Merry's T-shirts get him nowhere
By Sylvia Cooper| Columnist
Sunday, November 08, 2009

The topic of the week is money and how your local government and school system plan to pick your pocket again one way or another.

The Richmond County Board of Education wants to do away with the school tax exemption for seniors, and City Administrator Fred Russell has proposed another penny tax as a long-term fix to the city's budget shortfall.

The penny-tax pitch came during a commission budget workshop, advertised as a public hearing. Citizen activist Woody Merry came to speak and pass out T-shirts with a cartoon by The Chronicle's Rick McKee on the back that said "Who knows what EVIL lurks in the hearts of commissioners? Woody Merry's Shadow Government knows."

Mr. Merry put one on the dais in front of each commissioner's place, but I don't think his gift was well received by commissioners, who looked like they smelled dead meat when they looked at them.

Mr. Russell took up most of the time talking about next year's budget and how to fix it, so only a few minutes were left for Mr. Merry to speak -- four minutes in all, which really isn't enough time for an ordinary citizen to get steamed up and fulminating. Mr. Merry, however, was an exception and was going full force, telling commissioners how they could save millions of taxpayer dollars by following his plan.

When the four minutes were up, he was criticizing them for rebidding the contract for operating the wastewater treatment plant only a few months before the current contract ends with Operations Management International, the company that has kept the city out of trouble with the EPD for the past nine years. Mr. Merry also wanted to know why OMI didn't make the short list this time around.

Mr. Russell called time, and the mayor banged his gavel, but Mr. Merry kept shouting for a full minute and a half and asked whether anybody else would give him their time, but because he was the only person to sign up, that was not possible.

"OMI! Find out why! OMI! Find out why! OMI! Find out why!" he chanted as the room emptied.

So now, Mr. Merry could be in hot water for violating a court order that bars him from acting up at any public meeting in Augusta.

State Court Solicitor Harold Jones is investigating whether the dead-docketed disorderly conduct charge against Mr. Merry should be resuscitated.

You no doubt recall Merry vs. Fennoy, a case of dueling simple battery charges that resulted from a fracas last year with then-Coliseum Authority member William Fennoy .

EQUAL OPPORTUNITY VOTING: You might say Augusta commissioners showed their true colors in their votes on hiring Jacqueline Humphrey as the city's EEO coordinator.

The five white commissioners voted no. The five black commissioners voted yes. Mayor Deke Copenhaver broke the tie by voting yes.

Explaining why he voted against the appointment, Commissioner Joe Jackson said he was a member of the selection subcommittee but attended only one meeting because he wasn't notified of the others.

Commissioner Don Grantham said he voted no because he thought it was ridiculous to be hiring an employee with a $100,000 salary when the city has an $8.6 million budget shortfall staring it in the face.

ONE ATTORNEY, TWO ATTORNEY, THREE ATTORNEY OR: Augusta attorney Charles Evans said he will ask the governor to appoint him to Mr. Jones' job when Mr. Jones resigns to run for the state Senate seat Sen. Ed Tarver will leave to become U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Georgia.

Word is, Mr. Jones has been talking to former city attorney Stephen Shepard about joining his firm after he leaves the Solicitor's Office. Mr. Jones would not comment on the matter but said he was exploring his options.

Is that a yes? Also, former Mayor Bob Young would not discuss whether there's any truth to rumors he wants to run for mayor or for the Super District 10 Commission seat Mr. Grantham will leave at the end of next year.

Is that a yes?

BUTCH HAS LEFT THE BUILDING: I woke up at 3:30 a.m. Friday with Elvis Presley's tune In the Ghetto running through my head.

That's what I get for watching now-defeated District 1 Augusta Commission candidate James "Butch" Palmer on a TV video Thursday night and hearing him say Augusta was just one big ghetto.

After tossing and turning and softly humming In the Ghetto until 5 o'clock, I got up to get ready to go to Richmond County Magistrate Court, where Mr. Palmer was scheduled to face his accuser, Elliott Davis, who told police Mr. Palmer pointed a shotgun at him a few weeks ago. But court was a fizzle because Mr. Davis didn't show up, so Judge Scott Allen dismissed the case.

Mr. Palmer was still licking his wounds after his third-place finish in Tuesday's election when he made those disparaging remarks about the Garden City and other unflattering things about the district's top vote-getter, Matt Aitken. Mr. Palmer later said he's going to support Mr. Aitken in his runoff with Mr. Fennoy next month. His earlier remarks, he said, were just "sour grapes."

"Are you sure it was sour grapes and not fermented grapes that made you say that?" I asked.

"Fermented. That's right," he said.

SOME PEOPLE SAY THERE'S A WOMAN TO BLAME: Well, Mr. Palmer's hearing wasn't worth getting up so early for, but something interesting is always going on in Judge Allen's or Chief Judge William D. Jennings III's courtroom, such as the case of former friends Jay Pillers and Kenneth J. Fortson, which came up right after Mr. Palmer's.

Mr. Pillers and Mr. Fortson had tried to swear out warrants against each other for harassment. Mr. Pillers' attorney Richard Allen said his client just wanted Mr. Fortson to leave him alone. Mr. Fortson said Mr. Pillers had threatened his life three times. As Judge Allen was sorting out the facts, Mr. Allen said, "All of this took place over a woman."

"It usually does," the judge said.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK:

"With all the money I spent on my campaign, I could have had a face-lift."

-- Butch Palmer

NIGHTMARE ON BROAD STREET: Election night found me in The Chronicle newsroom helping out by writing a story on the Hankerson-Lockett race. All I needed was a quote from Mr. Lockett, so I headed out to his victory party and volunteered to go to Mr. Fennoy's party first for a quote. It was at a bar in the old Mojeska Theater on Broad Street.

I pulled into the parking pit, and found out he'd already left, so I started backing out until I heard a loud whoosh. I opened the car door and said, "What was that?" A man ran up and said, "Your tire. Look there in the front." I'd backed over a beer bottle. The man said a deputy had sent him over to help.

In a few seconds, Deputy Byron Johnson came up and said the man, whose name was Eddie Shepherd, would change the tire and was trustworthy.

Much to my dismay, Deputy Johnson left and soon thereafter, some characters who could have been drug addicts started drifting over. Eddie said, "Get on away from here!"

It turned out Eddie was homeless and said he'd been scrounging in a nearby garbage can. It was very dark, and we had a time figuring out how to get the doughnut out. Eddie found the jack but couldn't find the crank or bolt loosener.

That's when I started panicking. So I called Ernie, who was 250 miles away, and apprised him of the situation, to which he said, "Oh, God."

He insisted the tools were there, so we fumbled around some more in the dark until Eddie found them. He jacked the van up, but we'd forgotten to put on the emergency brake, and when he started with the lug nuts, the van rolled forward and off the jack and put a little dent in the van door. So I put on the emergency brake, and Eddie got the flat tire off and the doughnut on.

I kept telling him he was a godsend, and he kept telling me I was a godsend, especially when I went back to the newspaper and borrowed some money to give him. He said the Huddle House had two cheeseburgers for $9.50.

Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228 or sylvia.cooper@augustachronicle.com.

From the Sunday, November 08, 2009 edition of the Augusta Chronicle
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