mail items. People still can specifically request Columbus postmarks - but I doubt any Italian-American people bother to do that around Columbus Day.

Postal officials say 14 Columbus jobs will be reassigned, with the shift of mail processing to Macon. American Postal Worker Union members complained to WRBL some employees will be forced "to change positions." If they're sitting down at work instead of standing, you'd think they wouldn't object.

The postal workers' union warned in March a shift in Columbus mail processing to Macon will mean slower service. The Columbus Postmaster claims service actually will be faster, since Macon is a regional hub. We'll know which side is right if thousands of Columbus credit card statements suddenly have late fees.

A move back to Columbus tops our check of other Wednesday news....

+ The Ledger-Enquirer website reported the old Lewis-Jones supermarket on Hamilton Road will reopen this summer as a Save-A-Lot. That chain once had a store on the Phenix City bypass - and when it closed in 2003, an employee promised me three new Columbus stores were planned [2 Apr 03]. The company must have decided it wanted to save a whole lot more.

+ Muscogee County Schools wrapped up the term - and WRBL showed the final day of class before Carver High School is bulldozed. Students wrote messages on the brick walls, and were allowed to take home ceiling tiles as souvenirs. In other words, the old Carver wound up with the image most Columbus residents had of it all along.

(It was also the final day of class at Benning Hills Elementary, before its merger with Muscogee. But I disagree with the reporters who called it the "final day ever." Couldn't Benning Hills reopen, once base realignment is complete? Or are parents in that neighborhood so angry that they plan to buy the building and start home-schooling?)

+ The schedule was announced for the AAA high school baseball finals. Ringgold will face Columbus Saturday at the high school's Randy Jordan Field. The risk of visiting fans adding letters to the Golden Park signs was too great....

+ Alabama assailed Auburn 7-1 in the first round of the Southeastern Conference baseball tournament. The grounds crew in Hoover is changing the team logos behind the plate after every game. Well, I assume that's how it works - as opposed to winning Crimson Tide players stomping the Auburn logo beyond recognition.

+ Instant Message to the CW Network: Are you paying attention to what's happening in the Gulf of Mexico? There could be a new reality show there - America's Next Top Kill.

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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

26 MAY 10: Two Smiths, Two Accounts

There's Richard E. Smith, who lives on Seaton Drive in Columbus. Then there's Richard H. Smith, who lives next door. Only one of them is the state representative -- and after calling the wrong one by mistake Tuesday night, we're comforted to report one is NOT ready to challenge the other for re-election.

BLOG EXCLUSIVE: State Rep. Richard Smith (the one with the H) made his first public comment Tuesday night on having what a political blog called one of the "phattest cribs" in Atlanta during this year's Georgia legislative session. Smith admitted to me he's retired - so I respected that, and chose to call his residence an apartment instead.

We noted here last month that Rep. Richard Smith paid $2,373 per month for an Atlanta-area apartment during the legislative session [14 Apr]. A blog reader dug into that and more, in a series of e-mails to us over recent days....

Is GA Rep. Richard Smith pocketing his state paid per diem of about $6700 while actually paying for his $2400 per mo. apt. with special interest contributions?

Seems rather odd to collect the per diem for something his special interest groups have already paid for.

I guess that is sort of collecting from the state unnecessarily....

My, My what campaign funds will buy! And this man wants to double charge per diem = his campaign pays the apt. rent and the state pays him and he gets off making money on the deal! So, he gets a free apt and he gets to pocket the cash!

Special Interests pay for his life of luxury! He has been doing this for years so he has a war chest of about $119K .

This man created a lot of new taxes, in HB 1055, the fee bill, to fix the budget rather than cut back government. He calls himself a Republican!


He lives very well and all on the dollar of the special interests.

Did you notice that the Commerce Club has special affiliations with other private clubs worldwide.

Disclosure reports filed by Smith indeed show he paid for apartment rent with campaign donations. But $2,400?! When I left metro Atlanta, my rent was less than $400 - although unlike Columbus, I could fill the waterbed for free.

Rep. Richard Smith corrected one presumption from the April reports. While he wrote monthly rent checks to Post Properties in Marietta, he actually lived in an apartment near the Atlanta Civic Center -- only ten blocks from the state Capitol. Smith apparently took a cab for those blocks, because he had no idea MARTA rail service was nearby.

Rep. Richard Smith explained more than a dozen state lawmakers stayed at the Post apartments near Midtown Atlanta. "It's a gated community," he told me. There, you see - that's more like a Republican.

The apartment rent computes to 80 dollars a day, which Richard Smith says compares well with Atlanta hotel charges. And on top of that, Smith doesn't have to worry about buying overpriced cans of soda in his room.

Rep. Richard Smith told your blog he's within Georgia ethics rules to pay for legislative living quarters with campaign donations. Smith added he abides by the same per diem rules of Atlanta lawmakers, who simply drive to the Capitol from homes. Those are the homes which may have the nicer lawns and gardens.

"I don't know how the younger folks do it," Rep. Richard Smith said concerning the costs of commuting and living in Atlanta during the legislative session. While Smith's wife is working, "I'm retired.... basically on a fixed income." Given the recession, the only people NOT on fixed incomes seem to be investment bankers and football players.

Rep. Richard Smith took issue with the e-mail claim that "special interest contributions" pay for his apartment rent in Atlanta. He considers that a misleading label for the people and businesses who donate to his campaign fund. That list for 2009 was e-mailed to us, too - and 24 of them have "PAC" in their names. I can't believe they all lobbied for Google to put a Pac-Man game on its home page.

I asked Rep. Richard Smith about House Bill 1055, which the Georgia governor signed into law. He said fees need to go up for a wide range of state services to cover their costs. For instance, convicted drunk drivers who appeal to reclaim their driver's licenses must pay a $150 filing fee. That doesn't seem like a "tax" to me - but it's "fine" by me.

State records confirm Rep. Richard Smith spent about $600 in dues over the last year to the Commerce Club of Atlanta. He also spent $831 there last October for a fundraiser -- which hopefully covered the dues, along with his downright modest $500 to be part of the Columbus Rotary Club.

One of the e-mails we received about Richard Smith's finances included the Commerce Club's complete dinner menu and wine list. It surprisingly did NOT include a notice about today's main event at the club - a "leadership luncheon" about how reductions to Georgia's budget deficit will affect you. [True!]

"When we're not in session, I don't even go close to that thing," Rep. Richard Smith told me about the Commerce Club. He explains he only goes there a couple of times each year, taking officials from Columbus to dinner as they visit the state legislature. You'd think they'd be satisfied with a hot dog and souvenirs from The Varsity....

