Friday, March 30, 2012

Azziz Gets Control of Golf and Gardens Property; Creates Problem For Ballpark

Friday, March 30, 2012
Augusta, GA
From Reports

With just 30 minutes left on the clock until this year's Georgia General Assembly adjourned, The GA House approved the transfer of the beleaguered Golf and Gardens property on Reynolds Street to GHSU late last night. It now goes to Governor Nathan Deal for his signature.

But one stipulation in the transfer of the property could be a big problem for proponents of a minor league baseball stadium at the site. A clause in the bill authorizing the transfer says that there can be no commercial development on the property for 3 years, or until bonds that are still owed on the property from The Georgia Golf Hall of Fame project are paid off. That would preclude any public-private partnerships on the property for at least 3 years, including a new baseball stadium for The Augusta Greenjackets.

This stipulation could give Dr. Ricardo Azziz an easy out in saying "No" to a ballpark at the site. Sources have been telling us that Azziz has never been enthusiastic about the ballpark proposal. Indeed, Azziz's stated vision for the 16 acre property has included everything from a high tech bio research park, student housing, and the cultural arts.. including possibly a school of Music and a Performing Arts Center. Conspicuously missing from Azziz's language has been a "Multi-use" ballpark at the site. And there would be little room for all of the things Azziz would like to see at the property if a ballpark is built there. The site is only slightly more than 16 acres and a ballpark would easily consume half of that at least, and it is still not clear how it would benefit the new university.

Azziz could now say that he needs to move on with developing the property and cannot wait 3 years to include a ballpark under the rules. So does this mean that The Mayor and Ripken Baseball have struck out on their dream for a downtown ballpark? Well, maybe not. Ballpark proponents may try to change the language of the partnership, where the Ballpark would be constructed as a state owned facility for the University.. and after 3 years Ripken Baseball would enter into a lease agreement with the University to use the stadium. Under this scenario though, state taxpayers would end up footing 100% of the the costs of the the stadium. Sources tell us though that Azziz is not likely to go along with such a scenario.

But ballpark proponents could have another trick up their sleeve. Sources are telling us that an alternative downtown riverfront location they are eyeing is the city-owned land located at 511 Reynolds Street by the Riverwalk Marina. At 6.7 acres, it is a quite a bit smaller than the Golf and Gardens property and would be a tight fit for a ballpark, but not out of the question.

That parcel was once the focus of a failed condominium development called The Watermark. The city purchased the land from the city's pension fund and paid for environmental clean-up so that the condominium developer could proceed with the sale and begin developing the property. However, the financial collapse of 2008 doomed the project and the land still sits empty with no potential buyers.

This same property was eyed for a downtown ballpark in the mid 1990s by the city of Augusta, just prior to consolidation. It failed to win the approval from the city council, and instead upgrades to the existing Heaton Stadium were made at Lake Olmstead, creating the current Lake Olmstead Stadium. So if this means the door is closing on the ballpark at the Golf and Gardens site could another one be opening just down the street at The Riverwalk Marina? One thing is for sure, the Mayor and Ripken Baseball don't seem content to let this thing die a quiet death. Stay tuned for updates.***

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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Breaking: Georgia House Fails to Pass Redistricting Map for Richmond County

Thursday, March 29, 2012
Posted at 9:50pm
Augusta, GA
From Reports

Well it looks like we are back to square one when it comes to redistricting maps for Augusta-Richmond County. We told you in an earlier article how the redistricting saga and the lack of a finalized map has been creating confusion for voters and candidates running for the Augusta Commission and Richmond County School Board. Earlier in the week it appeared there would be a new map... called Map 2-R, which was one of the drafts considered by the ad-hoc redistricting committee last fall. That committee, however, endorsed Map 3-R unanimously, but it failed to get the endorsement of the full Augusta Commission and stalled in the state legislature.

Last week, State Sen. Hardie Davis Jr (D Augusta) and State Sen. Jesse Stone (R Waynesboro) agreed to withdraw any action on redistricting and to simply go with current maps drawn after the 2000 census. However, that could put Richmond County in jeopardy of having the federal courts step in and redraw the maps without any local input. But this past Monday, at the urging of Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver, State Sen. Jesse Stone introduced Map-2R in a senate committee. It passed along party lines.

But The GA House  blocked Map 2-R from moving forward in a marathon session today. State   Reps. Wayne Howard, Quincy Murphy, Gloria Frazier and Earnest Smith refused to sign on to an agree or disagree resolution which halted Map-2R from going before the full House floor for a vote. This means that the current maps drawn up after the 2000 census will be used. But that leaves Richmond County in danger of being held in violation of the 14th amendment of the US Constitution because of population shifts that have occurred in the past 10 years. The federal courts could step in if someone files a lawsuit challenging use of the old maps.

The Nuclear Option
This means that Augusta-Richmond County has been put on the brink of the nuclear option: court drawn maps. We are at Def-Con 2. That means that it could be months before candidates and voters know for certain what the final voting maps may look like. This puts voters and candidates in limbo and the election is just a little more than 4 months away. Court drawn maps could look completely different from anything that has been considered thus far. The courts have no obligation to keep incumbents in separate districts  and keep neighborhoods intact within the same voting district.

