Sunday, July 31, 2011

31 JUL 11: Backstage Past

When we added a new Sunday feature earlier this year, we expected a couple of readers to become "regulars." They both show up today -- and as usual, neither of them brought "devotionals" in the strict sense of the word. Or fried chicken for dinner, either....

SUNDAY SOAPBOX: But another visitor gets top position today. This e-mail reached us first, and deals with one of the hottest topics of the moment in Columbus....

Mr. Burkard.........Very interesting info in your blog today [27 Jul]. More so, because I was Business Agent for the local Stagehands Union for many years. We furnished the Electricians for all stage show hookups for many years, along with stagehands. The pay was 1 dollar more an hour, for the electrician, than the stagehands rate. Until we met with Mr Hester and a couple of his superiors and told them we would no longer staff the positions at the Civic center. I won't name the person who said, if we would not work the Civic Center, then we could no longer work the Three Arts Theatre. I said "O.K. ,fine then , we won't ". He backtracked on that before we left the office and we continued to staff the Theatre until it closed. Amazingly , the replacements for us at the Civic Center , were at much higher rates. Our pay all through the years was on a par with police officers who worked the events.

The " Local Promoter "was the ONLY promoter who complained about our rates. All the "reputable" promoters we dealt with praised the quality of our work and also said we were the most reasonable Union Local, with our low rates. We made all kinds of concessions through the years for the "local Promotor" and extended the same to all other promoters and events.

My wish in the present situation is, that the audit would extend back, even to the old Auditorium. It would be interesting to see in writing, exactly who "cheated" who.

Don Phenix City

What surprises me first is that Columbus has a Stagehands Union. It isn't listed in the Yellow Pages. But then again, maybe it holds meetings on stages right after rehearsals.

Don doesn't want to name this "local promoter," but there could be a simple reason why "reputable" promoters like the low rates for stagehands in Columbus. It means more money in their pockets, especially compared with Atlanta -- where support workers probably are more saddened about the Thrashers moving than the hockey fans are.

The list of labor rates at the Columbus Civic Center was most striking to me because of the relatively low hourly pay for police. But at least officers are paid more than "T-Shirt Security." I'm not sure why someone would specialize in protecting T-shirts in the first place.

The latest twist in the Civic Center caper comes from the Columbus Mayor. Teresa Pike Tomlinson told the Ledger-Enquirer promoter Mike Blackwell knew all along that former director Dale Hester was taking extra tickets for events. I'd say the two were "in cahoots" -- but I think the town of Cahoots is closer to Montgomery.

Mayor Tomlinson claims Mike Blackwell and Dale Hester engaged in "horse trading" in Civic Center negotiations. This statement raises an obvious question -- why haven't the Royal Lipizzaner Stallions performed there lately?

In response, Mike Blackwell called the mayor's claim "absurd." He added other promoters actually received better treatment for Civic Center events. I wonder if that's because those other promoters offered higher-quality acts. A Willie Nelson concert is one thing - but Columbus music fans are starving for Justin Bieber.

On to the next case - and that "evidence packet" about Columbus Fire/EMS:

Mr. Burkard,

I do applaud Mayor Tomlinson for her leadership in having the audits. The mayor is committed to making Columbus a better place to live, and to serving and representing all the citizens. She is a mayor we all can be proud of and most citizens are.

You cannot intelligently challenge anything I tell regarding this case without first yourself having all the facts. Your readers should know I am not offering up Alice in Wonderland opinions backed by smoke and mirror illusions when I speak about this case involving Fire/EMS. I know a great deal more about the case than you do because I have done all the required research and study to know exactly what I am talking about. I owe that much to those that support my efforts as a community activist. I owe and deliver.

Let's not talk about screws in tires, which the media played up as the lead issue. I will try to make our position more plain and clear for you and the visitors to your blog. Our primary concern is there was fraud or very good reason to believe there was fraud in Columbus Fire/EMS. Additionally, there were actions and decisions after-the-fact to help conceal the crime. We are likewise very concerned about a clear double-standard and selective enforcement when it comes to the Parks and Recreation case and the Fire/EMS case. I never claimed the GBI was involved, and I made it clear the DA refused to get involved. However, I did tell you DA Slater was given a packet of documents that showed evidence of alleged fraud in the Columbus Fire/EMS. Furthermore, I told you I personally gave Mayor Tomlinson a copy of the same packet of documents. Apparently, you doubted what I told you, at least to some extent anyway, and you emailed the mayor. That's OK. I always urge people to do the research for themselves.

Never the less, I notice you did not ask the DA why she elected not to call in the GBI to further investigate and compile evidence to determine if there was or was not any criminal conduct in the case. The DA was provided the packet several months before Mayor Tomlinson was elected to office. She has never straight out denied the documents indicate there was fraud or reason to suspect fraud. She just simply refused to proceed in the matter unless someone else called in GBI.

Do not overlook the fact we quietly met with the DA to put this whole thing to an end. We never called a press conference to say a word before or after our meeting. Our reasoning was if there was something there the DA was duty bound by law and by oath of office to pursue it. If there was nothing there of a criminal nature that would be it for us and we would leave it all alone, because the DA as a top legal authority would have reviewed what we said was evidence of fraud and rejected our assertion. In effect, there would be an expert legal opinion either for or against us regarding the matter. You would think it all was a pretty simple from that point forward. You would think, but it did not work out that way.

If you do speak with the DA ask about fraud. The issue is fraud. Don't get distracted with screws in tires of the city vehicle, which did happen, or numerous policy violations, which we never approached the DA about. Obviously theft by fraud and deception would be a CCG policy violation, but fraud is also criminal. If conspiracy theft of taxpayer dollars was the concern in the Parks & Rec case, why is theft of taxpayer dollars not a priority concern when it is Columbus Fire/EMS? That is the fundamental question that everybody tap dances around and a lot of folks will not answer or they don't want answered by the findings of an independent investigation. You can't have it both ways and call it fair and just. I do not buy your idea that most voters in 2010 were not worried about crime inside city government. The public attention given the Parks & Rec case itself in 2010 disproves that one.

You say we could file a civil suit. Nonsense! Nobody had to hire attorney Mark Shelnut to file a civil suit before the Parks and Rec issue was thoroughly investigated for criminal conduct. There is significantly more documented evidence available in that packet to launch an independent investigation of CFEMS than ever existed at the time Jim Wetherington called for CPD to investigate Columbus Parks & Recreation. The real difference is who raised the issue about Columbus Fire/EMS and how it came about being raised in the first place.

In the Parks & Rec case there was an unauthorized leak of the P&R audit to Ledger-Enquirer reporter Chuck Williams by person or persons unknown. In the Fire/EMS case there was an official report of complaint filed by a battalion chief. One case is doggedly pursued by police investigators, newspaper reporters, and Mayor Jim Wetherington. The other case involving Fire/EMS is seriously downplayed by Mayor Wetherington and the Ledger-Enquirer to the point both oppose and criticize requests by concerned taxpaying citizens, many of whom were clergy, for an independent GBI investigation. Columbus Fire/EMS is part of Columbus Public Safety as is the Columbus Police Department. An investigation by an independent agency simply made good sense and was fair all around. Bringing in the GBI was a very reasonable request.

Mayor Wetherington sent a very ugly message to the concerned citizens of Columbus regarding fraud inside Columbus Fire/EMS. That message was justice is not for you so forget about fair treatment, forget about any justice at all, and just go away because you really do not matter anyway. No one deserves a pass on this issue and the truth must come out so the record will be set straight.

Ours are valid issues and concerns that were raised in the public. Wetherington intended to leave this for whoever became the next mayor. That is how he wanted it. Now we want honest and truthful answers. The citizens of this city deserve those answers. Every single taxpayer in Columbus deserves answers. I cannot stress that point enough. We deserve to know if there was cover-up and fraud. We deserve to know what happen to our money. We deserve to know who should have been held accountable but never was because they were somehow protected. The allegations of fraud or any other criminal conduct suggested by the 2008 Fair Treatment Report filed by Battalion Chief Janice M. Bruner must be properly addressed by the current audit so all the questions are answered and the guilty punished if any are indeed found guilty.

Although the DA and GBI are not involved some citizens thought they both should have been involved. I am one of those citizens. If you are truly concerned about waste, fraud, and abuse you do your duty as a public servant and elected official and do something about all wrongdoing not just some. It is the job they signed on for when the voters elected them to serve in office. It is the job concerned citizens demand they do to remain in office.