Rep. Richard Smith pointed out his campaign account was audited by the Georgia Ethics Commission a couple of years ago. The only problem auditors found was that the account needed to be reset to zero every couple of election cycles. That may be when he orders dessert with his entree at The Commerce Club.

We should note none of what we brought up to Rep. Richard Smith Tuesday night surprised him at all. "I've read the same e-mails," he told me" -- as local activist Deborah Owens apparently sent them to him as well as me. So this wasn't a BCC-handed ambush interview at all....

Rep. Richard Smith believes Deborah Owens went digging through his campaign records because she disagreed with him on a piece of legislation. Smith didn't say what that legislation was. That's OK - I know Owens well enough to predict she'll e-mail me the entire bill by the end of the week.

Since Richard Smith named her name, I should invoke full disclosure here - and note Deborah Owens is the author of several e-mails this month (but not all) complaining about Columbus city and school budgeting. If she's doing all this to prepare an election-year campaign of her own, she hasn't said so to me. Perhaps April paper showers simply bring May growlers.

Back on Seaton Drive, that other Richard Smith has no complaints with his lawmaker neighbor. "I like the man," Richard E. told me Tuesday night. In fact, they get together at least once a week -- to exchange mail sent to the wrong location, and even wrong prescription drugs.

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

BLOG UPDATE: Speaking of money, Chattahoochee Valley Libraries Director Claudya Muller called us back Tuesday. Her staff did some math, and computed spending for branches outside Columbus last fiscal year came to $239,658.96. Yes, she was specific to the penny. We're not talking 1.44 mills here, after all -- it's 1.5.

Claudya Muller also promised an updated Library Board budget will be posted on the library website as soon as possible. We noted Tuesday the most recent one we found online was five years old -- way back when the central library was newly-opened, and IT was labeled by scoffers as the "Taj Mahal."

We continue to encourage the development of summer math skills, as we check the Tuesday news headlines....

+ Columbus Council discussed possibly increasing PAWS Humane animal adoption fees by 25 dollars. This is one issue where I suspect there will be no neuter ground....

+ Kristy Dugan was named a special Muscogee County Assistant District Attorney over arson cases. District Attorney Julia Slater explained an arson specialist will reduce crime in that area - yet F.B.I. statistics indicate Columbus had 39 percent fewer arson cases last year without her. Did the recession even reduce the sales of cigarette lighters?

+ Russell County Sheriff candidate Jeff Gibson told WTVM he supports "community policing," with residents knowing who the sheriff and deputies are. So a vote for Gibson next week could be a vote against undercover drug stings.

+ The Ledger-Enquirer announced it's joining a "Georgia Newspaper Partnership" with 11 other papers, to provide in-depth state political coverage. If this project works well between now and November, the papers could go ahead and merge.

+ Brookstone School students donated more than 1,000 pairs of collected shoes to orphan children in Iraq. You'd think one retail chain would take the lead in this project - but the name has NOT been changed to iRack Room Shoes.

+ Columbus High School topped Thomson 8-4, to advance to the AAA state baseball finals. Columbus will host the championship series this weekend, but Coach Bobby Howard faces a big decision. If you play Ringgold at Golden Park, will the visitors feel more inspired to win?

+ Instant Message to Shrek: Somebody's got to say it -- you're a profit-hungry sell-out. I mean, why are you endorsing Vidalia onions from southeast Georgia? Instead of, you know.... green onions?

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

25 MAY 10: Mingle or Die

"You can help us celebrate something," the library director suggested during a Monday phone call. I certainly have nothing against that. After all, the staff never did roll out a big cake to mark the main library's fifth anniversary in January - and I prefer chocolate fudge.

But that's not the reason why I called Claudya Muller Monday afternoon. I needed the Chattahoochee Valley Library Director's help, to sort out questions an e-mail brought up Monday. Is Muscogee County property tax money going to library branches in other counties? And if it develops bright young readers who go to college at Columbus State, isn't it a wash anyway?

Claudya Muller admitted she had a "fuzzy answer" for the questions about property tax money and libraries. It involves materials that are "co-mingled" among several branches in the Chattahoochee Valley Library system. First they order all those Harry Potter books, and then the slippery-slope begins....

The multi-county library system has exchanged materials for years. Someone in Marion County can request to check out a book or DVD that's kept at a branch in Columbus. Perhaps some Columbus residents want the libraries to add a charge for "shipping and handling."

Claudya Muller told me the Chattahoochee Valley Libraries have saved tens of thousands of dollars in recent years, by sending requested materials one-way. A Columbus book checked out by someone in Richland is NOT automatically returned to Columbus - but stays in Richland until someone in Columbus requests it back. It might be a redneck book if....

Claudya Muller went on to explain how costs are shared for library branches outside Columbus. Outlying counties pay for the building and utility costs, while the library system pays for the material and staff. So if a branch is cold next winter, please don't start burning books -- that will only confuse the budgeting.

"There's not a clean, black-and-white answer" for how much Muscogee County property tax money is used in outlying library branches, Claudya Muller admitted. For instance, the state of Georgia provides funding for the branches. The library system has an endowment. And someone might find a Georgia version of that book scofflaw George Washington never returned, to make big money.

(By the way - should that 221-year overdue book put an end to the stories about George Washington's honesty? The first President may have learned to keep his mouth shut, after chopping down that cherry tree.)

Claudya Muller confirmed my suspicions that library branches in Richland, Marion County and Chattahoochee County could NOT operate without Columbus funding. But Georgia state law says they cannot become independent of the Chattahoochee Valley system unless they can raise $100,000 in support. How many bake sales can we expect people in Cusseta to have?

So that sheds a little light on the complicated funding of.... oh wait, I almost forgot. Claudya Muller wanted me to help celebrate a successful start of the library system's summer "Teen Vacation Reading Program." It's designed to get teenagers reading books - as opposed to secretly-purchased copies of "Maxim" and "Cosmopolitan."

Claudya Muller says more than 100 teenagers in the Chattahoochee Valley system signed up for the summer reading program in the first week. The total last summer was 300, so she considers that a good start. Once teens learn they can win an iPad, their parents might put on extra pressure for them to enroll.

Educators have emphasized for decades the importance of children reading during summer vacation. Claudya Muller says that's true in the teenage years as well. For instance, high school football players need to understand the fine print of those college letters of intent.

Our big library "get" means calls about another e-mail topic will be delayed until another day. Here's what else had our attention Monday -- beginning with a story seemingly all the local media missed....

