Wednesday, March 30, 2011

30 MAR 11: Back to You, Wayne

It appears our Blog Exclusive about the firing of Kurt Schmitz was the talk of the town Tuesday. For one thing, our blog "hit counter" had its busiest day for visitors since November 2008. The big topic then was Frank Lumpkin III, and an alleged victim's mother accused of shoplifting. I'm glad we've become a less crime-ridden city, so we can focus on other things.

Because of a tight Tuesday schedule, I only have time to offer a couple of e-mail reactions to the dismissal of Kurt Schmitz. The first comes from one of Schmitz's former colleagues at the WTVM anchor desk....

Hey Richard;

I was sorry to read about Kurt Schmitz's situation at WTVM. Unfortunately, I knew it was coming. Dee was forced out the door just as uncermoniously and I'm sure I would have been next if I hadn't chosen to retire early instead. I should have probably forced their hand. Dee got six month's pay and benefits. All I got was a BBQ picnic. They even forced me to sell back my Raycom stock at zero value. These people are ruthless!

I understand the ratings have declined since Dee and I left and they probably will sink further now that Kurt is no longer there, but I'm not sure WTVM cares. If you can produce a product cheaply enough, you don't need ratings to make a profit. The younger kids will work for less and are easily manipulated by management. No one talks about Journalistic ethics or credibility anymore. It's all about being famous. Dancing with the Stars or the Nightly News, it's all the same.

I worked a lot of years in a profession that I loved, but in the end, I was glad to be out of it. The days of Cronkite and Brinkley, i am sad to say, are no more.

Wayne Bennett

Dee Armstrong's departure in 2008 led to a lawsuit, which was settled outside federal court [17 Aug 10]. But I didn't know Wayne Bennett had to sell back Raycom Media stock. In fact, I didn't know you could buy Raycom Media stock -- unless you consider it's a branch of Retirement Systems of Alabama, and Bennett is paying Alabama income tax.

I don't have easy access to television rating reports, so I don't know if WTVM's numbers have dropped or not. But based on the online comments I saw Tuesday, some viewers plan to change stations because Kurt Schmitz is gone. Time will tell if it turns out to be a major cold front....

There's at least one place which still is concerned about journalism ethics. The Federal Communications Commission is cracking down on TV stations which show "video news releases" - news segments provided by businesses, which air without any on-air notice. Business leaders should act like President Obama, and face one news anchor at a time.

(By the way, "Dancing With the Stars" has become part of the evening news. WTVM seems to have a new in-depth report on the contest every week at 5:30 p.m.)

Wayne Bennett talked of retiring to Panama after leaving WTVM. But he lives in central Florida these days, because Panama didn't turn out to be the paradise he expected. That's too bad - because I don't think I ever formally wished him a "merry isthmus."

The Ledger-Enquirer caught up with us interviewed Kurt Schmitz Tuesday. Schmitz said he still loves weather, and has no plans to leave Columbus. Of course, he probably also had no plans to hire an attorney to work out a settlement on his new contract....

WTVM General Manager Lee Brantley told the newspaper's website he can't comment on what happened to Kurt Schmitz, because it's a "confidential personnel" matter. So you may have to settle for more editorials about the TV station's Facebook page.

Another reader was more surprised by the news about Kurt Schmitz:

"Sir" Richard:

I was stunned by the contents of your BLOG today! Thanks for giving us all an insight into what really goes on behind the camera.

The information you posted today just further confirms my contention that you are the only true source of news in our area. I certainly hope that my spate of E-mails; had no connection with your leaving WTVM, But if it did I'm sorry.

I should have known that I was putting pressure on the media workers - when one reporter disappeared from the scene, and others no longer followed my every move.

Today, I cannot get any attention at all, except from you. I'm certainly not guilty of causing Kurt Schmitz's problems but it underscores the careful line that folks in the media must walk to keep their jobs.

"Sir" Richard, I'm unable to give you any information about my problems with "Hurt'sboro for exactly the same reasons as those the reporter's and Bloggers face. But, when the lid comes off! You will be the first to know!

R.J. Schweiger

Let the record show Robert Schweiger's continuing comments on Hurtsboro did NOT lead to my departure from WTVM. In fact, a couple of his news tips wound up being "spoilers" -- taking scoops away from WRBL. In a town that small, secrets are much harder to keep.

There are several reasons why Kurt Schmitz is receiving so much attention while Robert Schweiger does not. Schmitz is a familiar face, and arguably the most trusted weather voice in the area. Schweiger wasn't even trusted enough to make the runoff of a three-way race for Russell County Commissioner.

(I'm a little surprised Schweiger didn't offer me the obvious follow-up story - and reveal all the imperfections of Hurtsboro's WTVM "Weather Watcher.")

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Monday, March 28, 2011

29 MAR 11 (final): Kurt-ains

A disclaimer must be posted right off the bat: I used to work at WTVM, and was released in 2009. Yet I have no hard feelings toward the station, and still have good relationships with several people there. So today's topic is a bit awkward for me -- but maybe not as bad as LeBron James going back to Cleveland in a Miami Heat jersey.

BLOG EXCLUSIVE: As we were first to post at 10:30 p.m. ET Monday, Kurt Schmitz no longer works at WTVM. "My head is reeling," Schmitz admitted to your blog. But he emphasizes NOT quit the station, and was not even certain he was fired until Monday. That's understandable -- since meteorologists are reluctant to say there's a 100-percent chance of anything.

Kurt Schmitz spent nearly 22 years checking weather maps for WTVM (and in recent years WXTX). But he says it all ended Friday afternoon, when he showed up for work as usual. Schmitz says he wound up being escorted from the building - as if the managers feared he might stir up a severe thunderstorm or something.

Kurt Schmitz told me he couldn't say much about what happened right now, on "advice of counsel." I should have asked if he paid attention to those WTVM advertisers, and hired Gary Bruce or Ken Nugent.

But Kurt Schmitz wanted to make one thing clear: "I did not, would not quit" - noting he was still under contract to WTVM. And we all know how weather forecasters don't want to leave the beach until the entire hurricane has blown through....

We were tipped off to this disappearance by an e-mail we received Monday morning, asking "Kurt Who?":

We don't watch TV every day (or night) so... kurt could have fled for greener pastures and we simply missed it. But WTVM has erased every single reference to him on their website. Like he never even existed.

Did he run afoul of someone?

Was he struck from the book of life... having his cartouche removed from the sight of God and man?

Or was it like an old Stalinist, Soviet purge where he was shoveled onto a truck to some gulag to become persona non grata?

we all know about the behind-the-scenes drams that happen at TV stations and that all the Lee Brantleys make sure that all the Joe Publics never know the dirt. But you can't have someone like Kurt, who has been around for so long serving this community and then act like he was a figment of our imaginations.

Or not?

Inquiring minds want and have a right to know!

M. Krebbles


Our reader was very observant, when it comes to . In 2011, any TV station's website is a bit like the old Communist Party newspapers in Moscow or Beijing. If a familiar name isn't there anymore, it's usually a sign he's not considered among the "faithful" - and his fate there may be full.

There was no trace even of "Kurt's Weather Blog" on the WTVM website Monday night. The competitive side of me wants to declare that a win, with another blogger out of the way....

I should have realized something was up at WTVM Friday evening. It was odd to see Katherine Kington presenting the weather, even though she's done it on weekends several times. I presumed the managers sent all three meteorologists home early, to rest for Saturday storm coverage -- but it turns out they were scraping the bottom of the rain barrel.

Another clue came during WTVM's Monday evening newscasts. The "bumpers" showing all the anchors were changed to something generic. It's a good thing WTVM doesn't hang portraits of those anchors in the hallway, as other TV stations do -- as Kurt Schmitz would have been pained to see his picture at the Lee County Flea Market.

Yet as last weekend's storms developed, Kurt Schmitz's name somehow was attached to a couple of Twitter posts by WTVM's "Storm Team." Maybe he logged in from home, simply out of a "weather junkie" habit....

Kurt Schmitz had to serve a suspension from WTVM two years ago, but the station had a different news director then. It doesn't appear Friday's firing had anything to do with that. And I can't believe the managers gave Schmitz a monthly quota of grade schools to visit.

