Sunday, February 13, 2011

13 FEB 11: All Over the Road

If you missed the storytelling evening I emceed at a Columbus church Saturday, it was your loss. We had good chili, lots of laughs, a couple of revelations - and a teenager who claimed she was bribed to participate. At least her prom dress will be a little nicer now....

I mentioned during the program that "news stories" sometimes are real news, and sometimes are nothing but inflated stories - as in fiction. Russell County seems to be filled with stories straddling the line, spread by people who don't think much of the "powers that be." At least they stop short of demanding local officials produce their birth certificates.

One of the most curious claims involves the man who's become the most polarizing person in Phenix City. Critics accuse Councilor Jimmy Wetzel of getting pulled over by police one night for drunk driving - only to have the City Manager intervene to have the ticket "fixed." They've never told me if the tool used in the fixing was a blowtorch, a pair of scissors or something else?

Does erratic driving happen in Phenix City? I can imagine how it could. If you've ever driven southbound down Summerville Road after dark, you might wonder why it hasn't been suggested for a Grand Prix car race. The street is nearly as crooked as the Phenix City politicians of the early 1950s....

Does ticket fixing happen? Yes, it does -- because I heard a civil rights activist admit it during a meeting in another city 30 years ago. He told supporters a city council member helped him get off the hook for traffic tickets. That man made sure my tape recorder was turned off before he said it, too.

But did these things happen for Jimmy Wetzel in Phenix City? When I was called into City Manager Wallace Hunter's office recently on the case of the delayed city audit [1 Feb], I asked him about it directly. "That is an absolute lie," Hunter answered. For one thing, he says Wetzel never was given a ticket. I doubt he's been given any to Phenix City Central sports events, either.

Wallace Hunter told me shortly after Jimmy Wetzel took office, a Phenix City police officer stopped him for driving down Broad Street at the speed limit. The City Manager says the Councilor was checking whether or not the traffic lights were synchronized - and if you'll recall, Wetzel wasn't even in sync with Mayor Sonny Coulter at the time.

Jimmy Wetzel reportedly asked the police officer if he broke the law. From there, "One thing, I guess, led to another," according to the City Manager. I'd say things escalated all the way to Wallace Hunter's office -- except there's only an elevator to the third floor of Phenix City Hall.

Wallace Hunter says he's normally called "automatically" about matters involving Phenix City Councilors. "I get calls about even smaller things," he told me. Imagine if someone had accused Hunter of getting a tricked-up Ford Focus, in a deal with the Columbus Mayor....

Wallace Hunter says the dispute was settled in a meeting with Jimmy Wetzel, the suspicious officer and the Phenix City Police Chief. By the way, I should thank Chief Ray Smith for being a blog reader. The City Manager told me Smith "brings what you write over here sometimes." Maybe he's laughing at the events in Hurtsboro, too.

The Phenix City Manager says he's had no personal ethics issues in 26 years of work for the city - and councilors "know better than to ask me for help." As we've come to see with the current City Council, the place to turn for financial help is Rep. Lesley Vance's office.

Wallace Hunter told me he tries to stay out of the feuding in Phenix City politics. His wish is that everyone "start doing their job and doing the best they can do to serve the people, and stop going after each other's throat." At least until the mayor and city council face re-election next year....

So that's the Phenix City Manager's story. If the accusers of Jimmy Wetzel want to insist on continuing to tell theirs, the burden of proof is on them. Bring forward the "arresting officer." Show a copy of the traffic ticket. Or at least explain why a Russell County Grand Jury didn't indict Wetzel at the same time as Arthur Sumbry, to really clean house.

We had no submissions for the Sunday Soapbox this weekend, and one other e-mail needs a review on my part. So let's check items from the weekend news....

+ The Muscogee County School Board held a retreat. The Ledger-Enquirer website reports Superintendent Susan Andrews wants work to begin this summer on adding air conditioning to all elementary school gymnasiums -- the better to encourage visits to the new South Commons ice rink.

+ The manager of Buffalo Wild Wings at Columbus Park Crossing told WRBL his restaurant is the second-busiest in the chain. If it's only number two, does that mean the food is NOT "off the chain"?

+ Southern Union Community College in Opelika began offering "Wi-Max" - giving students free high-speed Internet service campus-wide, and even one mile away from campus. If drive-in movies weren't in trouble before, they are now. College student "date nights" only need a laptop on the dashboard.

+ Roundball Saturday Night (tm) saw Auburn's men come back from 19 points down to mash Mississippi State 65-62. Auburn Arena was sold out, perhaps due to a promoted halftime appearance by the "Russian Bar Trio." Tell most college students a bar is coming to town, and it's an easy sell.

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