I do not see fulfillment of the promise to make those tough decisions even when they are unpopular when it comes to Columbus Fire/EMS. What I see is politics being put above the law, ahead of justice, and before duty. I am sure many other taxpayers agree with me even if they are not being as vocal as I am about it. I understand and respect that, even if I do not totally agree with it. Inevitably, we all get the opportunity to have our voices heard loud and clear at the polls by casting our vote for the candidate of our choice in every race. That is the good thing. I would not have it any other way.

Take care. --

Brother Love, Director

Grassroots Unity Movement for Change

C.A. Hardmon "speaks the truth in Love" when he writes about my being unable to "intelligently challenge anything" in this matter. That's why I'm a humor blogger first, after all.

But anyway: I e-mailed Mayor Tomlinson about the evidence packet more out of curiosity than doubt. Brother Love took the District Attorney to task last Sunday for not acting on the packet -- but he never said what the mayor did with it. Imagine what he'd write if the mayor admitted throwing it in a recycling bin.

(In addition, I knew the mayor would respond to my questions about Columbus Fire/EMS -- and she did within 24 hours. I can't get same-day service like that from some local department stores.)

I admittedly have not contacted the District Attorney's office about the evidence packet. For one thing, the mayor's reply to us indicated the city auditor is taking the lead when it comes to Columbus Fire/EMS. For another thing, I think I already know what Julia Slater's office would say. Others love to comment on pending investigations, but prosecutors usually don't.

If Brother Love's comments here were designed to bring Jim Wetherington out of seclusion, it didn't work. The former mayor continues to be very quiet about Columbus Fire/EMS - and everything else concerning city government, for that matter. He hasn't even written a letter to the editor backing the city manager.

I still haven't seen what's inside the evidence packet on Columbus Fire/EMS. It's probably just as well, too. The last time someone left an evidence packet on my doorstep, it was about Mark Shelnutt [9 Dec 08] -- and he wound being acquitted of everything.

Our last case of the day is one which actually went to court this past week....

"Sir" Richard:

I've read and reread your last two posts and would like to give you some accurate details on the "who's suing who" fiasco in "Hurt'sboro. However, let's begin with the "Boy" comment. It's small wonder that you feel pain. Here in Dixie the word "Boy" is considered racist and demeaning. And it's to be considered a fightin' word.

"Sir" Richard, whoever called you "Boy" has not read your BLOG very long or very carefully. You are always quick to disagree with anyone who presents information that's not to your way of thinking. And, even when you agree, you usually add some comment that gives your readers good reason to think for themselves about what they have just read.

"Sir" Richard, you are not my "Boy" I prefer to call you "My 'Go to Guy," When I have something to make public I have always turned to you. It's my opinion, you produce the most accurate, entertaining, and informative source of the local news. And, you are world wide in scope.

Another thing I want to clear up is the impression that I wanted to "wipe "Hurt'sboro off the map. I simply wanted to clean out Town Hall, and at that time, taking away the charter; seemed the only way to do it

God works in mysterious ways, and losing that battle was really a victory. Now, a new and vibrant Town Council is making tremendous strides in making "Hurt'sboro a good place to live. Our garbage problems have been resolved, and if all goes well; The Russell County Sheriff will become our primary protector.

Now, as to; "who's suing who" and why. From October 2,009 until May of 2010 there were no Council meetings in "Hurt'sboro. During that time, Mayor Tapley acted like a fox in a chicken house and did as he d**ned well pleased, without any approval from the Town Council. When I found out what was going on; I filed a complaint in Circuit Court to stop him from using certain tax accounts for purposes outside of their scope. When it finally got to Circuit Court, Judge Johnson dismissed my claim and assessed me with $5,000.00 worth of Attorney's fees. It cost me almost $2,000.00 to get that decision reversed; and all the while "Mayor" Tapley went merrily along, spending the forbidden account funds.

Judge Johnson was enraged and embarrassed when the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals reversed his ruling. Since then, he has encouraged Tapley to continue the Court battle. Judge Johnson desperately wanted a reversal of the Appeals Court's decision.

That didn't happen, and the Town of "Hurt'sboro, ended up Paying the cost of the litigation. I repeat, all I ever filed was a complaint to stop the spending. Nothing more, nothing less.

Yesterday's hearing was merely a formality. The case was dismissed. The only reason it was even held was to give Judge Johnson an opportunity to; "Wipe some of the egg off his face," and allow him to direct a lengthy tirade against me; If you read between the lines, his "For the Record" spiel was just a thinly disguised threat of what "might" occur if I didn't stop "playing" lawyer.

The location of Johnson's courtroom, again played a significant role in Thursday's circus.. Two of the principals never arrived, three arrived late, and didn't get into the courtroom. Tapley himself, was several minuets tardy.

You were wise to pass up the event, it had all the importance and excitement of a pauper's funeral.

There is still one unresolved matter hanging by a thin thread over my head. I have filed another civil action in Circuit Court that's styled to just include Tapley as an individual. This filing has been put on Judge Johnson's calendar..

The Town Council is urging me to drop it.. They worry that they will in some way become involved. And be billed once again for Tapley's indiscretions.

Perhaps only a fool would further antagonize Judge Johnson. Discretion on my part in this instance probably would be the better part of valor, That is for me alone to decide.

"Sir' Richard. No one! Including myself, could describe me as being discreet or willing to compromise! And, it's just as true that;
I've been deemed a fool many times. Even I myself have wondered in afterthought, about the sanity of my actions

What should I do? What must I do? What will I do?

I think I just will "sleep" on it for awhile.

R.J. Schweiger. .

There's a phrase in journalism to describe what the former Hurtsboro Constable has done here. It's called "burying the lead."

Robert Schweiger at least admits he lost in Russell County Court Thursday. In fact, he lost in two ways. Judge Albert Johnson dismissed his complaint - and apparently not a single reporter was there to pay attention to him.

Because of renovation work on the Russell County Courthouse, the current location of Judge Albert Johnson's courtroom is in a building one block off Broad Street. You'd think county officials would put up signs pointing people in the right direction - unless there's a hidden plot to run up fines for contempt of court.

I'm not sure which judge would hear a civil suit against Hurtsboro Mayor Rayford Tapley. Robert Schweiger might do better to request Judge Michael Bellamy preside over the case. I almost wrote "demand," even though Schweiger seems more likely to do that anyway....

As for the first issue Robert Schweiger raises.... well, I might comment more on that another time. But does this explain why you can't find a Pep Boys store in Columbus anymore?

SCHEDULED MONDAY: A wrap-up of our month-long Blog Special Event....

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Friday, July 29, 2011

29 JUL 11: From Three to Five

If there's one local theme that's emerging in 2011, Columbus is shedding the "big town" image to become a medium-sized city. Thursday brought another example of that trend - and if you were awake early enough to see it, you probably have a commute that fits right along with it.

WRBL doubled the length of "News 3 This Morning," becoming the first media outlet in Columbus to have local news at 5:00 a.m. ET. No, I did NOT wake up to watch this big event. I only learned about it watching WRBL's 11:00 p.m. news Wednesday night, and then I had a blog to write - so I might have tripped over something while stumbling to the TV set.

The expansion is surprising for WRBL, considering this is the station which dropped an hour of news two years ago in a cost-cutting move. "First Edition" at 5:00 p.m. was replaced by reruns of "Two-and-a-Half Men" - and recent events have convinced me the "half" referred to Charlie Sheen.

So the sun set on 5:00 p.m. news at WRBL, but now the sun is rising on 5:00 a.m. news - a half-hour earlier than WTVM's morning news. Meanwhile, WLTZ hasn't really replaced "Rise N Shine" since Calvin Floyd's talk show moved to 12:00 noon. The only "news" it has before 7:00 a.m. nowadays is a staged interview promoting herbal supplements.

To be honest, it was only a matter of time before some Columbus TV station started its morning news at 5:00 a.m. That's been the trend in other cities for years, including Macon. In fact, some stations in large cities now begin morning newscasts at 4:00 a.m. I personally think that's too early -- unless you're watching news before going to bed after a late night in bars.

In fact, I've been amazed for years at how Columbus radio and TV stations don't tend to start their morning shows until 6:00 a.m. When I was a radio news anchor in a small Oklahoma city years ago, for awhile the first newscast was at 5:30. I presumed most of the radios hearing my voice were located in barns on farms.

But we noted here a few years ago that plenty of people in Columbus are awake at 5:00 a.m., preparing for the workday [28 Aug 07]. It can be rush hour on Interstate 185, as drivers race south to Fort Benning. But then again, the freeways might be the only way to avoid being stopped for minutes by early-morning freight trains.

