Thursday, June 30, 2011

30 JUN 11: Number That Tune

Once upon a time several states away, I had a dream job during college - working as a part-time D.J. at the only commercial radio stations in town. The Boss wrote on one check stub, "You're doing an excellent job." Then I said the wrong thing on the air one Sunday afternoon - and he told me on a two-way radio, "Now shut up and play records."

They don't normally play vinyl records at radio stations these days - but a dispute over radio music in Columbus reportedly has made its way to an unusual court of decision: the Better Business Bureau. The judges of the Columbus "X Factor" auditions apparently were busy with other jobs....

Here's the way Richard Hyatt described it in Wednesday's Ledger-Enquirer: PMB Broadcasting filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau, because Clear Channel Columbus claimed its country music station played more songs than PMB's country station. PMB called that false advertising -- and wanted the cheating to stop at Hank Williams tunes.

Clear Channel's WSTH "South 106.1" claimed it played more songs every 24 hours than PMB's WKCN "Kissin' 99.3." PMB's staff did its own count and disagreed. But PMB could have gone even further - noting WKCN is located farther south in Columbus than WSTH is.

So Leonard Crain of the Better Business Bureau suddenly found himself in the role of radio referee. Crain could have passed this matter on to a more knowledgeable neutral party - but it's a good thing he didn't, because Chris Chaos officially moves from one side of the argument to the other next week.

Instead, Leonard Crain gave the American Country Countdown song count to a team of advertising experts and agency board members. So for awhile, BBB stood for Better Bragging in Broadcasting....

The big decision came earlier this month. The Better Business Bureau ruled PMB's complaint was valid, while Clear Channel was guilty of false advertising. As a result, Clear Channel lost its BBB accreditation - but so far, I haven't noticed Mike Gaymon of the Chamber of Commerce moving his weekly talk show to "Foxie 105."

The Better Business Bureau report noted while South 106.1 claimed to play more songs per day, its managers also claimed there's no way to count the number of country songs played on Columbus radio. Huh?! Was this their way of admitting most country singers sound exactly alike?

We checked Wednesday night and found PMB Broadcasting has Better Business Bureau accreditation, and a grade of A-minus. Clear Channel currently has an "F," which means it's failing. But what about that other big local radio chain? Davis Broadcasting's grade is A-plus with accreditation - which could mean it pays not to play country music on radio at all.

So what have we learned from all this? Kissin 99.3 apparently plays more songs than South 106.1 -- which I consider remarkable. After all, Bear O'Brian talks a lot every morning. And Kissin 99.3 enjoys better ratings, so it probably has more commercials. Has anyone complained about the songs missing a verse or two?

But I also consider this whole radio wrestling match a little ridiculous. Why take a count of country songs to the Better Business Bureau? Is PMB heading next to the Georgia Governor's Office of Consumer Affairs, to accuse Clear Channel of fraud?

Besides, PMB could have made a lot more hay out of this country music feud. It could have invited listeners to count the songs for 24 hours, with the most accurate number winning a prize. Or it could have recruited Columbus State University music students to count the songs - potentially pushing them farther toward careers in classical or jazz music.

Maybe PMB's goal is to clean up the radio business in Columbus -- and I know from experience the business can be filled with lying. For one thing, WSHE keeps calling itself "The New AM 1270" even though it's played nothing but Southern gospel music for years.

(At least the noncommercial side of the FM band is ethical. WBOJ "88.5 the Truth" has yet to play any messages by Harold Camping.)

Now let's move around the news dial, for interesting items from Wednesday....

+ City Manager Isaiah Hugley talked with WLTZ about the city audit of the Civic Center. He said former director Dale Hester "made the Civic Center what it is today." In other words: a building that's more likely to be filled for a Jehovah's Witnesses convention than a hockey game.

(The River City Report's coverage of the Civic Center audit included a link to our posts about landfill fees in 2007. One of them mentioned an accountant's audit of the Civic Center, which found someone rented the building at a big discount without top-level approval. Yet the Junior League keeps holding its Attic Sale there, anyway....)

+ WTVM toured the newly-constructed, nearly-finished Smiths Station High School. The evening news listed its features - eight tennis courts, two football fields and two gyms. For some reason, the "labs and classrooms" at the high school only ranked fifth on the priority list.

+ Former Phenixian developer Ronnie Gilley could not return to the witness stand at the Alabama gambling corruption trial. Prosecutors explained he was sick. After what was revealed in court about Gilley offering a woman $50,000 to (ahem) make love to a State Senator, it's a wonder the jury didn't call out sick.

(A wiretap played by defense attorneys reveal Gilley offered a $50,000 bonus to a female lobbyist, if she performed a lewd act to get a lawmaker's vote. Gilley called it a "distasteful joke" - but it makes you wonder how many times he brought up the "good old days" in Phenix City years ago.)

+ The district Little League baseball tournament found Peach pounding Harris County 12-8 in eight innings. Harris County had two home runs and two strikeouts from Anna Phillips - a girl, playing in the major boys division. That long ponytail simply is too distracting.

This year's count of unique visitors is up more than 25 percent from 2010! 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: 815 (+ 25, 3.2%)

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, June 29, 2011

29 JUN 11: One, Way or Another

So you thought the fight over trash collection was over. You thought last week's Columbus Council vote on a fiscal 2012 budget settled everything. Unh-unh. Think again. The mayor indicated Tuesday the debate is NOT buried in the landfill - it's simply in a "Blue Bin," bound for recycling.

Mayor Teresa Pike Tomlinson told WTVM a new city review of the Integrated Waste Fund will result in once-a-week trash collection, even though Columbus Council decided against it last week. Someone should connect hundreds of "twist ties" together and organize a tug-o-war between the mayor and Skip Henderson.

When Columbus Council approved the city budget last week, it also approved a comprehensive study of the Integrated Waste Fund. Mayor Tomlinson insists the fund's budget deficit can be eliminated without raising monthly fees. You want to buy collectible trash bags with pictures of Councilors on them, don't you?

But two words in the mayor's TV interview could have made a lot of jaws drop across Columbus. Teresa Pike Tomlinson said money for garbage collection could be taken from "LOST funds." Yes, as in the Local Option Sales Tax - the money set aside primarily for police officers. The man handling your trash can might be a prisoner -- or it might be an undercover detective.

Using "public safety sales tax" money for trash collection would have been scandalous only one year ago. Then-Mayor Jim Wetherington opposed any proposals to tap the LOST fund for things other than law officers and street improvements. It's almost like the current mayor is trying to provoke the former one out of hiding.

One Columbus Councilor who may have been especially stunned by Mayor Tomlinson's words was Judy Thomas. Thomas proposed the city study of a comprehensive waste plan - and she took credit during last year's campaign for stopping several attempts to use LOST money for things other than public safety. But is Thomas strong enough to stop a fleet of new trash trucks?

Another idea mentioned by the mayor Tuesday is one that's been kicked around for years - capturing methane gas from the landfill, then selling it. If only there was a way to capture the hot air uttered at Columbus Council meetings, and sell it as a heating source next winter.

Mayor Tomlinson says Columbus needs to save hundreds of thousands of dollars to prepare for the closing of the current landfill, while purchasing new garbage trucks. I think this comment means we can scratch "garbage truck manufacturer" off the list of prospective businesses coming from Germany.

The mayor hopes to have a comprehensive waste plan finalized by fall. It's good to know she's taking her time - because a debate about garbage collection during summer probably would stink every bit as much as trash bags at the curb.

BLOG UPDATE: Meanwhile, Mayor Tomlinson presented Columbus Council Tuesday evening with the results of an audit of the Civic Center. In a major surprise, Councilors apparently saw the audit before the Ledger-Enquirer did.

The city audit began after Dale Hester suddenly retired as Civic Center Director in January. It ends with questions about how Hester handled free concert tickets, as well as city funds. But it could have been worse, you know. Hester could have coached a youth hockey team.

Auditor John Redmond concludes Dale Hester gave free Columbus Civic Center tickets to business owners he liked - including a business selling fish for aquariums. I'll assume the free tickets in that case were for the "Finding Nemo" production by Disney on Ice.

The city audit reveals Dale Hester made extra money during the 2009 Greater Columbus Fair, by paying himself $24 an hour to work at South Commons. Hester allegedly approved that payoff himself, without going through supervisors at the Government Center. And you thought "cutting out the middle man" saved money....

The audit was presented as Columbus Council approved Dale Hester's replacement as Civic Center Director. Mayor Teresa Pike Tomlinson told WRBL Ross Horner understands business should NOT be done through "old-school back room dealings, because that's not Columbus, Georgia anymore...." It might describe parts of Phenix City, but not Columbus.