A conspiracy theory even is emerging about Kurt Schmitz's dismissal - that it might have been orchestrated by fellow WTVM meteorologist Derek Kinkade. When I asked Schmitz about that Monday night, he answered simply: "No comment." Hmmmm - I've never had a lightning bolt stuck in my back when I wasn't looking....

However, this firing opens the door for Derek Kinkade to become WTVM's new Chief Meteorologist. He has an "AMS seal," while Bruce Lee does not. And he's a native of Alabama, to keep a delicate balance with Georgia's Barbara Gauthier.

Kurt Schmitz has been "shoveled onto the truck" once before, when he worked in Oklahoma. But he recalled an old media maxim. "In television, you're not somebody until you've been fired." In this economy, I'm not sure that line on a cover letter will help anyone get ahead.

"I'm looking for work," Kurt Schmitz told me - and I have a feeling he won't be out of work long. He was a fill-in weekend meteorologist on CNN years ago. Schmitz also could go to Atlanta and work at The Weather Channel. How strange would that be - to have Schmitz receive a character reference from Maria LaRosa?

I didn't ask for details about Kurt Schmitz's contract at WTVM. But I suspect it includes a "non-compete" clause, barring him from working at other Columbus media outlets for awhile. If Dee Armstrong wants to add a weather segment to her WLTZ talk show, she'll have to put Schmitz on a telephone speed-dial.

And if I was Bob Jeswald at WRBL, I might be a little concerned about this development. His car pooling buddy in those CCG-TV messages may wind up leaving stranded along the side of Veterans Parkway, outside the Columbus Career Center.

E-MAIL UPDATE: It wasn't my plan to pile on, but someone else brought up WTVM in a Monday message - apparently after we noted how the National Weather Service computer voice pronounces Tuskegee....

A couple of weeks ago a news reporter on WTVM pronounced Acropolis as "aka-poltice"...not just one time ,but 2 times..That was my laugh for the day..

There's nothing like visiting that landmark during a vacation in Aka-pulco.

Let's see what else had our attention Monday....

+ Our best wishes to Columbus Councilor Judy Thomas, whom we understand has been under the weather recently. I'm told.... yeow, here we go again. Now someone will accuse Derek Kinkade of causing that, too.

+ Mayor Teresa Pike Tomlinson announced plans for quarterly "Let's Talk" meetings around Columbus, featuring the City Manager and herself. A meeting in MidTown isn't scheduled until December - so the mayor doesn't have to worry about having an unhappy holiday season.

+ Instant Message to all the Republicans in Iowa: Why are you doing this to Roy Moore - encouraging him to run for President? He couldn't even beat Bob Riley in an Alabama primary.

Today's main topic was the result of a blog reader's tip. To offer a story tip, make a PayPal donation, advertise to our readers or comment about this blog, write me - but
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UPDATE 1/12:40A ET

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28 MAR 11: March Mad

TV news departments have several things in common. One of them is the idea that severe weather always takes top priority. You'll notice the Columbus stations employ more meteorologists than sports reporters -- even though tornado season tends to be shorter than college football season.

Some local sports fans were left frustrated over the weekend, by what WRBL did during one of the regional men's college basketball finals. A severe weather alert blocked their view of the telecast -- but not enough that they couldn't view the blocks of shots.

One annoyed viewer posted a picture of the problem on Facebook. WRBL put a "crawl" about severe weather warnings at the bottom of the screen, covering the score of the Butler-Florida game. When it was all said and done, Gator fans probably wished it had remained hidden....

The Butler-Florida showdown went to overtime, but this viewer said he couldn't follow the score without calling up the closed captioning on his TV. As you might guess, this covered up even more of the screen - especially with Gus Johnson doing play-by-play on CBS, requiring dozens of added exclamation points.

WRBL finally moved the weather crawl to the top of the TV screen, but the damage had been done. It was one time when the news staff probably was thankful to have no Saturday newscasts, so no one had to take calls from upset viewers.

Part of the problem probably resulted from the fact that WRBL's "master control" area was moved out of Columbus several years ago. A regional control room in South Carolina now oversees several Media General stations - and if it's nice outside in Spartanburg, shouldn't it be nice everywhere else?

But this complaint also reminds me of how spoiled TV sports viewers have become. The continuous "score box" on the screen started in 1994. Watch rebroadcasts of older games on ESPN Classic, and you may wonder why no one did it earlier. But those were different times - when networks expected viewers to pay closer attention.

It turns out the severe weather was no joke. A tornado was confirmed in the Georgetown area Saturday. But it apparently caused minimal damage - and far less attention than that man who was upset with Charlie Sheen kissing Jimmy Kimmel.

Dangerous weather returned to the area Sunday night, and the computerized voice at the National Weather Service in Birmingham warned of potential trouble in Tuskegee. Except the city was pronounced "TUSK-uh-jee" - as if it was founded by a British big game hunter long ago.

When it's a matter of weather versus entertainment, some TV viewers sadly have their priorities mixed up. I'll never forget the angry phone calls I heard in March 2007, when live coverage of deadly tornadoes interrupted "American Idol." That's why you may have noticed President Obama is speaking on Libya tonight before "Dancing With the Stars" is scheduled to begin.

A few viewers have suggested storm warnings only air in the counties affected by them -- for instance, only in Harris County if a warning is issued there. But that's not technically possible for broadcast stations to do. After all, it's not called narrow-casting. That's what Spike TV on cable does for guys....

So please be considerate when TV and radio stations interrupt programs for severe weather messages. The alerts they give could save your life - unless you're one of those people who have decided if you're going to go, there's no better way than while watching a NASCAR race.

Let's move on from there to other.... what? What's that some of you are asking? What about the Kansas game Sunday? Uhhhh - I'm glad the Columbus Lions were able to beat a team from Richmond, Virginia.

I'm inclined to believe the online comments which say my beloved Kansas Jayhawks looked ahead too much to the Final Four, and let themselves get vanquished in the Southwest Regional final by Virginia Commonwealth. The deficit was so large in the first half that I walked out to pick up my car from the shop - and told the screen the Jayhawks had better clean up that mess by the time I came home.

But you have to admire the endurance of Virginia Commonwealth and youthful coach Shaka Smart. If VCU can win next Saturday, we could have a fantastically funky final - with a Shaka-Conn. matchup.

-> Our other blog starts with poker, then goes in directions you might not expect. Visit "On the Flop!" <-

BLOG UPDATE: New details emerged over the weekend about Books-A-Million's future in Columbus. I'm hearing the bookstore does NOT plan to abandon the area completely, but is looking at new locations. So if you don't find many local maps on sale, that could explain it....

Cross Country Plaza quickly found a replacement for Books-A-Million - announcing Freedom Furniture and Electronics will open at that spot later this year. You'll understand the delay, while employees remove all the Kinder's and Georgia Freight tags from the merchandise.

THE BIG BLOG DUCK HUNT moved into a second round Sunday night. We're still not naming names, but "Duck #1" gained two-thirds of the votes in our initial three-duck derby. Now that voice faces someone new - and not only do your votes determine the winner, but you can enter your voice in the contest. At this point, I'd say your odds are better with us than with Aflac's contest.

Let's see what else had people quacking (or talking) over the weekend....

+ WXTX reported Hollywood Connection was evacuated for a short time due to a small fire. It only seemed larger, after people watched movies on digital screens.

+ Phenix City Central High School held its spring prom at a surprising place - the Port Columbus museum. Those aren't ghosts making noises in the museum walls, they're senior pranksters.

+ Hilton Terrace Baptist Church held a "biker blessing" service. I wonder how deep the theological discussions were at this event. For instance, do you show more faith in God by not wearing a helmet?

+ The Columbus Cottonmouths finished fourth in the Southern League standings, and will face Huntsville in the first round of the playoffs. The Ledger-Enquirer reported Huntsville will have to play its home games at a practice rink, because the Von Braun Center is booked for a rodeo. Maybe the Cottonmouths will show up early, and get ready for fights by watching steer wrestling.

+ Instant Message to WLTZ: OK, opening day I could accept. But when the top story on "Alabama First News" is the second day of Auburn University's spring football practice, I think you're a little too addicted to sports.