And if the courts get involved over the redistricting maps that means they could also throw out  State Senate Bill 92 that moved Local non-partisan elections from the November General Election to July. So at this point, nothing is certain.

Yep, this could be a real mess. But like we said it could have all been averted months ago. Map 3-R was passed unanimously by the local ad-hoc committee on Nov. 29, 2011. But then the Augusta Commission managed to muck things up by withholding its endorsement of the map, with two of the redistricting committee members voting against it on the commission when they had voted for it just a week earlier.

And then  Mayor Copenhaver  has shown absolutely no leadership on the issue whatsoever. The Mayor was absent from the crucial December 6 commission meeting that resulted in a tie vote on Map-3R that he could have broke. He later said that had he been at the meeting he would have voted in favor of Map 3-R. Then the Mayor  reneged on a promise to sign a letter of endorsement of Map-3R requested by Commissioner Alvin Mason.

So maybe in the end it's better for the courts to step in and take over the process. The Augusta Commission, Mayor Copenhaver and the local legislative delegation have proven themselves to be incapable of handling the task of redistricting, and in the process the voters and those seeking office have been held hostage. More to come***

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Lack of Redistricting Map Causing Confusion for Candidates and Voters

Thursday, March 29, 2012
Augusta, GA
By The Outsider

UPDATE: GA House Fails to Pass Map-2R

The saga over the  redistricting of commission and school board races for Richmond County have left a lot of people scratching their heads in confusion. At one point, the ad-hoc redistricting committee had voted unanimously to endorse what was known as map 3-R after considering several drafts. That map, however, was blocked when committee members Jerry Brigham and Grady Smith changed their minds a week later and kept it from getting the endorsement of the full commission.

Then the saga played out in Atlanta with Sen. Hardie Davis Jr (D Augusta) backing map 3-R and State Sen. Jesse Stone (R Waynesboro) siding with Commissioner Jerry Brigham who wanted a new map drawn up entirely. That stalemate ended up with both legislators agreeing to withdraw their requests and instead opting to keep the current commission and school board district maps... so after everything it appeared there would be no change at all to the old maps.

But wait.. a week later that changed when State Sen. Jesse Stone introduced a different map in a Senate committee. This is known as Map-2R and it was one of the drafts considered by the ad-hoc redistricting committee the previous fall. In the end, the committee passed Map-2R. If it passes The GA House before the adjournment, it will go into effect for this year's local elections pending approval by the US Justice Department. But with all the twists and turns over redistricting, who really knows what will happen by the time the General Assembly adjourns?... But for right now, it appears that map-2R will be the one.

But things can change rapidly in the General Assembly. In just one day it appeared that non-partisan local elections would be held as usual on the November General election ballot when a Senate Bill that included a provision to move the elections to July failed, but then later that night, at 10pm, The House passed a bill sponsored by rep. Barbara Sims (R Augusta) that would indeed move local elections to July. Got all that?

Well all of this confusion is creating a big headache for Augusta commission and school board candidates, not to mention, the voters.  The problem is that with the election seemingly only 4 months away, candidates still have no idea exactly what the districts they will be running in will look like. The only map that appears on the city's website is map 3-R, but it's Map 2-R that passed the senate committee earlier this week. We have been unable to locate a copy of Map-2R on the city's website, where many candidates and voters would first go to look.

A simple web search also reveals no results for Map-2R. Having finalized district maps are extremely important to candidates at this point, with elections coming up over 3 months earlier than usual (unless that changes too). Running for office is expensive and time consuming. It involves spending thousands of dollars printing out campaign literature and countless hours knocking on doors. But without a finalized map, candidates don't know which doors to knock on or which mailboxes to send their literature to.

Some campaigns are also telling us that they have received calls from voters who are confused about whether they live in the district the candidate is running in. Map- 3-R had made some significant changes to Districts 1, 2, 6 and 7, with many precincts being shifted around.  How many of those changes will be retained in map-2R if it is the final map? Simply posting a copy of Map-2R on the city's website could help clear up a lot of confusion among candidates and voters. Surely the city must have a copy of it somewhere, but as of publishing this article it has still not appeared on the city's website.

Certain campaigns are also telling us that they are worried the elections date may change yet again. Remember it went back and forth from November to July in just one day earlier this week and some fear it could change yet again. Some campaigns have already begun printing literature with July 31st as the election date. Will all of that have to be re-printed after next week if the date changes yet again? These are the types of uncertainties and extra expenses no political campaign needs.

If there is any lesson in all of this it's that it's never a good idea to make such significant changes to elections within the same calendar year, especially when the elections are just a little more than four months away. The redistricting issue should have been settled last year, even if it meant calling a special session of The General Assembly. It only happens once every ten years anyway. But here we are down to the wire of the 2012 session and still the redistricting maps for Augusta-Richmond County are not set in stone. That's frankly unacceptable. ***


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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Breaking: Commission Agrees to Hire Outside Auditing Firm

Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Augusta, GA
From Reports

Augusta commissioners voted 6-1 earlier this evening to hire an outside auditing firm to conduct the annual audit of city finances required under state law. For the past 13 years the contract has gone to the local accounting firm of Cherry, Bekaert and Holland. But now a Macon, GA based firm, Mauldin & Jenkins, will take a look at the city's books. Some commissioners argued that a non-local firm would be more  independent and resistant to pressure from individual commissioners and local interests, and that it was good to rotate the contract among different firms instead of always giving it to the same local firm year after year.