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

E-MAIL UPDATE: We're editing out one part of this message which we are unable to confirm. But we can post the part which clearly (we think) has matters of fact and speculation....

I noticed in today's BLOG, that the name Armondo Pitters popped up. I'm quite familiar with that rascal. He was the attorney for "Hurt'sboro during the Tarver-Yoba years. He rarely showed up at Council meetings - but when he did he napped throughout the session on a bench at the back of the room.

His most nefarious (in my opinion) involvement in our association was the "Charter" trial he made a complete fool out of Tommy Worthy. I've long contended that Mr. Sumbry will weather his troubles successfully. Anyone who can pull the "wool" over everyone's eyes for thirty years, is nobody's fool. Now that he has Pitters in his corner - you can consider him a shoo-in!

R.J. Schweiger

I remembered the connection between Pitters and Hurtsboro -- but what's the big deal about him sleeping through meetings? Haven't we known all along Hurtsboro fits the classic description of a sleepy Southern town?

Robert Schweiger is the man who tried to get the Hurtsboro town charter dissolved in Russell County court several years ago. Tommy Worthy was Schweiger's attorney -- so this reference to Armando Pitters may be the closest Schweiger's ever come to complimenting someone connected to town government.

Now let's try to separate more fact from fiction about Tuesday's news:

+ Which local man is telling friends Kurt Schmitz was barred from Sam's Club, because his WTVM membership card was revoked? I hope no WTVM managers catch Schmitz wearing clothing with the station logo....

+ Rep. Sanford Bishop toured the NCR plant near Schatulga Road. He noted on Twitter the plant produces "state of the art ATM machines...." So which Republican candidate will be the first to demand the withdrawal buttons be dusted for Bishop's fingerprints?

+ A federal judge clarified what happened to a court reporter Monday at the Alabama bingo corruption trial. Myron Thompson explained the reporter passed out due to a diabetic coma. I assume the judge has ordered attorneys NOT to compare that moment to a big jackpot winner at Victoryland.

+ A church youth choir from Montgomery was scolded during a visit to the U.S. Capitol, because it sang the national anthem. Police warned the group it could not sing inside the Capitol at all without a permit. [True/WSFA] So much for getting lawmakers together to sing "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?"

This year's count of unique visitors is up more than 25 percent from 2010! 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: 790 (+ 24, 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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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

28 JUN 11: Better or Best

When I read the announcement online Friday, I couldn't resist mentioning it out loud to several people nearby. "Mayor Tomlinson will be tested for HIV Monday morning." Most of the people were stunned -- until I added she was doing it simply as a public service gesture.

Mayor Teresa Pike Tomlinson went to the Columbus Public Library, to take part in National Free HIV Testing Day. Let's face it - no one would consider Jim Wetherington a serious candidate to develop the AIDS virus. But when Bobby Peters was mayor, he probably faced a rumor or two....

There was a measure of politics in Monday's appearance. The Chattahoochee Valley Better Way Foundation administered the free HIV tests, and foundation founder Jeremy Hobbs was a big backer of Mayor Tomlinson last year. After taking the test, the mayor might lobby for one of Hobbs's long-time pet causes - police officers directing traffic on 13th Street.

But there was also some medicine and history involved in Monday's event. Jeremy Hobbs announced Teresa Pike Tomlinson was the first Columbus mayor to undergo an HIV test. I hope the wife of Robert Poydasheff isn't terribly shaken by this....

Mayor Tomlinson told WLTZ people should be tested for the AIDS virus because "knowledge is power...." And in this case, knowledge that you're AIDS-free might be a selling point to the opposite sex at a singles club.

Yet there's something about HIV that many people tend to overlook -- something I've really only heard over the years from ministers. In the vast majority of cases, the AIDS virus is preventable. For men, it's a matter of thinking about a main road in St. Joseph, Missouri - and keeping your clothes on the Belt High-way.

With improvements in examining blood donations, the odds of "accidentally" contracting HIV have dropped to near zero. For instance, a bottle of sanitizing gel can prevent the virus from spreading through needle-sharing - at least for those of you in knitting or crochet circles.

The Chattahoochee Valley Better Way Foundation admits it focuses on helping people who are HIV-positive. But shouldn't more be said about the "Best Way" - controlling your body so you can't contract the AIDS virus in the first place? Or as I tell the staff at Red Cross blood drives when they ask detailed sex-related questions, "I've lived a really boring life."

Yeah, I'll say it -- we should live in such a way that HIV testing is a waste of time. It would have been for me, had I stopped at the main library Monday. There are so many other ways to use your valuable time - but enough about that U.S. Supreme Court ruling on violent video games.

Please don't misunderstand: compassion for the people with HIV or full-blown AIDS indeed has a place. But as guests on the Maury Povich Show love to say, "I'm two-million percent positive" that I'm HIV-negative.

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

BLOG UPDATE: Phenix City Councilor Arthur Sumbry Sr. called a news conference Monday, to speak out about his recent troubles. But when reporters showed up, he had nothing to say on the record. All Sumbry needed to do was wave that certificate of pardon in the air, then spread it out on a table -- but he didn't even do that.

Arthur Sumbry's attorney was supposed to join him at the news conference on South Seale Road. But Armando Pitters never made it from Montgomery, so reporters wound up pointing microphones and cameras at a cell phone. If Zeph Baker had thought of this with his runoff "endorsements" last November, Columbus might have a different mayor today.

Armando Pitters's focus was on last week's foreclosure of Sumbry Mortuary. He says several acts of "fraud" occurred, from Synovus Financial jumping over several steps in the legal process. You can't blame Synovus employees for being nervous - since they've been concerned the F.D.I.C. might jump in the door at any moment.

Armando Pitters claimed Synovus loan processors "manipulated" Arthur Sumbry Sr. If that's true, shame on them - as you simply do NOT walk into a Phenix City Council meeting wearing long trench coats to demand a loan payment.

Arthur Sumbry Sr. and his attorney will have their day in court against Synovus 8 August - only three weeks before Sumbry's scheduled trial on perjury and forgery charges. In the meantime, supporters are stopping cars along South Seale Road. They say they're collecting donations to bail out the mortuary. But don't you wonder if Armando Pitters demanded gas money?

E-MAIL UPDATE: Monday's main topic brought a note of compassion from one reader....

Whomever was behind making Katerine Kington look bad Sunday needs to be exposed - that was down right wrong for them to do that.

Newsleader - my bhutt

When you're running unopposed at 6:00 p.m. on Sunday, you're still the leader. And have you noticed it's harder to challenge the incumbent in television news than someone holding political office?

I'd ask whether that last line of the e-mail has anything to do with politics in Pakistan. But instead, I'll move on to other Monday news:

+ Columbus Police told the Ledger-Enquirer a man was caught shoplifting from the Piggly Wiggly store on Brown Avenue. The suspect reportedly stole three pints of ice cream, five packs of cigarettes and five packages of headache powder -- and now he may never know which one was the best hangover cure.

+ Midday traffic in MidTown Columbus was re-routed, after part of a large tree fell across Buena Vista Road near 13th Street. WRBL noted it blocked all four lanes of traffic - but word didn't spread fast enough for ATV drivers and skateboarders to show up for a "flash" practice session.

+ A federal judge blocked part of Georgia's immigration reform law from taking effect Friday. One blocked section would have banned people from giving rides to illegal immigrants. How many taxi drivers around Fort Benning are breathing a sigh of relief about that one?!

+ The Alabama gambling corruption trial was interrupted for a moment, when an attorney noticed the court reporter had stopped typing. It turned out the reporter had dozed off, and was taking a nap. [True/WBRC-TV] Now you know why the Casey Anthony trial is on live television, while the "bingo trial" isn't.

+ Yahoo News reported a mansion near Gainesville, Georgia is on sale for 22 million dollars. It has more than 400 acres of land, 15,000 square feet of housing space AND a garage three times bigger than the house. In other words, Bill Elliott could retire there in comfort -- with his entire pit crew.

+ Instant Message to my old journalism school at the University of Kansas: Yes, I know you need money. So do I. But do you have to REQUIRE the students calling me to ask for donations four separate times? Are you training them for jobs in public broadcasting or something?

