Let this be the end of it — please. The city, and the citizens, have plenty of other pressing issues to fret about without this one dragging out any longer.
“It” in this case is the last (we devoutly hope) of the lawsuits saga that began two years ago when four elected officials sued the Columbus Consolidated Government over their departments’ budgets. Then-Sheriff John Darr, then-Superior Court Clerk Linda Pierce, Municipal Court Clerk Vivian Creighton Bishop and Marshal Greg Countryman co-filed a suit in 2015, which played out with considerable political drama and at considerable public expense. (The city actually had to pay plaintiff legal fees for constitutional officers as well as its own, and city-issued credit cards were also used for plaintiff legal expenses.)
Two of the suits became moot when Darr and Pierce were defeated in the last election and their successors, Sheriff Donna Tompkins and Superior Court Clerk Ann Hardman, respectively, dropped the parts of the cases that hadn’t already been decided or dismissed.
This past Tuesday Columbus Council, in executive session, approved a legal agreement with Bishop and Countryman in which the two officials will pay the Consolidated Government $7,500 each to cover the attorney fees they charged to their city credit cards, and another $1,000 each to defray some (though by no means all) of the city’s legal expenses.
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Unsurprisingly, the settlement “shall in no way be deemed an admission of fault or liability by any party,” etc., etc., etc. — meaning let’s just sign the papers and the checks and make this go away, with all parties agreeing to “fully, finally and forever resolve any and all claims arising out of or relating to the disputes,” etc., etc., etc.
Also unsurprisingly, all councilors in attendance at the meeting (three were absent) voted to approve the settlement. Nobody, and certainly nobody in city government, wants to deal with this albatross of an issue any longer.
Like most such disputes — not that there have ever been any disputes quite like this one, at least not here — the resolution doesn’t completely satisfy everybody, or anybody, mainly because it never should have happened in the first place. It did, and now the best possible outcome is for it to just go away.
Historical coup for CSU
Henry Benning of Columbus was a Georgia Supreme Court justice for six years in the 1850s, and chaired the Georgia delegation to the Democratic National Convention in 1860 — the last in which Georgia would participate until after the Civil War. In later life, Benning practiced law here in his hometown until his death in 1875.
But it is as a Confederate general — and in this community, as namesake of one of the United States Armed Forces’ most important and revered installations — that Henry Benning is best known.
Soon, as reported last week by education writer Mark Rice, Benning’s letters and other written archives will be available digitally, thanks to a grant awarded to Columbus State University from the Digital Library of Georgia.
DLG is part of the University System of Georgia’s GALILEO online archive network that includes the Georgia Encyclopedia and other education, cultural and historic resources. This is the inaugural year of Digital Library grants, and CSU archivist David Owings said in a news release that the university is “excited to receive this grant, allowing us to increase access to our collections by making General Benning’s involvement in this important period of our history available online.”
Benning was hardly on the periphery of Civil War history. As an officer in Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, Benning fought at Antietam, Gettysburg and Chickamauga. When the Army established a camp here for an Infantry training ground, it was named for Benning at the request of the Columbus Rotary Club.
More than 100 Benning documents, mostly letters, had been archived at the Columbus Museum until they were donated to CSU, where they will soon be available on both the CSU and Digital Library websites.
Many who know our local Army post is named for a Confederate general know little or nothing about him. We’ll soon have even less excuse not to.