+ Preliminary FBI statistics indicated violent crime in Columbus dropped 9.5 percent last year. But property crime was up one percent from 2008, and burglaries were up 15.9 percent. How many of those crime prevention grants are going to Neighborhood Watch groups?

+ Russell County Sheriff candidate Heath Taylor told WTVM he's "not running against" Jeff Gibson next Tuesday - he's running FOR the office. If Taylor actually was running against Gibson, we probably would have seen a TV commercial with a shotgun by now.

+ Municipal Court Judge Stephen Hyles was appointed federal Magistrate Judge, to replace the retiring Mallon Faircloth. This opens the way for the grand return of former Judge Haywood Turner - as long as police don't stop him for speeding on Second Avenue, while he races to the Government Center.

+ Columbus Technical College launched a new cosmetology department. Maybe this is a stupid question - but why? Doesn't Columbus already have Rivertown School of Beauty? And Southeastern School of Beauty? Not to mention all the barber shops along Victory Drive, offering little more than buzz cuts.

+ Georgia Search and Rescue began a series of disaster drills at Auburn University's Jordan-Hare Stadium. Isn't this amazing? They're already preparing to remove Bulldog fans from the football game in November....

+ Columbus and Thomson split a doubleheader in the AAA high school baseball semifinals, forcing a decisive third game today. Did you see the Columbus center fielder crash into the metal outfield wall, leaving it bent with the outline of his body? If his team wins the state title, they might as well leave the mark there and paint "2010" into it.

+ Instant Message to the e-mailer who recommended Big Lots in Phenix City [13 May]: Wow - you were right! I found one loaf of whole wheat bread Monday night for a dollar. Several others were $1.20. It makes you wonder why Family Dollar even bothered to open a store at the other end of the strip mall.

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Monday, May 24, 2010

24 MAY 10: Bless the Pest

Some people become annoyed by The Mass Media. Not many people annoy The Mass Media right back, but a few do. I recall one man who wrote a lengthy complaint to CNN - and did it on one roll of paper, so it was split in two and posted from top to bottom on two newsroom pillars.

A few people attach themselves to The Mass Media so much, they become known as groupies. When I moved to Columbus, I became acquainted with one of them. He'd call several times a day, trying to talk with female TV reporters. And his voice didn't quite sound like someone leaving informed tips about undercover police investigations....

The man identified himself as Corey, and women in the newsroom weren't sure how to handle him. Some took his calls for awhile, then wanted nothing more to do with him. "Tell him I'm not here," one woman said - and when I repeated those words verbatim to Corey, he didn't seem to take the hint. He'd call back, days or even hours later -- but at least he never stooped to order flowers for them.

Corey's persistence reached the point that when one female reporter finished her on-air appearance during the 11:00 p.m. news, I started counting aloud: "Five, four, three...." and sure enough, he'd call before I reached zero. Stanley Kubrick could have made a movie about him - Clockwork Annoying.

I took so many of Corey's calls that while I tried to be as polite and matter-of-fact as I could, he came to consider me a tough meanie. I was screening his flirtatious contacts with female co-workers, who sometimes were racing to beat deadlines. But come to think of it, Corey seemed closer to romancing single ladies than I was.

In 2010, Corey's constant calling might have landed him on a police watch list. But co-workers who talked with him concluded he was NOT a threat. They explained Corey had some sort of mental disability, and struggled to keep jobs at fast-food restaurants. If it wasn't for his life on the phone, he might not have one at all.

I've mentioned Corey here before, under a different name [9 Sep 09] -- but events of the last week have convinced me to bring him fully forward. Corey has been hospitalized, with what an attendant tells me is an immune problem. He certainly was immune to women telling him "no" for years....

But an amazing thing has happened in response to this illness. Media personalities who were annoyed by Corey for years are rallying around him -- calling his hospital room, paying him visits and even organizing a Facebook support group. It's a case of the "famous" supporting someone who actually made them feel that way.

I had never seen Corey and he'd probably never seen me, but I made a quick trip to his hospital room Friday afternoon. He looked weak and acted groggy. A minister was at his bedside, ready to offer a prayer. And the television in his room was tuned to "Bonanza" on TV Land - obviously because the evening local newscasts were still several hours away.

It's fascinating to see so many well-known Columbus names support someone who could be so downright annoying. I guess it shows the TV and radio community has a merciful heart. In other walks of life, that's a rare thing to see. If President Obama was admitted to a hospital today, most Tea Party members wouldn't know whether to pray for him or against him.

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

E-MAIL UPDATE: The Columbus Public Library has connections outside the city limits, which leads to this....

I recently noticed on the local library website a listing for 3 libraries operating outside Muscogee County..Do these libraries receive operational money from MCSD?

If MCSD does spend money on these libraries why are they not included in cuts in balancing the MCSD budget? Is our Muscogee County tax money helping to operate these out of county libraries or do these counties pay MCSD to operate their libraries?

An online search Sunday night didn't provide much of an answer. But we found a five-year-old library report, which says "the majority" of the Chattahoochee Valley Libraries' operating budget comes from 1.5 mills in Muscogee County property taxes. C'mon now - don't you want to help Quitman County residents become a little smarter?

A chart for the library system's "general fund" shows only about $23,000 in "county participation." Keep in mind those outlying counties aren't known for being wealthy. Just because the Parks Memorial Library in Richland is located on Wall Street does NOT mean it has a fancy stock market portfolio.

We'll have to make follow-up calls on this matter, as well as a series of other e-mails we received over the weekend. In the meantime, let's see what news we

+ The Sunday high temperature in Columbus was 93 degrees F. I turned on the home air conditioner for the first time this season, and it dripped a little on the outside - but I decided NOT to save money by collecting the water in a bucket to boil later for drinking.

+ Columbus Police told WXTX a man was attacked with a two-by-four board outside the Cozy Corner club on 35th Street. Officers are looking for a man nicknamed "Gucci" - which is comforting to those of us who feared YellaFella might have been drinking too much.

+ Columbus Fire investigators reported they've pinpointed the source of the fire at the old Baker High School. But that source has NOT been revealed yet - as if they're going to have a contest in the neighborhood, and give the correct guesser two months' free rent.

+ The Ledger-Enquirer reported on a compromise in the "mimosa madam" case. Formal Elegance salon owner Judy Wilkinson will receive "deferred prosecution," as long as she performs 20 hours of community service. If she serves meals at a local mission, please make sure she handles food and not drinks.