This year's count of unique visitors is up more than 25 percent from 2010! 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: 766 (+ 18, 2.4%)

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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Monday, June 27, 2011

27 JUN 11: Weather or Nuts

At one point during the 6:00 p.m. ET half-hour Sunday, parts of six counties in the Columbus area were under severe thunderstorm warnings. If you happened to watch the infomercial on WRBL, you knew about them. If you watched the newscast on WTVM, you probably didn't. No wonder I've seen people call up the AccuWeather website when local storm sirens sound.

How could this upside-down situation happen? Because WRBL had computer-generated maps in a corner of the screen showing the warnings. WTVM had Katherine Kington doing double duty as news and weather anchor, so she couldn't go to the weather center to check for updates. Kington clearly needs one of those "Droid Apps" on the news desk at moments like this.

Sunday's dinner hour actually revealed how both TV stations have problems handling severe weather these days. We'll start with WTVM, which still hasn't recovered completely from the ouster of Kurt Schmitz three months ago. New Chief Meteorologist Derek Kinkade apparently went out-of-town for the weekend - and unexpectedly turned into a storm chaser.

Since Bruce Lee left WTVM several weeks ago, the station's "weather team" has diminished to only Derek Kinkade. I'm told recent appearances by April Gonzales and Laura Huckabee are fill-ins only, until permanent replacements can be hired. I'm not sure why Huckabee wouldn't want to return to television -- especially since no one will confuse her with a 2012 Presidential candidate.

(Huckabee used to be on the air in Atlanta. But she left the CBS station as it focused on making a woman named Dagmar a star, complete with giant billboards along the interstates. If you weren't in a heat wave, Dagmar seemed designed to create a personal one.)

In a move as surprising as a heat wave in June, Kurt Schmitz now has filed suit against WTVM General Manager Lee Brantley. The case is in Muscogee County Superior Court, as opposed to Dee Armstrong's race discrimination suit which was in federal court. I don't think Schmitz could claim discrimination against polka enthusiasts.

Kurt Schmitz contends a contract he signed last September was breached when WTVM fired him in March. Schmitz told the Ledger-Enquirer he was under contract until February 2014 - at which time he would have been free to compete for the U.S. curling team at the Sochi Winter Olympics.

Kurt Schmitz's lawsuit claims he never resigned from WTVM, and Lee Brantley ended his "career as a broadcast meteorologist" by terminating him in March. I'm not sure it's really ended, though. Wouldn't ubiquitous radio forecasters Alan Archer and James Spann appreciate Schmitz giving them a few days off?

The lawsuit reveals Kurt Schmitz's contract bars him from working at another Columbus TV station for one year. One question in the case is whether WTVM made that "non-compete clause" null and void by firing him. It's a very grown-up version of asking, "Can I go outside and play again?"

Kurt Schmitz admits he now watches WRBL's Bob Jeswald for weather reports - but that may become tougher in the second half of this year. WRBL's parent company Media General announced the other day all employees must take 15 furlough days by the end of 2011. The taped weather reports played on Saturday nights soon may last all the way to Tuesday.

The 15 forced furlough days raise the question of whether WRBL will stop newscasts it recently restarted. You may recall the 12:00 noon news and Sunday "Nightwatch" were brought back last year, after being eliminated in 2008-09. Tammy Terry ought to use her time away from the newsroom working on an infomercial selling hair products.

(The furlough announcement also applies to Media General newspapers, including the Opelika-Auburn News. I'm going to assume that paper will go without a sports section for 15 days in July, because it wouldn't dare miss an issue during football season.)

While two Columbus TV news departments deal with short staffing, WLTZ quietly goes about its business. But the evening news anchor seems to change so often, I'm not sure they bother flying down from Iowa to get acquainted anymore.

As for the storms, WRBL reported a sudden two-inch rainfall in Lee County caved in a gas station roof in Opelika. I can't wait for someone to blame this on President Obama - claiming the release of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve is making more than gas prices drop.

A familiar name in Columbus radio begins our check of other weekend news....

+ Former WVRK "Rock 103" host Chris Chaos announced online he's ending his own "180-day non-compete," and will join WRCG and "106.9 Rocks" next week. Chaos again will be on the air during the afternoon. Many families already have enough chaos in the morning, simply getting everyone to the right location.

+ The Ledger-Enquirer revealed more details of the Columbus Police investigation of the Parks and Recreation Department. Concerns apparently were raised about the Georgia Blazers basketball program as far back as 2003. Maybe that's why the Columbus Lady Wings basketball team has had trouble getting media attention.

(Former Carver High School men's basketball coach Richard Mahone told police the Muscogee County School District reprimanded him, because he complained about then-Parks Director Tony Adams recruiting out-of-town players. Didn't he realize how valuable every tourist dollar is?)

+ Albany eliminated the Columbus Lions in the Southern Indoor Football League Conference Finals 75-61. I've already read one lengthy "conspiracy theory" suggesting the Lions threw the game, to save the cost of a long road trip for the championship game. I'm not sure about that - but it would have looked strange for the team to hold a bake sale outside the Civic Center.

+ The Miss Phenix City pageant hosted a "princess party" for girls. I'm not sure that sort of gender restriction will be allowed in New York much longer....

+ Instant Message to the Woodland homeowner with a large trimmed-hedge W outside his house: Two thoughts came to mind Sunday, when I drove by. Either you're welcoming visitors to your town - or you really need to get over the 2008 election.

This year's count of unique visitors is up more than 25 percent from 2010! 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: 748 (- 27, 3.5%)

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, June 26, 2011

26 JUN 11: Fountain City 500

If Columbus had a race track like East Alabama Motor Speedway, our title today would be a nice name for a NASCAR or IndyCar event. But of course, this IS Columbus - so if NASCAR showed up, the stands might be only half-full.

SUNDAY SOAPBOX: Our title actually does not involve racing -- unless it's a race by some residents to move out of town....

Well,Tomlinson just lost my vote for re-election..What a slap in the face for the older people and people of low income who are home owners for her to even think about a $500 fee for basic city services..Do I think the property tax freeze is fair?..Yes,it is fair because it protects people who make the choice to stay living in a house rather than moving and that move is usually up.These people are mainly elderly homeowners ..Where does she think these people are going to come up with $500? So,what happens if they can't pay the extra $500? Does the city take their homes and make them homeless?...Get real Tomlinson and where is your compassion? If anything raise the taxes on homes over $300,000.

Now hold on -- this proposed $500 fee apparently started NOT with the Columbus mayor, but a subcommittee of the city Charter Review Commission. Teresa Pike Tomlinson was asked for her thoughts about it during a meeting this past week. What was she supposed to do - stick out her tongue and walk out?

From what I read in the Ledger-Enquirer, the Charter Review Commission is considering a minimum fee of $500 per year for all homeowners. It would NOT be an "extra" $500 above their property taxes, but whatever amount it takes to reach that minimum. A deeper explanation of the math might require updating the poker blog....

Mayor Teresa Pike Tomlinson actually opposed the basic services fee during the subcommittee meeting. She's quoted as calling it "a Band-Aid on an aortic aneurysm." Doesn't this prove how well-educated our mayor is? Some officials would have settled for a "bandage on a broken leg" reference.

The deeper issue in this debate is how to increase city revenues. Mayor Tomlinson campaigned on a proposed "sunset" of the city property tax freeze. Newcomers from Fort Knox facing the June heat probably are stunned to learn there's anything in Columbus that's frozen.

Mayor Tomlinson thinks support for the property tax freeze has, well, melted in recent years. She believes there might be enough votes to change the rules in a referendum. But then again, the mayor thought she had the votes on Columbus Council to reduce trash service - and she wound up with a grand total of one.

Despite the mayor's explanation, it appears a proposed $500 fee will go before the full Charter Review Commission this summer. The exact wording will be worked out with the city attorney, apparently including the rules for those who don't pay it. Will there be a "lien" so hard that it becomes a "lean" from collection agents wearing trench coats?

This debate should prove how wide-ranging the city charter review process is. Practically everything is on the table at these meetings -- and if someone proposes new rules for Victory Drive nightclubs, more reporters probably will show up.

Mayor Tomlinson still may be recovering from a proposed city budget, which received several revisions when Columbus Council approved it this past week. Port Columbus winds up with only a 17-percent cut in city funding. We'll now see if the museum staff concocts any more make-believe Civil War battles, to make up the difference.

We have one other e-mail today -- from the woman who had trouble reading older blog posts:

Thank you so much! I do not live in Columbus, I live in Peachtree city GA. I did live in Columbus from the years of 1995 to 2000. This blog brings back many memories and is also a way to keep up with the new things going on down there. So you inspired me, and this past weekend we drove down to Columbus. Our family went to the Columbus museum and the Infantry Museum. We also could not let a trip to Columbus go by without eating at Country's barbeque. If you ever decide to relocate, consider Peachtree City. I wish someone would write a blog about this place. It is stranger than anyone can ever imagine!

