Tuesday, November 23, 2010

23 NOV 10: Phenix City Bypassed?

Advance voting opened Monday in the Georgia runoff election. But some people are stirring up issues from races which should have been settled three weeks ago. And no, Columbus restaurants are NOT begging winners to take the oath of office by their cash registers....

BLOG EXCLUSIVE: "There's nothing to challenge," says incoming Muscogee County School Board member Beth Harris. But other people don't think so - claiming Harris put false information on sworn documents filed with the Election Board. Come to think of it, attorney Orly Taitz is about due to visit Columbus again.

Beth Harris won the School Board District 8 race by 113 votes over Brinkley Pound. Then Pound left a mysterious message on her campaign blog, saying she knew "many facts that, if publicly discussed, would have probably had the race end with a different outcome." That could have meant Pound checked Harris's Facebook page for spelling errors....

But now some of those "facts" are coming out, and Elections Director Nancy Boren revealed some of the accusations to your blog Monday. She received an e-mail claiming Beth Harris declared herself a 22-year resident of Muscogee County, yet registered to vote in Alabama in May 1994. See what a difference it makes, after a university wins a national football title?

The main accusation is that Beth Harris filed a sworn affidavit claiming to live in Muscogee County 22 years, but she had children attending Phenix City Intermediate School during that time. Of course, Harris might have had homes on both sides of the river - making a year in Phenix City schools somewhat like a student exchange program.

(Harris's sworn affidavit may be on file with the Election Board, but I was unable to find it online Monday night. Her campaign financial reports are posted online - and the only thing there which shocked me is that Harris's real first name is Norma.)

Nancy Boren told me even if Beth Harris filed a false statement about her past, that does NOT affect her election three weeks ago. Boren says Harris met the qualifications of living in Muscogee County for the past year, and living in District 8 for six months. I think this is the same reasoning Auburn football fans are applying to Cam Newton....

But Nancy Boren added if Beth Harris knowingly filed a false sworn statement, that would NOT be an Election Board matter. That's an issue for the District Attorney's office - and given the way that office has handled some matters, a definitive answer might not come before Harris runs for re-election in 2014.

A staff member at the Muscogee County District Attorney's office told me Monday she does NOT know of any current complaints or cases involving candidates in this year's election. That news probably will bring a bigger sigh of relief from Zeph Baker than Beth Harris....

So what does Beth Harris have to say about all this? She admitted to me Monday she lived in Phenix City for "a little while" - and also lived in Nebraska for three months. The Kansas native in me can't really blame Harris for not staying there very long.

Beth Harris insists she's lived at her current home in District 8 for at least six years. That's why she told me "there's nothing to challenge" about her residency - and Nancy Boren at the Election Board agrees. So this entire fuss could be a reason to review the Muscogee County Schools' geography curriculum.

Beth Harris seemed surprised by my questions Monday -- wondering why all of this was being asked after the election, not before. I guessed the reason might involve the Columbus Mayor's race, and how it's dominated local discussion. You'll notice Council runoff candidates Bruce Huff and Julius Hunter haven't been invited on any evening newscasts lately.

Another question comes to my mind: who's making these accusations about Beth Harris? Brinkley Pound assured me in an online message it's NOT her. "I am NOT challenging the winner's residency or her election," Pound wrote. "The voters have elected the person they felt was best qualified for the position." Well, maybe - or in Columbus, they may have decided Harris was more of a Democrat.

Brinkley Pound admits she knew for months that facts on Beth Harris's affidavit were "false." But she decided to run "a positive campaign for public office." In other words, School Board District 8 could have become a much uglier race than it was. And you know what -- maybe that's why the news media largely ignored it.

(BLOGGER'S NOTE: We asked Beth Harris about another matter involving her past Monday. We'll focus on that in a future post.)

There was also a surprising follow-up Monday to the election in East Alabama. Rep. Lesley Vance of Phenix City switched parties, announcing he's now a Republican. Vance confessed to WRBL he did it primarily to maintain clout in the legislature, since Republicans are taking control in January. Now THIS is the political move that should have taken place at a Waffle House.

As for the Columbus runoff races: the mayoral candidates were busy Monday. Zeph Baker and Teresa Tomlinson joined in forums on WLTZ's "Rise-N-Shine" and the Ledger-Enquirer's website. And in a major development, WLTZ woke up one of its reporters to cover the TV appearance.

We're planning to say more about the race for mayor Wednesday - but now let's check what else we've discovered lately:

+ A temporary restraining order was issued against the Phenix City Council, so it can't interfere in Phenix City School Board business. A full hearing on their feud is planned in court next Monday - but why issue a restraining order during Thanksgiving week? Does Councilor Jimmy Wetzel plan to hand out "Turkeys of the Year" awards?

+ A former Aflac employee and several customers pleaded guilty to federal charges, in an attempt to bilk the insurance company out of one million dollars. The scammers filed bogus claims after staging fake car wrecks, and even pretended to go into comas. They may have known about Four Loko before anyone else did.

(The terms of the scammers' sentences include prison time, and a lifetime ban on applying for Aflac insurance. Shouldn't they also endure a face-to-face meeting with the Aflac duck? The duck could punish them with pecking on their clothes - or perhaps something messier.)

+ WTVM reported one of those controversial full-body security scanners is on order for Columbus Airport. Fort Benning soldiers probably won't mind them - but a few might be asking if they're on order at any Victory Drive nightclubs.

+ The "Business First" website reported Columbus now has close to 192,000 residents. The population has grown by about 5,000 people in the last three years - and if President Obama gets reelected to keep the Third Brigade at home, we might hit 200,000 yet.

+ A drive down Wynnton Road revealed the old Sno-White laundry building near Tenth Avenue is being bulldozed. It probably was a bustling business in years gone by - but now, Sno-White is a dwarf of its former self.

+ Georgia football coaching legend Vince Dooley spoke to the Columbus Quarterback Club. Dooley told WTVM colleges such as Georgia State are adding football programs because they provide "a culture...." And you thought the Columbus State RiverPark campus took care of the "culture" stuff....

+ The Columbus State men's basketball team conquered Carver Bible 84-62. It must have been Carver Bible, even though the uniforms said simply "Carver" on them - because I think most of Carver High School's basketball players are committed to the football team until the playoffs are over.

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