+ The Columbus Fraternal Order of Police and the Business Improvement District combined to hold an antique show downtown. Mayor Jim Wetherington visited this at his own risk - lest a passerby attempt to bid on him.

+ Troy University announced it will open a campus next week in the North Columbus Business Park on Manchester Expressway. Uh-oh - what about that property awaiting development in downtown Phenix City? Will people there have to settle for the old Revco space in the Phenix Plaza shopping center?

+ The Aflac Outdoor Games were held along the riverfront downtown. Contestants climbed poles as fast as they could, sawed through logs as fast as they could -- after spectators searched for parking spaces as slowly as the speed limits on 12th Street and Broadway would allow.

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Friday, May 21, 2010

for 22-23 MAY 10: Rock Chalk Review

(CLASSIC BLOG: This past week marked an anniversary for us -- 30 years since college graduation. As we take a break for Pentecost weekend, we share some memories which originally appeared here 19 Oct 08.)

Years before I selected a college, my older brother gave me some advice. I could go to any college I wanted -- "but if you go to Kansas State, I'll never speak to you again."

Kansas State was never in the running, for a young man interested in journalism. "Silo Tech" had no journalism school. My brother's alma mater Kansas did. For that matter, K.U. had no veterinary school while K-State did -- so the risk of coming across wandering animals on campus was very small.

I had nice offers to attend college from Drake and Texas Christian -- but I chose Kansas because my first year would be covered by grants and scholarships. Given that sort of thinking, maybe I should have been a business major....

Financial help also came from the fact that I was accepted for a "Scholarship Hall." It's an inexpensive cross between a dormitory and a fraternity -- with about 50 invited people in a hall, and each person assigned daily tasks to save on expenses. Think the Koinonia farm, only with a mix ranging from Christians to pot-smokers.

So I entered Room 3 of the Scholarship Hall -- and was stunned to learn the "new men" were targeted for a welcome night which walked close to the borderline of hazing. Then I was stunned to learn the "sleeping dorm" required open windows year round, for fire safety reasons. Aw, c'mon - this was Kansas, not Florida State....

My first semester in college was relatively uneventful. But I remember well one young woman in my Advanced English class -- an engineering major who some say is in line to become the next President of Royal Dutch Shell. To think I ruled out a potentially wealthy oil executive, because she was a smoker....

I did a bit of "skirt chasing" in college, but.... well, check that. I don't recall that many ladies wearing skirts, other than the cheerleaders. And I was more interested in their hairstyles, because practically ALL women have legs.

But again, no real romances blossomed from my college years. I developed friendships with some women, but nothing more. Perhaps I should have moved beyond Step One -- invite a college woman out to dinner, because the last thing they want to do is cook.

(That approach didn't always work, either. We were allowed to bring guests to a Scholarship Hall Christmas dinner one year -- and nine different women turned me down. Even the Kansas football team won once or twice that year.)

One of my goals in college was to have a 4.0 semester at least once. I never did, but I came close. In one case, I thought sure I'd done it -- but the News Director of the campus public radio station gave be a B in a course. "I never give anyone an A," he explained. If only he had said that at the start....

Then there was the fall semester of my junior year. I missed a 4.0 grade point average because I sang in the top-level choir, and chose not to sing in the Christmas Vespers for religious reasons. I accepted a one-grade deduction from the conductor -- and the next fall, I found a very fun Journalism History course to fill that hour.

My broadcasting career officially began during college, beginning with volunteer reading of the Wednesday morning newspapers on a channel for print-handicapped listeners. I stunned my reading partner one morning when I read an Ann Landers advice column about "switch hitters," and openly wondered what baseball had to do with it.

That led to a regular paid on-air shift with the Audio-Reader Network. Things spread from there to campus radio stations, including the student-operated station where I did play-by-play of some Kansas basketball games. My musical tastes were evident one night when I declared: "You can dim all the lights, sweet darlin' -- this one's over."

To commute from Kansas City to Lawrence, Kansas, I needed a car -- and my older brother sold me a 1966 Impala which had been passed down through the family. I bought my first car for $500. Some say my 14-year-old Honda is worth about as much today.

(I still have a record of my first summer with that big Impala -- and for my first tank of gas 16 Jun 77, the car gave me 13.3 miles per gallon. Be honest now: how many current SUV's can beat that?)

The Impala kept me motoring through college -- except when a couple of rough winter storms hit. On one occasion, the car was parked several blocks from campus and refused to start for days. An early thaw saved me from having it towed away.

(Then there was the cold Sunday morning when the car started, but wouldn't shift into drive. I went in reverse for a couple of blocks to get the transmission warmed up -- and thankfully it was after all the potentially drunk drivers had gone to bed.)

There were some very early Sunday wake-up times for me in college, because I was hired to do the sign-on shift at Lawrence's two commercial radio stations. That meant playing a lot of religious tapes, some soft morning music -- and being stunned by a church pastor using four-letter words, when he called about a program not being on the air.

I also earned some extra money during college by umpiring youth league baseball games during the summer. I learned the last thing you want to tell upset parents after a close playoff loss -- "It's only a game."

There was also the summer I served as an "enumerator," gathering information door-to-door for the local City Directory. But one day, a dog from a block away decided to challenge me -- and within a minute, I was standing on top of a stranger's car as a group of dogs barked all around it. It took the dogs at least five minutes to determine I had no food, and wasn't worthy of being their lunch.

Walking across the college campus provided most of my exercise during college. Our Scholarship Hall had a couple of intramural teams, which didn't do so well. Take the evening I played offensive lineman in touch football, and someone ran me over so hard I did a reverse somersault....

But a roommate in my senior year of college persuaded me to start jogging for exercise. At first it was a couple of laps at Allen Field House, which has a track around the historic basketball court. Then it was several laps. Then I longed to outrun some of the sorority women, hoping to impress them.

Then came the summer between junior and senior year, when I truly lived by myself for the first time. Thanks to an internship at a TV station in Topeka, Kansas, I spent three months in an apartment building near the state capitol. It took a few days to figure I should NOT take a shower without a hanging curtain.

By piling on extra credit hours early in the college years, I was able to take things relatively easy during the senior year. But some hall-mates thought the student manager gave me a slap, by assigning me to dinner dishwashing duty. I quietly accepted it -- instead of starting a very hot "soap" opera.

(But when I back to the Scholarship Hall months after graduation as a surprise guest at the August "new man" initiation, that manager made it clear I was NOT wanted there anymore. Helping the hall win a campus "College Bowl" title as a junior didn't amount to anything -- not to mention the hall fad I started one semester, which had almost everyone playing Stratego.)