I've also heard stories of Columbus families arising at 5:00 a.m. during the school year because their children have early bus rides to magnet schools. "Early to bed, early to rise" can ensure students don't have bleary eyes....

And come to think of it, METRA buses have started their daily rounds at 4:30 a.m. for years. That system puzzles me more for ending daily service at 8:30 p.m. - as if the directors are giving taxi drivers a "prime-time" schedule.

So it only makes sense to me that WRBL now has morning news at 5:00 a.m. But I was surprised to find the 12:00 noon news has NOT been sacrificed in the process - especially since parent company Media General recently ordered more staff furloughs. If the Opelika-Auburn News morning meeting starts appearing at noon and looking like TMZ, you'll know what happened.

Long-time blog readers know I used to work at WTVM. A boss there once talked of WRBL "making another run at us." WRBL seems to be mounting yet another run now - starting a new media partnership with the Ledger-Enquirer, and this week adding 5:00 a.m. news. Now who will persuade Sonya Sorich to go to the station before dawn and read a "to-do" list?

BLOG UPDATE: No newsroom apparently took advantage of our Thursday plea to cover the Russell County Court hearing pitting Robert Schweiger against the mayor of Hurtsboro. We didn't even receive an e-mail from Schweiger about it - so I hope he wasn't so infuriated that he pulled out all the electronic cables at his home.

SCHEDULED THIS WEEKEND: A different perspective on the Columbus Civic Center controversy....

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Thursday, July 28, 2011

28 JUL 11: Rumorville

"When did you become Robert Schweiger's boy?" a man asked me a couple of weeks ago. I knew what the man meant - but some people might get the wrong idea. So let me set the record straight in an indisputable way: I did NOT have close relations with that man, Mr. Schweiger. I never told.... hey, how did that link get there?

The man on a mission to wipe Hurtsboro, Alabama off the map (at least as a city) is due to return to Russell County court today. This is a court case continued from April - and remembering what happened when I tried to attend in April, [28 Apr] people who want to attend might leave 30 minutes to find their way around.

Robert Schweiger is suing the city of Hurtsboro over the payment of more than $8,000 from a gasoline tax fund to an engineering firm. A Russell County judge dismissed the case last year, but an Alabama appeals court reinstated it. Now Judge Albert Johnson is hearing it a second time - and perhaps this time Schweiger won't give him too loud an earful.

This case could have gone to court quietly - but when I was presented last week with an apparently-false claim Robert Schweiger had cancer, I was compelled to contact him about both matters. Here's part of his reply:

"Sir" Richard:

If I were in any kind of difficulty, (physical or otherwise) my relatives would be the last to "gather" to support me. I don't know where you got that information - but you can take it with a grain of salt.

As to the July 28'th hearing - It,s the last of several continuances wherein, the Town et al has to prove the litigation was spurious. A fact that they haven't been able to prove up until now.

I just received notice this morning that the Town's attorney (Fred Gray Jr.) has withdrawn from the case, and has notified the Court that he no longer represents either the Town of Hurtsboro or Rayford Tapley....

You may recall Schweiger lost his attorney in this case as well - as the man moved to the Huntsville area. If neither side has "handlers," today's hearing actually might be a lot more fun.

But this is where the label "Robert Schweiger's boy" starts to stick and sting. The former Hurtsboro Constable has sent this blog dozens of e-mails over several years, most of them finding fault with city officials and business owners. Replies from other Hurtsboro residents have been few and far between - but then again, this small town still may be looking for its first Wi-Fi "hot spot."

To complicate matters, I'm currently involved in a project which does not allow me to make long-distance calls to Hurtsboro during business hours. The only Hurtsboro Town Council member with a listed phone number never returns my messages. And Mayor Rayford Tapley clearly has yet to ask the mayor of Columbus for tips on answering critics.

So I've been unable to check Robert Schweiger's claim about Fred Gray Junior dropping Hurtsboro like a reality show bachelor. The former town attorney was Armando Pitters of Montgomery - but as I recall, he didn't return a phone message I left at his office several months ago. Pitters may have read this blog and decided I was a small-time version of Andrew Breitbart.

If that one-sidedness wasn't enough, Robert Schweiger e-mailed us again the other night....

"Sir" Richard: I got quite a surprise today. I learned that Mayor Tapley has subpeoned at least two Council members to testify. I don't know what he has under his hat - buut I do know that they are the two who have opposed his every move. The hearing is set for 8::00 central/(:00 Eastern - see you there. R.J. Schweiger

He means 9:00 a.m. Eastern, of course -- but sorry, I won't be there. That other project will keep me away again. And when that project pays me more in one day than blog readers have contributed here in the last 12 months, the capitalist side of me simply refuses to be denied.

I've become very aware this blog is read in local newsrooms - so today's post is partly an appeal for their assistance. All we need is one reporter visiting Russell County Court, to see if the rumors are true. Is Fred Gray Jr. missing? Is the Hurtsboro Mayor calling political critics to the witness stand? And does Robert Schweiger have noticeable lumps on his arms or neck?

But come to think of it, what I've mentioned here may explain why Columbus newsrooms don't give Robert Schweiger's crusading much attention. Hurtsboro is a 28-mile one-way drive from Columbus. It doesn't have a lot of people. And the town has so many rumors and half-truths going back and forth, I'm not even sure the Columbus city auditor could sort it out.

(There's one outlet Schweiger apparently still hasn't tried, in his publicity hunt. Isn't WTVM still looking for community bloggers?)

Now back to the big city, which didn't have a lot of big news Wednesday....

+ Muscogee County Sheriff John Darr called for an audit of how jail funds are used. He admitted an audit of his office never occurred last year, even though it's supposed to take place annually. Do we need to call in the Georgia Bureau of Investigation on John Redmond, too?

+ Phenix City School Superintendent Larry DiChiara told WRBL he's overseeing a "district of choice" when it comes to base realignment. He said numerous military families are relocating to Russell County, desiring to attend Phenix City Schools. Perhaps these families are hearing about the divisions on the Russell County School Board, and deciding they don't want their children's future to be Sealed.

+ Columbus American completed a pool-play sweep in the Georgia Little League tournament by mashing Masters City 8-5. American plays a semifinal game today against Madison County. I sincerely hope the opposing team isn't so trendy that the players are called "Mad Men."

+ The rumored trade between local baseball stars finally occurred, but in a three-way deal. Colby Rasmus was sent from St. Louis to Toronto for Edwin Jackson, after Jackson was traded from the Chicago White Sox to Toronto only hours before. Rasmus needed to be traded to Atlanta - so his dad could commute from Russell County and snap him out of his hitting slump.

(If you count a few hours with Toronto, Edwin Jackson will join his seventh major league team in nine years by pitching for St. Louis. And he's only 27! Is Jackson trying for some kind of record - or is he planning for a career after baseball as a travel agent?)

+ Atlanta edged Pittsburgh 2-1 in ten innings, after a 19-inning marathon the night before. Catcher Brian McCann is on the 15-day disabled list with a "strained oblique." A strained what?!?! When I was young, my geometry class strained to learn "obtuse."

SCHEDULED FRIDAY: A whole new meaning to "the 5:00 surprise"....

Our count of unique visitors in the first half of 2011 was up 25.5 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.

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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

27 JUL 11: Seats of Power

In some cities, concert promoters are famous names. In our area, most people probably couldn't have named the major promoter before Tuesday night's Columbus Council meeting. In fact, most people probably would have trouble remembering who performed at the Civic Center concert last weekend.

Mike Blackwell is the promoter's name - and for a change, Tuesday night HE was the guest star at Columbus Council. Blackwell says the city owes him nearly $27,000 for concert tickets which wound up in the hands of former Civic Center Director Dale Hester. It took a long time for the city auditor to conclude Hester might have been "red-handed."

Mike Blackwell told Columbus Council Dale Hester personally claimed more than 600 concert tickets over a two-year period. An audit concluded Hester passed some of them along to friends and associates - including a business selling exotic fish. Yet you'll notice the band Phish never was persuaded to come to town.

(Hester also is accused of giving free Civic Centers tickets to a produce vendor. This finally may explain who provides some of the bizarre dressing room food musicians demand....)

Mayor Teresa Pike Tomlinson interrupted Mike Blackwell at one point, after he claimed Dale Hester "stole" more than 600 tickets to give to businesses. She explained that's only an allegation -- which shows how much she's given up being an attorney to appear in TV interviews.

Mike Blackwell later told WRBL the city receives 84 tickets every time a concert is booked at the Civic Center. Blackwell declared that "a massive amount." It is?! Since the arena has 10,000 seats, that's less than one percent - which makes Blackwell look like an 84-grumbler.

