2009 has been a banner year for bad ideas
By Sylvia Cooper| Columnist
Sunday, December 13, 2009

Many bad ideas have come our way this year -- Gov. Mark Sanford not hiking the Appalachian Trail, Georgia House Speaker Glenn Richardson supporting pro-Atlanta Gas Light legislation and Gov. Sonny Perdue rescinding the state tax credit on county property-tax bills. And everyone has paid for them one way or another.

Gov. Sanford's wife is filing for divorce. Mr. Richardson has resigned. And your property-tax bill increased between $200 and $300. And now, from the geniuses who spent $37,000 for a study on the feasibility of a downtown trolley comes another brilliant idea that could even trump the plan to spend SPLOST money to dredge a lake in front of Regency Mall.

The Downtown Development Authority wants to install parking meters on Broad Street and charge you $1 an hour to park between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. on weekdays. The intent, they say, is to increase the number of patrons for downtown businesses by forcing the turnover of parking spaces and allowing more customers to park near shops.

No, what they will do is increase the number of patrons for downtown drug dealers by enticing addicts to force the meters open and turn over the proceeds for a fix.

And who's going to write the tickets for people whose meters expire? Sheriff's deputies? Just don't tell the sheriff, whose budget for next year has been cut $1 million -- another bad idea in a list that's so long we must limit ourselves to the most egregious, which we shall call the worst of 2009, not including those in Washington because we don't have enough ink.


1. Scheduling a social event at the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame gardens.

2. Announcing a groundbreaking for a downtown baseball stadium.

3. CH2MHill firing regional business manager Tony Johnson, which made some commissioners so mad they insisted on re-bidding OMI's contract for managing the city's wastewater treatment plant.

4. Locating the sheriff's office at Southgate Shopping Center to stop prostitution across Gordon Highway, although having the office on Fourth Street hasn't stopped it in Olde Town.

5. David Fry's offer to make Mayor Pro Tem Alvin Mason and Commissioner Corey Johnson parking deck magnates.

6. Another penny tax proposal, called MOST.

7. An application for a federal grant by Housing Director Chester Wheeler, Administrator Fred Russell and Mayor Deke Copenhaver, which sent the folks at Goshen into a tailspin at the thought of Section 8 housing.

8. Making the four-laning of Windsor Spring Road to Hephzibah the No. 1 road project, which really ticked off folks who drive on Mike Padgett Highway, Augusta's leading die-way.

9. Spending $500,000 on a study of how to get from the Burke County line to downtown Augusta.

10. Authorizing a $50,000 study of Regency Mall by F.A. Johnson Consulting Group, which the Richmond County Board of Health is suing, contending the group ripped SPLOST a new one on Mr. Johnson's contract. The $50,000 study is in addition to a $75,000 study commissioners authorized F.A. Johnson to do on Regency Mall in 2007.

11. A Georgia House proposal for a statewide tax to fund transportation in Atlanta.

12. General Counsel Chiquita Johnson's proposal to limit TV cameras in Augusta Commission chambers and ban media interviews everywhere except in a broom closet. Oh wait! That's not right. It's the committee room, which isn't much bigger, and it wouldn't even be available because that's where commissioners go behind closed doors immediately after the main meetings.

13. Chiquita Johnson's proposal to hire a staff to control city contracts.

14. Chiquita Johnson's proposal to change the city charter to make herself Czarina, chief inquisitor and law enforcement officer with more power than the administrator -- she could hire and fire; he can't -- the mayor and maybe even the commissioners themselves.

15. The mayor turning to Chiquita Johnson during a meeting and saying, "What do you think of this, Chiquita?"

COUP D'ETAT: Columbia County Republican Party Chairman Lawrence Hammond was ousted last week in a coup led by Pat Goodwin, Jim Bartley, Bob Beckham, Deanne Hall, Nita Boeglen, Dick Manion, Mike and YeSun Wiltse, Lee Benedict and George Snelling. They called a meeting and voted him out, just like that. They also commandeered the party's Web site and canceled a meeting Mr. Hammond had called for Jan. 11 to answer ethics complaints.