I never took a "spring break" trip during college -- even though I wanted to. I reserved a spot on a campus trip to Padre Island, Texas. But I couldn't arrange a swap to get off work, while other student employees did. Oh well -- at least when I finally went there in 2002, I saw tall tropical storm waves they never did.

So my senior year spring break was spent beginning the job hunt -- and much to my surprise, a Kansas City radio station was interested in me doing the morning news. Local legend Max Bicknell was retiring. His classic closing line, "So moves the news!" was perfect for a station playing disco music.

KJLA-AM hired me, with my starting day being the May Monday that I graduated from college. But by that point, disco was dying and the station was changing its musical sound -- so I did NOT get the opportunity to report about people dying in plane crashes to an underlying disco beat.

Monday, 19 May 1980 was one long day. I was on the air from 6:00 to 10:00 a.m., then stopped at Winchell's Donuts for a celebration treat on the way to Lawrence for graduation. Before the evening ceremony, I stopped at a sorority for a nice chat with a friend who was becoming house President. You had to like a woman who wouldn't come out to see you because she had "wet hair."

(But of course, she didn't become a girlfriend either -- and when I learned she moved to Atlanta while I lived there, I didn't take the time to look her up. Under the rules of the church I was attending, I couldn't date her. Get baptized like me, or doomed you could be....)

I could have kicked myself on that graduation night -- because students decided to stage a protest during the ceremony, several rows above me in the football stadium. I took a camera to document my march down the hill to graduate, but I didn't think to take a tape recorder to get soundbites for the next morning.

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21 MAY 10: Baker's Oven

Columbus has plenty of old brick buildings - and Thursday provided another example of how difficult things can be when one of them catches fire. Crews had to watch for potential "hot spots" in the damage of the old Baker High School. At least the school alumni cooled down on their own....

Graduates of the old Baker High School drove to Benning Drive to stare at the fire damage, take pictures - and in some cases cry. A few people probably were stunned by the show of emotion. Those are the people who can't wait to see Carver High School bulldozed for a replacement.

Columbus Fire crews had to tear down one of the school walls Thursday, because it was considered unstable. In Pine Mountain Valley, they'd bring in the high school football team to take care of this job...

Columbus Fire Marshal Thomas Streeter says during Wednesday night's fire, part of the third floor of Baker High collapsed onto the second floor. In fire lingo, this is called "pancaking" - which makes it unlikely Columbus South Inc. will want an IHOP built on that site.

The Baker High fire was so large that 70 firefighters were called into service to contain it. WLTZ noted a Phenix City fire truck even was on standby - which marked that station's biggest stretch so far to make a Columbus event fit into "Alabama First News."

One online comment I read Thursday claimed several Columbus fire trucks could not be used at the Baker High fire, because support trucks carrying fuel broke down. I admittedly never stopped to think about where fire trucks fill their gas tanks. Especially since Texaco doesn't sell "Fire Chief" gasoline anymore....

Muscogee County School District officials insisted Thursday nothing of major value was still inside Baker High School when the fire started. The last seats from the school auditorium were sold last week. Whoever bought them must be kicking themselves -- because they could have had those chairs at fire sale prices.

Yet there were also reports Thursday that a few desks were still in storage at Baker High School. If they're not considered to be valuable, they must be the few lacking in student doodles and graffiti.

Columbus Fire inspectors estimate Baker High School sustained $500,000 in damage. The amount could have been much higher - but let's face it, the peeling paint on the school doors was quite old.

The Baker High fire was brought up by a blog focus group Thursday night. One woman actually speculated the school district might have set the fire, to cut down on demolition costs. I should have asked the woman if she also thought the mysterious barge that allegedly hit the New Orleans levee drifted over to that broken offshore oil rig.

My first guess Wednesday night was that homeless people inside Baker High school might have sparked the fire accidentally. Fire Marshal Thomas Streeter admitted to WRBL vagrants have lived there from time to time, but he did NOT think anyone was there Wednesday night. Besides, fire crews were too busy to look for suspects in nightclubs along Victory Drive.

Muscogee County Superintendent Susan Andrews told WTVM she did NOT want to see Baker High School burn down. But a few alumni sound like they're accusing the district of not doing enough to make the building presentable and useful again. No condominiums, no health clinic for veterans - and now it can't even be used anymore for "old school" dances.

Baker High School alumni want some sort of memorial built, perhaps using bricks from the building. But where should that memorial go? At the site of the fire? At the current Baker Middle School, a short walk away? Or did a hot dog stand on Moon Road already turn into a Baker memorial years ago?

Let's see what else had people stopping and staring Thursday....

+ Four candidates for Columbus Mayor appeared together for a forum at the main library. Zeph Baker told WTVM he wants to create a culture of "inclusive prosperity." If that means he'll buy me a nice steak dinner, I won't object at all....

(Teresa Tomlinson declared she wants to do what she says Columbus has failed to do for ten years. She wants people to move back into neglected neighborhoods. Now will all real estate agents please cooperate, and NOT use the word "neglected" in front of families transferring from Fort Knox?)

+ Jim Wetherington presented his final "Mayor's Awards" before leaving office. He gave one to Nationwide Homes, for its work on the Extreme Makeover: Home Edition house in Harris County. That's nice - but it seems incomplete. Where was the award to Buford's Brownies, for providing baked goods to the construction crew? That business actually is based in Columbus, after all....

+ Auburn city officials staged a surprise parade for grade-school music teacher Phil Wilson. Wilson has been named Alabama Teacher of the Year. But if he wasn't led to Ogletree Elementary School by a marching band, it only proves his point about arts funding.

+ WLTZ showed land being cleared along Interstate 85 in Lee County for the "Celebrate Alabama" project. But Opelika Mayor Gary Fuller admitted construction will NOT begin until the economy improves - which means we first have to celebrate bank loans.

+ Fort Benning held a diversity luncheon, marking Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. For some reason, one display table included a Tokarev pistol. Russia could have been marked in other ways - and I'm sure a few long-time soldiers have souvenir bottles of vodka.

+ TIC Federal Credit Union opened a new Phenix City branch on U.S. 280. If I heard the news correctly, it's arranged so customers and tellers can see transactions on the same computer -- opening the way for both sides to contribute to a Facebook "Farmville" project.

+ Atlanta stunned Cincinnati in National League baseball 10-9, by scoring seven runs in the bottom of the ninth inning. Only one thing could top this as Georgia "comeback of the year" - but I'm really not sure Roy Barnes can win the governor's race.