But City Attorney Clifton Fay contends the city doesn't owe Mike Blackwell one red cent penny, because he received rent reductions and other perks to use the Civic Center. Blackwell says the reductions are part of a standard concert negotiation process. So THIS is where "50 Cent" gained his name....

Mike Blackwell now is threatening to take his case with the city to court. Clifton Fay admitted to the Ledger-Enquirer it could come down to how you define a "concession" in negotiations for using the Civic Center. Some of us can remember when a concession there meant a large tub of popcorn.

If you think this is scandalous, consider the list of labor charges we found Tuesday night at the Civic Center website. An EMS employee costs nearly three times more per hour than a uniformed police officer. Do you think these charges are negotiated as well -- depending on whether Brad Paisley or a rap tour is performing?

Even an electrician is paid more per hour for Civic Center events than a uniformed officer. Despite Jim Wetherington's four years as mayor, police still don't have the power of power cord handlers.

A personal disclaimer should be added here: I was offered free tickets to a couple of Columbus Civic Center concerts in recent years. The late Stephen King made the offers -- implying the tickets came NOT from Dale Hester, but through his connections with PMB Broadcasting. I didn't take King up on his offers. So I didn't feel guilty about watching a show for free in a half-full arena.

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

BLOG UPDATE: C.A. "Brother Love" Hardmon mounted our Sunday Soapbox, and claimed he provided Mayor Teresa Pike Tomlinson with an "evidence packet" about Columbus Fire/EMS. He never said what she did with it - so we asked the mayor via e-mail....

Richard - I did receive the packet Brother Love refers to and it has been forwarded to our Internal Auditor as part of an ongoing Departmental Audit of the Fire/EMS Department. We are auditing all of our Public Safety Departments. The neither the GBI, DA or law enforcement are involved.

Teresa Pike Tomlinson


So there, Mr. Grassroots Unity Movement! Now we know why District Attorney Julia Slater hasn't acted on those allegations of corruption. She realizes John Redmond suddenly has become the next best thing to a prosecutor in town.

While we wait on the city auditor and hope he doesn't ask to see our tax returns, let's check other highlights from the last couple of days....

+ Which man walked into a local car repair shop - and demanded to be served ahead of everyone else, because he spent $70,000 on his Escalade? Doesn't he realize he was asking for a ridiculous overcharge for labor?

+ The Phenix City Council and School Board held their first combined meeting in years. Mayor Sonny Coulter actually apologized to the board members. Yet WRBL indicated "sparks" flew at times, without giving any details. When will reporters learn to leave a microphone close to Jimmy Wetzel at all times?

+ The U.S. Postal Service announced seven area post offices are on a "study" list for possible closure. The biggest surprise to me is Weston, since that office is right along Highway 520 - and since Webster County is so poor, "snail mail" still is considered a major daily event.

(The list of possible postal closings in Russell County has Hatchechubbee and Pittsview - but NOT Hurtsboro. Apparently this is one lobbying campaign Robert Schweiger overlooked.)

+ Chick-Fil-A announced plans to give away half-gallons of iced tea during the first two weeks of August. But this special offer covers metro Atlanta - and the "metro" only extends to LaGrange. How many airport shuttle bus trips will be stopping at LaGrange Mall?

+ Two religious radio stations held a special "Christmas in July" day. I was a bit surprised WBOJ "88.5 the Truth" did that - since over at WFRC, the pro-Harold Camping preachers don't expect the world to survive until December at all.

+ Columbus American remained unbeaten in the Georgia Little League baseball tournament. American won 10-0 over East Marietta - which makes me wonder if former Parks Director Tony Adams showed up at the game, and which team he supported.

+ Instant Message to the National Football League's owners and players: OK, I'm glad you settled things. But please - do NOT tell me you "saved football." For one thing, the lockout happened during the OFF-season. For another thing, I really don't think Southeastern Conference players were going to stay home on Saturdays in solidarity with you.

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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

26 JUL 11: In the Arena

TRUE NEWS ITEM: President Obama gave a televised speech on the U.S. debt limit debate Monday night, at the same time "WWE Monday Night Raw" began on the USA Network.

"Good evening, my fellow Americans. Tonight I want to take a few minutes to talk with you about an important issue that affects our country, both now and in the future."

"Let's talk immediate future, Jack! WOOOOOO!"

"Excuse me - I'm trying to speak to the nation here."

"Excuse ME, Mister B.O.! I don't think you should be running unopposed. Not when I'M around."

"Say, aren't you...."

"Go ahead. What's my name, buddy? WHAT is it?"


"That's RIC Flair to you! Known the world over as the Nature Boy -- and the REAL leader of the League of Women Voters! WOOOOO!"

"But why would you be so interested in our debt crisis?"

"Take a look, pal. TAKE a look! Custom-made from head to toe. Do you think the fans who want to follow in my footsteps can afford all this without a credit card?"

"You've been successful. I'll grant you that."

"There you go, trying to change the subject! Not that I don't mind being the subject, you understand -- but YOU and your pals here in Washington, D.C. have fouled it up! You guys remind me of when Harley Race interrupted my matches. You all write checks your you-know-whats can't cash!"

"Well, you have a point. And we're working on that right now. That's what I want to tell the American people."

"You can talk all you want, Mac! But the people tune in to see ACTION! In fact, that's exactly why I'm here."

"What do you have in mind?"

"Well, Mister O, I've heard a little about your athletic prowess. I'm told you even have your own basketball court."

"It's the White House court, really."

"All right, then! If you're really the power broker you THINK you are, if you REALLY want to get this debt mess over with - let's settle this in a manly way! You and me, in the ring! TONIGHT!!"

"Oh, come on now...."

"C'mon, Mister Prez! If you want to be the man, you've got to BEAT the man!"

"What are the stakes here?"

"As you may know, sir, I've been a loyal Republican activist for a long, long time! So if I beat you, the G.O.P. -- the Grappling Old Party -- gets the debt deal its way. WOOOOOO!"

"Well, it's funny you should bring this up. Because my aides knew you were coming...."

"What gave me away? This three-piece double-breasted suit? My fur-lined robe?"

"....and my aides have brought me a tag-team partner."


"Fresh off winning the world heavyweight championship - I'd like you to meet Rey Mysterio."

"Mysterio?!?! That's a low-down dirty trick!"

"And it helps me with the Hispanic vote."

"Why, I.... I...."

"What's the matter? You're going to have to walk the aisle of compromise."

"Not very funny, you B&O Railroader! Just you wait! I'll be back, and I'll be ready for you."


"I can pay for a tag-team partner of my own, bub. And pay him top dollar!"

"At least YOU can afford to take on a little debt."

"I might run up as much as you have, buddy! And Arnold Schwarzenegger is going to need every penny of that payoff. WOOOOOO!"

SCHEDULED WEDNESDAY: A question for the Columbus Mayor about public safety....

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Monday, July 25, 2011

25 JUL 11: Couples Dance

Did you know Big Lots holds a "Friends and Family Day" twice a year, when everything in the store is marked down? I didn't know until a couple of weeks ago - and the 20-percent discount led me to buy a new bedroom pillow for the first time in many years. The old one had become flatter than a karaoke singer after three beers.

BLOGGER BEGGARS #6-7: I hauled a lot of items to my car from the Phenix City Big Lots sale the other day. But after returning my cart to the front sidewalk, a man passed me in the parking lot with a question. "Can you help me get something to eat?" Aw, c'mon - there were 20-percent-off discount coupons waiting at the door.

But I realized right away this man couldn't use a coupon if he had no money to spend. "Food in the trunk, sir," I told him as I pointed to my humble Honda. I was walking right toward it, so I went to the trunk and opened it - only to find the man didn't follow me. Was I disqualified for being too overenthusiastic?

In fact, the man was walking in the opposite direction - toward the Phenix Square shopping center sidewalk. Maybe he'd spotted a Phenix City Council member with extra city funds to invest....

I was so surprised that I closed the trunk - and then the beggar came over to the car. "Do you want this food?" I asked, noting he'd walked the other way from where his help was waiting.

"I wanted to talk to that man first," he said. Maybe he'd offer a better Sunday dinner down the street at El Vaquero.

That other man apparently didn't provide any help, so I opened the trunk again to pull out one of my small "beggar bags." But he suddenly seemed distracted again. Cans of chicken Vienna sausages simply don't thrill panhandlers as much as a Hartz Chicken buffet across the highway.

"Doreen [not her real name] will take it," the man told me -- pointing toward a woman two rows of cars away, carrying a small dog in her hands. No, I'm not really into bartering....

