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.

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