COMING THIS WEEKEND: We change the pace while taking a weekend break for Pentecost, and mark a big anniversary (look for it Friday evening)....

This blog had more than 55,000 unique visitors in 2009! To advertise to them, make a PayPal donation, offer a story tip or comment on this blog, write me - but be warned, I may post your e-mail comment and offer a reply.

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© 2003-10 Richard Burkard, all rights reserved.

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Thursday, May 20, 2010

20 MAY 10: Aggie Get Your Gun

Before we get to our main topic, we should mention Wednesday night's breaking news in Columbus. The old Baker High School caught fire at sunset, and ended with extensive damage. It's too early to know how the fire started - so please don't assume the Muscogee County School Board found a creative way to save on demolition costs.

Former Columbus South Inc. leader Reggie Richards already was talking Wednesday night about turning the Baker High School bricks into some kind of memorial. She complained to WRBL the Muscogee County School District wouldn't let alumni have school chairs. That would have been interesting - to see how many graduates still could fit comfortably in them.

AND NOW.... for our main topic -- as the countdown stands at 12 days before the Alabama Primary. Apparently all the candidates in East Alabama feel confident that they can win - since none of them have come to this blog, desperately begging me to do exclusive interviews.

There still aren't many Alabama Primary political ads on Columbus TV. But one commercial posted online has gone viral in the last few days, with more than 74,000 views on YouTube. That means it's either brilliant, controversial - or has a cat playing a piano.

The one-minute ad features Alabama Agriculture Commissioner candidate Dale Peterson talking tough, as he climbs off a horse. He declares, "I've been a farmer, a businessman, a cop, a Marine in Vietnam." Apparently he's running for Agriculture Commissioner because Troy King wouldn't give up the Attorney General's job.

Dale Peterson declares "thugs and criminals" have kept you from knowing the Alabama Agriculture Commissioner is responsible for five billion dollars. Wow - I've never heard that kind of label put on political reporters in Montgomery.

Dale Peterson goes on to complain his opponents for Alabama Agriculture Commissioner are stealing his yard signs, when they should be doing something about "illegals bused in by the thousands." He makes a good point - the candidates should suspend their campaigns, to stop every bus heading down Interstate 85.

But Dale Peterson doesn't stop there - calling Republican challenger Dorman Grace a "dummy" for admitting on Facebook he received campaign money from industries he would regulate. At least Grace is smart enough to lock his Facebook account, so you can't see what he admitted without becoming his "friend."

If all that isn't enough, Dale Peterson pulls out a rifle near the end of his TV commercial -- promising, "I'll name names and take no prisoners." Not even "YellaFella" Jimmy Rane carries a gun, and he chases stagecoach bandits.

As you might guess, Dale Peterson's commercial has provoked all sorts of reactions. I can't say it's "sparked" reactions, since Alabama Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks is running for Governor....

But anyway: Dale Peterson earned an appearance this week on Glenn Beck's radio talk show. Beck called the commercial "the best TV spot I have ever seen" - which is amazing, because Peterson never puts down President Obama once.

Other people are aghast at Dale Peterson's approach to a TV political ad. Peterson told Glenn Beck he's received complaints from "left-wing liberals" who live outside Alabama. And if they come to Alabama before the primary, I'd recommend they NOT enter the state on a bus.

One humor web site rolled out a parody of the commercial Wednesday, with even (ahem) tougher language than Dale Peterson uses. Peterson's two Republican opponents apparently did NOT pay for it. One of them is too busy trying to top Peterson, by displaying a rifle and hunting gear on his home page.

Republican opponents Dorman Grace and John McMillan have NOT responded online to Dale Peterson's provocative commercial. They may be hoping it flames out by primary day -- or hoping the Alabama Tea Party focuses all its attention on candidates for Congress.

But while the tough talk and rifle get the attention, I'm not sure anyone has fact-checked Dale Peterson's statements. While income from Alabama farms totals five billion dollars, the Alabama Agriculture Department's budget this fiscal year is only 40 million. The only way Peterson would "control" five billion is if he seized every farm is fears is going out of business.

And another thing - why do candidates for Alabama Agriculture Commissioner see the need to carry shotguns with them? Hunting is handled by a different state agency. But then again, Dale Peterson may be planning to make personal arrests of cattle rustlers.

It seems to me John McMillan and Dale Peterson are displaying weapons because they're Republicans - and guns matter a lot to Republicans. The advice in that old Broadway tune "You Can't Get a Man with a Gun" went the way of Ethel Merman....

Dale Peterson made this striking comment in his Glenn Beck interview: "Those who control the food control you." So when Alabamians begin voting in two weeks for Alabama Agriculture Commissioner, they'll apparently vote for someone more powerful than the Governor - and even more powerful than the Anti-Gambling Task Force Commander.

As for another Alabama Primary race -- Instant Message to gubernatorial candidate Bradley Byrne: What do you mean by, "As a conservative, I'll clean up Montgomery"? Isn't the current Governor conservative? Or are you saying he's spent too much time cleaning up Macon County?

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

E-MAIL UPDATE: Wednesday's look at the city audit of the Parks and Recreation set off someone who's written us several times recently....

Isn't the purpose of Government to provide public order and safety?

Our city wants to decrease garbage collection/increase fees, while we, as a city pay for basketball players' trips to Las Vegas, golf courses, tennis courts and natatoriums. $100,000 for trips!

And, the Muscogee County School Board wanted a multi-million dollar office suite, and got it, and now they are canceling the adult high school.

Is it time to take inventory of our core values?

Why is this city always raising taxes and fees, and discussing cut backs on necessary services? As our taxes and fees are increasing our reserves are decreasing. How could that happen?

Could it be because we have become a Socialist Municipality?

Tennis courts, golf courses and swimming enterprises should be privately held businesses. Our city government has no purpose in running businesses. Yes, large recreational facilities like tennis courts, golf courses and natatoriums are businesses. Or, have we gotten to the point that we actually think they are government?

They are touted to decrease crime. Perhaps, but at what price? How much do we have to spend? Where does the spending end? But, don't other things decrease crime as well? I think we should find a cheaper and more American way of decreasing crime, like by stimulating the American Dream, through understanding that hard work leads to Horatio Alger success.

Why not sell those big businesses? Let them make money for us by bringing in tax revenue.

If the tennis courts, golf courses and natatorium became private businesses couldn't they, as businesses, still decrease crime?

We have unrealistic expectations of government when we plan government taxes toward what should be non-governmental uses of tax dollars. Big governments rob people of their idea of self development and self sufficiency. Government dependency is the opposite of freedom. Don't we Remember: America, Land of the Free!