(BLOGGER'S NOTE: Daily blogging may diminish over the next few weeks, due to our annual Serious Spring Cleaning.)

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Sunday, March 27, 2011

27 MAR 11: When to Fold 'Em

A passing comment was made to me in November which seemed hard to believe -- but four months later, it's coming true. The claim was that Paul Olson planned to end his regular gripe sessions appearances at Columbus Council meetings. He hasn't been on the public agenda yet this year - so either Olson is giving up the fight, or stockpiling new evidence.

SUNDAY SOAPBOX: One government critic who refuses to walk away is the former Hurtsboro Constable. Not long after we posted last Sunday's 15-point essay with some comments, he sent us another -- and this one admittedly is being edited a bit....

"Sir" Richard;

I"m certain that no-one in "Hurt'sboro, will present you with any other verifiable facts; or challenge those of mine, between now and next Sunday I feel it necessary to clear up a few things.

I'm starting to feel like a contestant on "Dancing with the Stars," Those, who's motives I question; have a talent for tap dancing around the truth with alacrity.

You, in a rare case of making an assumption; said that, "Hurt'sboro would qualify for first offender status. The opposite is true. They are in deep trouble with the Russell County Health Dept., The Alabama Dept. of Envirormental Enviorment, and the Alabama Dept. of Public Health as repeat offenders.This can be verified by contacting Johnny Burrell at the County Health Dept.

The Civil matter was Appealed to the Court of Civil Appeals where the Circuit Court's decision was reversed and remanded with instructions. A final order from the Court of Appeals, put the cost's of further action On Mayor Tapley and the Town of "Hurt'sboro. A timely petition for a rehearing was never filed. Mayor Tapley Hired an outside attorney to litigate the matter - without Council's approval or knowledge.- They hold the position, that they are not liable for any of the attorney's fees.

The Grand Jury did as directed by the District Attorney (They asked him to write a letter to the Attorney General and ask for an audit) WHY THEN, HAS SUCH A LETTER NEVER BEEN WRITTEN?

I've been diplomatic and tactful (you catch more flies with honey than vinegar) in my dealings with the District Attorney for over a decade. I've given him tons of evidence of wrongdoing and have received little return on his part. I can sympathize with the man to a point; whatever he presents in court against one of the "Good Ol' Boys" is routinely tossed in the trash by Russell County Judges....

Just yodeling up the canyon !!

R.J. Schweiger.

Maybe Robert Schweiger actually should appear on "Dancing With the Stars." Considering what George Lopez said the other night about Kirstie Alley, Lopez and Schweiger could have quite a public debate.

Last Sunday's line about "first offender" status for Hurtsboro's method of trash collection was part of the joke - connected to that link leading to information about drunk driving. Sometimes getting my punch lines requires a little work on the reader's part.

I didn't realize until this e-mail arrived that Alabama has a state Department of "Environmental Environment." I suppose that's different from the home environment or the work environment....

Perhaps it says something about Hurtsboro's finances if Mayor Rayford Tapley is hiring an "outside attorney" to fight with Robert Schweiger over attorney's fees. Isn't this like a "double or nothing" bet - only the gambler could lose twice as much?

The Russell County District Attorney's office tends to be very close-lipped about its actions. So I'm not sure how Robert Schweiger knows no letter has been written to the Alabama Attorney General - unless he has spies in a Montgomery mail room.

(Given the name of Alabama's Attorney General, he ought to recognize a "Strange situation" in Hurtsboro when he sees one.)

It's nice to know Robert Schweiger is "diplomatic and tactful" with someone, because he hasn't been that way in some of his e-mails to us. He's sometimes pinned labels on me that you don't even hear Sean Hannity put on President Obama.

As we noted two Sundays ago, we currently have problems confirming Robert Schweiger's accusations because our office hours are filled with other business. We realize this leaves some readers with "scoops" and news tips frustrated - but perhaps the new executive editor of the Ledger-Enquirer actually will want to read them.

So why did I edit out part of today's message? Because Robert Schweiger makes a personal attack on someone who is NOT in public office - someone who has not responded to earlier accusations here. This is supposed to be a humor blog, not a place to smear private people's reputations. He can set up his own Facebook account to do that....

If this keeps up, we're going to have Hurtsboro Sundays here instead of the 2007-era Hurtsboro Mondays. That's what happens when one person refuses to be satisfied until everything in his town is absolutely perfect. Lofty goals are one thing - but even Paul Olson seems to have learned how to listen to a majority of the voters.

SCHEDULED MONDAY: The day "March Madness" gained a new meaning in Columbus....

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Friday, March 25, 2011

25 MAR 11: Into the History Books

If you're wondering who makes the spelling and language decisions in our country, it's apparently the Associated Press. The news agency ruled the other day "e-mail" no longer should have a hyphen, while "e-book" should. Somehow it doesn't seem right or fair - like being expelled from the hyphe-nation.

The e-book may be catching on more than we realized - because the Ledger-Enquirer website reported Thursday Books-A-Million will close its Columbus store. The final day will be 15 April, potentially allowing discount pricing on books about hidden tax deductions.

No reason was given for the closing of Books-A-Million at Cross Country Plaza. But perhaps it was simply a matter of time - since book lovers can drive less than a mile down Macon Road and check out books from the Columbus Public Library for free.

Books-A-Million is based in Birmingham, and admitted this week its net income dropped 35 percent last fiscal year. So we can say cuts at this book dealer were.... uh, well.... they were bound to occur.

But it doesn't appear Books-A-Million is making massive cuts throughout its chain. An online search Thursday night found only one other news story about a store closing - in the Washington suburb of Alexandria, Virginia. In that area, a larger concern is whether government budget planners cook the books....

An economic development expert in Alexandria explained why Books-A-Million appears doomed in her city. She blamed it on - which strikes me as curious, since Amazon can't sell fresh lattes and scones online the way Books-A-Million can.

(Books-A-Million also sells books online - and for the record, it spells the word "eBooks" without a hyphen. Dictionary sales probably were jumping already, from people trying to figure out how Libya's leader really spells his name.)

Yet plans also were announced Thursday for a new downsized Books-A-Million store in a southwest Florida mall. Books-A-Million has a mall location in Albany already. So could a move to Peachtree Mall be on the way? And with plenty of distance from the food court, so shoppers don't get sticky Cinnabon fingers all over the merchandise?

But of course, Peachtree Mall lost a bookstore early last year when Walden Books closed. The closing of Books-A-Million makes you wonder if Columbus residents are really that interested in books these days -- and whether the Literacy Alliance needs to go back to the drawing board.

There's also the question of how Cross Country Plaza's management will fill the large hole caused by Books-A-Million closing. At least the bulldozers are ready, after causing another large hole for that renovated Publix store.

I'm not sure what could have saved Books-A-Million in MidTown. If only Teresa Pike Tomlinson had written her memoirs, before taking the oath as mayor....

Now for a final paragraph or two about Thursday:

+ A source I tend to trust reports NCR celebrated the construction of its 10,000th automated teller at the Columbus plant. After the events of earlier this week, the occasion was NOT marked by setting off fireworks.

+ Columbus Police reported thieves broke into a Circle K store on Macon Road in the middle of the night, and stole an automated teller near the front door. While this seems brash, look on the bright side - they didn't steal cigarettes, so they must not have a nicotine addiction.

+ The chemistry building at Auburn University was evacuated for several hours due to an unusual odor. Hazardous materials experts searched the building, but found nothing dangerous - while police probably checked the enrollment list for any chemistry majors from Dadeville.

(Did you see the bright orange safety suits Auburn "hazmat" workers wear? Loyalty to the local university sometimes can go to extremes....)

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Thursday, March 24, 2011

24 MAR 11: No-Try Zone?

Sometimes I think Columbus convenience stores should paint large gold circles on the sidewalk. Make them the designated places for people to stand and beg for money. If more than one person at a time wants to stand in a circle, you'll have entertaining and spontaneous sumo wrestling matches.

A citywide solution to public begging apparently is still weeks away. Wednesday's Ledger-Enquirer updated efforts to replace the "tramp law" - and revealed there could be places where begging is banned completely. Coaching boxes at sports events will NOT be included, so "begging for a call" will continue.