Thanks again for making me laugh!


Take that, all scoffers of this blog! The fun we try to have here is promoting Columbus tourism.

I used to live in metro Atlanta, and was asked to "house-sit" for a vacationing family one summer about ten miles from Peachtree City. Their spacious home was in Tyrone, which in 1990 was a small town. It was SO SMALL that a police car actually drove around the back of the house one Friday evening to check on me eating dinner - and there was no driveway back there.

Since Tyrone had no real business district, I drove to Peachtree City to shop for groceries. I was impressed with the rigid sign ordinance - even if it made Kroger harder to find.

Peachtree City is famous for its golf cart paths, which allow people to scoot around town without burning gasoline. One Friday evening I tried to jog on those paths - but was frustrated to discover they didn't always connect to each other. It was almost like they were trying to help train the high school cross-country team.

There probably is plenty of humor waiting for a blog writer in Peachtree City. In fact, I've noted before here how the first high school in a "P.C." town was named McIntosh.

(BLOGGER'S NOTE: The jokes for today have concluded - but you're welcome to read on for some personal thoughts on another news item.)

BUT SERIOUSLY: Speaking of the Atlanta years, it was sad to learn Saturday of the death of Nick Charles. I didn't work alongside him at CNN Center, but our paths crossed a few times. He was a friendly fellow off the air - and had great chemistry with Fred Hickman on "Sports Tonight," long before ESPN overwhelmed them with Keith Olbermann and Dan Patrick.

Nick Charles's sport of passion was boxing - and he always seemed to have the inside line to Mike Tyson, for interviews before and after big fights. Charles had to be disappointed with how boxing has diminished with the rise of UFC and mixed martial arts. Charles died in New Mexico, sadly looking like Tyson had used him as a sparring partner.

The cause of Charles's death reminds me of a short and simple line a friend of mine wrote online this weekend: "Dear God, I pray for a cure for cancer. Amen."

This year's count of unique visitors is up more than 25 percent from 2010! 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: 775 (- 22, 2.8%)

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, June 24, 2011

24 JUN 11: You Miss a Day....

Talk radio listeners know how to end that sentence: miss a lot. I missed two days here because of a necessary road trip, and came home to find I've missed a LOT of interesting local stories. So let's play catch-up today - as opposed to playing with ketchup, which I don't even do with hot dogs.

1. SUMBRY SHUTDOWN. Phenix City Councilor Arthur Sumbry Senior's year went from bad to worse, when sheriff's officers showed up at his mortuary and removed everything inside. This makes the "senior prank" at Columbus High School look really small by comparison.

Russell County Sheriff's deputies went to Sumbry Mortuary and Florist on South Seale Road because the building was in foreclosure. Arthur Sumbry Sr. apparently couldn't make his payments to Synovus Bank - which surprises some of us, who thought his political clout would give him an inside track to the Synovus Board of Directors.

Russell County Sheriff Heath Taylor explained he was simply carrying out a court order in a foreclosure case. His deputies carried out everything in the mortuary - including a body, which went to the morgue. Amazingly, that body has NOT been identified as Arthur Sumbry Senior's political career.

The other items from Sumbry Mortuary are now in storage, somewhere in Russell County. Maybe now prosecutors will find that letter of pardon Governor Fob James issued 30 years ago.

The foreclosure comes two months before Arthur Sumbry Sr. is scheduled for trial on perjury and forgery charges. His daughter Sabrina told the Ledger-Enquirer it's a "political move" by the new Russell County Sheriff. She apparently stopped short of calling it a mortuary plot.

2. TALBOT'S FLEECE SALE? Three Talbot County law officers pleaded NOT guilty Thursday to federal extortion charges. A grand jury indicted them, along with a county jailer -- which leads me to think this involves something a little bigger than that police officer who finds Ronald McDonald eating Krystals on TV.

Undercover federal agents went to Talbot County in 2009, looking for some kind of corruption relating to drug trafficking. Of course, some critics of the government believe Talbot County went to pot a long time ago....

A federal prosecutor claims the three accused law officers used threats of force and violence to extort money from Talbot County suspects. Everyone realizes the proper approach is exactly the opposite. You pay a few dollars during summer, for the chance to force someone to drop into a dunk tank at the fair.

As it happens, Talbot County is in the middle of a runoff election to replace the late Sheriff. WRBL discovered one suspect is the son-of-law of candidate Tom Whimberly Junior. So how quickly can his daughter file divorce papers?

Georgia state agents say the charges against Michael Gamble include "computer invasion of privacy." There must be some mistake here. Jailers are supposed to use keys to check on people -- the metal kind, not the ones with big letters of the alphabet on them.

3. NOISY NORTHEAST. Drive west from Talbot County on U.S. 80 and you'll reach the Midland and Upatoi areas of Columbus. If you're not sure exactly where that is, follow the advice they used to give in radio commercials for race tracks - when you hear it, you're near it.

The noise from Fort Benning brought a lot of complaints at the latest "Let's Talk" public forum with Mayor Teresa Pike Tomlinson. Several Midland residents grumbled about firing ranges being used at all hours of the day and night. This may explain why the big Upatoi Independence Day celebration is an invitation-only event.

A Deputy Garrison Commander from Fort Benning attended the forum, and explained the Army needs to "own the night" by having tank training after dark. If the Army doesn't own it, bar owners on Broadway might claim it for themselves....

One resident asked for the live fire training to stop at midnight. Saddam Hussein's aides probably wish they could have made that request, before "Operation Desert Storm" began in Kuwait 20 years ago.

The complaints about noise are one thing, but one of the people who stood and spoke in support of Fort Benning was another. It was Robbie Watson of The River City Report -- a website I assisted Watson in starting last year. When she spoke out, she jumped from observing journalist to biased participant. Not even Matt Drudge endorses candidates at campaign rallies.

Robbie Watson suggested the city do something for concerned Midland and Upatoi residents by purchasing "white noise machines." When I lived near Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in Atlanta, there was something similar - federal money for "noise abatement." No one dared to approach racial lines with their language about it.

4. IN-CoRreCT. Muscogee County School Superintendent Susan Andrews expressed disappointment Thursday with the district's scores on the annual CRCT exams. It's a little easier for her to this, when the results come out days after the school board extends her contract.

Susan Andrews admitted to WRBL she's never happy with the CRCT results, because there's always room for students to improve. Even Gene Chizik had to keep coaching his team week after week, during the last football season....

The CRCT scores show 48 percent of Muscogee County's eighth-graders do not meet the standard for their grade in science. And the concern doesn't stop there. Part of the remaining 52 percent is using that scientific "knowledge" to pull practical jokes on other students.

SCHEDULED THIS WEEKEND: Your e-mail about the Columbus Mayor's money ideas....

This year's count of unique visitors is up more than 25 percent from 2010! 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: 797 (+ 37, 4.9%)

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, June 22, 2011

22 JUN 11: Spam On the Grill

Because of a busy schedule, we're taking a break from the usual format today. It's one of our occasional SPAM-A-RAMA days -- where we take actual e-mail titles we've received over the months, and offer quick replies to them. Your dose of spam starts. Right. Now....


Really now - that is NOT a nice way to describe the mayor's proposed budget.


But how do I pay for the trip there?


So please keep the speed-dating line at Viva El Toro moving along.


Also known as a Tea Party meeting in Ladonia.


Now go by some sunscreen.


The only ones I've seen in Columbus work the check-out lines at Wal-Mart.


Oh yeah - the Jim Blanchard Leadership Forum is only two months away.


I thought John Smoltz was running for county commissioner, not the Georgia Supreme Court.


Still waiting for The Phenixian after all these years.


....and imagine if Vancouver had WON that hockey game last week.


One difference between Piggly Wiggly and The Fresh Market.


Wow - MidTown Inc. hasn't gone under yet?!


Because it appears to be the closest Major League Soccer team to Columbus.


Suze Orman's latest book, offered exclusively on the Oprah Winfrey Network.


I've come to assume that, when I'm first in line for the light to change.


They should be outside downtown convenience stores Thursday afternoon.


Aw c'mon - I think Jeremy Hobbs can write more polite promotionsl e-mails than that.


What people probably called my entry in the church chili cookoff.


Oh boy - I've won another free e-mail account!


Isn't that supposed to be Sarah Palin?

(BLOGGER'S NOTE: We'll need to take Thursday off from blogging. Hopefully all will be back to normal Friday.)

