City awaits Russell 's words on Johnson
By Sylvia Cooper| Columnist
Sunday, January 03, 2010

The new year for Augusta Commission business will begin Tuesday with a prayer, a pledge, the election of a mayor pro tem and standing committee appointments.

There's no reason to believe Mayor Pro Tem Alvin Mason won't hold on to the title for a second year, and though commissioners make deals with the devil to get prestigious committee chairmanships, for most people that's inside baseball. But everybody will be straining to hear what City Administrator Fred Russell says about the law department because most everybody knows by now that commissioners told him to offer General Counsel Chiquita Johnson the choice of resigning with a goody bag or being fired.

For the record, Ms. Johnson does not work for Mr. Russell. She works for the commission, just as he does, so any blame for her shoddy performance should go to them, not him.

I HATE TO SAY "I TOLD YOU SO." Not really. Like everybody else, I love to say "I told you so." And I told you about Ms. Johnson before Augusta commissioners gave her permanent status as the new law department's top banana.

In a January 2008 showdown between Ms. Johnson and then-city attorney Todd Boudreaux over the transition plan for handing over control to the in-house law department, Ms. Johnson tried to close the meeting to discuss policy in violation of the open meetings law. She also contended that Mr. Boudreaux's firm, Shepard Plunkett Hamilton & Boudreaux, should not represent the city, and to make the point she passed around a copy of a State Bar of Georgia opinion stating that a commissioner should not serve as county attorney. Actually, Stephen Shepard hadn't been a commissioner for four years.

What has turned out to be truly prophetic was this prediction by attorney David Hudson : "It is going to be a disaster for the city-county to get all of its legal services from an in-house law department or from patronage firms it hires."

AN ASSORTMENT OF FRUITS AND NUTS: Forrest Gump's mama was right when she told him: "Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're going to get." The same could be said for lots of things -- jobs, marriage, children, phone calls and even, as it turns out, political forums, such as the one featuring state Senate District 22 candidates at Eastview Community Center last week.

One of the questions early on was about education, which usually elicits some of the most boring rhetoric you can imagine because there's not much anybody can do about it, considering what teachers have to work with these days.

The candidates made some good tries, and Democratic candidate Sandra Scott said what everybody knows but can't do anything about: "You need parents. Parents have got to take more interest in what's going on in a classroom."

A BRIEF INTERMISSION: Shortly thereafter, moderator William Mitchell abruptly took the candidates into another room for a powwow, which had everybody asking what was going on. When they came back, Mr. Mitchell said that when he called the candidates in they jumped on him for not allowing them to talk about themselves at the beginning of the forum.

"So what we agreed to do is, the last thing, we will give them five minutes to say whatever suits them," he said.

Twenty more minutes at the end? How much can a human being endure?

ASK NOT WHAT YOUR SENATOR CAN DO FOR YOU: Then there was this question: "If you are elected, what will you require of those who elected you?"

I kind of thought the audience should have answered that one. Nevertheless, Dr. Scott said she would make certain she heard their voices. Harold Jones said he would need constituents to challenge him to bring government back to them. Hardie Davis said he would need them to engage him in issues. Libertarian candidate Taylor Bryant said he wasn't going to make any promises at all because as a member of the minority party he couldn't deliver them. Well, he was saying that until a voice in his pocket started telling him he was one mile from the community center.

"Is that a computer?" Mr. Mitchell asked.

"No sir, it's a navigational device," he replied as he tried to turn it off.

"Do you really need that?" Mr. Mitchell asked, to everybody's amusement.

Mr. Bryant then went on to give a speech on self-reliance and how the government ought to stay out of our lives.

"What I ask from each and every one of you is to make yourself better," he said. "If you lose your job, go out and find yourself another one. If you can't find a job, start a business and make yourself a job."

There was a loud noise about that time, which could have been a hoot or a loud cough. It was hard to tell.

