Top 10 local government stories of 2010: Tomlinson election, Parks & Rec saga top list

benw@ledger-enquirer.com and spauff@ledger-enquirer.comDecember 28, 2010 

Local government and schools appeared destined to make history in 2010. Columbus elected its first female mayor, while saying goodbye to two prominent school board members.

The area also had its share of challenges with school budget cuts and the arrests of three people in connection with the Columbus Parks and Recreation Department scandal.

Here are the top 10 government stories in government from Columbus and Phenix City:

1. Tomlinson elected mayor

Columbus elected its first woman mayor when attorney Teresa Tomlinson defeated minister Zeph Baker in a Nov. 30 runoff. Tomlinson will replace Mayor Jim Wetherington, who didn’t seek re-election.

2. Parks and Rec saga

An internal audit of the department in May uncovered problems with handling money and how an elite basketball program is funded. Director Tony Adams and recreation specialist Herman Porter were charged with two felonies and one misdemeanor each in the misappropriation of more than $200,000 for a Nike-sponsored city youth basketball team. William Fox, director of basketball operations for East Marietta Basketball Inc. and who managed the Nike sponsorship for a city elite basketball team, also was charged with a felony.

A month after his arrest, Adams was fired by a 6-3 vote of Columbus Council. Edward DuBose, president of the Georgia Conference of the NAACP, called the firing a “public lynching” and drew a heated response from Wetherington.

3. Library land suit dropped

The city and the Muscogee County School board came to an agreement over the use of the land around the Columbus Public Library and a group of citizens who claimed voters were promised a park dropped their lawsuit against the city and the school district.

The school district gave the city nine acres to accommodate the natatorium, service center and parking garage. The city gave the school district five acres. A little more than $1 million left from 1999 sales tax revenue will be used to remove asphalt from the remaining 14 acres, implement erosion-control measures and seed the soil.

4. City gets its first crime prevention director

Seth Brown, an administrator at St. Luke United Methodist Church, was hired as the city’s first crime prevention director to lead the mayor’s Office of Crime Prevention. Brown will lead efforts to make Columbus the safest city in the nation by focusing on youth, job training and helping people returning to the community from prison.

5. School budget cuts

In February, the school board voted to furlough employees for three days in the middle of the year to cope with a $4.8 million cut in state funding. More changes were made that summer to cope with impending cut of $18 million. The district cut their calender for the 2010-2011 school year by 10 days and changed school times.

6. Council and school board seats filled

A Nov. 30 runoff selected two new members of Columbus Council. Judy Thomas, a former executive assistant to the mayor defeated real estate company owner Travis Chambers for District 9, an at-large seat. Councilor Julius Hunter, an attorney, was denied a fourth term in Council District 3 by mortician Bruce Huff.

Two long-time school board members, Philip Schley and Brenda Storey, left the board after the election. Schley, who represented District 8 for 21 years, chose not to run for re-election and was replaced by Beth Harris. Storey, who represented District 6 for 17 years, was defeated in the election by Mark Cantrell.

7. City service center complex bid of $32.5 million awarded

A Columbus company teamed up with an Atlanta area contractor to build the city service center complex on Macon Road at a total cost of $32.5 million.

Columbus Council approved a proposal for city officials to seek a construction agreement with Brasfield & Gorrie of Kennesaw, Ga., and Humphreys Associates of Columbus. The two companies will build the 63,000-square-foot city service center, a parking garage for 375 vehicles and a 51,000-square-foot natatorium.

8. School district uses annexes for transfer students

To cope with an increasing number of students transferring to Hardaway and Northside high schools under the No Child Left Behind Act, the Muscogee County School District created annex campuses for ninth and tenth grade transfer students at Jordan and Kendrick high schools.

Carver, Jordan, Kendrick and Spencer high schools had not made adequate yearly progress for at least two years and were in Needs Improvement. They are also Title I schools, meaning they have a large number of low-income students. According to federal law, students in Title I schools that are in Needs Improvement can transfer to better-performing schools in the district.

The Hardaway and Northside annex campuses enrolled 110 and 111 students, respectively.

9. CSU’s Tim Mescon receives vote of no-confidence

Columbus State University president Tim Mescon came under fire from faculty for his leadership style. The CSU administration was seeking changes to the standards for tenure and promotion, but this decision was reversed in the light of an no confidence vote by the faculty senate in April. Sixty-two percent of the faculty expressed no confidence in Mescon and 77 percent expressed no confidence in the university’s provost, Inessa Levi. Mescon’s contract with the university was renewed by the Board of Regents in May.

10. Phenix City School Board, Phenix City Council at odds

The Phenix City Council voted to remove three Phenix City School Board members, citing lack of cooperation with city officials. Board president Frankie Horace refused to vacate his seat, claiming the city had no authority to remove him before his term was over, but city officials said that the city charter gave them the authority to appoint and remove all board members. Russell County Circuit Court Judge Albert Johnson ruled that the council cannot remove any member of the school board during the board member’s term of office.

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