The vote was not easy though. It took 3 tries to get it passed. The first motion failed in a 4-4 tie. Then a second motion also failed in a 4-4 tie. Commissioner Joe Bowles says it was a "slap in the face" to local accounting firms to to award the contract to an out of town firm. Commissioners were reminded that failure to choose an auditing firm could result in the city losing all state funding.

Then Commissioner Corey Johnson brought forth a 3rd motion near the end of the meeting at 7pm. By this time Commissioners Alvin Mason and Matt Aitken had left the meeting. Commissioner J.R Hatney was absent from today's meeting. The third time was a charm and commissioners passed Johnson's substitute motion to award the auditing contract to Maulden Jenkins. This time the vote passed 6-1 with Grady Smith as the sole dissenting commissioner.

It was a confusing display of political theater to say the least and we will have video up of the proceedings as soon as it becomes available. Stay tuned***


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Monday, March 26, 2012

Mayor Deke Plays Both Sides Over Redistricting

The Mayor has played both sides on redistricting
Monday, March 26, 2012
Augusta, GA
By The Outsider

UPDATE: Augusta Commissioners voted 9-0 on April 9, 2012  to have a Federal Judge redraw the Augusta Commission and School board maps.

The inability for Augusta's local legislative delegation to agree on new redistricting maps for Augusta-Richmond county nearly resulted in the courts taking over the process, but it appears that  may have been averted today when  a state Senate committee signed off on  a bill sponsored by  State Sen. Jesse Stone (R-Waynesboro) approving an alternative map known as 2-R along party lines. If The House concurs, as is expected, the maps should go into effect for this year's local elections, pending approval from the US Justice Department.

The process should have been settled back in December of last year. An ad-hoc committee was formed, including members of the Augusta Commission, Richmond County School Board and the local state legislative delegation. A redistricting expert was brought in, Linda Meggers, at a cost to the taxpayers, for the purposes of drawing a compromise map. What the committee had agreed upon was known as map 3-R. It passed the ad-hoc committee unanimously on November 29, 2011, including getting the approval from Commissioners Jerry Brigham and Grady Smith, who both served on the committee.

However, something happened between that time and December 6th, 2011, when the map came up before The Augusta Commission for its endorsement. Ad-hoc committee members Jerry Brigham and Grady Smith had changed their minds with Brigham vociferously lobbying for the commission to reject the map. My, what a change in just one week! Brigham raised objections that map 3-R would change the racial balance on the commission and school board by making district 6 a majority black voting district (with over 60%). Brigham now maintained that the consolidation charter guaranteed a 5-5 racial balance on the commission regardless if demographic shifts had occurred. The Consolidation Charter took effect in 1996. Since then, district 6 has been considered a "swing" district, despite always being represented by a white commissioner during that time.

Brigham was able to muster 5 commissioners to oppose the compromise map (that he had just voted to approve a week earlier) at the December 6 commission meeting. The map failed by default because Mayor Deke Copenhaver decided to take a vacation on that day, so he was unable to break the 5-5 tie. Upon returning from his trip, The Mayor announced that if he had been present he would have voted in favor of the compromise map saying in an email: "If I was to vote on it, I would vote in favor of it, as it received unanimous approval by the redistricting committee."

Based on the revelation that The Mayor would have supported the map, Commissioner Alvin Mason brought it back before the commission for a re-vote on December 20, 2011 when the Mayor would be present. Once again the map failed to gain 6 votes. Commissioner Brigham used the abstention loophole this time to keep the Mayor from breaking a 5-5 tie. So Commissioner Mason asked The Mayor to agree to sign a letter of support for map-3R along with the other 5 commissioners and members of the ad-hoc committee that drew the map that would be forwarded to members of the local legislative delegation and the US Justice Department, showing that a majority of the commission did support the map. The Mayor agreed to do so as long as the legal department said that it was OK. The legal department later said there was nothing preventing the mayor from signing such a letter of support.

The Mayor never signed that letter. He later repositioned himself on the issue saying that he wanted to give the local legislative delegation an opportunity to work on the matter first. But the the whole point of the letter was to show the local legislative delegation that a majority of the Augusta Commission (5 commissioners and the Mayor) supported the map and that this would help it sail through the legislature. Instead, the local legislative delegation deadlocked, with Commissioner Jerry Brigham going to State Sen. Jesse Stone to oppose the map. 

So the entire redistricting process was put in limbo with State Sen. Hardie Davis Jr supporting the compromise map 3-R that was uninimously approved by the ad-hoc committee and State Sen. Jesse Stone wanting the process to start from scratch with an entirely new map being drawn up. Seeing that neither was willing to budge.. both  Senators withdrew their requests over redistricting, keeping the current maps drawn up after the 2000 census. But not coming up with new maps would put the county in violation of the 14th amendment of the US Constitution and the 1964 Voting Voting Rights Act. This would have resulted in the courts stepping in and re-drawing the maps themselves with no input from the locals.

For local power-brokers who had problems with  map-3R and the possible shift in the racial balance on the commission that may have resulted, the thought of the courts taking over the process and drawing the maps must have sent shivers down their spines. The courts are not obligated to keep incumbents in separate districts and splitting neighborhoods. The court maps would also have likely resulted in a super black majority on the commission.

