RICHARD HYATT: School board, city disputes rock the boat

April 17, 2013 

The good ship Columbus is rocking and no one is grabbing the wheel.

Start with city government. A plan that would put a new face on Booker T. Washington Apartments and locate housing around the Liberty Theatre turned into a political nightmare.

A rift developed between Mayor Teresa Tomlinson and Tax Commissioner Lula Lunsford Huff, and the main event occurred during a meeting called by Evelyn “Mimi” Woodson, an overlooked member of Columbus Council whose district includes the 74-yearold housing project.

The mayor came, joined by City Manager Isaiah Hugley and Housing Authority chairman Larry Cardin. In the opposite corner was a group of elected officials whose influence ranged from Congress to the state House to the Government Center. Conversation was lively and challenging, and it became apparent that support was waning for the Liberty Theatre apartments. Four days later, the Housing Authority abruptly withdrew its proposal.

If you think friction between factions of city government is troubling then look at what is happening with the Muscogee County School Board. For the past two years, the board has heard complaints about what it pays Hatcher, Stubbs, Land, Hollis & Rothschild — the only law firm employed in the 63-year history of the school district. That came to a head when attorney Frank Myers came before the board with information that he said showed the school district was paying more for legal work than other systems in Georgia.

Events that followed were startling. A board member asked the state attorney general for a ruling on executive sessions. Board leaders asked the police chief to invite the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to look into the actions of Myers and state Sen. Josh McKoon. Three board members filed a fruitless ethics complaint against McKoon. The law firm scheduled an appearance before the board to talk about fees then backed out. A board member quarreled with the administration over being denied access to documents pertaining to what the law firm is being paid. At the same time, the board was given the name of four finalists to replace Superintendent Susan Andrews, who 401 days ago announced she was leaving. Wonder what these candidates will think about working for a school board that has the GBI on speed dial?

If the community is going to move forward, a peacemaker must emerge, a person or agency that is above the politics and bickering, someone that city government and the school board respects. What about the Carl Vinson Center for Government at the University of Georgia? What about Dr. Tim Mescon at Columbus State University ? What about the Greater Columbus Georgia Chamber of Commerce? There’s help out there, but government and the school board first have to recognize their individual shortcomings. Until they do, the ship will continue to reel.

— Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. Reach him at hyatt31906@  .

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