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.

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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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