This sent some local power-brokers (known as The Cabal by some political observers) into panic mode. A group of them traveled up to Atlanta last Wednesday for "Augusta Day" and asked Sen. Jesse Stone to submit  redistricting map 2-R for approval instead to avert having the process taken over by the courts. Map 2-R is similar to map 3-R but instead keeps district 6 a "swing" district with a racial  make-up  similar to the current map. This would presumably keep a 5-5 racial balance on the commission and school board. This map was considered by the ad-hoc committee last November, but they opted for map 3-R instead.

Sen. Stone says that Mayor Deke Copenhaver was the key to getting the Republican backed map passed, when he gave his support for it last week. In an article in the Augusta Chronicle, the Mayor was quoted as saying: "“I am a firm believer in not legislating through the judicial system and offered my support to save our city the embarrassment, not to mention the expense, of having to have the courts draw our lines for us.”

This is coming from the same mayor who previously said he supported Map-3R, that had passed unanimously in the ad-hoc committee. This is the same mayor who said back on December 20th, 2011 that he would sign a letter of support for Map-3R that would be forwarded to the General Assembly and The US Justice Department.

This crisis over redistricting could have been averted entirely with the issue settled months ago. It's rather ironic that the same people who created the mess in the first place were scrambling to avert a bigger crisis: a local election coming up on July 31st with the redistricting issue still not settled and the courts taking over the process that could have further delayed it, resulting in a map even more unfavorable to this same group who opposed map-3R. So now they were in damage control to avert the nuclear option: court intervention.

However, since Georgia is still under provisions of the 1964 Voting Rights Act, the US Justice Department will still have to give its stamp of approval to the map that passed in the state Senate committee today. The circus over the local redistricting process may give them pause, and combined with other efforts to change the date of local elections in the same year and moving a sliver of Republican  Bill Jackson's Senate district into Richmond County (in an effort to neutralize Democrat Sen Hardie Davis' power), they may well decide that federal intervention is necessary and step in after all. This would of course leave local candidates for the commission and school board uncertain about exactly what districts they would be running in and when the election may be held.

So who's really to blame for this mess? Some people may want to point the finger at Commissioner Jerry Brigham who first voted for map-3R in the ad-hoc committee and then a week later started an all out assault to defeat it. But if there's one person who deserves most of the blame it is Mayor Deke Copenhaver.

The Mayor has few opportunities to cast a tie breaking vote, but  he could have been the deciding vote to endorse the  redistricting map at the Dec. 6, 2011 commission meeting. Instead he was at the beach. The Mayor didn't make his position supporting the redistricting map known until after the vote was taken. The Mayor should have stated his position before going on vacation, encouraging commissioners to approve the map in a show of unity as was done a week earlier by the ad-hoc committee. Doesn't the Mayor always like to present himself as The Unity Mayor  who can bring the commission together? Well here was his opportunity, and he was missing in action.

When certain commissioners blocked approval of the map a second time, the Mayor should have made good on his promise to sign a letter of support for map-3R. It would have been difficult for members of the local legislative delegation to block map-3R with it's signed endorsement from the Mayor and 5 commissioners, including  unanimous approval from the ad-hoc redistricting committee charged with drawing the map.

The fact is, Mayor Deke Copenhaver could have made the difference; he could have been the key to bring the commission together, and he failed to do so. Instead, in typical fashion, the Mayor rode the fence and played both sides. He caused the process to stall and have it nearly taken over by the courts. If The Mayor was so instrumental in getting Map-2R passed at the last minute, then why didn't he come forward earlier in support of map-3R... a map he said he would have voted for and endorsed? It appears that the conspiracy theorists may have been right about Deke's real motives over redistricting from the very beginning. He says one thing in public to appease one political faction and then does the exact opposite behind the scenes. Will the public and the local media hold him accountable this time?***


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Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Divine Spark Of The Ancient Mystics Can Overcome the World - Feel it?

Born Again of the Wind
By Al Gray
Sunday, March 25, 2012

John 3:16 summarizes the essence of the Christian faith in one concise verse. It has rightfully earned supremacy among the verses of the Bible. My favorite, though, precedes this wonderful assurance in the same chapter and goes like this:

 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.

A born again spirit simply is. There is difficulty in explaining it, because the spirit is like the wind. You cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. You cannot see it, yet you know it is real and great of force, for it moves the trees and makes mountainous waves.  The spirit within each of us is transformative. It has the power to turn the meek into the strong, the arrogant to the obedient, the angry into the calm, and the sinner into the saved. Just as the wind was harnessed to move the great sailing ships, even the fishing vessels of Jesus’ day, the Spirit can be drive men to greatness, band them together in movements toward God, and transport whole nations to freedom. Christians know this power in our lives, see its effects on ourselves and others, feel its unifying strength, and we Americans live in a country brought to greatness on its perseverance.

How our new birth is accomplished by the Holy Spirit might be incomprehensible to us but we know that it is possible. The wind shifts to blow in different directions – we see its influence in the bending of the tree limbs, we hear the sound, and feel it upon our skins and through our hair - but we cannot detect the air itself. We only know that it is by the effects which it makes evident. “So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” The results are as noticeable and as sensible as those from the wind; but the Spirit itself we cannot see. Yet one born of God senses that he was so born.  The parent of his new birth, the Spirit itself, shows witness in his individual spirit, that he is born of God. Not only does he see it in himself, but also in others.