Reynolds Bickerstaff of Uptown Columbus is proposing a designated "no panhandling zone" in the downtown area. In one way, this only seems logical. Begging for cigarettes or matches outside Club Oxygen might create a dangerously explosive situation.

City Attorney Clifton Fay warned a designated no-begging zone might raise constitutional issues. Courts actually have ruled panhandling is a protected form of free speech - and besides, what if a downtown business used that zone to hold a sidewalk sale?

The newspaper indicated the panhandling proposal has been modified a bit. Instead of a sunrise-to-sunset time limit, beggars could operate 12 hours a day - from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. ET during daylight time. Even the best panhandler's day starts with a nutritious breakfast....

We already knew the proposal would outlaw "aggressive" panhandling in Columbus. That's defined in part as blocking someone else's path - which gets around specifically saying you can't beg for money by standing outside bathroom stalls.

Long-time blog readers understand why I'm watching this proposal closely. I've documented dozens of encounters with beggars here, from MidTown Columbus restaurants to the Hurtsboro Post Office. I still have NOT met any beggars in 2011 - but the deadline for filing income tax returns is only about three weeks away.

No one officially has asked for my input with the city panhandling proposal. But if they did, I'd say.... hey, wait a minute. That sort of request would come pretty close to panhandling, wouldn't it?

But anyway: I can think of a couple of areas where the begging restrictions could be more specific. How about a rule saying panhandlers only can make one request per "customer"? I've met beggars who turned a simple request for lunch money into a crosstown ride, and even an invitation to meet buddies.

The proposal would bar panhandlers from walking with prospective "customers." How about broadening that language to exclude running as well? A man in downtown Atlanta actually joined my evening jog on Martin Luther King Day - and made his pitch for money over a two-block span. Do you know how hard it is to negotiate with a total stranger while you're at full stride?

It also occurred to me that while the city proposal bans panhandling around bank entrances and outdoor cafes, it says nothing about government buildings. Those lobbyists get a nice loophole again....

We'll keep watching developments on this issue - and now let's check others that we found Wednesday:

+ WLTZ revealed accused Phenix City Councilor Arthur Sumbry Sr. has hired Mark Shelnutt as his defense attorney. Tip one: pack the jury pool with members of your church....

+ The Quitman County Sheriff reported a Georgetown man grabbed a gun and threatened members of his family, after watching Charlie Sheen kiss Jimmy Kimmel on Kimmel's late-night talk show. The only thing he'll be "winning" from that is five years of free lodging in a state prison.

+ Police in Union Springs told WSFA-TV a van filled with inflated balloons exploded, injuring two people. Authorities discovered the balloons were filled with pure oxygen instead of helium, and they overheated in the midday sun. At least the "suspects" didn't attempt to fly away and escape.

+ Fort Benning's Third Brigade participated in a training program known as the "Buffalo Stakes." If Fort Benning wins, does Columbus finally get a Ted's Montana Grill?

+ The top story on WLTZ's "Alabama First News" was the opening day of spring football practice at Auburn University. Not the top sports story - the top story, period. This is how you can tell it's a slow day in Lee County....

+ Roundball Night in Dixieland (tm) concluded its season with Alabama's men mashing Miami 79-64. The Crimson Tide advance to the National Invitational Tournament semifinals next week in New York - where Eli Gold probably is already making dinner reservations for the team.

+ Instant Message to whomever created the "BRAC Now" website: Do you realize how confused you've made some people at Fort Benning? People might see your ads about "BRAC Analysis" and conclude base realignment is making them sick.

COMING SOON: Why would a government agency create a website especially for me?....

More than 54,700 unique folks visited The Blog of Columbus last year! To advertise to them, make a PayPal donation, offer a story tip or comment about this blog, write me - but be warned: I may post your e-mail and offer a reply.

BURKARD BULK MAIL INDEX: 941 (+ 30. 3.3%)

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.

© 2003-11 Richard Burkard, all rights reserved.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

23 MAR 11: Here a Little, There a Little

On the old "Mickey Mouse Club," Wednesday was Anything Can Happen Day. We're doing something like that today. A lot of little features are combined in one post -- almost like we're trying to copy the new look of the Ledger-Enquirer.

BLOG UPDATE: The smoke seemed to clear Tuesday about our Blog Exclusive, on the fiery haze at the east edge of Columbus. It wasn't the work of Fort Benning or city crews - but Georgia state workers. I thought the new legislature was trying to avoid having tax dollars go up in smoke.

An e-mail obtained by your blog states last weekend's fire near Schatulga Road was "a federally required burning," conducted every three years by the Georgia Forestry Commission. I suppose the federal government orders such things to guard against massive wildfires -- because I've never heard of intensive lobbying in Washington by the match-making industry.

The Georgia Forestry Commission thought last Friday would have sufficient wind to scatter the smoke from a controlled burn near Schatulga Road. But on Friday night, the wind died, the smoke settled -- and some people became so unsettled that they called Columbus Fire/EMT to complain.

A Columbus Deputy Fire Chief reportedly ordered a halt to the controlled burn. But ashes smoldered until Monday morning, causing at least one plant near Schatulga Road to close its building and move personnel all the way to Peachtree City. Somehow, I think inmates at Rutledge State Prison will file lawsuits first about this.

THE BIG BLOG DUCK HUNT gains some competition today, and it doesn't really surprise us at all. Aflac announced Tuesday it's accepting ten days of submissions from the public for a new duck voice, to replace Gilbert Gottfried. We moved much faster to get a contest going, with voting open to YOU -- but that duck's footprint probably will be too big.

The Aflac talent search is allowing 30-second entries, which can include video clips. Our Duck Hunt chose not to have video submissions primarily due to a lack of bandwidth -- but also because the duck actor in the commercials is heard but not seen. Is Aflac planning a major expansion, requiring a duck which stands twice as tall?

We'd put a link here to Aflac's talent search page -- but if they didn't recognize the original Columbus Duck Hunt, why should we do them any favors? Mr. Little Blogger is ready to take on that tall tower on Wynnton Road. And with downsized thinking, lower costs will give me a smaller.... uh, well.... duck bill.

-> Our other blog starts with poker, then goes in directions you might not expect. Visit "On the Flop!" <-

E-MAIL UPDATE: The last two Sunday Soapbox posts prompt a reader to ask a question, which we suspect many have wondered....

Richard, if former Constable RS is so unhappy with the way life presents itself in the backwards village of Hurtsboro, then why doesn't he hoist up anchor and sail to an area where his efforts may be able to actually make a difference? I cannot tell him where his "Utopia" may be, but it is more than apparent that he has exceedingly worn out his welcome there. After all, the town's name doesn't indicate a proclamation of joy and happiness. He has "hurt" the townsfolk with his accusations and remarks and they have retaliated with the same. He does not seem to understand that he is an "outsider" to them, someone that has tried to change the only way of life that they are familiar with. I know, I have been there so I know from experience that you WILL NOT change their way of thinking. It is one of our modern day humorous philosophers, Ron White, that states that "you can't fix stupid." He may be able to re-locate to a town where his ideas might have a chance of falling on yearning ears but I can tell him for sure, he will not fix life and politics there.

I'll leave the main question here for Robert Schweiger to answer (and I'm quite sure he will). But to be fair, Hurtsboro is named after the son of an Atlanta land developer from the 19th century. The town is so small that I don't think it even has a Little Two Points.

Hurtsboro received a new economic blow Tuesday night, when the Russell County School Board voted to close Russell Elementary School. The principal happens to be Russell County Commissioner Larry Screws -- so Phenix City Councilor Jimmy Wetzel can expect a phone call from Screws sometime today.

From what I saw on WRBL, the 4-3 vote to close Russell Elementary School was along racial lines. But then again, most big votes by the Russell County School Board have been that way in recent years. This board needs a Russell County version of Mimi Woodson, to make every meeting a cliffhanger.

We have one more message today, which goes back to Monday's main topic on "deodorant":

A man who worked with my grandfather on his farm told him the trick to smelling nice after a day's hard work...He rubbed an uncooked slice of fatback in each armpit every morning...That calls for one of your good one liners...