I presumed Doreen is married to the beggar, so this called for a second specially-prepared bag. Thankfully, I had three in the trunk - so I didn't have to stoop to giving the couple the nourishment-lacking super-stack of potato chips I'd bought moments earlier.

Doreen wound up taking both bags of food, while her partner walked around the Big Lots parking lot talking with people for another couple of minutes. If this was politics, we'd say he was "working the room." Except he was acting more like a campaign finance chair....

Doreen took the food with her dog to a dark blue Neon, which I could see across the parking lot from my Honda. She opened one of the bags, before her partner joined him. Thankfully, she didn't throw anything inside out the window in disgust.

I waited in my car, to see what the couple would do. They seemed to linger as well, until they noticed me - then they started the Neon to pull out of the parking lot. If they thought I was a plainclothes detective with the Phenix City Police, they were mistaken. For one thing, I don't think they'd wear a T-shirt and running shorts.

The Neon stopped for a moment for a window-to-window chat with another driver - then the couple went on their way. I noticed the car had a Muscogee County license plate. So the new Columbus panhandling rules may be spreading local abundance across the Chattahoochee Valley.

This makes the second begging couple I've met this year -- and both of them brought dogs along. Maybe I start buying small cans of dog food, and carry them for needy people as well. After all, a woman knocked on my front door one evening years ago looking for food - and after I gave her a plate of leftover spaghetti, she stooped down to feed it to a wandering cat first.

I'm left with the impression this couple knew there would be a crowd at Big Lots on a Sunday afternoon, so they showed up to get as much sympathy as possible. After all, 100-percent-off food is an even better deal than 20 percent....

Yet this couple obviously drove from Columbus to the Phenix City Big Lots. With gas prices above $3.50 a gallon, this could be a case where low-income people can't afford both transportation and nourishment. It's easier to hold a big of food in your empty hand than a pint of unleaded gasoline.

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

E-MAIL UPDATE: We mentioned a recent message from one reader, which would require some digging....


I have tried to look at the CCRT scores for Rigdon Road but it is hard to find the information. I am curious to know if all the money they spent on the new school resulted in higher CCRT scores, level scores or declining scores. Your research skills are excellent. Maybe you could take a look at this.

Oh dear - it probably would be easier to find this information if you search for "CRCT" instead of "CCRT." Should I ask which grade school this reader attended?

But anyway: I found a private website with CRCT results at the fifth-grade level going back to 2006. And you can check a school's scores as far back as 2002 at the Georgia Department of Education site, by searching for a school's name. Given the current furor over AYP results, I should warn the process might only add to your depression.

Rigdon Road Elementary began having 100-percent standard-setting scores in three key areas (reading, English and math) in 2005. But it's fallen off that mark since 2008 -- and it was in late 2008 when Principal Phyllis Jones suddenly retired, only later to receive a one-year decertification for ethics violations [20 Nov 08]. If you can find the worn-out pencil erasers, take them to Governor Nathan Deal....

(The new Rigdon Road school building opened in January 2008, so it didn't seem to make a difference in the CRCT results that spring. But I don't think you can pin a decline in test scores on the loss of a "new school smell.")

As back-to-school shoppers began making their rounds over the weekend, we noticed this other news:

+ A trip down Victory Drive revealed the Carousel Lounge has a new white sign, mentioning it has "exotic dancers." Now there's the answer to those shootings in the parking lot....

+ Richard Hyatt's website reported the old Al Who's club on Armour Road is being bulldozed. Once Al Fleming sold that nightclub, police were called so often that the city shut it down. Somehow the 1100 block of Broadway has escaped that fate so far.

+ Rep. Sanford Bishop warned during a visit to Albany if something isn't done about the federal debt limit by next Monday, food prices will go up. It sounds like this will be the best week of the year to stock up on cans of baked beans.

+ WRBL reported Trees Columbus is challenging a new Georgia billboard law in court. The group is concerned in part because the law only permits the preservation of trees which are at least 75 years old. This could pose a problem - because Dick McMichael might not remember when certain trees were planted.

+ The St. Louis Post-Dispatch speculated two former high school baseball stars from the Columbus area could be swapped in a major league trade. Colby Rasmus could move from St. Louis to the Chicago White Sox, in exchange for Edwin Jackson -- and if there's any justice, Coach Bobby Howard would drive at least one of the moving vans.

+ Pro wrestling legend "Nature Boy" Ric Flair told the Albany Herald he'll return to the ring in September, at age 62. In Flair's classic words: he's going to have to walk that aisle -- even if it's with a walker.

(Flair made this major announcement while signing autographs in the garden department of an Albany Wal-Mart. What an unusual place for a wrestler "born with a silver spoon in his mouth" to be! Is Flair selling some new kind of "figure-four" soil tiller?)

+ Instant Message to whomever started the rumor about Robert Schweiger having cancer: That's news to him. The Hurtsboro activist tells me he tends to avoid doctors. Maybe you misunderstood some Hurtsboro residents, who consider Schweiger a cancer on the community.

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Sunday, July 24, 2011

24 JUL 11: Burning Itself Out?

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is a wide-ranging agency. It takes reports of methamphetamine labs around the state. It keeps track of sex offenders and where they live. And after the news of this past week, maybe the G.B.I. should track down dozens of Muscogee County School students -- because they obviously disappeared from the AYP report.

SUNDAY SOAPBOX: The G.B.I. came up in the Columbus news this past week, because of issues involving the Muscogee County Sheriff. That led to this....


Mark Shelnutt told WRBL Sunday by turning his complaint over to the G.B.I., Mayor Tomlinson is having a "chilling effect" on other possible whistleblowers. Shelnutt says it tells "rank and file workers -- shut up." He needs to explain that to the civil rights leaders who want the G.B.I. to investigate practically everything else in town(18 JUL 11 Blog of Columbus, Ga.).

I do not speak for them, but civil rights leaders hardly "want the G.B.I. to investigate practically everything else in town.") I do not know of any call by civil rights leaders for the GBI since Mayor Tomlinson has been in office. However, I do remember the NAACP during the Wetherington administration calling for the GBI to come in and investigate the Parks and Recreation case. The Grassroots Unity Movement For Change, Georgia NAACP, and the IMA asked the mayor to bring in the GBI to conduct an independent investigation of written allegations of fraud in the Columbus Department of Fire and EMS. Then-Mayor Jim Wetherington refused to call the GBI on each occasion in the situation with Columbus Fire & EMS, simply claiming he believed everything Chief Jeff Meyer had told him about the alleged fraud. Nothing ever became of it and the Ledger Enquirer never doggedly pursued the case to determine any mismanagement by Meyer or Wetherington.

After the GBI was called in by Muscogee County Marshal Greg Countryman to independently investigate the Junior Marshal's Program and they completely exonerated the Municipal Court clerk and the marshal of any criminal wrongdoing, Jim Wetherington never called the GBI in to investigate anything in Columbus. The evidence packet supporting allegations of fraud inside Fire & EMS was provided to DA Julia Slater. The DA refused to call in GBI but does not deny the evidence in the packet of potential fraud. Likewise, the same evidence packet was provided to Mayor Tomlinson. Not one councilor in 2010 ever asked us to see one even one supporting document or ever asked me one question on the occasions I appeared before council about waste, fraud, and abuse. Not one. They knew we had factual information that was acquired from city records. The mayor and council were not interested for a number of reasons, among them a tremendous lack of respect for the citizens that were championing the cause and demanding accountability. Not one of the three minority councilors would even make a motion against Jim Wetherington to bring the issue to a public vote. They pleaded with him to bring in the GBI, but would not make a make to for a vote. That was totally disingenuous and irresponsible on their parts. We don't count Barnes. Pops Barnes hates all the noteworthy activists who happen to be African American. His vote and position is always opposite whatever ours would be.

You simply cannot pass the buck when the law has been broken and you are presented with the evidence. You cannot play politics. What DA Julia Slater and the others have allowed to happen with the Fire & EMS case is for any statute of limitations pertaining to the fraud to expire. So we should just stop lying to ourselves in this city about justice or right and wrong or even good government. The road was paved for the players to all retire and the whole thing to go away quietly. It is all about politics, cliques, and cronyism. If you allow the system to tell one group of citizens they do not matter, the day is certainly going to come when the power structure on a whim tells another group their citizenship and concerns do not matter.

Even after the Parks & Recreation defendants have pleaded guilty the Ledger Enquirer is still trying to lay blame squarely on the shoulders of City Manager Isaiah Hugley and Deputy City Manager Lisa Goodwin so council will have reason to fire one or both. It is plain to see exactly what is shaping up. Members of the Wetherington gang on council are still working to divide this city just like Wetherington did his entire term.