YOU COULDN'T MAKE THIS STUFF UP: The next thing was straight out of the Theater of the Absurd. A woman in a long, black skirt, green sweater and green knit hat, with her hair in a knot held in place with a giant hair clip, got up and started speaking in a loud voice as she walked toward the front.

"Excuse me. Good evening, everyone," she said. "We talk about big time gangster. And we talk about Washington, D.C. And we talk about entrapment, how they put dope on our kids and how they turn around and bust them. That's illegal. I know in fact, you're not strong enough to stand in Washington, D.C. But I know this woman is," she said, pointing to Dr. Scott. "This woman is a fair woman!"

"Is there a question in there somewhere?" Mr. Mitchell asked.

"Yeah, there's a question in there," the woman said. "Now my daughter, she goes to the college, and the lawyers came and the lawyers said, 'We are the biggest crooks in town.' So I am saying once again..."

"Cut that off! Cut that off!" Mr. Mitchell said.

"So I want to know what makes you so dynamic that you feel that you can withstand all of these men?" she asked Dr. Scott.

"That wasn't a question," said Mr. Mitchell.

Dr. Scott said she had supervised men, even as a young woman, and wasn't intimidated by anyone. And that was the end of that.

Shortly thereafter, the cell phones started going off, all playing different tunes, except for one that went click, click, click for about a minute, only to stop and then start all over again. One woman even had the gall to answer and carry on a conversation. I told Mr. Mason, sitting beside me, that I'd like to go over there and slap her.

Then came a question for Mr. Davis from a man loaded for bear. He challenged Mr. Davis to substantiate his claim that some delegation members want to be bosses with their own political agenda. Then he accused him of not substantiating the claim before even giving him a chance to answer.

When Mr. Davis was finally allowed to speak, he said he thought the man was referring to a question that had come up during a forum at the Henry Brigham Center about delegation members supporting Mr. Jones.

"My response was, 'Augusta is trying to overcome the perception of the old boss system where I believe a few misguided elected officials are trying to determine who we should elect and what issues should be discussed in our community.' And I said I'm opposed to that."

As he finished, another cell phone started playing a tune while the man tried to ask another question, but Mr. Mitchell said, "Sir, you had a slight mini-sermon when you started."

There was some grousing and grumbling, but Mr. Mitchell prevailed.

There were more questions, designed to put the candidates on the spot or to allow them to do a little politicking from the podium.

The phones kept singing and clicking, and Mr. Mitchell had to ask the audience to be quiet while the candidates were speaking.

Then they were asked their opinion on decriminalizing nonviolent offenses, and Mr. Bryant got a vote or two when he said, "If a guy just smokes weed on a weeknight, I don't think he should be in jail."

Mr. Davis said the real issues were private probation and mandatory sentencing.

Mr. Jones said that without private probation, the system would revert back to public probation, with taxpayers footing the bill.

Dr. Scott said, "Public? Private? What is the answer?"

I was thinking that's what they'd asked her.

There was more. Much, much more. You should have been there. Or not.

AT 12:01 A.M. FRIDAY, I said goodbye to a few bad things and gave thanks for a few good things.

Bad Things:

- The day Molly died

- Finally finding out what the new border collie puppy did with my $650 pair of glasses. Neighbor Gayle McCorkle found them inside a bale of hay in their pasture. We're going to mount them on a board and call it Optic Art . So it's not all bad.

- More senior moments than any other kind

- Missing the exit to Marietta and getting lost with Ernie's 90-year-old mother and two dogs in the van with one bar left on my cell phone and finally pulling into this office park to ask for directions, only to find that nobody around there spoke English.

- A snake biting Honey on the paw

Good Things:

- Ernie, when he's not assembling things

- Meeting Miya, the baby my daughter and her husband adopted from China

- A week's visit from my sister June

- Doves on the bird feeders

- Cardinal flitting from one bare limb to another

- Fox hunters in red coats on horses whose breaths fog the air on frosty mornings

- Writing City Ink

Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228.

From the Sunday, January 03, 2010 edition of the Augusta Chronicle


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