The notion that each of us holds a “divine” spark, or inner spirit, came into vogue as early as the 4th Century, reaching a crescendo – like the building wind – in 14th  century Germany. Perhaps the premier of the German mystics was Meister Eckhart. " ... in him we find religion expressed in its purest form, a form which goes back in its spiritual experience... The church in his days had failed to see this....But it seems they have condemned Eckhart because his mysticism was a threat to the church. In him religion became too personal. They felt that Eckhart's mysticism could alienate the believer from the hierarchy of the church, because salvation was not dependent anymore on church membership and church rituals, but on the will of the believer to get into a close relationship with the god inside." Eckhart was under trial for heresy when he died in 1329 and was branded a heretic by the Roman Catholic Church for seven centuries. It wasn’t until 2010 that the Vatican revealed that the sanctions against him had been lifted and the orthodoxy of Eckhart’s teachings acknowledged.

Politics has always reared its ugly head in everything, hasn’t it? Nothing is supposed to be possible outside of their hierarchy, their statism, and their power. 

This is why John 3:8 holds such appeal, as it did for those mystics: our salvation doesn’t depend on THEM, it resides within, a smoldering spark awaiting ignition. It is an ember that glows hot at times and wanes at times, but as long as there is life it is there. The best of us Christians sometimes starve it and we realize our mistake, hopefully before it is too late.

A church of one, salvation dependent upon no other, a divine spark within, and a confidence in these things free of wanting or even needing to know from whence it came is the truth of John 3:8. Even the unruly, unstructured Baptists have trouble with it. You shouldn’t.

All of the powers and potentates near and far loath and fear it for, as it is written in 1st John Chapter 5, verse 4:

everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.

Feed the power within yourselves, show it to the others, and watch it become a world changing unity candle that will overcome the dark days mankind’s folly and sin have brought.

On the wind, mightier than the wind, and more forceful than the wind – let that be your divine spark.  

Let’s all come to our senses.

I can feel Him in the morning.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Azziz Should Consult Public on Development of Golf and Gardens Property

GHSU President Dr. Ricardo Azziz
Saturday, March 24, 2012
Augusta, GA Commentary
By The Outsider

Officials from Ripken Baseball, Jacoby Development, and the city of Augusta met with GHSU President Ricardo Azziz yesterday to discuss the future of the Golf and Gardens property, and to make a pitch, yet again, for a "multi-use" minor league ballpark to be incorporated into the site. Azziz has requested the state-owned property be transferred to The Georgia Board of Regents so that it could be used for expansion for the new university that will emerge from the merger of GHSU and ASU.

Azziz says he envisions the site as a hi-tech bio research park attracting some of the nation's leading researchers. Think of it as a smaller version of North Carolina's Research Triangle Park on Augusta's downtown riverfront. Azziz says it would provide a dynamic "gateway" into downtown and could also include student housing. But the site is only 17 acres, and a minor-league ballpark would consume nearly half of the property, and that's not including parking and the "baseball camp" wanted by Cal Ripken, owner of The Augusta Grteenjackets. A ballpark would leave little room for Azziz' s vision for development focusing on academics and research.

Azziz was diplomatic at yesterday's meeting, saying that "nothing is off the table" in regards to the ballpark, but sources tell us that he isn't exactly enthusiatic about the idea, but is willing to listen to a variety of proposals for the site. Once the property is transferred to the University, Azziz will be in the driver's seat in deciding how it will be developed. That prompted Ripken Baseball officials and pro-ballpark boosters to repackage the downtown stadium idea as a "public-private partnership" with the University, hinting that a "multi-purpose" ballpark could be jointly used by The Greenjackets and an expanded university athletics program.

Frankly, whenever the buzz phrase  "public-private partnership" pops up, taxpayers should get very worried. Remember that The Golf Hall of Fame fiasco was also pitched as a "public-private partnership". So was the TEE Center. But let's break through the code-speak and call it what it really is: Taxpayers paying for the pet projects of a private entity or group. In this case it's Ripken Baseball hoping to get the taxpayers of Georgia to build them a new ballpark for about $40 million, but if history is any guide, you can be assured to add another $30 million to that. Remember, the taxpayers were initially told the TEE Center would only cost $20 million, but ended up costing over $72 million when you add the parking deck, the operational subsidies to Augusta Riverfront LLC .. and the price tag keeps ballooning with more change-orders coming.

Frankly the public is getting tired of these costly  "Public-Private Partnerships" that do  nothing more than transfer public tax money into the private bank accounts of a small well-connected oligarchy.

We are excited about the possibilities  that a new larger merged university may bring to Augusta, especially Azziz's vision for a high-tech bio research park that has the potential to bring hundreds of high paying jobs to the downtown core. Now that is something that would be a major boost to downtown businesses and would be a major catalyst for a real downtown renaissance. Ripken Baseball officials can keep coming up with new creative phrases for their ballpark: "Mixed-use facility".. "Open-air Civic Center".. whatever.. in the end it's still just a ballpark for a class A minor league baseball team, that will sit dormant a majority of the year. And excuse us if we don't get all that excited over the prospect of events like weddings being held on the pitcher's mound when not hosting ballgames.