With all the public attention we brought to allegations of fraud within Fire and EMS during the 2010 campaign season not one elected officials has made a public statement regarding pursuing the issue on any level even to clear Chief Jeffery A. Meyer's name, that fact alone speaks for itself. What Jim Wetherington got away with it for 4 years was bad, not doing anything about when it is your duty and responsibility and you have the power and authority given to you by the people and the law is worse.

Brother Love, Director

Grassroots Unity Movement for Change

As I recall, it was Georgia NAACP President Ed DuBose who once called for the G.B.I. to do a full review of the entire city government. After all, city auditor John Redmond is only one man....

In case you came in late: C.A. "Brother Love" Hardmon is bringing up the city "scandal" which preceded the Parks and Recreation case. A Fire/EMS officer found sharp screws near the tires of her vehicle. Questions arose about time card fixing. Hardmon even wondered if Jeff Meyer was the godson of Jim Wetherington [7 Oct 10]. Maybe this is why Wetherington has disappeared from view for seven months.

There may be another reason why no one on Columbus Council wanted to ask about Fire/EMS during "the 2010 campaign season." It WAS the 2010 campaign season. Most candidates realized more voters care about the crime-fighting side of public safety than whether criminal activity was lurking on the other side.

Yet it's worth noting that no one has accused the City Manager of showing a lack of oversight over Columbus Fire/EMS. That department comes under the "Public Safety Director," also known as the mayor. The Parks and Recreation Department doesn't. If you want to heal that "divide [of] the city," contact your nearest Charter Review Commission member.

I don't know what's inside the "evidence packet" which has brought no public action by District Attorney Julia Slater. I'd think Brother Love would know better than to simply stuff it with several issues of The Courier.

But what does it say when Mayor Teresa Pike Tomlinson hasn't passed the evidence packet along to the G.B.I. after several months? After all, she apparently passed part of Mark Shelnutt's letter to Atlanta quickly. Not quite with the speed of a shuttle bus to Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, but still....

There's one step Brother Love and other civil rights leaders still could take, but have not. They could borrow Mark Shelnutt's example, and file a civil suit against Columbus Fire/EMS and Chief Jeff Meyer. If they have the evidence packet, surely they could find some plaintiffs - but the G.B.I. doesn't do what Florida does and issue "silver alerts" for them.

P.S. I understand Brother Love's concern about "passing the buck" when it comes to laws being broken. Yet for some reason, not one House Republican has opened a hearing about whether President Obama really was born in Hawaii.

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Friday, July 22, 2011

22 JUL 11: The One in the Middle

Two years of my education were spent in a junior high school. But I don't think many children in the U.S. attend "junior high" anymore. That phrase seemed to go the way of junior varsity football teams. In fact, the only place in education where "junior" is popular now is in college football - because top players can skip their senior year and turn pro.

The "middle school" replaced junior high several decades ago - but after watching Thursday night's newscasts, I'm wondering if it's time to reverse that. The Muscogee County School District admitted only one middle school made "Adequate Yearly Progress" this year. That's one out of 12 - which means most students probably need calculators to determine what percent that is.

Preliminary results show the only Muscogee County middle school to achieve Adequate Yearly Progress was Blackmon Road. The other 11 are.... well, I guess they're simply adequate.

A statement from the Muscogee County School District said every school passed the participation part of AYP. That means the absentee rate for taking key tests was low. Offer pizza and ice cream parties for high attendance, and that part ought to be easy....

The trouble clearly is that many Muscogee County students are falling short in reading and mathematics tests. Today's young people may say the words "go figure" a lot, but that doesn't mean they actually go somewhere and do it.

Superintendent Susan Andrews told reporters 11 middle schools made AYP last year. This year, only Blackmon Road did. Middle school students may be letting us all down - by not telling the next generation the correct answers in advance.

But the school district doesn't help its effort to improve math scores, when it counts four "high schools" as meeting AYP. One of the four is the Early College Academy, which is inside Kendrick High and isn't really a full-fledged high school. And since Kendrick missed the cut, school integration somehow isn't working there.

Overall, only about one-third of Muscogee County schools made AYP this year. Dr. Susan Andrews blamed this on several things, such as state school budget cuts and higher federal achievement standards. In other words, the Superintendent sounded a lot like Isaiah Hugley before Columbus Council.

The Superintendent said several more schools may wind up making AYP, after an appeals process and student retesting this summer. But let's be honest here: a one-third success rate in any field normally would bring some kind of shakeup -- or in 2011, at least a "fire" page on Facebook.

So why was Blackmon Road Middle School the successful exception to the AYP rule? One factor could be a "gifted services" program, where qualifying students learn "advanced content" with a strong emphasis on writing. This can be dangerous, of course - as some growing middle school boys start to consider Maxim magazine an example of advanced writing.

Thursday's statement from Muscogee County Schools tried to focus on something positive. The graduation rate in May was 83.6 percent, up from 82.2 percent in 2010. The remaining 16 percent may be available for interviews this weekend at the skateboard park.

Now a short course in current events, from Thursday's headlines....

+ Columbus Police told the Ledger-Enquirer a driver was pulled over for running a red light in MidTown -- and after an officer smelled marijuana, the driver admitted he'd smoked some pot minutes before. Then he reportedly admitted pot was in the center compartment. If police had pressed a little longer, that driver might have been on a deportation plane to Mexico.

+ WRBL checked a reporter from one viewer that a city emergency siren near Key Elementary School hasn't made noise during Saturday tests in several weeks. Isn't this amazing? Someone in Columbus actually thinks the sirens do NOT sound enough....

+ The Americus City Council voted to terminate longtime Police Chief James Green, and eliminate the assistant chief's job. It's a move to save the city nearly $100,000 - but I doubt Green ever expected to have something in common with Kurt Schmitz and Dee Armstrong.

+ Auburn University officials announced football fans will be allowed to roll the trees at Toomer's Corner this fall after all. Given what we've heard about the poisoning of those trees, this is stunning news. You'd think the oaks would want to retire while they're on top.

(Auburn officials obviously want fans to take a kinder, gentler approach to rolling the Toomer's Corner trees. You won't mind tossing one sheet of paper at a time, will you?)

+ The Auburn and Georgia football coaches had their turns at the microphone, during Southeastern Conference Media Days. Auburn's Gene Chizik says despite a continuing investigation of the Cam Newton case, he sleeps well at night. And with Chizik's big raise, he can afford to buy the fanciest Select Comfort bed in the showroom.

(Georgia coach Mark Richt told reporters he wants Isaiah Crowell to play well at running back this fall - but he's not expecting the former Carver High School star to "save Georgia." That obviously will be the job of the Republicans in the state legislature, during the upcoming special session on redistricting.)

+ Instant Message to Columbus Hospice: Yes, I noticed - you've changed the name of this weekend's big fund-raising concert from "Denim and Diamonds," to add "Black Tie." I wouldn't want to see thousands of male country music fans walking into the Civic Center topless, either.

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Thursday, July 21, 2011

21 JUL 11: What's the Big Deal?

WTVM's video section Wednesday evening had one clip headlined: "Raw: Gov. Deal...." Never mind what he was discussing. Democrats had a good laugh simply reading in the mainstream media about Georgia having a Raw Deal.

Governor Nathan Deal made the rounds of Columbus Wednesday - but something seemed to be missing. Mayor Teresa Pike Tomlinson told the Ledger-Enquirer earlier in the week the Governor would make a "major announcement." Soooo.... what was it? That Deal really, really likes the soldiers at Ranger Joe's?

Mayor Tomlinson joined Governor Deal at several of his Columbus stops. But a promised joint news conference was abruptly canceled Monday. I can't help wondering if someone in the mayor's office needs a refresher course in German....

The governor told reporters he hopes more international business will come to Georgia in the next year-and-a-half. The next year-and-a-half?! German businesses must have rejected Adolf Hitler so completely, they don't even believe in the idea of "blitzkrieg" anymore.

Governor Deal and Mayor Tomlinson say they both emphasized Georgia's transportation strengths during recent trips to Germany. There's Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in Atlanta. There's the port of Savannah. And then there's the recent widening of Interstate 185, so big rigs can turn around at Victory Drive.

Nathan Deal's day began with breakfast at the Columbus Chamber of Commerce headquarters. Several Republican state lawmakers joined the Governor there - serving as political bodyguards, in case he was tempted to switch parties again.