This year's count of unique visitors is up more than 25 percent from 2010! 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.


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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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

21 JUN 11: Planes, Detain and Automobile

Somehow I have the feeling our main topic today will come up during talk show monologues tonight. It's almost a frequent flier's dream come true - with many of them dreaming an airport security director received a full body cavity search by police.

The man in charge of security at Columbus Airport was arrested Monday. Jeffrey Wright is accused of breaking into a car two weeks ago. And it didn't even happen at the airport, so he could use the "checking the rent-a-car mileage" excuse.

Police Chief Ricky Boren says someone reported seeing Jeffrey Wright break into a car outside the Columbus Park Crossing movie theaters. But why did a public witness have to report this in the first place? It only seems logical to deploy more officers around theaters showing "Fast and Furious" movies.

But this is where the story becomes a little puzzling. Chief Ricky Boren admitted to the Ledger-Enquirer the owner of the vehicle in question apparently never reported a break-in, and may not have noticed anything was missing. Hmmmm - the better for installing airport smuggling wiretaps?!

If the car owner never reported a break-in, this opens the door allows for other explanations of what Jeffrey Wright did. Maybe a friend was locked out of his vehicle, and Wright was trying to assist him. Since it happened at Columbus Park Crossing, Sears probably had dozens of coat hangers to spare....

Maybe this explains why some late-night TV newscasts didn't mention Jeffrey Wright's arrest, even though breaking into a car is a felony. Of course, they could be protecting his Wright to a fair trial.

Some online commenters were surprised Monday night by the fact that Columbus Airport has its own Police Chief. The airport website barely mentions him. Jeffrey Wright has blended so well into the background that Mayor Teresa Pike Tomlinson hasn't even suggested consolidating his office.

The airport's website notes large aspects of security are handled by federal agencies - the Department of Homeland Security and Transportation Safety Administration. Jeffrey Wright's work as Police Chief involves rescue operations and firefighting, including the use of "AFFF foam." I thought those letters referred to the city's potential future bond rating....

Jeffrey Wright posted bond Monday, and is expected in Recorder's Court Wednesday. In the meantime, he's on "administrative leave." I'm not sure what that means at Columbus Airport. Does Wright move over to the coffee shop, and try to sell lattes?

But in the meantime, the thought of an airport security director getting arrested invites all sorts of joke material. I can see the line of airline passengers outside Recorder's Court, taking off their shoes to throw at him.

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

E-MAIL UPDATE: Speaking of being "taken downtown" for questioning....

With all the bars on Broadway it would be understandable to see occasional bottles and cans in the street but what's with all the beer and liquor bottles over on First avenue on weekend mornings? Shouldn't they be drinking in the bars on Broadway?

Oh dear -- I hope the Miss Georgia contestants didn't stress out too much backstage during rehearsals.

I haven't seen what this writer is describing, but the reason for those bottles seems obvious to me. First Avenue is where people park when Broadway spaces are full. Downtown diners take their "Merlot to go" - then if the wine isn't fine, it gets left behind.

The title of this e-mail actually said, "We need better recycling efforts on First Ave." Maybe it's happening after the author drives through downtown - although I'm sure the Sunday School classes at First Presbyterian Church could make more money picking up beer cans, instead of bottles.

Let's pick up other scraps of Monday news debris....

+ Two young men were sentenced to seven years in prison for taping razor blades to playground equipment at Lakebottom Park. Even defense attorney Michael Garner admitted to reporters it was a "senseless crime," inspired simply by boredom. This is why the Office of Crime Prevention should pursue federal grant money, to give every eighth-grader a video game system.

+ The colors of the Armor School officially arrived at Fort Benning from Fort Knox, with an "uncasing ceremony." Isn't this amazing? The Army goes through all sorts of pomp and ceremony, celebrating something UPS does thousands of times a day.

+ Cagle's announced it will eliminate a shift at its Pine Mountain Valley plant in August, putting about 300 employees out of work. Those Chick-Fil-A cows had better improve their job performances, or they'll join those workers at the Career Center - those hungry workers.

+ Our new Miss Georgia picked up her official car for the next year. Michaela Lackey will drive a Kia (duh), which she admits is the first car she's ever had to herself. We'll see how long that lasts -- especially if Lackey gets invited to Georgia football games this fall.

+ WTVM showed off the three rings Auburn University football players are receiving for winning titles last year. It's only fitting, really - considering the three-ring circus last fall over Cam Newton's eligibility.

(Please notice one big difference between Auburn football and the Miss Georgia pageant. The only ring many pageant contestants want to see has nothing to do with winning a title. It's given to them by boyfriends.)

+ Tim Hudson hammered a homer, as Atlanta topped Toronto 2-0 in interleague baseball. The fact that the starting pitcher batted shows this game was played in a National League ballpark. The low score indicates summer humidity has hit Georgia in a big way.

+ Instant Message to Josina Pittman with the mayor's office: Please forgive the late regrets. But I saw your e-mailed invitation to Monday night's reception at the River Club too late. Had I known an economic development official was coming, I would have brought a German translator with me.

This year's count of unique visitors is up more than 25 percent from 2010! 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: 760 (+ 23, 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, June 20, 2011

20 JUN 11: Sun-Dried

Today is clean-up day in parts of Columbus, after Friday's fierce storms. A couple of small trees were ripped down near Golden Park. The "Betsy Ross flag" was blown to the ground near the Space Science Center. There even was damage to the Government Center Annex roof - as if the budget debate didn't blow the roof off it already.

Some potentially controversial issues are waiting for Columbus Council, after the budget is finalized next week. But the mayor is indicating one of them will NOT come up this year - the question of Sunday alcohol sales in stores. Who knows how many Father's Day celebrations were ruined, because children couldn't use fake ID cards to buy beer?

Mayor Teresa Pike Tomlinson told the Ledger-Enquirer there hasn't been a stampede of Columbus residents demanding a vote on Sunday alcohol sales in stores. She's counted one reporter and one private citizen. Maybe the mayor needs to move Tuesday's "Let's Talk" session from the Midland Masonic Lodge to the Sports Page.

The mayor also noted a special election on Sunday alcohol sales would have a cost. Since this is an "off year" in the election cycle, a special vote would cost the city about $100,000. You'll notice there's been no rush by Anheuser-Busch or Coors to put up the money for this....

Even the biggest backer of Sunday alcohol sales in stores agrees with the mayor on this. Former State Senator Seth Harp agrees city money is tight, and "there are higher priorities" for Columbus right now. Wow - is he saying garbage comes before beer?!

(Critics ought to point Harp to the dictionary. It clearly shows Budweiser, Coors and even Tecate come before trash.)

Jerry Luquire of the Georgia Christian Coalition guesses the Sunday alcohol question will be on the Columbus ballot early in 2012, tied to the presidential primary. I can see the campaign signs now: "Tea Party yes, Keg Party no."

(The date for that primary isn't set yet, because a new state law allows the Georgia Secretary of State to make that decision - and he doesn't have to make that decision until 1 December. Hopefully by then, Newt Gingrich's wife will have settled on a date for the couple's next overseas cruise.)

Jerry Luquire will have plenty to do in the months ahead - trying to stop Sunday alcohol sales in cities where it's already on the ballot. One of those cities is Albany, where Luquire will take on every worker at the Miller brewery who wants overtime pay.

But for now, Phenix City businesses still remain winners. They know liquor-starved Columbus residents are improving their profits on Sundays. One potential loser is Davis Broadcasting -- because it's not very appealing to hold a second "Family Day in the Park."

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

E-MAIL UPDATE: This apparently has been a problem with a while, but a new reader pointed it out....

Hey , can you please send me a link to your blog? I am only getting one page and I cant figure out how to get to the rest of the blog. I am sure enjoying reading this!

Thank you


Jennifer means only one week of blog entries shows up at a time -- with no link to older entries. The "archives" word on the right side used to let you check a week or a month of your choice. But after eight-and-a-half years and more than 2,600 posts, my blog server may have decided I'm addicted to hoarding.

This question led me to check the HTML code on my blog Sunday night, for the first time in years. I've never touched it, because I don't claim to be a coding expert. I had trouble talking to co-workers at TV stations, who insisted on using police "ten" codes around me.

The HTML code for "archives" didn't give me an easy solution to allow checking of older posts. Instead, it mentions something called a "w3c validator" - which sounds like something Fort Benning police use at the Main Gate.