Smaller governments create safer economies and more entrepreneurial inspiration. Entrepreneurial enterprises create jobs and more taxes, not less. Jobs decrease crime!

Self-sustaining bureaucracies grow and create ever increasing taxes and debt, and taxes and government debt decrease the value of our dollar. We create chaotic declines in the value of the dollar when we increase the size of government. Smaller governments create MORE jobs, and decrease crime.

If we want to do our part to improve the U.S. economy, we need to sell the city's non-government enterprises, and let them build our reserves with increased tax revenue.

Let's get our core values back on track by allowing the American Dream to succeed.

Let's stop being a Socialist Municipality and start practicing fiscal responsibility.

To be honest, I don't normally describe tennis courts and golf courses as "private businesses." In the area where I grew up, they were called country clubs.

The city of Columbus budgeted nearly $1.4 million in fiscal 2008 for Bull Creek Golf Course. Revenues from the course gave the city a net gain of $1,700. Privately-owned courses probably would figure out a way to make more money. Maple Ridge requires an "initiation fee" starting at $150 -- but there might be some strange ritual involving plaid slacks.

But we should remember the voters approved sales tax money years ago, which will be used to build a natatorium in Midtown. Perhaps this reader wants the sales tax refunded instead - but really now, how many people do you know who've saved all their cash register receipts over the last five years?

Hopefully this reader is taking advantage of the Columbus Council budget hearings, to do some more direct lobbying. Another review meeting is planned today at the Government Center -- and I'm sure Paul Olson will be there with his calculator, to offer assistance.

There's also the new Crime Prevention Commission, which held another meeting Wednesday. The "Victory Coalition" of Columbus South leaders explained how the group could use some grant money. But Mayor Jim Wetherington seems skeptical about giving the coalition money - since IMAX movies only can get you so far.

Somehow I suspect we'll see more e-mailed economics lessons this summer. But in the meantime, let's check other Wednesday news....

+ Columbus Police told WTVM they arrested several people on charges of running a "drug house" across the street from Benning Hills Elementary School. Suddenly the Muscogee County School Board looks like a team of geniuses....

+ City Manager Isaiah Hugley gave WRBL a second correction on how much last week's "reverse 911" alert calls cost. Now we're told the calls cost 55 cents per household PER YEAR - instead of 55 cents each. Mr. Hugley might need to see an optometrist, to better read that fine print.

+ The Destiny Dogs hot dog stand reopened on Andrews Road, nine months after shutting down on Victory Drive after a series of break-ins. Customers now have to walk to a window to place their order - thus burning off approximately two percent of the calories in a typical hot dog.

+ The federal government proposed fines of more than $130,000 against Sewon America, which provides parts to Kia. Inspectors say the LaGrange part plant failed to provide workers with adequate protection for their hands -- although it did allow the softball players an unusual way to break in new gloves.

+ The "Phoenix New Times" reported an Albany man racked up $2,390 in unpaid cell phone bills - by using the Social Security number of LifeLock's chief executive. Yes, the same number the C.E.O. displays in his commercials. Was this some kind of racket - with the executive paying a "million-dollar guarantee" to himself, through shareholders?

+ Mars donated a concession stand to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Columbus. OK, there's your "land of the free" private enterprise at work - complete with candy bars encouraging local young people to become obese.

+ The Columbus Civic Center announced this weekend's "Night of Champions" boxing card has been canceled. The promoter blamed slow ticket sales - not to mention potential competition, if an argument at the Booker T. Washington Apartments gets out of control.

+ Brookstone's baseball team advanced to the state high school semifinals by hammering Holy Innocents 13-3. Innocents?! This seemed more like divine wrath....

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© 2003-10 Richard Burkard, all rights reserved.

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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

19 MAY 10: Parks in a Wreck?

"I didn't know the tickets were that expensive," I yelled Tuesday night to a man sitting on top of a charter bus in South Commons.

The man may have heard that sort of thing before. "You don't know how cheap bus drivers can be."

The bus driver was sitting above the right-field fence at Golden Park, on the opening night of yet another college baseball tournament. Five teams are competing in an NAIA Opening Round group. The Columbus group is the only one with no local team competing - as Columbus State apparently was eliminated from the NCAA Tournament too late.

That bus driver apparently didn't know he could have strolled inside Golden Park and watched the game for free. All he had to do was walk around the ballpark - as a gate was wide open near the left field bullpen. And the crowd was so tiny, he probably could have driven home with a souvenir foul ball.

I admittedly didn't walk to Golden Park to watch a baseball game. I wanted to take a photo of the scoreboard, because it illustrates what a new city audit has concluded - there are questions and irregularities in the Columbus Parks and Recreation Department. And the questions go far beyond a trivia tournament at a senior center....

Can you spot what's wrong with the baseball scoreboard? It was renovated during the winter, but it says "Columbus Park and Rec". Check the city website, and you'll find it should say "Parks." Despite the demands of critics, Columbus still has more than one....

On top of that detail, there's the Golden Park scoreboard clock - which has been stuck for months. Perhaps it's on a waiting list to be repaired, whenever experts figure out why the Millennium Clock downtown quit working years ago.

Columbus Parks and Recreation apparently can't even afford "welcome" banners for the NAIA baseball tournament. One would fit perfectly over this sign, installed by the "RedStixx family" before the minor league team left town. That was way back when people knew which family actually owned the team.

Yet despite these discoveries, the city audit found Columbus Parks and Recreation has at least $100,000 to spend on AAU basketball teams. They go on road trips across the country - and some just happen to be coached by Parks Director Tony Adams. This could pave the way for Mayor Jim Wetherington to be a part-time police officer next year.

The audit recommends city funding for AAU basketball road trips be eliminated, with funding "by a non-governmental source." Uh-oh - this could be trouble. Quality time spent on the practice floor will be lost, because players will be begging for money outside grocery stores.

The 28-page audit didn't mention Golden Park at all, nor the badly peeling paint on the Frank Chester Park racquetball courts. But it made other interesting discoveries....

+ Employees at Shirley Winston Park were caught eating hot dogs and candy, which apparently were taken from the concession stand without payment. The punishment for taking candy bars should be at least 100 Grand.

+ None of the senior centers offer shuffleboard. And even worse, children at a church near my home had to draw their own 20-square hopscotch path on the sidewalk - with chalk.

+ Most Columbus public tennis courts are free to use, while Atlanta and Montgomery charge at least three dollars an hour. I thought Columbus was too traditionalist to allow "free love" like this.

