Chattahoochee Chatter: Board, Wells get earful from Smith

June 18, 2014 

John Wells often ends up in Chatter for what he says. This week, the District 2 representative on the Muscogee County School Board was the target of somebody else's words.

Nathan Smith, manager of a financing company and a frequent board critic, was on the agenda for the public forum portion of Monday night's board meeting. "Budget and transparency" was the listed purpose of his comments.

Smith, however, verbally attacked Wells after he stated a different purpose when he started his remarks: "I'm supporting and working for John Thomas to replace Mr. Wells on this board." Wells faces Thomas in the July 22 runoff.

Smith: "Recently, Mr. Wells has repeatedly stated that taxes have not been raised in the 28 years he's been on this board."

Board chairman Rob Varner of District 5: "Mr. Smith, I'm sorry, I know you asked for no interruptions, but let's just be careful because our policy is that we really don't direct, we try not to -- this is your five minutes, I get that -- but we try not to direct comments personally at individuals of the board or staff members or employees of the district. If you have comments about the budget or transparency, have at it, but it is my preference that you not make personal, direct comments about any members of the board at this point in time."

Smith: "… I can refer to Mr. Wells as 'he' if that makes it any better."

Smith then continued with his prepared statement: "As Mr. Wells has tried to rewrite history -- excuse me, 'he' is trying to rewrite history for the sake of his failing campaign. And while I would not want to be in his shoes right now, even though 72 percent of the voters in District 2 voted for someone else on May 20, he has no right to make dishonest statements from his place on this board. He has also conveniently failed to remind voters that Muscogee County labors under the third-highest school system tax millage rate in the state of Georgia. Are we getting a good bang for our buck? Clearly, we are not. … And who is most responsible for the shape of our system's dire financial situation? You only have to look as far as him, the only finance chairman of this district in the last 17 years. … He has bragged that he has ended furlough days …"

After huddling with board attorney Melanie Slaton while Smith spoke, Varner banged the gavel three times and declared: "Mr. Smith, I'm sorry, this has gone far enough. I've asked you not to do that. Your time is up, sir. Please sit down. You no longer …"

Smith: "Would you rather me talk about your false statements to the GBI? Would you appreciate that?"

Varner: "Mr. Smith …"

Smith: "I get five minutes, sir."

Varner: "No, you don't. I just shut it off."

Smith: "So you're going to limit my free speech? … This chairman is refusing to allow me to speak."

Smith returned to his seat.

Varner: "I'm sorry y'all had to witness that, ladies and gentlemen. We generally don't have to go through these types of procedures, but sometimes it's the appropriate thing to do. It is an appropriate time to remind the public that this is a business meeting. This is a board meeting. It's not necessarily a public meeting, except that the public is invited, and it's the board's decision by policy to allow members of the public to come speak -- or not. We, by policy, can allow the amount of time to speak. It is our discretion, and I just hope you understand that sometimes we have to make decisions that are uncomfortable. …"

Board policy BCBI, "Public Participation in Board Meetings," states, in part: "Speakers may offer such objective criticisms of school operations and programs as concerns them. In public session, the Board will not hear personal complaints of school personnel nor against any person connected with the school system. Other channels provide for Board consideration and disposition of legitimate complaints involving individuals."

•••

Well, let's cross the river into Phenix City, where everything is newsworthy nowadays.

Mayor Eddie Lowe provided some comic relief during Monday's council work session. Representatives from Motorola were making a sales pitch for a $3.9 million communication system.

When they were done they sat down in the crowded conference room. Lowe used his standard line about they were welcome to stay for the rest of the meeting, "but if they left it would not be held against them."

Then, the mayor joked: "But if I was trying to make the kind of sale y'all are trying to make, it might be best to stay."

Everybody laughed. Lowe said again he was just kidding.

Guess who didn't move the rest of the meeting? The Motorola guys.

•••

This may not quite be a David Letterman Top 10 list, but a recent survey of activities that drain workplace productivity can be interesting. And let's face it, you will no doubt relate to more than one of these.

That said, here are the Top 10 things employees do on the job that take a bite out of productivity on a regular basis, according to a recent Careerbuilder.com survey of U.S. hiring managers:

No. 10: Co-workers putting calls on speaker phone -- 10 percent

No. 9: Co-workers dropping by -- 23 percent

No. 8: Email -- 23 percent

No. 7: Meetings -- 23 percent

No. 6: Noisy co-workers -- 24 percent

No. 5: Snack breaks or smoke breaks -- 27 percent

No. 4: Social media -- 38 percent

No. 3: The Internet -- 39 percent

No. 2: Gossip -- 42 percent

And the No. 1 activity that saps productivity in the workplace (drum roll please) … Cell phone/texting -- 50 percent

Those of us here in Chatterland can probably point to at least one person in the newsroom who is plain guilty of all of the above.

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