For now, my best advice to Jennifer is to use the search box at the top left corner of the blog. You can review a month of entries at a time by typing something like "Apr 11" - and making sure that month is in quotes. Be careful with those searches, though. Type in "Hurtsboro" and an old browser might crash.

We'll keep working on that issue - and in the meantime, let's check other topics from Father's Day weekend:

+ The Ledger-Enquirer reported Muscogee County Judge Julia Lumpkin and Frank Lumpkin III are fighting in court over their father's estate. Attorneys say one sticking point is who should have season tickets to University of Georgia football games. Why don't they both follow Frank Lumpkin, Junior's generous example - and give them to Isaiah Crowell's relatives?

+ Fort Benning Staff Sergeant John Heslin was named "Drill Sergeant of the Year" at a competition in South Carolina. While the new Miss Georgia wins the free use of a car for a year, I think Heslin will win 100 push-ups from every private in basic training.

+ Miss Georgia 2011 signed a contract for the coming year. Michaela Lackey told WTVM her Dad called her win the "best Father's Day gift ever" - because she now has a $15,000 college scholarship. So she'll be busy traveling around the state, while he has extra money for a vacation in the Rockies.

+ Alabama's Madeline Mitchell was named second runner-up at the Miss USA Pageant. This pageant is very different from Miss America. For one thing, the only "platforms" Miss USA contestants need are the shoes on their feet.

+ A Dallas County, Alabama woman gave birth to sextuplets. It took 51 people at a Birmingham medical center to deliver Heather Carroll's five girls and one boy. It probably will take 51 more people to follow this family around with cameras, for a TLC reality series.

+ The Columbus Lions tripped Trenton 62-60, to advance to the Southern Indoor Football League semifinals. The Lions will host Albany next Saturday night in another "520 Feud." Now if Fort Benning police will kindly stop the Albany team bus, and demand everyone prove they're not illegal immigrants....

This year's count of unique visitors is up more than 25 percent from 2010! 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: 737 (- 34, 4.4%)

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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Sunday, June 19, 2011

19 JUN 11: Lackey, Dogs

Columbus was calm Saturday, after a couple of days of stormy weather. I read one report of a tree blocking the road to the National Infantry Museum - apparently blown down by high winds. This could never happen to Miss Georgia contestants, of course. They know extra coats of hairspray can prevent that.

Congratulations to Michaela Lackey, who was crowned our new Miss Georgia at the RiverCenter Saturday night. She now will.... hey, wait a minute. Who decided she was OUR Miss Georgia? Where was the online poll? The five-digit number for texting our choice? The gorgeous emcee Cat Deeley, giving every contestant a beauty run for their money?

But I digress: Michaela Lackey competed in Columbus as "Miss Heart of Lakes" - a local pageant held in Rabun County. If someone really wanted to win that title, you'd think their talent would be fly fishing....

Yet here's the thing: Michaela Lackey is from Marietta, but was NOT crowned Miss Cobb County. She was first runner-up for that title last August -- yet she topped Briana Jewett Saturday night to become Miss Georgia. Why, this is almost as unfair as allowing the Green Bay Packers to beat Atlanta in last year's football playoffs.

The Miss Georgia organization decided to combine the main pageant with the "Outstanding Teen" competition for younger ages. The Ledger-Enquirer website indicates Julia Martin won that title at 10:15 p.m. ET - meaning she barely had time to leave Columbus before curfew.

That wasn't the only surprise at the 2011 Miss Georgia pageant. One of the judges was a meteorologist from Miami. But it was NOT Trent Aric, who used to work at WRBL -- and on top of that, the unemployed Kurt Schmitz was left out in the cold again.

WRBL put every night of the Miss Georgia pageant on its website for live streaming. Yet it did NOT put the final night on TV -- not even on the second digital channel. Maybe the managers studied the contestants, then decided Maren Jensen on "Battlestar Galactica" was the more timeless beauty.

WXTX tried to compete with the live webcast by showing parts of the Miss Georgia pageant live during the 10:00 p.m. news. But the pageant ran late, with the winner crowned after 10:30 -- leaving Fox 54's viewers to choose a winner between Katherine Kington, April Gonzales and Kristin Gold.

Michaela Lackey talked during the 11:00 p.m. news as if the Miss America pageant was approaching in September. That was a surprise as well, because the national event was moved to January several years ago. How is ABC going to squeeze those ladies into the schedule - especially when they're competing with college football cheerleaders?

Since I wasn't invited to cover or judge the Miss Georgia pageant, I did NOT attend again this year. Instead I went running on the Riverwalk, then drove to dinner on Victory Drive. Thankfully, I was NOT stopped by any potential prostitutes. It pays to stay in the middle lane until you're ready to turn into the restaurant.

I wound up at Sonic, parking my car in one of the order stalls - only to learn that restaurant is now "drive-through only" after 9:00 p.m. So when the sun set in mid-June, the old-time drive-in feeling disappears. Potential armed robbers may have stolen something, without even showing up.

So I burned extra gasoline going through Sonic's drive-through lane, and ordered two of their new "All-American" hot dogs. The publicized difference is their toppings, but the quieter difference is that they're all-beef. Up to now, Sonic's foot-long coneys contained pork - so that was NO little piggie going "wee wee wee" all the way home.

I ordered two chili cheese dogs from Sonic for $1.99 each. The foot-long coney for $3.29 probably was the better value - but I'm not sure it would have fit inside the small paper bag.

Sonic's six-inch chili cheese hot dogs were good and tasty - but to be honest, Checkers down the street would have given me the same meal for half the price. Hot dogs get on the "value menu" there. At Sonic, a "value" is defined as a one-dollar banana.

BIG PREDICTION UPDATE: Despite winning evening wear and swimsuit preliminaries two nights in a row, my choice for Miss Georgia didn't even make the semifinals Saturday night. What made the judges turn against Miss Rome, Stephanie Burkholder? Do you have to do more than dress nicely to win a pageant these days?

Stephanie Burkholder's enrollment as Ole Miss at the University of Mississippi apparently wasn't an issue with the judges. After all, Michaela Lackey attends the North Carolina School of the Arts. It's no wonder the Georgia legislature scaled back the HOPE scholarship this year. For some women, it's simply not good enough.

This year's count of unique visitors is up more than 25 percent from 2010! 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: 771 (+ 6, 0.8%)

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, June 17, 2011

17 JUN 11: At Ease?

The Fort Benning Conference Center hosted a job fair for soldiers Thursday. It was sponsored by the website Civilian Jobs, but WLTZ showed plenty of soldiers in uniform. They all may have been thinking the same way - dress like a soldier, and employers will have sympathy toward you.

This summer is certainly a season of change at Fort Benning - and not simply because of base realignment. The post police chief announced this week drivers no longer need a sticker or pass to enter. After all, it's easier to "Follow Me" when you don't have to stop somewhere to fill out forms first.

For decades, security at military installations nationwide required visitors to check in at entry gates. Fort Benning required outsiders to place a card on their dashboards - as if the lack of a buzz cut wasn't a giveaway already.

But now in an Army test, Fort Benning is doing away with car decals for soldiers and pass cards for visitors. A spokesperson explained the decals could make soldiers a target of terrorists. So privates need to blend in more with the general public -- even if the generals appear in public with all their stars.

This new policy raises an obvious question: how far should soldiers go to avoid standing out from the crowd? Go to Peachtree Mall on the right weekday, and you'll see dozens of Fort Benning soldiers in khaki outfits. Should they wear casual clothes on shopping trips in Columbus - even if it makes the military discounts more difficult to claim?

Some Columbus residents actually might feel safer to have Fort Benning soldiers around, wearing G.I. garb. They outnumber those 100 new police officers, anyway....

And it's not like Fort Benning is blending everything into the Columbus landscape. The big rail shipment of military vehicles from Fort Knox arrived this week, and passed through the downtown area as it did. It was almost like Benning was sending a message to all the remaining skeptics of base realignment.

Fort Benning Police Chief Kevin Clarke notes post security isn't being relaxed completely. The new rules require visitors to go through a special entry lane, with their license plates recorded on digital cameras. I'll assume Kodak won a nice military contract, for suggesting this approach.

Visitors to Fort Benning also will be screened with a hand-held scanning device. The police chief says it will check a "variety of databases." People who have posted photos of themselves on Facebook wearing tie-dye shirts could be suspected members of SOA Watch.

The Fort Benning Commandant doesn't seem concerned about these changes in security rules. General Robert Brown invited the general public earlier this year to come onto post, and play at the Follow Me golf course. But please don't expect the "bunkers" to match what soldiers experience in basic training.