I'm guessing there were no dogs on this farm -- or else they were given huge bowls of dog food to eat as a distraction.

SONG OF THE DAY: AT&T's plan to take over T-Mobile has brought a piece of classical music to mind. In fact, it's one of the most familiar arias in the world of opera. I'd call our version "grand opera," but I'm not charging $1,000 for front-row seats to let you hear it.

And now for dessert, a few news bites from Tuesday....

+ A Columbus Police officer was arrested on criminal trespass charges. WRBL reported Jonathan Jackson had an argument with a "Mall Cop" at the Peachtree Mall Sunglass Hut. Now Jackson is on "administrative leave" - which means the only time he can show off his fancy new sunglasses is when he hides from media interviews.

+ Phenix City Councilor Arthur Sumbry Sr. pleaded NOT guilty to the charges against him. Prosecutors reportedly want to put Sumbry on trial in June - but I don't really think all the critics of city government will be away on vacation then.

+ Columbus Finance Director Pam Hodge warned the city's "tax digest" is likely to be two percent lower next fiscal year. If not for base realignment at Fort Benning, things would be even worse - and the budget would be more like Reader's Digest.

+ WLTZ reported Georgia Governor Nathan Deal has declared Muscogee County a "Camera Ready Community." A city with a Kodak plant had better be....

+ Georgia advanced in the NCAA women's basketball tournament by felling Florida State 61-59. The second-round playoff game at Auburn Arena attracted only 2,214 fans - proving Auburn fans can't bring themselves to root for either team under any circumstances.

More than 54,700 unique folks visited The Blog of Columbus last year! To advertise to them, make a PayPal donation, offer a story tip or comment about this blog, write me - but be warned: I may post your e-mail and offer a reply.

BURKARD BULK MAIL INDEX: 911 (+ 27. 3.1%)

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.

© 2003-11 Richard Burkard, all rights reserved.

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Monday, March 21, 2011

22 MAR 11 (final): Operation Smoky Dawn

The hazy cloud was visible Friday afternoon to people standing west of Schatulga Road. Sometimes you can tell where the dividing line is for a military installation, without seeing a fence....

BLOG EXCLUSIVE: The smoke from a "controlled burn" at Fort Benning spread so far Monday morning that some staff members at Muscogee Technology Park were told NOT to show up for work. Others reportedly were bused to outposts to do their work, even if it was more than an hour away. Really now -- at my home on the other side of town, you couldn't smell a thing.

Knowledgeable sources told your blog the NCR plant on Corporate Ridge Parkway had only a skeleton crew on the main floor, and very few workers in a call center on the second floor. The smell of smoke in the building apparently was considered a health and safety concern. There's a reason why you don't find barbecue restaurants close to the industrial parks.

We obtained this photo looking east toward Schatulga Road from Corporate Ridge Parkway. On other mornings, the smoky scene might be blamed on low-lying fog. But Monday morning, the smell of smoke left no doubt of the source - and brought the east edge of Columbus close to ground-level smog on the order of Beijing.

NCR at first hoped to resume full operations at midday Monday. But I'm told executives later decided to keep the building closed through Tuesday evening - only to change course hours later and reopen the complex. It may have come down to a choice between ATM's dispensing "cold hard" cash and "money to burn."

(Some NCR employees reportedly were moved to a satellite facility in Peachtree City. So the company has backup plans when emergencies happen - and are trying to avoid going back to Ohio at all costs.)

Not everyone was concerned about smoke inhalation from the prescribed burn. This photo shows a man jogging down Schatulga Road -- as if he was using the smoke for inspiration about the sausage biscuits he'd have later for breakfast.

But details of the burn get only, uh, hazier from there. I called Fort Benning Monday afternoon for an update on the fire -- only to be told by spokesperson Elsie Jackson it's NOT Benning's fault. "We get blamed for a lot of things," Jackson told me. I guess I should have asked about Libya, while I was on the phone.

Elsie Jackson's proof to the contrary was an e-mail she received Friday from Columbus city government, which she forwarded to us:

The City of Columbus conducted a 850 acre prescribed burn today on their property by the landfill and near the industrial park off of Chattsworth Road. It is predicted to be a high potential for fog tonight with a wind change to the northwest, which may cause the smoke to settle in low lying areas of Columbus.

If there are any smoke related issues tonight or tomorrow in Columbus, Sand Hill or Main Post it is not related to any prescribed burning activities on Fort Benning.

So the smoke lingered in that general area all the way to Monday morning -- and the people who claim radiation from Japan already has floated all the way to California need to calm down.

Next stop: Columbus city government - and a woman at the Public Services Department was stumped by my questions about a fire. She especially was puzzled when I mentioned Chattsworth Road. "We don't have a landfill there," she told me. Unless Columbus residents are throwing away so much stuff that the pile is stretching north....

Public Services Director Gary Stickles was called to the phone, and he insisted Fort Benning was to blame for the smoke along Schatulga Road. When I mentioned the e-mail, Stickles sounded annoyed as he told me bluntly: "The city is not doing no controlled burn that I know about." You know this is serious when city officials start using double negatives.

Gary Stickles threw another surprising curve into the search for truth - saying the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce also owns property near the landfill, so it might be doing the burning. The Chamber of Commerce?! Wouldn't it be more likely to burn copies of the federal health care reform act?

A message left with the Chamber of Commerce about the burning brought no response Monday night. But really now - I don't think the staff would start a fire at the edge of Columbus to burn those old white sheets.

So what do we conclude from this? Perhaps the city's prescribed burn is over, and the Public Services Director didn't know about the lingering side effects on a big local employer. Or perhaps there's another explanation - such as an escaped Muscogee County Prison inmate who got out with only a book of matches.

-> Our other blog starts with poker, then goes in directions you might not expect. Visit "On the Flop!" <-

E-MAIL UPDATE: This message reached the InBox late Monday night, but the item it mentions could disappear if we don't post it quickly....

girlfriend for sale (wetumpka)....

found this on Craigslist - montgomery - general for sale

Hmmmm - if someone invites the lover to make a transaction at a Columbus motel, I'd turn them down immediately.

I'll save one other e-mail for another day, because of our exclusive story. Let's quickly check other Monday headlines....

+ The Ledger-Enquirer unveiled a new format, with a front-page look and approach which reminds me a lot of the current Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The Columbus newspaper is returning to four full sections on Mondays instead of two -- which shows either the economy is recovering, or the last stockpiles of newsprint are being used up now.

+ WTVM attended an NAACP protest of plans to close Cannon Street Elementary School in Troup County. Parents say they're upset because their children would be bused 20 miles to another school. Talk about changing times! A civil rights group actually opposes busing....

+ Alabama advanced in the National Invitation Tournament by nailing New Mexico 74-67. The announced attendance in Tuscaloosa was 6,821. If the game had been played outdoors after the opening day of spring football practice, that number would have doubled.

+ Instant Message to the Columbus Parks and Recreation Department: Should I blame you for that other unpleasant odor in the air Monday? That pesticide treatment along the Chattahoochee Promenade is NOT easy on a jogger's lungs.

More than 54,700 unique folks visited The Blog of Columbus last year! To advertise to them, make a PayPal donation, offer a story tip or comment about this blog, write me - but be warned: I may post your e-mail and offer a reply.

BURKARD BULK MAIL INDEX: 884 (+ 29. 3.4%)

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.

© 2003-11 Richard Burkard, all rights reserved.

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21 MAR 11: Smell My Avalanche

Spring officially arrived in Columbus Sunday evening. But at my home, Serious Spring Cleaning began more than a week ago - and this year, I'm taking steps to remove things which don't belong. If I've never used the electric typewriter to write this blog, it's probably time to give it away.

Sunday's cleaning brought me to the chest of drawers in the bedroom - where I found several things in common, which struck me as a bit comical. Over the years I've collected unusual antiperspirant containers. If you're someone who can survive with only "deodorant" in the South, you must have better air conditioning during summer than I do.

These containers are unusual because of their scents. They're not simply "musk" or "talcum" anymore. Modern antiperspirants apparently have to sound more adventurous than that - as if you need a matching scent for every stress-filled moment of life, and you'll be able to put it on in the milliseconds before.

