Augusta’s Veterans Day Parade is in jeopardy this year because Mayor Hardie Davis failed to respond to a request for support and permission to conduct the CSRA Augusta Veteran’s Day Parade.
On July 6, Retired Sgt. First Class Rebecca Shores, secretary of the veterans organization, emailed Davis a letter requesting permission to conduct the parade on Thursday, Nov. 11, in Augusta from 10 a.m. to 11 am. Shores also emailed the mayor a parade permit application for the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office, an entry form, a copy of a written plan for the parade and an invitation to lead the parade’s non-military section.
Last Tuesday, Shores emailed the mayor again stating that the parade committee had not received any information.
“Is the city of Augusta going to have a Veterans Day Parade this year?” Shores asked.
Shortly thereafter, she received this reply:
Thank you for contacting the Office of the Mayor. Would you please re-submit the paperwork requesting a parade? The staff person who handled these matters has transitioned from the Mayor’s Office.
Shores said she doesn’t see the parade committee getting everything together in time for the parade with less than a month left or getting enough volunteer police officers to help
“In the past, we had veteran police officers volunteer to work in the parade,” she said. “We would start at the Blue Goose for a ceremony at 9 o’clock, and the police would escort the generals and the band to 13th and Greene Street. They would block off roads and have escorts for the parade itself down Broad Street to Fourth Street to the All Wars Monument for the traditional ceremony.”
Now, the Sheriff’s Office says because of COVID-19, it is unlikely they’ll be able to get volunteers, and the veterans organization would have to pay the officers itself, Shores said.
“That’s $80 an hour for 10 officers for two to three hours,” she said. “I’ve been working with this parade for five years, and the mayor always tells us he’ll be there. He never shows up.”
“My fear is if you let this parade go for two or three years, we’re going to lose it.”
I don’t know about you, but I think it’s disgraceful for the mayor to slight our veterans while having no problem with hiring a B-list actress who plays a stripper in a TV series to come to Augusta to show young girls and women how to move during his “Movin’ with the Mayor” program?
Like it’s Going Out of Style
During a 2022 city budget workshop Thursday, Augusta commissioners, through consensus, approved $700,000 in raises for some Engineering Department and Utilities Department employees to keep them from leaving for greener pastures.
They also told City Administrator Odie Donald, to increase the pay of employees he thinks deserve it as much as city policy allows.
Donald said his office had compared the pay of Augusta employees to those of other counties such as Columbia County and saw that Augusta’s pay was lower.
In Friday’s paycheck, Augusta employees received a one-time COVID-19 vacation payout totaling $1,039,212.
In two weeks, they’ll get Premium Pay, a one-time payout of $2,500 bonuses to full-time first responders, 911 employees and deputy coroners. Part-time public safety personnel will receive $1,250 bonuses.
And on Nov. 19, the minimum $15-an-hour for all employees will be implemented at a cost of $3.4 million a year. Compression pay will also be implemented at a cost of $428,000 annually.
“In the city of Augusta, not a single employee missed a paycheck because of Covid,” Clarke said. “It did not negatively affect any city employee’s pay. When you’ve got somebody in utilities or engineering making $70,000 to $75,000 a year, that is a damned good paycheck.”
Donald said Sheriff Richard Roundtree wants $4.4 million more for 2022, and Donald recommended $3 million.
I think Roundtree should get what he wants. The Fire Department, too. Those are the people who put their lives on the line every day, especially the first responders. They see the worst of everything, murders, wrecks, airplane crashes. Everything.
Mapping Out the Census Spoils
The local redistricting committee met Wednesday to acquaint members with the map created by the state Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Office, based on 2020 U.S. Census results. And I agree with Commissioner John Clarke, who said afterward, “I can’t make heads or tails out of it because there are no streets or reference points you can speak to.”
Those will come later when the local committee of 12 elected officials meet again. They’ll have interactive maps that will make it all clear, according to the Richmond County Board of Elections Director Lynn Bailey.
Two things that are clear now, though, are that District 3 with the biggest population increase since 2010 is the biggest loser of territory and voters on the draft map and that the Summerville and Forrest Hills neighborhoods have been carved up like a Halloween pumpkin.
So mainly at Wednesday’s meeting, they talked about what sort of map will be presented during upcoming public hearings, the draft map before them or one that included input from public hearings which would mean the map would keep changing and that people at different public hearings would see different maps. So that was ruled out.
The committee also voted not to hire a consultant to help them with the map, which saved the county a lot of money. Bailey said she has researched consultants’ fees and learned they charge between $350 and $550 an hour and the estimated hours were 100.