We believe that Azziz's vision for the property is probably much closer to that of the general public, which has never really embraced the ballpark proposal in its various incarnations in the first place. A Democratic primary straw poll and several media polls have shown overwhelming opposition to public financing for a new ballpark. And many people still question the need for one. The current facility seems to be more than adequate to accommodate fans, and they seem to like its intimate ambiance by Lake Olmstead. And it would seem to us that if this new larger university wanted to expand its athletics program, then a higher priority may be a larger home for the winning basketball team that is now a part of ASU.

We appreciate Dr. Azziz'z willingness to entertain a myriad  of proposals for developing the Golf and Gardens property, but we have to ask, why has the public never been consulted about what they would like to see there? Officials from Ripken Baseball have had dozens of meeting with our Mayor about a ballpark.. they have been in secret negotiations with city Administrator Fred Russell on how to finance it...and now they come down to Augusta and get to have a face to face meeting with Dr. Ricardo Azziz to pitch their proposal yet again. But last time we checked... Ripken Baseball has not invested one single penny of their own money into the Golf and Gardens property and they still didn't say at yesterday's meeting how much of their own money they would commit to the ballpark proposal. But then, why do that if they can get the state taxpayer's to build it for them? Maybe they've taken a few notes from Augusta Riverfront LLC over the TEE Center on how to get the taxpayers to build you free stuff?

But you want to know who already has millions of dollars invested in the Golf and Gardens property? The taxpayers. In fact, $6 million of Richmond County SPLOST dollars were pumped into the Golf and Gardens. So shouldn't Richmond County taxpayers have some say-so in this matter or at least be consulted for their suggestions? To date there has not been one single open public forum or town hall meeting to discuss what to do with the Golf and Gardens property.. yet Ripken Baseball and the other well-connected elites can ride into town and be heard right away. Is that fair? We don't think so.

So we would like to ask Dr. Azziz, while he is entertaining Ripken Baseball's proposal for a ballpark, he should also consider consulting with the taxpayers of Richmond County for suggestions on how to develop the property.. since they have far more of their money already invested in it. We think the public deserves the opportunity to be heard.  So far a ballpark as dominated the discussion over this land... but maybe the public has other ideas that have never been discussed before. It seems to us that the public deserves its chance at bat.***

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Davis Campaign Announces Fundraiser

Saturday, March 24, 2012
Augusta, GA
Frtom Reports

The Lori Davis Campaign for The District 1 Augusta Commission seat announced a fund raiser today hosted by Schweitzer's Art Glass. The Lori Davis campaign says that it is receiving overwhelming support from small businesses in downtown Augusta.

The fundraiser will feature a Fish Fry and will be held on April 12th between 5pm and 8pm at A.L. Williams Park on  the corner of Eve and Broad streets in Lori's home neighborhood of Harrisburg. The campaign says that all are welcome to attend. Tickets will cost $10 and will be available for purchase thru the campaign's website starting March 26th at The Davis campaign says that they wanted their first official fundraiser to be inclusive so that the average voter of District 1 could afford to attend. The $10 ticket price will include a fish fry dinner.

The Davis campaign says that future fundraisers and events have been planned and the public can get updates at the Campaign Website and Facebook Page.***

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Lori Davis Announces Run for Augusta Commission Seat

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Case Of The Disappearing Downtown Clock

Margaret Woodard decided to give the clock to the airport
Wednesday, March 21, 2012
Augusta, GA
By The Downtowner

A clock that stood in the middle of Broad Street for over 8 years mysteriously vanished one day and later reappeared at the airport. The clock was purchased with $40,000 of SPLOST money as a replica to replace the landmark clock that stood downtown for decades before being moved to the newly completed Augusta Mall in the late 1970s. Even though the clock had issues with telling the correct time, downtown business owners and visitors had grown fond of it and considered it a downtown symbol and landmark.

But one day, in August 2011 the clock simply vanished and business owners were left scratching their heads. "What happened to the clock?".... "Was it stolen?" Now there was an empty void in the median of Broad street across from The White's building where the clock once stood.

Downtown business owners were eventually told that a decision was made to give the clock to the airport because it was irreparable. The airport authority paid for the clock to be moved but  not for the cost of the clock itself. Downtown business owners were asking why they were never consulted for their opinion. Margaret Woodard, head of the Downtown Development Authority says there was a "consensus" to move the clock. A consensus from whom? Because the downtown business and property owners we talked to were completely unaware of any decision to remove the clock.

So we decided to do an open records request (ORR) to get some answers, and the following is what we received:
"The decision to move the clock to the airport was a consensus following numerous discussions among Board members and the executive director, that the clock needed to be in an indoor environment and the airport expressed an interest. There are no Board minutes reflecting this decision."

The statement above was drafted by WBW:jma by the Law firm of Warlick, Tritt, Stebbins, and Murray, LLP, and signed by Wm. Byrd Warlick concerning the removal of the long standing downtown clock.

Question: Why were there closed door meetings to determine the fate of the clock when the clock was paid for by tax payer dollars?

Downtown business owners in and Open Records Request asked for,"All supporting documentation which authorized the DDA to transfer the downtown clock to Augusta Regional Airport….."