Four of these antiperspirant scents were atop my chest of drawers. Let's take them from left to right, beginning with Speed Stick's "Fresh Rush" powder. This would be perfect to give college football players, if it wasn't probably a violation of NCAA rules.

Since your computer probably doesn't have a "smell" application, I can report Fresh Rush smells a bit to me like classic Speed Stick spice. That was good enough for my Father over the years. But these days, too many men must see "spice" and think of a pop singing group.

The second antiperspirant was Right Guard Sport. But the scent was not "Sport" - it was "Adrenaline." From its specks of green, you might conclude Adrenaline leads to mint-flavored measles....

I emptied the small container of Adrenaline several years ago. There's still a chemical smell under the cap, but that smell is hard to describe. If it's not the odor of sweat, I suppose that's sufficient enough.

The third antiperspirant has the most absurd scent name. It's Speed Stick "Avalanche" - and it's apparently so popular that the name has a registered trademark. Mennen probably had to claim it before the hockey team in Colorado did.

Really now - if you were caught in an avalanche, would you stop for a moment to analyze how it smells? I suppose an avalanche of snow would smell nicer than one with boulders. Not to mention your clothes being easier to clean....

This is another case where the product is a chemical concoction that I can't really describe. Avalanche doesn't even remind me of the smell in the air before a spring shower -- which I suppose Mennen saved for an antiperspirant named Thunderstorm.

Our last entry is a gel called "Fresh Scent." Talk about an open-ended description. I could be putting the smell of hamburgers or wheat bread under my arms.

But a sniff comparison found there's consistency here. Fresh Scent gel smells exactly like the Fresh Rush powder. So why would one of them be called "rush" - when you can put both on equally as fast?

I've saved these antiperspirant containers for years, for use in a stand-up comedy routine. But this year, I've decided it's time for almost all of them to go. Enough Fresh Rush remains for me to use when the need requires. But the "Avalanche" is heading down - perhaps to the bottom of the landfill.

-> Our other blog starts with poker, then goes in directions you might not expect. Visit "On the Flop!" <-

BLOG SPECIAL EVENT: Today you get to start voting for the winner of our BIG BLOG DUCK HUNT! We've posted three audio entries - but we're not naming the people who submitted them. (In fact, we edited one entry which included the contestant's name.) After all, millions of people didn't know Gilbert Gottfried was the voice of the Aflac duck until he lost his job.

Now let's review a relatively quiet weekend of news....

+ A Sunday trip down Victory Drive revealed the last bricks have fallen from the old Baker High School. After two months of demolition, only a few piles remain -- and if Newt Gingrich hurries, he can stage a news conference there to declare education is main platform in a campaign for President.

+ A drug checkpoint set up on Interstate 185 at Smith Road led to dozens of arrests, and the discovery of everything from cocaine to methamphetamine. The lesson from this should be obvious. Harris County drug dealers should be more focused on Kia employees, at the other side of the county.

+ Thousands of people attended the annual Thunder in the Valley air show at Columbus Airport. WTVM showed one plane doing a dangerous nosedive, and I thought it was illustrating the U.S. economy.

+ Alabama Governor Robert Bentley announced the creation of a Seafood Marketing Commission. It's probably too late to market oysters as slicker than usual. So is there any way to make shrimp glow in the dark, and claim radiation arrived from Japan?

+ The Columbus Lions opened the new indoor football season by nailing the Alabama Hammers 67-20. The team from Huntsville must be "hammering" the way I do -- missing the target one-third of the time, out of fear you'll hurt your thumb.

+ Auburn University hosted opening-round games in the NCAA women's basketball tournament. WLTZ reported the basketball players are spending about $100 per day, while the fans spend about $150 per day. Maybe the fans should learn a lesson from the players, and save money by traveling on buses.

+ University of Alabama safety Mark Barron arrested in Mobile on charges of "hindering prosecution." You can appeal to the referees on the field, but not always at the scene of a crime.

More than 54,700 unique folks visited The Blog of Columbus last year! To advertise to them, make a PayPal donation, offer a story tip or comment about this blog, write me - but be warned: I may post your e-mail and offer a reply.

BURKARD BULK MAIL INDEX: 855 (- 45. 5.0%)

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.

© 2003-11 Richard Burkard, all rights reserved.

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Sunday, March 20, 2011

20 MAR 11: Making a List

Did you see the "Supermoon" in the eastern sky Saturday night? Maybe it made a difference in my evening. I had a super-bly long three-mile run on the Riverwalk. Then I celebrated with a Super-sized two sandwich dinner from McDonald's.

SUNDAY SOAPBOX: Almost a week before the "Supermoon" appeared, we received a super-sized e-mail. It's actually a reply to what we posted last Sunday about that little town at the edge of Russell County....

Sir Richard:

I read the "Soap-Box" with a mixture of emotions. I do appreciate your present situation and was somewhat surprised to see that you even initiated an effort to cover my "Down in the Dumps" comments. However with that said; I wish to apoligize for the "scalding" you received from Kimberly Key. You would be well served to stay away from her - she has quite an imagination.

. Some of the information she offered is true, but in an effort to put my message, and hers in perspective, I'm responding this very evening.

#1 "Hurt'sboro operates on standard time, albeit in the long, long ago..

#2 The law requires that the garbage of the indigents MUST BE PICKED UP FREE OF CHARGE. Thanks to the last two Mayor's there are plenty of freeloaders taking advantage of the system

#3 Because the truck with the garbage body wont run, the garbage is being picked up with a dump truck and then piled on the ground or put in roll off dumpsters. This is a violation of the Open Dump law, and ADEM has been notified.

#4 Sheriff Taylor has established an "Outpost" in "Hurt'sboro; but he has stated publicly, that its not a full sevice facility.

#5 As to your tongue in cheek proposal about establishing a landfill - the County Commission just vetoed that very plan.

#6 You are correct - keeping a CDL certified driver on the job is nearly impossable. When you don't get your W-2's on time, don't get vacation time, don't get holiday pay and are only paid $10.00 per hour; it takes a desperate person to work for "Hurt'sboro'

#7 My "Scoop" wasn't totally in error - the town dodged the bullet by issuing the required W-2 forms, but they still have to face the music with the IRS.

#8 Kimberly Key has quit her job at Town Hall. Her quote about corruption is true - but remember - "When you point a finger. You are pointing three at yourself. She's Grandpa's girl (Jim Baxley) Town magistrate.

#9 Things were stolen before the last four administrations took office, but I will continue my long standing practice of never mentioning race.

#10 If she, (Kimberly Key) is referring to me as an imposter; my Constable's credentials can be verified by the secretary of State.

#11 I will not dignify Kimberly Key's rants; with any further response.

#12 A Civil Action was filed against Mayor Tapley in December of 2009, It went before Judge Al Johnson in June 2010, The case was dismissed (as was a previous one) and attorney's fees were assessed to yours truly. an appeal to the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals resulted in Johnson's order being reversed and all ($5,000.00) fees assessed to Mayor Tapley. The Mayor is now trying to get the town to foot the bill.

#13 The January 2011 Grand Jury issued a request to the Alabama Attorney General to investigate and audit "Hurt'sboro's books.

#14 "Hurt'sboro's population does continue to dwindle. Most of our businesses have left or closed, old folks have died, and young folks have sought greener pastures.

#15 Since "Officer" Sam Smith's name was mentioned, I will fill in some of the blanks in his regard. He no longer lives in "Hurt'sboro, because the bank foreclosed on his property. A developer bought the house for far less than Smith owed. I don't think my $5.00 dollar checks will solve his financial problems.

I don't expect to stir too much interest on your part by this submission. But, if you have room for it in the "Soap-Box, be my guest.

R.J. Schweiger

As Fred Hickman used to say on "CNN Sports Tonight," the former Constable is here to list it -- just in case you missed it.

Let's start from the top, by admitting plenty of people in Columbus would love a couple of things on this list. If Georgia spent the entire year on standard time as Arizona and Hawaii do, no clocks would have to change twice a year. But then, how many people would have dead batteries in their smoke detectors?