Mr. Hammond said the first battle of this insurrection erupted in July after the Columbia County Commission approved $12,000 for the Oglethorpe Public Affairs Group to lobby for the county's interests in state water rights issues. Ms. Goodwin and company wrote a resolution, condemning the commission action, and brought the document to a party meeting, where it was discussed and, depending on whom you listen to, either tabled or postponed. Mr. Hammond then proceeded to send it to commissioners because he thought it was going to be used against Chairman Ron Cross . Commissioners, predictably, were not amused by the resolution because they are not used to public criticism, as are their counterparts in Augusta, Mr. Cross being said to be particularly thin-skinned.

So Mr. Hammond appointed an ethics committee and put his brother Shawn on it, which the group rejected and thereupon appointed their own with Brett McGuire as chairman, according to ousted chairman Hammond, who called it the "Brett McGuire vs. Ron Cross" for commission chairman campaign committee.

The only person in the party who can appoint a committee is the chairman, Mr. Hammond said, but that's debatable now.

"They've chosen to kick me out," he said. "It's another haphazard stunt. It's not fair. It's not the right way for Republicans to act."

Well, at least he wasn't whisked out of the country on a private jet in his pajamas like the recently ousted Honduran president was.

IF YOU KNOW WHAT A FRYING SPIDER IS, ARE YOU AN ANTIQUE? My maternal grandmother referred to what we know as a frying pan as a "spider." I asked Ernie if he'd ever heard of such a thing. He said he hadn't but would like to know the history of the term. So I went on the Internet and came across an article titled There's History in Your Frying Pan in a 2001 edition of the Journal of Antiques and Collectibles.

It was written by Alice Ross, my mother's married name, which I thought was quite a coincidence.

"Surprisingly, the term spider is American in origin, according to both sides of the Atlantic: The Dictionary of Americanisms (1951) and The Oxford Dictionary agree. The earliest reference offered is an American advertisement: The Pa. Packet (1790) announced that 'William Robinson, Junr ... Hath for Sale ... bake pans, spiders, skillets.' Note the distinction between spiders and skillets (long-handled, legged stew pots.) By applying a certain logic to Robinson's advertisement, the spider, being neither a bake pan nor a stew pan, is by default a frying pan. And so it seems to have been, according to clues in the pots themselves and in the recipes."

BACK TO BEDROCK: All the bills were spread out before me, and there was no good news.

"Listen to this," I said. "It's a legal notice about changes to this credit card account. Two pages, back and front. It says, 'Under this method, we calculate finance charges on your account by applying the DPR to the Average Daily Balance (including current transactions) separately for each balance subject to finance charges (as described below.)....

Ernie interrupted to say the banks and credit card companies have changed all the rules to their advantage because the laws are going to change next year, and there's nothing we can do about it.

"It will all go back," he said. "The pendulum will swing once they lose all their customers and nobody will accept what they're doing, and they screw everybody they can screw, and they force everybody into bankruptcy. And then it will all be over. How's that? Does that help?"

"Yes, but just listen to this," I said, reading on. " 'To get an average daily balance for a balance, we (1.) Take the beginning balance for each day (including unpaid finance charges from previous billing periods), (2.) Add any new transactions, debits or fees (3.) Subtract any payments or credits credited as of that day, and (4.) Make any appropriate adjustments. For each day after the first day of the billing period, we also add an amount of interest equal to the previous day's balance multiplied by the previous day's DPR for that balance. This gives us the daily ...' "

Ernie interrupted again to say he didn't want to discuss it.

"Like I said before, they are screwing us, and they are taking advantage, every advantage, and increasing every fee and every interest rate that they can because the law's changing, and when it does, they can't do it. But now, while no regulations exist at all, they can do what they want to do, and they can raise your interest rates up to 400 percent if they want to. If you don't owe anything on that card, don't even try to figure it out."

I was sorry I brought it up.

Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228.

From the Sunday, December 13, 2009 edition of the Augusta Chronicle


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