Tuesday, October 05, 2010

5 OCT 10: The Plane Truth

"I have no comment on that." When a City Manager gives that response to your big question of the day, it doesn't really stop a rumor. In fact, it's a bit like grabbing a bottle of vodka to pour on a stove fire.

Phenix City Manager Wallace Hunter didn't want to say much Monday about the latest rumor involving Central High School football. A reader told me the city had barred plans for a military flyover, before this weekend's game against Auburn. The visitors may have "War Eagles," but the home team supposedly wanted Black Hawks -- as in helicopters.

Perhaps I should stop right here, and clear up the rumors once and for all. The President of the Phenix City Central Booster Club tells me there was NO plan for a military flyover this Friday night. The city can't veto something which never was planned - even though I'm sure some residents would like an ordinance outlawing nude dancing at the Amphitheatre.

Friday WILL be Military Appreciation Night at Garrett-Harrison Stadium. The Fort Benning Infantry Band will perform before the game, and soldiers in the stands will be honored. But NO fireworks will be launched for the Central football team -- in part to avoid lawsuits over post-traumatic stress disorder.

Yet memories still linger over last fall's Phenix Friday Football Fireworks Flap (tm). A misunderstanding about setting off explosives led to an explosive exchange between the Phenix City Manager and school officials. These days, the School Board President's chair might as well be borrowed from an air force jet - complete with an ejection seat.

Given what happened last fall, this rumor of a possible "Phenix football flyover" simply had to be checked. If people living around Garrett-Harrison Stadium were shaken by fireworks before, imagine what military aircraft might do - such as bringing Christine O'Donnell to Alabama, to claim it's a Chinese plot to conquer the U.S.

So I started Monday afternoon by calling Phenix City Hall. Eventually I chatted with City Manager Wallace Hunter, and heard his "no comment" comment. "I've gotta watch what I say," Hunter added - as if Mayor Sonny Coulter might move for his dismissal, too.

Wallace Hunter urged me to call the Phenix City Mayor or Council for a comment on the football flyover rumor. But the City Manager revealed he's received "no request from a school official" -- and he called the rumor "an attempt to make the city look bad." No, this claim did NOT come from the Columbus Chamber of Commerce....

The next person to call about this rumor was clearly NOT a Phenix City official. It was the President of the Central High School Booster Club. Chris Blackshear said he had no idea why I might be calling him -- then quickly explained several ways he's tried to make peace with the city since last fall. It's almost as if he feared my phone was wiretapped.

"Do I want to have a flyover at a home game? Absolutely," Chris Blackshear told me. "Did I want to do it this Friday night? Absolutely not." But Blackshear asked the Federal Aviation Administration for paperwork about a flyover before the 3 September home opener. He discovered federal paperwork can move slower than a defensive lineman with a recovered fumble.

Chris Blackshear says he's trying to "bring the city together," after the fireworks fuss of last fall. He now realizes Phenix City schools rent Garrett-Harrison Stadium from the city, so city rules take priority. For instance, a children's "fun zone" was stopped after the August pre-season game against Carver due to concerns about liability. It's now B.Y.O.B. - Bring Your Own Bouncer.

Chris Blackshear hopes to meet with Phenix City officials early next year, so ideas for the 2011 high school football season can be discussed well in advance. In the meantime, Central Booster Club celebrations are being kept in check on purpose. And somehow through it all, Central is unbeaten through six games.

BLOG UPDATE: While we're focusing on Phenix City, a reader alerted us to a business development there. Booth's Corner Café on 16th Street closed last week, after ten years of downtown dining. Too bad it couldn't stay open through football season, to allow plenty of "Booth reviews."

(The reader replied to our Sunday post -- noting with this closing, the Phenix City Mayor and School Board President now might never meet at all.)

I ate at Booth's Corner Café only one memorable morning - the day Phenix City and Columbus were damaged by Hurricane Ivan [17 Sep 04]. As the wind blew and the lights flickered, Catholic priest Thomas Weise walked in. He kept things relatively calm, by NOT attempting to exorcise a demon from the restaurant.

The restaurant report isn't much better at the other end of downtown Phenix City. Deda's at Dillingham and Broad has shut down - the latest in a series of ideas to fail at that corner, from a chicken restaurant to a blues club. All Phenix City residents can say now is, "Oh, the Deda days...."

Events in Alabama seemed to dominate the Monday news as well....

+ Victoryland owner Milton McGregor and four Alabama State Senators were indicted, on federal charges of attempting to buy legislative votes. Someone mentioned McGregor's arrest at my Monday night poker tournament - and I said in response: "He could be a loser, too."

(One of the 11 people indicted in the case is Ronnie Gilley - the man who proposed building the Phenixian condominium complex in downtown Phenix City. It's quite a fall down the elevator, from high-rise to lowlife....)

+ Rep. Sanford Bishop held a public forum at a Columbus nursing home on preserving Medicare and Social Security. Bishop told WLTZ he signed a pledge NOT to privatize Social Security. Campaign opponent Mike Keown might not want to privatize it - but he sounds like he'd add monthly handling fees.

+ Alabama football coach Nick Saban told reporters his staff did some checking - and since 2005, Southeastern Conference teams are 29-29 in games after "bye weeks." So the Crimson Tide apparently doesn't have to worry about South Carolina this weekend. Except if Saban's asking for a five-year check of this detail, he actually might be worried.

+ Instant Message to Georgia Power: Thanks for the letter you sent me Monday, about the change to "Smart Meters." But did you consult your energy-sniffing dogs about this? If the new electric meters are read "remotely," some of their friends will have fewer people to chase every month.

Today's main topic was the result of a blog reader's tip. To offer a story tip, advertise to our readers, make a PayPal donation or comment, write me - but be warned, I may post your e-mail comment and offer a reply.

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