Here's a vote to streamline political promises
By Sylvia Cooper| Columnist
Sunday, November 01, 2009

Well, I guess it's sort of my duty to write about Tuesday's election, although I'm just about sick of it, even though it might be the most important thing that happens in Augusta this year.

The results could determine how much your taxes go up the next four years, whether the TEE Center will be built on Reynolds Street, whether the Goose that lays the Golden Egg of inner-city revitalization will live or die and whose names will be on the brass plaque of the new judicial building.

I'm not really sick of the election, just the forum rhetoric, the misinformation, the candidates' promises to enhance transit, and increase police and firefighters' pay, coupled with their refusal, and/or inability, to say how they're going to do that or eliminate an $8.6 million projected budget deficit without cutting government jobs and services or raising taxes.

Oh, they talk of streamlining or cutting services but don't say exactly what "streamlining" is or which services they'd cut. Some talk of creating revenue and jobs and bringing in new businesses but don't say how, except for District 1 candidate Matt Aitken who says the TEE Center will draw businesses downtown.

THE SHADOW KNOWS: Of course, citizen activist Woody Merry has all the answers, but, he won't run for office. He says he can't afford it and wouldn't put his family through it. Instead, he wants to form a shadow government of citizens to follow commissioners around, I guess, to keep them from meeting in the shadows of the men's room during meetings as they have been known to do.

Or they could shadow the five white commissioners to Commissioner Don Grantham 's office where they hold their pre-meetings to discuss important issues, such as David Fry 's alleged attempt to bribe Commissioners Corey Johnson and Alvin Mason , speaking of which, reminds me that Mr. Fry was the legal counsel for Mr. Merry's Citizens Action Committee before his unfortunate run-in with the law. And seeing as how bribery is one of the evils Mr. Merry wants to root out in city government, that seems a little ironic to me. Or as we used to say in south Georgia, "Don't that beat all?"

Members of the shadow government could also shadow the five black commissioners to a restaurant in North Augusta where they've been known to hold their pre-meetings, supposedly on the grounds that if they meet out of state they won't be breaking Georgia's open meetings law. Oh well, five isn't a quorum anyway, so they could have just stayed in town.

Anyway, if Mr. Merry's sparring partner William Fennoy , who rang Mr. Merry's bell last year in round one before a Coliseum Authority meeting, gets elected to the District 1 seat, they'll have to find a shadow boxer to follow him around. Commissioner Jerry Brigham said it would take a really big shadow for him, maybe even two of them. They'll have to find a woman to shadow Commissioner Betty Beard into the ladies room, but that won't be hard because women never go there alone. And if the very slender Mayor Deke Copenhaver keeps jogging and drinking bottled water all day, his shadow would have to be a shadow of his former self.

While I personally think Mr. Merry is a bona fide, card-carrying, pea-turkey nut, who took the Lord's name in vain a dozen times or more during his hour-and-a-half-rant against city government Thursday night at Fort Discovery, in the presence of Chronicle Staff Writer Johnny Edwards ' 8-year-old daughter, I feel kind of sorry for him. Don't ask me why. Maybe it's because he's so passionate, and, as he says, is still trying to change things even though he knows he's probably going to fail.

"I've failed for 10 years, but I tried," he said, exhaustedly, to end his tirade Thursday.

And he does have his defenders.

CRAZY LIKE A FOX: After the meeting, I called former Commissioner Andy Cheek , who was there, to voice my opinion and hear what he thought because he's one smart fellow. We spoke briefly because it was late, and then he called Friday morning while I was on the phone and left this message:

"I got to thinking about it after I got a good night's sleep, and I've kind of nailed down some things about how we got to where we are," he said. "Yeah, maybe Woody is a little crazy. Him, Butch Palmer and several other people, probably myself included. It requires a little bit of craziness to combat what has become an institutional way of mismanaging the city.

"In tracking this, you can look all the way back to the '20s and '30s when the Cracker Party took over, and it was common practice to have the head of the fire department going around as the party representative extorting money from city employees and directing the purchasing department to their friends," he continued. "For two generations, it became institutionalized. And it will take a generation of dedicated people, maybe crazy people, to work out of this thing."

