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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