We also asked for, "documentation provided to the DDA by said insurance company deeming the clock irreparable." The answer to this question was submitted in an email on October 11, 2010, by the Traveler's Insurance Company, and states, "The costs to repair the clock have risen to the point that they exceed it's current value making the unit a total loss. In this scenario the policy will provide coverage for the actual cash value of the clock less the claim deductible and prior payments. The supplemental claim payment has been issued and is in route to MS. Woodard's attention." Signed, John Tomme, Property Claims Representative.

Question: Who examined the inner workings of the clock and declared it irreparable?

Here are a few things that the public needs to know. In earlier conversations with a past DDA board member, we learned that the clock was purchased with $40,000 in SPLOST funds provided through the DDA. A maintenance package was supposedly purchased as well.The clock arrived and was beautifully placed in the median directly in front of the White's building. After placement of the clock, the DDA had a ceremonial ribbon cutting event attended by 4 former Mayors of Augusta, and all four addressed the crowd in 2003.

In mid August, 20122 the clock disappeared. Downtown merchants began to question the disappearance of the clock and this was when they were told that the insurance company had deemed it a total loss and irreparable. Sources tell us that the airport hired a crane company to remove the clock and relocate it in the airport. The cost from removal and placement is not known, but the repair supposedly cost $8000, all without anyone knowing about this or seeing it take place. Looks like the DDA carefully planned its exit.

Question: Did this happen in the wee hours of the morning, perhaps between a Sunday and Monday when very few people or business owners would be downtown?

We have in our possession the minutes of all DDA Board meetings from February 10, 2010- January 12, 2012. A couple of interesting things to note. The DDA received an email from the Travelers Insurance Company on October the 11,2010 stating that the clock could not be repaired, and that a claim payment would be issued.

A regularly scheduled Board meeting took place on October 14, 2010…No mention of this email or the fact that a claim payment had been issued to Ms. Woodard. There was no BOD meeting held in November 2010. In subsequent minutes of the DDA BOD through January 2012, there is no mention of that payment from the Travelers Insurance Company, however there is a statement from the Treasurer's Report given by Cameron Nixon stating as dictated by the secretary: "The DDA no longer has ownership of the clock. The contribution expense line item in the amount of $13,266.00 is not a cash item but a journal entry to reflect the DDA donation of the clock to the Augusta Regional Airport. That amount is the difference between the clock capital asset value as listed on the DDA books and depreciation."

Question: What happened to the insurance payment on the clock, and who's clock is it anyway; Woodard and her cronies, or the tax payers of Augusta?

A broader question is why downtown business and property owners were left out of the loop during the entire process? Even though the clock often did not tell correct time, that was not really the point. It had become a downtown landmark and a frequent photo spot. It had become a symbol of downtown; and then suddenly it just vanished... with no input from downtown business and property owners. This once again illustrates how business is conducted in Augusta.. in secret..with little or no accountability, and with sloppy record-keeping.

If the clock absolutely had to be moved indoors, then why not move it inside the public concourse on the ground floor of The White's Building or into the Augusta Museum of history.. anywhere downtown? Why were downtown business owners never consulted about the future of the clock.. perhaps they would have been interested in repairing it and keeping it downtown. It was purchased by the taxpayers for downtown. Now it looks like downtown has had yet another landmark clock taken away. More to come.***

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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

12th District Congressional Race: Who's Being Candid and Who Isn't?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012
Augusta, GA
By Hwy 221

For the 12th Congressional District race the rankings through the last quarter available, December 31, 2011, are as follows:

Candidate Name
Full Disclosure
Partial Disclosure
No Disclosure
John Barrow (D)$420,321 (98.8%)$5,250 (1.2%)$0 (0.0%)
Richard W. Allen (R)$179,399 (98.0%)$3,250 (1.8%)$500 (0.3%)
Daniel Wright McLeod (R)$129,061 (99.2%)$0 (0.0%)$1,000 (0.8%)
Lee Ivey Anderson (R)$82,250 (70.0%)$0 (0.0%)$35,225 (30.0%)
Brian Nafarrete (R)$0 (0.0%)$0 (0.0%)$0 (0.0%)
Maria Sheffield (R)$0 (0.0%)$0 (0.0%)$0 (0.0%)

First Quarter 2012 campaign contribution reports will be out in a few weeks.

It will be interesting to see if Lee Anderson's reporting quality improves or whether the candor of the rest of the field erodes.

Since the last quarter of 2011 generally represents a shake-out-the-bugs reporting period, one should not form conclusions about the candor or lack thereof of the candidates, unless one or more is noticeably out of full compliance relative to the others. Anderson better improve by that standard.

The top contributors for the entire 12th District Field can be found here.

More to come***

By Hwy 221

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Commentary: Augusta Leaders Are Setting The Wrong Goals

Tuesday, March 20, 2012
Augusta, GA Commentary

It seems that the city of Augusta is addicted to studies, retreats, and consultants with their results and recommendations often ignored. Commissioners may think that they give citizens the impression that they are seriously trying to tackle important problems, but all they generally end up doing is just generate new "Buzz" words and bureaucrat-speak with a fat bill attached for the taxpayers.  Add to the list a "Goal-Setting" meeting that was held on Sunday at... yeah you guessed it... The Marriot Hotel and Suites downtown.