A ONE-MAN SHOW: Oh well, enough of that. Let's get back to the election and some highlights from last week's Tuesday talkathon at the Imperial Theater.

Commissioner Joe Bowles was the smartest man in the room, and as usual, Mr. Palmer stole the show.

When panelist Johnny Edwards asked what the city should do to make up the $8.6 million shortfall in next year's budget, Mr. Palmer said, "Well, we've got a whole lot of religious organizations who say, 'Diiiig deep!' Maybe it's time for them to diiiig deep and put a little bit in the pot. They're not charged a dime in property taxes. You gotta give back. That's what they all say. Hallelujah!"

JUST WHO WAS THE RINGMASTER?: The most contentious moment came when Metro Courier Publisher Barbara Gordon said, "District 1 has always been represented historically by an African-American. The district is 62 percent African-American. Why do you see yourself as the best person to represent that district, and what commitment do you make tonight to fully honor and represent that district according to its majority?"

Mr. Aitken said he'd had a ministering outreach in District 1 for 18 years, and had worked on the streets, holding out hope to people in hopeless situations, painting houses, fixing roofs for the elderly and working on the board with the Medical College of Georgia in District 1.

Ms. Gordon kept questioning Mr. Aitken, asking him if he could withstand the pressures that would come "from the powers that be," which he assured her he could.

In response, Mr. Fennoy said, "During the last presidential election, Sarah Palin said she could look out the window and see Russia. D.L. Hughley said he could look up at the stars and see the moon, but that didn't make him an astronaut."

Candidate JoRae Jenkins said she was diverse and had the heartbeat of the district.

When his turn came to answer the question, Mr. Palmer said, "First of all, I don't really think that a full 65 percent of mixed-race and Latin Americans in Richmond County identify with being African-Americans. I think most of them, and one of them is one of my opponents, just identifies as being an American. You know, I don't identify myself as being a European-American. It's time to let go. We're all Americans. We're all in this together. We don't need to be European. We don't need to be African. We don't need to be Asian. We can be Americans together."

"In another world, and maybe on another planet, that might be the case," Ms. Gordon said.

Mr. Palmer continued on in the same vein and accused Ms. Gordon of creating an agenda, to which she said, "I'm sorry, I'm not going to join the circus."

And Mr. Palmer said, "You created the circus."

THE LAST WORD: I've got just one more thing to say about the election, and it is that I think District 5 candidate Bobby Hankerson is being unfairly smeared by the Bill Lockett camp about his previous four years on the commission until he was defeated by Calvin Holland in the last election.

For example, at Thursday's forum, a man in the audience stood up to ask a question but then launched into a political commentary against Mr. Hankerson concerning his 2005 vote to fire Public Works Director Teresa Smith , who needed firing in the worst way. Mr. Hankerson is a good man, a man of honor, a man of his word. Not that Mr. Lockett isn't. He seems fine, too, but his camp plays dirty politics in my opinion.

LET THE FUNDRAISING BEGIN: State Sen. Ed Tarver is moving toward final confirmation by the U.S. Senate as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia, and the fund-raising has begun for candidates to fill his soon-vacant seat.

The moneyed crowd threw such an event for state Rep. Hardie Davis at Enterprise Mill last Tuesday. The minimum contribution was $250, and the maximum $2,400. The host committee included Rick Allen , Dr. and Mrs. Adair Blackwood , Mr. and Mrs. Braye Boardman , Clayton P. Boardman III , Rodger Giles and many, many others.

A fundraiser for Richmond County State Court Solicitor Harold Jones , who also has his eye on the job, is tentatively planned for Nov. 17 at the Brigham Center. Hosts include state Reps. Quincy Murphy, Gloria Frazier and Wayne Howard and Mayor Pro-Tem Alvin Mason .

That's three days after Mr. Jones marries Kimberly Bush . He says he'll come back from the honeymoon to be there.

Let's see: Fundraiser? Honeymoon? Honeymoon? Fundraiser?

Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228.

From the Sunday, November 01, 2009 edition of the Augusta Chronicle
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