Mayor Jim Wetherington told WRBL Tuesday he's troubled by the results of the Parks Department audit - especially the amount of money spent for out-of-town basketball trips. If the Columbus Sports Council can bring three baseball tournaments to town, Tony Adams ought to be able to arrange a "stay-cation."

It was the mayor who asked for the eight-month Parks Department audit - but the reason behind it may surprise you. Jim Wetherington wanted to be sure the department would handle crime prevention money properly. I won't be surprised if the mayor goes to Golden Park, and tries to talk runners out of stealing bases.

Isn't it amazing that even with the mayor's request for a Parks Department audit, it all comes back around to crime prevention? When the mayor marks Disability Day at the Government Center, there might be a special "click it or ticket" reminder for wheelchair users from The Ralston.

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

E-MAIL UPDATE: A Columbus civil rights activist sent us a lengthy message Sunday. Tuesday he sent two more, which we're combining....

Mr. Burkard,

You know, I did ask you if you worked for WTVM. That was the last info I received, and the lawsuit was last year.And I didn't call you a racist. Any person that knows me will tell you I don't have a problem speaking my mind. I am no more shy with my words than you are with yours.

I made a comparison about what you said and what I said in the Courier/Eco Latino and the difference in reaction. Councilor Pops Barnes has no fear of going on live TV calling us all racists. I thought you might find that somewhat interesting or humorous.

That was a good observation on your part about my beginning to write for the Courier/Eco Latino. However, it was not the Blog of Columbus that launched my writing career with the Courier/Eco Latino. I had already been asked. But you could say that the Blog of Columbus was privileged to an early draft or a preview of my work. You might say what I read from Josh McKoon on your blog helped me make of my mind about starting a column.

As far as the Street Committee goes, I don't per se write the SC. Neither does publisher Wane Hailes write the SC. The people write the SC. They might give us the info or email it, or call it in. We might hear that it is a hot topic in the community with the people. We try to make sure is as truthful or on the money as we possibly can for the benefit of the community. What you and your audience would probably appreciate is that we add the humor to the Street Committee.

BTW, we have heard that the SC has enlighten some city department heads as to what was going on in their own departments. The Blog of Columbus has probably done a similarly service on occasion in the community.

So the SC is a lot like what you do with the Blog of Columbus. You tackle serious issues of concern, and you add in a little humor to lighten the mood. Some will like it and some will not. That's just the way of the world.

I did not expect you to post the news release. But I thought you and your audience might find the letter interesting and informative.

I never saw any comments on the Blog of Columbus pertaining to the lawsuit attorney J. Frank Myers III filed against us. Maybe I just missed it. It was a First Amendment issue and I thought it should have been taken very seriously by all the media in Columbus. I believe it was done to silence critics and to intimidate us. I take your word for what you said.

But if bloggers duck lawsuits and allegation of racism, I am in the wrong business writing for a newspaper. LOL!

There's no problem here. I hope you don't think there was....

I forgot another point you touched on. Thurbert Baker. Take my word. If you were thinking it is about race, and one might very well assume you were insinuating that as much as you assumed I was in my email to you. If you were, rest assure it is not, speaking for the Movement. I don't speak for anyone else. But if you asked me, I would tend to think Thurbert Baker has about as much chance of being governor of Georgia as I do. In fact, I might have a better chance. I would think the others feel they don't have to waste resources on Thurbert Baker.

Ken Hodges has a much better chance of being elected in the Democratic primary than Baker. I am just glad Baker made it easy for us by stepping down from AG. His ego and political ambition is doing the job there for us. And Baker is not running as the best friend Black people could have or a champion of civil rights.He knows it would not work if he did.

If you read the letter other blogs did pick up and post around Georgia, you know why Hodges deserves not to be AG.

As far as our group being all African American and Hodges' being diverse. I hope my email explained that one for you. We can't make White join any cause, but that does not mean the cause is not righteous or worthy. It indicates more to me that we are still divided here in Columbus. When a person's life does not matter to fellow citizens, for whatever excuses they can manufacture in their minds, you have a city with serious issues. and maybe not just about race.

If anyone decides to sue you about what you write, don't know if you are liberal or conservative leaning, but I would try the ACLU. The First Amendment is big with them. And I am sure of the Courier/Eco Latino would be in your corner, too.

God bless,

Brother Love, Director

Grassroots Unity Movement for Change

Maybe I need to stop writing this blog late at night. It doesn't help you get to sleep when a blog reader sends advice about to handle lawsuits.

I admittedly don't read The Courier much these days, because the places I normally visit don't offer it. The newspaper's web site doesn't post the Street Committee's discoveries -- but then again, when was the last time you found a working laptop computer lying on the street?

While Georgia gubernatorial candidates Roy Barnes and David Poythress are already running campaign commercials, I haven't seen one for Thurbert Baker. Maybe he's waiting until the July primary draws close. Or perhaps he's following his practice of earlier campaigns - looking for Caucasian people to do the talking on camera for him [29 Oct 06].

The latest evidence of a divided Columbus was part of WTVM's news Tuesday evening. A parent at Benning Hills Elementary School claimed it's being closed because it's "on the wrong side of town." Muscogee County School officials denied it. But since the Evening High School also is closing, it appears the "right side of town" has shifted from Macon Road to Manchester Expressway.

Let's try to sort out the right, wrong and in-between from other Tuesday news....

+ Columbus city officials revised the cost of last week's "reverse 911" alerts about razor blades at playgrounds. WRBL now reports they cost about 75 cents a call, instead of 55 cents. Someone at the Government Center needs to look into those AT&T bundling plans for telephone and Internet service.

+ WTVM reported a Carver High School teacher has been dismissed, after a student recorded him using obscene language in class. Trouble is, the student who recorded it might be suspended as well - because he violated the district cell phone policy. This is why I think the cell phone policy is too strict. It leaves the impression every teacher deserves a Golden Apple Award.

+ A Jefferson County, Alabama geometry teacher was placed on leave, because of how he tried to teach students about angles -- by pretending to shoot President Obama. I didn't realize billiard tables were still too controversial to discuss there.

+ Columbus High School's baseball team swept Cartersville, to advance to the state semifinals. But Brookstone faces a decisive third game today against Holy Innocents - a school which sounds like something Burt Ward should have said on the old "Batman" TV series.

This blog had more than 55,000 unique visitors in 2009! To advertise to them, make a PayPal donation, offer a story tip 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: 668 (+ 24, 3.7%)

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.

© 2003-10 Richard Burkard, all rights reserved.

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