Governor Deal toured the National Infantry Museum after breakfast - then returned to Columbus South in the late afternoon to meet the public at Ranger Joe's. So much for this governor being in bad financial shape. He's clearly not worrying about rising gas prices....

The Georgia Governor spent Wednesday lunch hour with the Columbus Rotary Club. Dick McMichael's blog noted Nathan Deal took questions from the audience after his speech. Talk about a dangerous move! Some Rotarians might ask tougher questions than news reporters do.

(Rotary Club President Jimmy Elder admitted he doesn't take questions from the audience, after he gives sermons at First Baptist Church. And then pastors wonder why worshipers talk about them so much over Sunday dinner.)

The Governor also made a stop at the Pratt and Whitney plant. I'm sure he was interested in the quality of local manufacturing - not to mention the fact that Midland-Upatoi is a part of Columbus where Republicans like himself actually live.

Governor Nathan Deal's official day in Columbus ended at Ranger Joe's. But there probably was some "family time" afterwards, as daughter Katie has become a featured actress at the Springer Opera House. Oops - the Governor probably would want me to change that to the "State Theatre of Georgia." Even though there's recently been more drama across the street at the Government Center.

Nathan Deal may not have accomplished anything groundbreaking in Columbus. But back at the state capital, there was a development which undoubtedly pleased the Governor's staff. A website which Democrats could have used for big political gains was taken by an Atlanta TV station....

-> Our other blog is thinking about one of the "November Nine" still in the running for poker's biggest prize. Read why at "On the Flop!" <-

BLOG UPDATE: USO Georgia directors told WXTX Wednesday they may relocate the Columbus office inside Fort Benning, after closing the one on Victory Drive. After all, there's been a lot of government-funded construction on post in the last few years - so there had to be an overrun somewhere, where an office can fit.

Another kind of search begins our wrap-up of other Wednesday news....

+ I finally found the "Fire Isaiah Hugley" Facebook page. As of Wednesday night, this unusual Facebook race stood at 200 people who like "For Isaiah Hugley" compared with 37 liking the page to have the city manager fired. Maybe the "angry voters" are resting until next year's elections.

+ The Natural Resources Defense Council rated the "Toxic 20" states, based on air pollution from power plants. Georgia's air ranked ninth dirtiest, while Alabama is 12th. Isn't it nice to see this area living up to that "Dirty South" reputation?

+ The Auburn City Council voted to legalize the ownership of chickens in the city limits. If the South Carolina Gamecocks had won the Southeastern Conference football title last December, I think that vote would have been very different.

+ S.E.C. Media Days for football began in Hoover, Alabama. Commissioner Mike Slive proposed a series of changes in national college recruiting rules, including one allowing coaches to recruit through social media. Wow - they can't do that now?! I'd love to see Auburn's Gene Chizik condense his new book down to 140 characters.

(Bear Bryant might have met the Twitter guidelines for messages to players. I once worked with a former Alabama football player, who said Bryant walked into the locker room after a terrible first half and simply said: "All right, girls, let's go back out on the field." Yes, I'm told it worked.)

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© 2003-11 Richard Burkard, all rights reserved.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

20 JUL 11: Folding the Tent

Nearly ten years after that terror-filled Tuesday, Fort Benning soldiers continue to head overseas for year-long deployments. Many of them leave spouses and children behind, waiting anxiously for their return -- while dreaming of making money writing scripts for the TV series "Army Wives."

One longtime support mechanism for Fort Benning soldiers has evaporated in the summer heat. The River City Report confirmed Tuesday the Columbus USO office has shut down. In fact, there's a hole in the Victory Drive sign where the logo once was. Using that sign for marksmanship practice now will be even more dangerous.

The list of USO offices in Georgia no longer shows one in Columbus. But the center at Atlanta's airport is still open - the one named after the wife of Aflac co-founder Paul Amos. Did the current executives decide the Columbus office only needed cookies and fruit juice?

It's only fitting that The River City Report broke the USO story - since web queen Robbie Watson was the Columbus center's first director in 2008. A picture of her serving soldiers is on a wall at the National Infantry Museum. Hopefully the historians have been told since our 2009 visit that Watson's last name was misspelled.

Robbie Watson moved on [28 Sep 09], Reggie Richards moved in - and that's when rumors about the Columbus USO center began to build. Some people claimed Richards was in a romance with then-National Infantry Museum Chair Jerry White. The fact that the USO office moved to a new motel probably did nothing to squelch those rumors.

Then I received a "tip" that retired Gen. Jerry White put his granddaughter on the USO payroll. White told me she was merely a part-time volunteer [26 Oct 10]. The allegations of nepotism seemed to melt like a July ice cream social on the lawn....

But then someone filed a sexual assault suit against the Columbus USO office and retired Gen. Jerry White [5 Dec 10]. White suddenly announced his retirement from the National Infantry Museum -- and from what I've seen on TV recently, Barry McCaffrey is the only real candidate to replace him as Chairman.

Online postings indicate the Columbus USO office closed two weeks ago. The Suburban Motel now reportedly is connected with Operation Homefront - which only makes sense, since soldiers probably consider Columbus a lot more like home than Kabul.

But as the USO marks 70 years of support for military personnel, has it become outmoded? Fort Benning has plenty of support groups for Army families, both in person and online. And soldiers have other places to go in Columbus for companionship. Shooters allows gunfire, while Ranger Joe's does not.

An apology should be offered here to the woman who left me an answering machine message last week about the USO office. This could have been a blog exclusive days ago, but I've been busy with a variety of projects. Besides, other "hot tips" were ahead of this one waiting in line - and perhaps one of these days, someone will talk on the record about the Friendship Volunteer Fire Department.

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

BLOG UPDATE: Georgia Governor Nathan Deal comes to Columbus today - but a scheduled afternoon news conference with Mayor Teresa Pike Tomlinson has been canceled. A statement from the mayor's office said "the Governor's schedule will not allow" it. What does it say when workers at Pratt and Whitney rank higher than the mayor?

Someone else at the Government Center begins our check of other Tuesday news....

+ Richard Hyatt's website noted the start of a Facebook page "For Isaiah Hugley." When I checked Tuesday night, 111 people "liked" the Columbus City Manager - compared with 1,074 who like "Meteorologist Kurt Schmitz." Right now, I'm not sure this is a race Hugley can afford to lose.

(The Ledger-Enquirer reported there's also a "Fire Isaiah Hugley" Facebook page - but I couldn't find it in a search of the website. Perhaps the City Manager finally got the message, and took swift action to stop a conspiracy against him.)

+ Bobby Gates won a runoff election to become Talbot County Sheriff. Considering the recent arrests of law officers there, female deputies in Muscogee County probably could move to Talbotton and have any job they want.

+ The Ledger-Enquirer reported drug-sniffing dogs will be used in random searches of city government facilities. Yet somehow, I suspect a few facilities will be exceptions to this rule. Imagine how hyperactive those dogs could become at a sewage treatment plant.

+ Phenix City Council discussed a proposal to increase the city sales tax three-quarters of one percent. Only three-quarters - not a full percent?! Maybe Mayor Sonny Coulter and Councilor Jimmy Wetzel still can work out compromises after all.

(Some of the money from the proposed sales tax increase would pay for a new swimming pool at Idle Hour Park. If you're not as tall as the picture of Councilor Arthur Sumbry Sr., please stay in the shallow end.)

+ Phenix City officials also announced plans for a new downtown Marriott hotel, with a construction cost of $10 million. The Marriott chain has ties to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints - so you can stop the recycled Ronnie Gilley jokes right now.

+ Instant Message to the Springer Opera House: Smart move - scheduling a summer play called "Go Dog Go," for balance with the play last fall about Bear Bryant.

Our count of unique visitors in the first half of 2011 was up 25.5 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.

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© 2003-11 Richard Burkard, all rights reserved.

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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

19 JUL 11: Sexism and the City

At first glance, the complaint doesn't make sense. Columbus has a female mayor. A female mayor pro tem. A female school superintendent. A female school board president. So how can there possibly be gender discrimination in city government? Aren't women running practically everything now?

Well, maybe they aren't. An attorney revealed Monday three Muscogee County Sheriff's Deputies are suing Sheriff John Darr and the city, claiming gender discrimination. This apparently is the "hurricane" attorney Mark Shelnutt warned was coming in Sunday's newspaper - only misspelled with a "u."

Three female deputies claim Sheriff John Darr has passed them by over the last two years, while constantly promoting males. Terri Ezell even says she was demoted last year from the rank of major. Talk about attempting to give new meaning to a "major blunder"....