While Hurtsboro trash is collected for free, the monthly garbage collection fee in Columbus went up at the start of the year to 14 dollars. And that's despite the fact many of the "garbage workers" are prison inmates. Perhaps the city auditor should check how many of them have stepped up to menthol cigarettes since January.

Violating the third of Robert Schweiger's 15 points means Hurtsboro risks a fine as a first offender. If it happens.... oops, wait a minute. The closest thing I could find to an "Open Dump Law" in Alabama turned out to be something else....

I really didn't expect the Russell County Sheriff's outpost in Hurtsboro to be staffed 24 hours a day. But part of me expected Sheriff Heath Taylor to give Robert Schweiger a key to the building by now, for filing occasional reports.

Since Robert Schweiger referred to the "scoop" we've never posted here, I'll only say it involved the city of Hurtsboro being late in providing W-2 forms to city workers. I've worked at many jobs where those forms arrive around the end of January - and make me wonder if the people filing returns two weeks earlier actually work for tax offices.

The Constable's office is an elected position in counties across Alabama. Robert Schweiger says he tried to regain the office as a write-in candidate in 2008, after unsuccessfully running for Russell County Commissioner. But that approach worked about as well as a Hurtsboro garbage truck....

The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals found in Robert Schweiger's favor only a few weeks ago -- but not quite the way he puts it. The 13-page decision reversed the ruling that Schweiger must pay Hurtsboro city attorney fees. But it sent the matter back to Russell County Court for further review. This is why Hurtsboro needs shuttle bus service to downtown Phenix City.

Robert Schweiger's final point is open to dispute. Former neighbor Sam Smith told me he moved to Montgomery to take a new job -- and he most recently served a stint overseas with the Alabama National Guard. Say what you will but the National Guard, but I think it pays more than five bucks a month.

But there are problems with this 15-point list - because Robert Schweiger has raised new claims and issues that I'm unable to track down or verify. If anyone in Hurtsboro government wants to address them, they're more than welcome to write the blog with a response. You can even imitate an Aflac duck saying "Schweiger" if you wish....

More than 54,700 unique folks visited The Blog of Columbus last year! To advertise to them, make a PayPal donation, offer a story tip or comment about this blog, write me - but be warned: I may post your e-mail and offer a reply.

BURKARD BULK MAIL INDEX: 900 (- 55. 5.8%)

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.

© 2003-11 Richard Burkard, all rights reserved.

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Friday, March 18, 2011

18 MAR 11: Stats the Way It Is

C'mon, confess now - were you one of the people who boycotted last year's Census? Were you so unnerved by the "intrusiveness" of it that you refused to mail back the form? And what did you do when Census enumerators knocked on your door -- demand they count the President's birth certificates?

Data from Census 2010 was released Thursday for Columbus and all of Georgia. As of last April, Muscogee County's population was 189,885. So it only took 115 Tea Party members to prevent the city from crossing a big milestone.

The Census data confirms what the Chamber of Commerce projected several years ago. Columbus is now like Phenix City [25 Feb], with NO "majority" ethnic community. The breakdown shows 46.3 percent of the residents are Caucasian, 45.5 percent are African-American - and the Hispanic 6.4 percent are happy simply to have big-name musicians at the Caliente nightclub.

It's tempting to suggest Columbus has no ethnic majority because of "white flight" to Harris County. Its population jumped 25 percent in the last decade, and has increased to 79-percent Caucasian. And who knows how many residents take comfort in the fact that METRA buses never cross the county line....

WTVM did the math, and determined Muscogee County's population has increased four percent since 2000. Which reminds me - if we're a decade into the next millennium, is the millennium still "new?"

A Columbus State University professor noted the city's population is likely to jump by year's end, as base realignment becomes complete. That could also affect Chattahoochee County, which lost population for the fourth Census count in a row. The unified government in Cusseta might as well let Fort Benning annex it all....

(On the other hand, Stewart County saw its first decade-to-decade population gain in at least 50 years. The Census found 24 percent of the population is Hispanic - so it's no wonder some attorneys claim the correctional institution for suspected illegal immigrants is overcrowded.)

The Census report breaks down Columbus's population into several subdivisions - but without a map, it's hard to determine where the boundary lines are. The data mentions an East, a North, a West and "Fort Benning." So once again, Columbus South gets no respect.

The Census Bureau counted more than 8,600 vacant housing units in Columbus. That will interest Mayor Teresa Pike Tomlinson, who made a campaign issue out of properties sitting idle or going underutilized. You can probably create some interesting condominiums out of abandoned downtown car dealerships.

Putting the entire state together, Georgia's population increased by 18 percent between 2000 and 2010. That means one more Congressional seat, with the legislature waiting to approve a new map of the districts. This is one of those rare occasions when men actually will take a close look at maps....

The numbers game continues, in our review of other Thursday news:

+ Alabama Agriculture Commissioner John McMillan announced 17 staff members are being laid off, and more job cuts could be coming. Russell County residents can do something to prevent this - by planting cotton in their gardens this spring.

+ Former Jordan High School star Terrance Hill led Morehead State to the first big upset of the NCAA men's basketball tournament. Hill scored a career-high 23 points in a 62-61 lashing of Louisville. This Kansas fan was concerned about a regional semifinal clash with Louisville - and ended the day singing, "More, More, Morehead! How do you like it?"

+ Bars on Broadway were busy with people marking Saint Patrick's Day. I'm sorry, but I don't buy the argument that "everybody's Irish" on 17 March. For one thing, is everyone a union member on Labor Day?

More than 54,700 unique folks visited The Blog of Columbus last year! To advertise to them, make a PayPal donation, offer a story tip or comment about this blog, write me - but be warned: I may post your e-mail and offer a reply.

BURKARD BULK MAIL INDEX: 955 (+ 38. 4.1%)

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.

© 2003-11 Richard Burkard, all rights reserved.

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Thursday, March 17, 2011

17 MAR 11: Hot Toddy Sunday

The timing was a little off in the Georgia Legislature Wednesday. If you're going to take an important and dramatic vote involving alcohol, shouldn't you wait one more day -- until Saint Patrick's Day?

The Georgia Senate voted 32-22 to allow sales of alcohol in stores on Sunday. Voters still would have to approve it, in a city or county referendum. Voters who actually HAVE stills probably will vote no, to avoid any competition.

The vote on Sunday alcohol sales probably was the most closely-watched of the Georgia legislative session -- even more than the vote on pre-Kindergarten funding. It may sound crass, but many people give six-packs more attention than four-year-olds.

But the vote by Columbus's two state senators left some people scratching their heads. Ed Harbison was recorded as "excused" - which means he wasn't in the chamber, reportedly due to a family emergency. This is why "early voting" needs to be expanded beyond the ballot box, to the legislative session.

Then there was State Senator Josh McKoon, who voted against Sunday alcohol sales in stores. He succeeded Seth Harp, who made the proposal one of his top priorities in recent years. I thought the younger generation had looser morals than their elders....

Josh McKoon told the Ledger-Enquirer he realized he was voting against the Muscogee County Republican Chair's proposal. But McKoon explained Sunday liquor sales in other states lead to more alcohol-related car crashes -- and do you know how hard it is to find an open automotive body shop on a Sunday afternoon?

The River City Report found a Josh McKoon campaign video in which he promoted the concept "that we still govern ourselves," as opposed to government answers to our problems. Yet he voted against a local-option referendum on Sunday alcohol sales. How ironic that a "red" Senator supports "blue laws."

But at least Josh McKoon is showing consistency in his voting. He's against Sunday alcohol sales in stores, as well as early voting on Sundays. We'll see if he expands this thinking next year, to propose a ban on Sunday sports events at Columbus Civic Center.

Wednesday's vote was a setback for the Georgia Christian Coalition, which seemed to have put enough pressure on Georgia lawmakers to kill the bill. The coalition may have forgotten a principle from the Bible. This State Senate is full of "new wineskins," which are ready for any newfangled concoction which comes along.