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

BIG PREDICTION UPDATE: Well, well! My Miss Georgia pick may not be so far-fetched after all. Stephanie Burkholder won a Wednesday night preliminary competition for evening wear -- then won Thursday night's swimsuit prize. As long as Miss Rome doesn't wear a rebel flag to give away her university, she might turn out all right.

Let's get caught up on other news you may have missed over the last couple of days....

+ The Muscogee County Marshal and Sheriff opened a new firing range for officers on Manor Road. I'm not sure this event was timed very well. If the two departments can combine to have a single firing range, why can't Columbus Council merge them in everything else?

(The new firing range apparently is located close to Muscogee Manor. That's the way to keep residents awake during afternoon card games.)

+ Phenix Lumber Company responded to a scheduled federal fine of $1.9 million for safety violations. A statement claimed the business has made a "dramatic improvement" - while an employee told WRBL a piece of machinery fell and injured his leg this week. So if safety concerns are dropping, that could mean two different things.

+ RC Cola reestablished its international headquarters in Columbus, at a building on Tenth Avenue. There's clearly work to do to restore this brand's popularity. RC Cola is practically impossible to find at local restaurants - and don't even bother asking for a Moon Pie to go with it.

+ WXTX reported the poisoned oak trees at Toomer's Corner in Auburn are soaked in water every day. We mention this for the benefit of all construction crews working outside in the heat right now.

+ The U.S. Census Bureau reported the number of Korean residents in Lee County has quadrupled in the last ten years. They should be easy to spot - look for the two Kias in the driveway.

+ Eleven national governments filed legal briefs opposing Georgia's new immigration rules. For some strange reason, all the countries are Latin American. Where's the complaint from Canada -- especially after that hockey unrest in Vancouver?

+ Alabama State Senator Scott Beason was heard on a wiretap at the gambling corruption trial, saying visitors to Greenetrack in Eutaw are "aborigines." I knew Mississippi casinos wanted from Columbus - but I never realized Alabama's electronic bingo halls had a following in Australia.

+ Instant Message to all single guys: The Miss Georgia pageant final round is Saturday night. The Miss U.S.A. pageant is on TV Sunday night. We might not feel guilt pangs about Father's Day weekend after all.

This year's count of unique visitors is up more than 25 percent from 2010! 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: 765 (- 47, 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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Thursday, June 16, 2011

16 JUN 11: The King of Pops

There was a jaw-dropping report on the TV news Wednesday night, and we'll get to that later. But a blog can be all sorts of things - and today, this blog begins as a mix of obituary and tribute. A familiar name here has passed away. And since I'm writing this, it's clearly not I....

Thanks to The River City Report, we learned Wednesday Columbus business owner Stephen King has died. We think he's worthy of far more than a couple of lines in the Ledger-Enquirer website's obituary section. His story included entertaining, opinion-making -- and explosive behavior which was aimed in a positive way, as opposed to those al-Qaeda copycats.

Stephen King was a longtime Columbus resident, who became a regular voice calling the old TalkLine radio show. But even before that, he was a movie extra -- hob-nobbing with stars of the 1980 comedy "The Cannonball Run," such as Sammy Davis Junior [1 Jul 09]. If you've never seen that movie, picture J.R. Allen Parkway on a typical weekend....

Stephen King moved into the fireworks business in 1993, starting Sky-High Pyrotechnics International. I never asked him if the movie appearance inspired him to turn from cannonballs to fireballs.

We first profiled Stephen King on Independence Day 2007, which understandably was his busiest day of the year. His hired crews staged dozens of fireworks shows in Columbus and across the Southeast for years -- mostly done in recent years by computer. Clicking a mouse does seem much safer than lighting a match, after guzzling a few beers.

Stephen King once told me he came up with the phrase "Thunder on the Hooch." But WTVM General Manager Lee Brantley told me that was untrue [8 Jul 07] - and the two apparently never reconciled after King's "grand finale" for the 1999 fireworks show errantly went off at the beginning. King could have made up an excuse, about saluting the backwards episode of "Seinfeld."

Stephen King wrote this blog several times, and became a blog patron by donating to us. He even called me at home regularly to offer comments and occasional news tips. Some of those "tips" turned out to be nothing more than bold predictions. Otherwise I would have scooped the town years ago with the retirement of Columbus Police Chief Ricky Boren.

Stephen King was into online poker long before I was - and he apparently lost some money when the federal government cracked down on poker websites in recent years. Yet King was undaunted, and called me on the night of the 2010 Super Bowl to report he made a small fortune betting in New Orleans to win. He supported Saints, even though some considered him a sinner.

But Stephen King's life took a dire turn on a Saturday night in November 2009. He was assaulted after staging a fireworks show in Richland. King was seriously injured, never seemed to regain full health -- and he sounded depressed in several calls after the attack. Even a "Sky-High" guy can be changed by a lowlife criminal.

Yet it was Stephen King who invited me to join him for Jimmy Buffett's big beach concert last year after the oil spill (I declined the offer). And it was King's fireworks connections which allowed me to get inside the exclusive Upatoi Independence Day party last summer. The biggest thing to happen in that area since last July was the opening of the new Chick-Fil-A.

My last direct contact with Stephen King came last October. Perhaps as an extension of his injury, he called me two days in a row to lambaste me for being a lifelong virgin [16 Oct 10]. King even offered to bring a woman to my home - which admittedly would have been several steps beyond most of the women I've dated.

(But curiously, to my knowledge King never married. He told me he came to trust the loyalty of dogs more than women -- even if dogs have to stay indoors while he's outside on the job.)

I'm told no funeral service was held for Stephen King, and his body was cremated after he died last Thursday. That's too bad - because while I never met him face-to-face, King said he felt like he personally knew me from reading this blog. I should take that as a compliment, I suppose. But I do NOT plan to pay tribute to King by looking for women on Second Avenue.

BLOG UPDATE: Jaws across Phenix City probably hit the floor Wednesday night, when WTVM reported there's NO record of Councilor Arthur Sumbry Sr. ever receiving a pardon in the 1980s. Maybe there's some confusion here -- and Sumbry received a general apology from George Wallace for opposing segregation in Alabama.

Several news outlets have reported Arthur Sumbry Sr. received a pardon for his two convictions 30 years ago. But the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles has no record of it. The Russell County Probate Court doesn't have that paperwork, either. Did Orly Taitz come back to the Columbus area, when no one was looking?

Arthur Sumbry's defense attorney was asked about the pardon. But Raymond Jackson said he couldn't release that information, because of attorney-client privilege. Aw, c'mon - isn't this pardon a matter of public record? You'd think Sumbry would have it framed in an office, to show off to suspicious law officers.

The TV report noted many people presume Arthur Sumbry Sr. was pardoned by then-Governor George Wallace in 1982. But we noted Wednesday Fob James actually was Alabama Governor during that year. Do you think that sparked a closer look at the records? And for that matter, can someone find Fob James these days - other than the street named after him in Valley?

If it turns out Arthur Sumbry Sr. never received a pardon, it means he could have been living a lie for decades - serving in elected office illegally as he did. It also means Sumbry has done a better job covering up his record than Russell County Commissioner Ronnie Reed did years ago.

The late Stephen King supported this blog with a PayPal donation. To make a donation, advertise to our readers, 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: 812 (+ 26, 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, June 15, 2011

15 JUN 11: What's Done is Done?

A report released Tuesday shows a vast majority of U.S. schoolchildren cannot pass a proficiency exam in history. In fact, most fourth-graders cannot explain what made President Abraham Lincoln an important figure. Doesn't this prove it's time to eliminate the penny - and perhaps even five-dollar bills?

While educators bemoaned the test results and tried to explain why history matters, an attorney was in Russell County Court Tuesday arguing history should be ignored. It was an attorney for Phenix City Councilor Arthur Sumbry Sr. -- whose job could be history if he's convicted this summer.

It was pre-trial motions day in the Arthur Sumbry Sr. case, before his late-August trial on forgery and perjury charges. Among other things, Sumbry's attorney moved for the case to be dismissed because the charges aren't specific enough. Apparently "Clue" rules still apply - criminal, weapon AND location.

But the most interesting motions to me involved history. Russell County prosecutors asked for permission to mention Arthur Sumbry's 1981 perjury conviction during his trial. They'd better remember the proper, politically sensitive way to explain this - leopards can't change their paw shape.

The attorney for Arthur Sumbry Sr. argued for the 1981 conviction to be barred from the August trial. Raymond Jackson told reporters the two perjury cases are NOT similar. Why don't both sides take this dispute to the current authoritative arbiter of historical events - Sarah Palin?