Fellow plaintiff Joan Wynn claims after she was passed over for the rank of Captain, she was given an office next to Sheriff John Darr to "cause her distress and discomfort." That's funny - in some workplaces, sitting close to the corner office means you're next in line for something big.

The lawsuit filed in federal court claims Sheriff John Darr set up a "glass ceiling" for female deputies - and did it with the knowledge of Columbus City Manager Isaiah Hugley. Aw c'mon! If he couldn't spot years of conspiracy in the Parks and Recreation Department, how could he know about this one?

Two of the three plaintiffs say they have more in common than their gender and badges. They claim Sheriff John Darr refuses to promote them because they supported Ralph Johnson in the 2008 election. If that's true, it seems awfully harsh. President Obama hasn't even treated Hillary Rodham Clinton that way.

It's noteworthy that the plaintiffs in federal court do NOT include the deputy accused of leaking records of co-workers in the Sheriff's Office. Mayor Teresa Pike Tomlinson said Monday it appears some computer records were hacked. Maybe so - but if Wikileaks hasn't posted them, what's the big deal?

But it's also noteworthy that Columbus Council approved a $26,000 settlement to another sheriff's deputy earlier this year in a similar discrimination case. Now three more women are suing. But of course, not every woman in the office can sue at once - since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that was cruel and unusual punishment against Wal-Mart.

City Attorney Clifton Fay promises to work "vigorously" to defend the city in this discrimination suit. But I'm not sure his side is off to a good start. The only woman Mayor Teresa Pike Tomlinson could find to stand with her at a Monday news conference was a member of the police.

Mayor Tomlinson's news conference related to law enforcement, but in a different way. Her copper theft task force now is offering $1,000 rewards for information which leads to the arrest of copper thieves. The mayor had enough good taste to stop short of calling the tip line "Copper Stoppers."

(If the task force is smart, they'll pay the $1,000 reward with a check - and absolutely NOT with rolls of pennies.)

Another public safety moment tops our review of other Monday news....

+ Columbus Police were called to a dumpster on Warm Springs Road. There were concerns a dead human body might be inside. Thankfully, that was false - as officers told WTVM it was a dead pig. It looks like the next sting by undercover detectives could be at barbecue restaurants.

+ WRBL and the Ledger-Enquirer announced a new media partnership. This is a bit of deja vu, since the newspaper was a majority owner of that station about 40 years ago. In the last decade, the Ledger-Enquirer had agreements with WTVM and WLTZ - so it's simply WRBL's turn in the rotation.

+ The Muscogee County School Board approved adjustments in the student dress code. Spokesperson Valerie Fuller told WXTX one change will bar jewelry which can be considered a distraction. Sorry, teenage guys -- you'll have to ask for prom dates in a more old-fashioned way, but at least you'll save money.

+ Opelika Light and Power announced a man will visit each home in the city during the coming months, to check electric meters and shoot a short video. The utility promises the man will drive a marked car, wear a badge - and NOT set up anything which will bring a lawsuit by Google Maps.

+ Instant Message to the driver of a car I saw on Macon Road with the Alabama tag "PRKYBLN": I'm going to assume you're perky - because I really doubt you'd brag about that other possible word on a license plate.

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© 2003-11 Richard Burkard, all rights reserved.

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Monday, July 18, 2011

18 JUL 11: Darr They Go Again

It's reaching the point where it might be easier to list the Columbus city departments and agencies NOT under investigation. Between the city auditor, police detectives and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.... well, I hope Mayor Teresa Pike Tomlinson gave copies of her receipts from Germany to everyone in the Government Center.

The latest agency under the microscope is the Muscogee County Sheriff's Office. Sunday's Ledger-Enquirer revealed the G.B.I. is reviewing a series of leaks involving employee records. In some professions, this is no big deal. But public safety doesn't tend to publish a "disabled list," like baseball teams do.

This is a complicated case involving the mayor, Sheriff John Darr - and of all people, attorney Mark Shelnutt. Shelnutt simply refuses to follow the example of Casey Anthony, and go into seclusion somewhere out of state....

But anyway: it appears an employee at the Sheriff's Office gave Mark Shelnutt a stack of documents to support allegations of gender discrimination. Shelnutt wrote the mayor about it - but the mayor apparently became concerned about some documents being obtained unlawfully. This may be why you hear more about Columbus Police doing undercover stings.

On top of that, Mayor Teresa Pike Tomlinson says Mark Shelnutt received "some patently incorrect information." Since both of them are attorneys, they should realize this occurs often -- such as when a bank robber caught on a security camera says he didn't do it.

Mark Shelnutt's letter accuses Sheriff John Darr of promoting too many men within the department. Aides to the sheriff say 26 percent of the officers are female. But I haven't heard about any of them running off to do private detective work for somebody named Charlie.

This could be yet another case where a city government fund is being misused. Mark Shelnutt claims members of the Sheriff's Office used a commissary proceeds account to buy personal vehicles. This seemed unlikely to me - until I remembered seeing a nine-ounce bag of corn chips on sale at a store Sunday for $2.99.

Mark Shelnutt was surprised to learn the sheriff requested a G.B.I. review of all this. John Darr apparently interrupted a vacation in Panama City Beach to do that - but it could have been worse. Darr could have offered Shelnutt's claims to the Ripley's Believe It Or Not museum.

Sheriff John Darr confirmed one section of Mark Shelnutt's complaint to the mayor. He admits several iron bars were removed from the Muscogee County Jail and sold to a scrap metal yard, to pay for improvements to the gymnasium. Darr may have even consulted accused copper thieves, to learn which recycling center pays the most money.

The sheriff thinks there's an element of politics in Mark Shelnutt's complaints. But Shelnutt says John Darr ought to be concerned that "there's a hurricane coming...." I'm guessing the attorney is referring to gender discrimination lawsuits - especially since that new tropical storm is closer to North Carolina.

Mark Shelnutt told WRBL Sunday by turning his complaint over to the G.B.I., Mayor Tomlinson is having a "chilling effect" on other possible whistleblowers. Shelnutt says it tells "rank and file workers -- shut up." He needs to explain that to the civil rights leaders who want the G.B.I. to investigate practically everything else in town.

(We should remember the G.B.I. reviewed rumors of wrongdoing involving the Muscogee County Marshal's Office, and concluded there was nothing to them. If the state finds the sheriff at fault, does that mean Greg Countryman gets to be in charge after consolidation?)

But something beyond politics seems forgotten in this fuss. Isn't Mark Shelnutt still awaiting trial on a second set of criminal charges? Any effort to make local officials look bad could make him look good in an upcoming trial. And prosecutors probably are watching to see if Shelnutt has a male lead defense attorney for the second trial in a row.

Let's see what else kept people occupied on a refreshing midsummer weekend....

+ The Columbus Airport received nearly two inches of rain, as clouds kept highs around 84 degrees F. two days in a row. After the heat we've had, it's no wonder why many people like VH1's "I Love the 80s."

(I took advantage of the cooler conditions to make a three-mile non-stop Saturday night run. The 90-percent humidity didn't make things easy - but thankfully, hardly any lovebirds were on the Riverwalk for my sweat to ruin their cologne.)

+ A tractor-trailer crashed into 13th Street Barbecue in Ladonia during the lunch hour. Country's needs to open a competing restaurant along U.S. 80, to ease the parking problems there.

(Did you see the sign outside that Ladonia restaurant - "BUY 1 GET 0 FREE"? I'm presuming that's meant as a joke. But I'm not sure why any business owner would compare himself with a car lot.)

+ A Georgia Restaurant Association survey found half its members have developed a shortage of workers, since the state's new immigration rules took effect. Take that, you scoffers! Olive Garden's Italian dishes are more authentic than you think.

+ Comedian D.L. Hughley performed a free show for soldiers at the Benning Supper Club. But in what could be an ominous sign, he did NOT make an appearance with Isaiah Hugley to give the City Manager a vote of confidence.

+ The "Summer of Love" tour brought soul singers to the Columbus Civic Center. Ginuwine appeared with his TGT partner named "Tank." I'm not sure how Tank gained his name - or why he wasn't recruited to be the opening act for D.L. Hughley at Fort Benning.

+ Atlanta's baseball team took two out of three games from Washington, to move past 10,000 wins in franchise history. A big 10,000 was cut into the outfield at Turner Field - reminding me of the years when that might have been done to celebrate a larger crowd than usual at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.

+ Instant Message to Hershey's: Nice try -- but c'mon. I'm smart enough to realize "aerated chocolate" means more air, less chocolate and a higher price.

Our count of unique visitors in the first half of 2011 was up 25.5 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.

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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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