Seth Harp told WRBL Columbus voters are likely to support Sunday sales of alcohol in stores, since right now they can "cross the 14th Street bridge.... to Piggly Wiggly" to buy beer in Phenix City. Clearly Harp hasn't crossed that bridge much lately -- because it's been a pedestrian bridge for almost a decade, with drivers using 13th Street.

Columbus Council will have to approve a referendum on Sunday alcohol sales in stores. Mayor Teresa Pike Tomlinson indicated Wednesday she hasn't heard from any Councilors who support the question. Translation: if they're not taking a stand, she doesn't have to take one either.

All cities and counties would have to limit the time alcohol is sold in stores on Sundays. The Senate bill only allows sales between 12:30 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. If you want wine earlier than that on a Sunday, there's a simple two-word answer - communion service.

(Perhaps it's just as well Georgia had Sunday alcohol sales in stores. TV networks certainly haven't stopped beer commercials during Sunday football and basketball games.)

The Georgia Senate will have a "make-up" bill to consider Friday, in the wake of the alcohol sales vote. It would require all convicted drunk drivers to have breathalysers installed in their cars. There could be a fringe benefit from this - as men quit going overboard on using cologne.

By the way, Wednesday was the annual Blogger's Day at the Georgia Legislature - and again this year, this blog received NO advance notice or invitation. Really now! I haven't cracked a single joke here about the disaster survivors in Japan....

Let's see what else IS fit to joke about, from Wednesday's news:

+ Fort Benning showed off its newly-opened access point at Harmony Church Road. It has four lanes, a separate entrance for trucks, a small 911 center - why, it'll be perfect for a bigger SOA Watch rally in November.

+ The ribbon was cut for a new pavilion at Wynnton Arts Academy, built in part by Fort Benning soldiers. From what I saw on WLTZ, there's plenty of unvarnished wood for fifth-graders to paint between now and mid-May.

+ Roundball Night in Dixieland (tm) was the end of the season for Alabama State's men. They were eliminated from the NCAA tournament by Texas-San Antonio 70-61, and actually ended with a losing record. Now I'm wondering if Alabama missed the tournament because it won too many games.

+ The Charlotte Observer reported former Auburn quarterback Cam Newton had a private workout with the Carolina Panthers. Now hold on here - hasn't the National Football League locked out its players? Or did Newton use that big endorsement contract to buy a leadership role with the players' union?

More than 54,700 unique folks visited The Blog of Columbus last year! To advertise to them, make a PayPal donation, offer a story tip or comment about this blog, write me - but be warned: I may post your e-mail and offer a reply.

BURKARD BULK MAIL INDEX: 917 (+ 32. 3.6%)

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.

© 2003-11 Richard Burkard, all rights reserved.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

16 MAR 11: The Audacity of Less HOPE

Why is it in the world of politics that "hope" is such a Democratic word? President Clinton believed in a "place called Hope." President Obama wrote a book with the title we're borrowing today. And the last time Republicans were thrilled about something named Hope, it was a comedian named Bob.

Georgia Governor Zell Miller was a full-fledged Democrat when he signed the HOPE Scholarship program into law. But Tuesday, Republican Governor Nathan Deal signed a bill making major changes in the rules. The bill was called "Enduring HOPE," but the circumstances remind me of an old Sandra Bullock movie - trying to keep HOPE afloat.

Governor Nathan Deal says HOPE had to be scaled back, because the trust fund built from Georgia Lottery money faced a $300 million deficit by July 2012. But part of this adjustment doesn't seem quite right. For one thing, shouldn't the budget-balancing project have been given to high school math students as a college preparatory exam?

The biggest change in the HOPE program is that the bar for a full scholarship will go up. Georgia high school seniors will need a 3.7 grade point average, instead of 3.0. They'll also need a score of 1200 on the Scholastic Aptitude Test - which is about 250 points below the current Georgia average. So only part of the bar really is going up, and that seems crooked to critics.

Students with a grade point average between 3.0 and 3.7 will receive a partial HOPE scholarship, covering 90 percent of tuition. Those children in the latest Georgia Lottery ad must be thrilled - because all they asked to control was 70 percent.

The Georgia General Assembly moved quickly to approve Enduring HOPE. Governor Nathan Deal signed the bill only three weeks after he announced it -- which in legislative timing is almost like playing an "Instant Win" scratch game.

But not all Georgians are happy with the HOPE adjustments. Georgia NAACP President Edward DuBose is threatening to call a boycott of the state lottery. At last we may have found the issue where DuBose can team up with Jerry Luquire of the Georgia Christian Coalition -- although I'm not sure DuBose would be welcome at some of the churches which back Luquire.

Edward DuBose seems especially upset with the end of HOPE money covering college textbooks. In a news conference this week, he called it a case of "rob the poor and give to the rich." As if the Mega Millions game wasn't set up that way already?

(WRBL had better be careful, or Edward DuBose will boycott it as well - for borrowing from Jesse Jackson and titling the bill-signing "Keeping HOPE Alive.")

In a way, Edward DuBose's proposal to boycott the Georgia Lottery is a stroke of genius. African-American residents who don't buy tickets will have more guaranteed money in their pockets - money they'll need for those college textbooks, if convenience stores don't take it first with higher gas prices.

But opponents of this protest say a boycott will leave even less money in the lottery trust fund, and prompt the governor to make even more adjustments. Before you know it, a classic Frank Sinatra song would be back on TV - without the final "s" in the title.

The Enduring HOPE bill also will bring adjustments in the Georgia pre-Kindergarten program. Governor Nathan Deal wanted to reduce classes from full-day to four hours per day, but changed his mind after a lot of parents complained. Pre-K for a half-day could take too many jobs away....

-> Our other blog starts with poker, then goes in directions you might not expect. Visit "On the Flop!" <-

BLOG UPDATE: Comedian Gilbert Gottfried apologized Tuesday for the Japan disaster jokes which cost him a "spokes-duck" job with Aflac. A pair of Twitter messages called it "an attempt at humor" -- adding: "I meant no disrespect." We'll have to see if Gottfried's career now has a core meltdown of its own.

While Aflac disapproved of Gilbert Gottfried's humor, his number of Twitter followers has jumped by more than 13,000 since Monday night. I read one comment Tuesday night accusing Aflac of censorship. That's strange - I don't think Aflac hired any hackers to remove Gottfried's jokes from the Internet.

(Several Twitter users put it much better than I have - Gilbert Gott-fired.)

Meanwhile, THE BIG BLOG DUCK HUNT remains open for your "audition tape" to replace Gilbert Gottfried. Record your short audio clip (no videos) of a duck saying "Aflac," and e-mail it to the blog. We'll let readers vote for the best duck voice - but no, I refuse to call this contest Aflac Idol.

Let's set our sights on other Tuesday topics....

+ Republican activist Meghan McCain headlined a Women's Leadership Conference at the Cunningham Center. Too bad the Georgia Legislature was in session - because State Senator Josh McKoon missed a golden romantic opportunity.

(McCain admitted to reporters when she took an active role with her father's 2008 presidential campaign, some advisers wanted her to lose weight. There must be a better way to illustrate the bloated federal budget than this.)

+ Phenix City Central High School hosted a forum on dropout students. One school official told WTVM the dropout rate in Phenix City is only three percent, compared with 12 percent across Alabama. Take that, Jimmy Wetzel! The project with the classic car was worth every dollar the school superintendent spent on it.

+ WXTX showed commercials urging soldiers to move to a housing development in Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Huh?! Is there a second part to base realignment that the Chamber of Commerce has kept hidden for years?

+ Alabama coasted past Coastal Carolina 68-44 in the National Invitational Tournament. Then Clemson clobbered Alabama-Birmingham 70-52 on opening night of the NCAA men's tournament. Maybe the selection committee didn't know there's a school with a similar name in Tuscaloosa.

+ Instant Message to attorney Glennon Threatt: Is it safe to assume your client "Al from Dadeville" hasn't received any invitations to Earth Day events?

More than 54,700 unique folks visited The Blog of Columbus last year! To advertise to them, make a PayPal donation, offer a story tip or comment about this blog, write me - but be warned: I may post your e-mail and offer a reply.

BURKARD BULK MAIL INDEX: 885 (- 3, 0.3%)

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.

© 2003-11 Richard Burkard, all rights reserved.

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