Out of the Darkness Courage Flew
Nothing earth shattering has happened on Wrightsboro Road in Thomson in 20 years, but then it did, and I, a veteran news reporter, heard it and went back to sleep.
Somewhere around 5:30 a.m. Tuesday, a loud boom and thud jolted me awake. Rusty started barking frantically. That must be thunder from one of the storms the TV weatherman had said was heading our way last night, I thought. But it was strange because there was no lightning, so I just lay there waiting for more thunder which never came. So, I started thinking what else the boom might have been. Could it have been an earthquake or the gas pipeline blowing up?
Our border collie Julieghanne began pawing at me from the side of the bed, so I got up, went to the front door, turned on the porch light and let her out. It was black dark outside. I let her back in and went back to bed. But she kept coming back to the side of the bed. I shooed her away, and she went and pawed Ernie, but he was sound asleep. Julie just wouldn’t go away, and I thought she must be hearing coyotes on the move again. So, I ignored her and went back to sleep, which just goes to show she’s smarter than I am. She knew something was bad wrong.
Little did I know that 50 yards from where we lay sleeping a jet cargo plane had crashed in our front pasture, and the pilot and co-pilot had died. Large metal chunks of the plane landed just feet from our house.
Ernie believes the plane was headed for our house but the pilot turned hard right at the last minute when he saw our security yard light, white garage door and cars and crashed into the pasture instead. I’m going to church and say a prayer and light candles for Raymond Bachman, 73, of Fountain Hills, Ariz., and Claude Duschesne, 63, of El Paso, Texas, whose deaths Ernie and I deeply regret but whose courage and professionalism we deeply admire and for which we will be eternally grateful.
I heard thunder but saw no lightning when the jet crashed in our front yard, which disqualifies me to be a news reporter for the rest of my life.
Edith Smith, the feisty receptionist at the Valdosta Daily Times, speaking on the quality of the stream of novice and burned-out reporters who came and went at the Times, said the job interview process consisted of one question: “Can you see lightning and hear thunder?” And when the applicants would invariably answer, “Yes,” the interviewer would say, “You are a reporter.”
Of course, that wasn’t true. The Valdosta Daily Times hired some fine talent. They hired me and Ernie, and we won a first-place Associated Press award for Public Service for exposing that toxic waste was being transported from a plant in Madison, Fla., and dumped in the Lowndes County landfill. Our investigation, like most investigations, began with a tip. A man named Mr. Horne called the newsroom one day and Ernie answered the phone. Mr. Horne was seriously hard of hearing, and Ernie had to shout into the phone to be heard while writing down what Mr. Horne was saying, which was that he lived on the road coming from the plant and followed one of the trucks loaded with the waste across the state line and to the Lowndes County landfill.
Anyway, we got the landfill records that showed that hundreds of barrels of toxic waste had been dumped in the landfill. Then we called the Environmental Protection Agency, which forced the county to do a massive cleanup that went on for years and might still be going on as far as I know.
The most fun I ever had as a reporter was at the Valdosta Daily Times. First of all, there was very little editorial supervision and almost no editing, which gave us the freedom and latitude to write what we wanted to. The newsroom editor Archie McKay left early every day to beat the Happy Hour crowd at the Wooden Nickel, so he wasn’t in the way.
People would bring their record-breaking catfish or bass or 6-foot rattlesnake and proudly pose with it while the newspaper’s photographer took their picture.
One man even showed up for a photo shoot with a 300-pound Black Bear he’d hit with his truck on the interstate. I hated that.
And then there was the Siberian Tiger that had escaped from a circus traveling down Interstate 75. The tiger had to be tranquilized with a dart gun and recaptured. Needless to say, they didn’t bring the tiger by the newspaper, but we wrote a story about it. And I’ve written previously about the mysterious screaming creature in Hahira that generated more phone calls than anything the whole time I was there. They said the screams would make your hair stand on end. Some people said if you heard it, you’d swear a woman was being murdered. Others said they were sure it was a black panther. And that went on until the woman died or the panther moved on. But it was fun while it lasted.
The most bizarre thing I’ve ever written about there or anywhere was a hitchhiker who got picked up on his way to Florida by a man who had a body in the trunk of his car. The hitchhiker saw a foot sticking out of the trunk of the driver’s car when the driver opened the trunk for something. The hitchhiker didn’t say anything about seeing the foot at the time, but when they got to Valdosta and the man went into the Holiday Inn bar for a drink, the hitchhiker slipped away and found a pay phone and called the police.
After the driver had been arrested, I got hooked up to interview the hitchhiker by phone.
“What did you think when you saw that foot sticking out of the trunk?” I asked.
“Looney Tunes,” he replied.