(The defense would note Sumbry received pardons for two convictions in 1982, when Fob James was Alabama Governor. Prosecutors would respond James truly changed his ways in the last 30 years - for instance, by switching to the Republican Party.)

I can understand why a Russell County judge needs to rule on this matter before Arthur Sumbry Sr. goes on trial. A jury considering 2009 events might be distracted or confused by what Sumbry did 30 years earlier -- or they might look at Sumbry like modern-day Elie Weisels, and want to get even.

But at its core, this is a dispute about how much attention we should pay to history. Does what happened 30 years ago really matter in a criminal trial today? Are we doomed to repeat mistakes of the past, if we don't learn lessons from them? And how many Phenix City jurors really would remember who served on the Council in 1981, anyway?

Yet here's the interesting thing: Arthur Sumbry's attorney does NOT want the judge to ignore history completely. WLTZ noted Raymond Jackson wants a racially-balanced jury, because the 1981 jury which convicted Sumbry was all-white -- and amazingly, this was during a time when George Wallace was NOT Governor.

By the way, it was a bit surprising to see Raymond Jackson speak up for Arthur Sumbry Sr. at Tuesday's hearing. Didn't Sumbry hire Mark Shelnutt as his defense attorney in March? It would be a little ironic if Shelnutt has other plans in late August - such as his own second trial.

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BIG PREDICTION: No, I did NOT forget the Miss Georgia pageant is in town. Preliminaries begin tonight - and after carefully reviewing the field as a single guy should, I'm picking Miss Rome to win the crown. There's something about a woman with a last name similar to mine....

The Miss Georgia pageant didn't make it easy for me to pick the winner, by failing to offer details on the contestants. But after some searching, I learned Miss Rome Stephanie Burkholder is a blogger like me. Wow -- I've been looking for a fitting vacation substitute for several years.

Admittedly there's one negative on Miss Rome's resume. Stephanie Burkholder is enrolled at the University of Mississippi. Can someone do that, yet still win the Miss Georgia pageant? Burkholder should be thankful the Georgia-Mississippi football game in September is in Oxford, so she can hide.

I drove by the RiverCenter Tuesday evening, and saw a middle-aged woman carrying a bright white dress down Tenth Street. At first I thought it was a wedding gown. But shame on me - no young woman comes to the Miss Georgia pageant in her right mind with one of those.

Let's see who else was in the spotlight Tuesday....

+ Columbus City Manager Isaiah Hugley nominated Ross Horner for manager of the Civic Center. Horner currently handles marketing for the main arena in Bismarck, North Dakota - which should prove June heat waves still are appealing to some Northerners.

(Before you scoff at Bismarck, that Civic Center already has booked appearances by Bill Cosby and Amy Grant for later this year. It even is hosting a "Beerfest" in September, without even scheduling a country music band to perform with it.)

+ Columbus Council held two public hearings on the proposed fiscal 2012 budget. Three people spoke at the morning session in favor of reducing trash collection to once a week. If that's the huge groundswell of support Mayor Teresa Pike Tomlinson expected, she needs to hand out more plastic containers and organize a noisy march downtown.

+ WTVM reported Phenix Lumber Company could be fined $1.9 million. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration found 77 safety violations over the past several years. OSHA probably could have gone further, but that would have brought complaints from 84 Lumber.

+ The Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce received a national "gold award" for its "I Am the Chamber" promotional campaign. Well, gold at least is an improvement from platinum white....

+ Harris County teams won a baseball and softball title at the Jack Cook Little League All-Star tournament. Somewhere in Hamilton, county commissioners smiled and said, "We told you so."

+ Instant Message to Auburn University Wide Receivers Coach Trooper Taylor: You have only yourself to blame. Your raise could have been on the Gus Malzahn level of 160 percent, instead of simply 20.7 percent - but you simply HAD to challenge President Obama to that chest-bump.

This year's count of unique visitors is up more than 25 percent from 2010! 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: 786 (+ 30, 4.0%)

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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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

14 JUN 11: Two Strikes and a Cloud of Dust

A car in the repair shop forced me allowed me to watch the current version of "Let's Make a Deal" several weeks ago. Wayne Brady is far more entertaining than Monty Hall was decades ago. Brady sings, Brady dances a bit - and he even allows the model on the display floor to speak out loud.

A convoluted case of Columbus deal-making was settled Monday by the Georgia Supreme Court. The justices overruled a prisoner's life sentence, because prosecutors set a plea-bargain deadline but his attorney never told him about it. Those prosecutors ought to go to Washington, and do that same thing with the national debt ceiling.

The Georgia Supreme Court found 5-2 in favor of convicted armed robber Jesse James Johnson. You'd think his first two names would have been grounds to reject an appeal all by themselves....

But anyway: Jesse Johnson was arrested for a 2003 home robbery in which he carried a long knife. Then the wheeling and dealing began -- as Muscogee County prosecutors offered Johnson a 25-year sentence, instead of possible life in prison. This WAS when Gray Conger was a Democrat, wasn't it?

Jesse Johnson entered a not guilty plea, then was told by his attorney he risked a mandatory life sentence under the Georgia "two strikes" law. Johnson says he offered to accept 20 years - but prosecutors responded he was too late, after making his plea. At some point, even an accused criminal's word has to be good....

Jesse Johnson was convicted of aggravated assault and armed robbery. But he filed papers seeking a new trial, saying he had "ineffective.... counsel" because he was told too late about the possible life sentence. I'm sure one TV station noted Johnson's public defender was Mark Casto - the attorney now representing Kurt Schmitz.

The Georgia Supreme Court ruled Jesse Johnson was unable to "make an informed decision" during the plea-bargain process. That's only fair, isn't it? After all, prosecutors say Johnson informed his robbery victim of plans to cut her throat....

Jessie Johnson has a new attorney now -- and Stephanie Wald has admitted to WRBL there's plenty of evidence to convict her client. Yet Johnson could get a reduced sentence, based on Monday's ruling and whether the current District Attorney wants to keep pursuing the case. Will Julia Slater keep sounding tougher, as re-election time draws closer?

But to me, this case illustrates how messy the criminal justice system can be. Why didn't prosecutors play hardball in the first place - telling Jesse Johnson it was life in prison or else? And in this case, "else" would mean a soft jury instead of a softer sentence.

This is yet another example of how Muscogee County officials drilled holes in Georgia's get-tough "two strikes" sentencing policy. It was Judge John Allen who ruled in 1997 that an armed robber could serve only eight years in prison for a second conviction. It's a wonder some baseball umpire hasn't used those cases against Columbus Little League teams.

Let's deal with some other Monday news now....

+ Columbus Police told WTVM someone climbed onto the roof of the Kmart store on Milgen Road, and stole parts from the air conditioning system. There's something for the mayor's copper theft task force to know - it needs money added to the city budget for a helicopter.

+ A federal judge ruled attorneys cannot subpoena former Alabama Governor Bob Riley to testify at the gambling corruption trial. This is an important decision - because it frees Riley to be a surprise guest witness at the Casey Anthony trial.

+ The manager of the Holly Hills apartments on Oakley Drive admitted to WRBL water service has been intermittent for several days. One family talked about being unable to shower during the June heat -- as if it hasn't the single guy's secret of wiping body wash in creative places.

+ The Ledger-Enquirer revealed the identity of a disheveled man drivers have passed for years near the 13th Street Viaduct. Frank Collins is 77 years old, and moved into the House of Mercy several weeks ago. So no, he did NOT finally melt into a puddle in the heat.

+ The Muscogee County School Board held a public hearing on the district's millage rate - or as WLTZ spelled it in one newscast, the "mollage" rate. There certainly are holes in the budget for next fiscal year....

+ Chris Heaps was introduced as the new Phenix City Central baseball coach. Heaps told WTVM he wants his players to be "energy givers," not takers. I can't wait to see the team carrying gas cans to the dugout next March.

+ Patrick Murphy took back his decision to become Louisiana State softball coach, saying he's returning to Alabama because he "made a mistake." OK, who's the wise guy in Tuscaloosa who prepared posters with Murphy's picture next to LeBron James?

BURKARD'S BEST BETS: FREE spicy chicken sandwiches at Chick-Fil-A if you wear a U.S. flag (check restaurants for times and restrictions).... gas for $3.36 a gallon at Liberty on 13th Street in Phenix City.... and the RiverCenter smelling nicer, because of rehearsals for the Miss Georgia pageant....

This year's count of unique visitors is up more than 25 percent from 2010! 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: 756 (+ 28, 3.8%)

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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