The session was scheduled at the commission retreat held at the same location back in February. Malik Watkins from the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at The University of Georgia was the facilitator of the workshop. He also filled the same role for the February retreat. We're not sure at this point how many commissioners were even able to attend. Jerry Brigham said before hand that he would likely be busy that day working on tax returns for clients and Bill Lockett said that he would be out of town.

According to The Augusta Chronicle's Susan McCord, District 1 Commissioner Matt Aitken was the only person to submit a "goal" ahead of Sunday's 4pm scheduled meeting. Aitken suggested "improving gateway corridors" into Augusta as his goal. Now it seems like to us that this goal  has been put out there before. In fact the city paid $500,000 to Shields Design out of Boston, Mass. for a master plan study that made improving "gateway corridors" a key element. Not that Aitken's suggestion doesn't still have some resonance, but with all of the issues facing Augusta, particularly in District 1 , we frankly would have expected something a little more than that from the commissioner.

Harrisburg residents are still dealing with many of the same crime and nuisance issues they have been fighting for years. Wouldn't perhaps addressing that with a substantive proposal be a worthy goal to set?

The Sheriff's Department  still suffers from a shortage of deputies, shouldn't  filling that deficit be a goal worthy to set?

Downtown business owners are still struggling with persistent panhandling and vandalism that is driving away customers. Wouldn't perhaps addressing that problem with a solution be a worthy goal to set?

Poor and elderly residents in District 1 are often  separated from jobs, medical appointments, and access to basic necessities like groceries because of the lack of reliable public transit. Wouldn't perhaps addressing that problem with a solution be a worthy goal to set?

If this "goal-setting" meeting provided any value at all it was in exposing the disconnect of  the Mayor and  commissioners from the citizens they are supposed to represent. If these politicians bothered to listen to their constituents, then they would have had no problem in compiling a laundry list of "goals" to tackle. But instead  we get a rehash of old ideas from a study that is now 2 and half years old.

Commissioners don't need to hire any more consultants or spend tens of thousands of dollars on more  studies to tell them what goals they need to be setting. By this point they should be long past identifying the goals and instead be working to implement them. If commissioners need a facilitator or another study to accomplish one of the most basic aspects of their job (setting goals and priorities for the city) then we have a big problem here in Augusta.

We think there is a better approach that would yield better results and cost less money. Lori Davis, a candidate for District 1 commission seat has suggested scheduling Town Hall meetings once a month rotating from district to district where commissioners, the Mayor, and the city administrator can hear directly from the citizens in an effort to better set priorities and achieve the goals that are most  important to the citizens.

As Davis explains it... "I first suggested this when I ran for mayor back in 2010. I would have hoped the Mayor and commissioners would have implemented it by now. As I see it, the answers are right in front of us and they are inside the people who live here. But our elected leaders continue to ignore the citizens in favor of spending more money on studies and opinions from outsiders which they will also in the end just ignore. All a town hall would cost is a a few extra hours  of time from our elected officials a month, but it would provide them with a wealth of  understanding of what matters most to the people. If I am elected I will  conduct these monthly town halls whether other elected officials choose to participate or not. It's simply the right thing to do."

Indeed it is the right thing to do, but then we are talking about a government which was reluctant to even reschedule its commission meetings at 5pm when most working people could attend. This is a government which routinely conducts business in secret behind closed doors. The Mayor even recently suggested that commissioners should not speak directly with members of the press, instead having all information filtered through some bureaucrat.

It's this mind set that is stifling creative thinking and the ability for our government to not just set goals, but also achieve them. A government that leaves its citizens out of the decision making process will always be handicapped by tunnel vision. We don't need more retreats, studies to nowhere, and out-of-town consultants to tell us what we already know. We need a commitment from our elected leaders to start listening to the people they are supposed to serve. If commissioners want to start setting some goals, that one should be at the top of the list.***

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Monday, March 19, 2012

Sanders Candidacy For Sheriff Viewed As An Insurance Policy

Monday, March 19, 2012
Augusta, GA
By The Outsider

The race for Augusta-Richmond County Sheriff got it's fifth candidate today, and its first Republican. Augusta attorney Freddie Sanders threw his hat in the ring, and says he will run in the Republican primary. If he has no other GOP challengers, Sanders is guaranteed a spot on the General Election ballot. On the other hand, the Democratic side of the ballot is getting crowded with already 4 candidates announcing their intention to run, including RCSO Cptn. Scott Peebles, who is viewed by most political analysts as Sheriff Strength's hand-picked successor.

Real Candidate or Insurance Policy?
Whereas many political insiders view Freddie Sanders as a formidable candidate in his own right, some people see his candidacy as more of an insurance policy in case Cpt. Scott Peebles is unable to take the Democratic nomination for Sheriff. Afternoon talk radio personality Austin Rhodes wrote on The Augusta Chronicle comments section: "Freddie (Sanders) is rich...R-I-C-H...and he would make an AWESOME Sheriff...but he is only going to do it IF Strength's guy (Peebles) does not make it out of the Dem primary."

Austin may be on to something here. There is growing unease among some high level political power brokers who are backing Peebles that an expanding candidate field and a competitive GOP primary  for the 12 district congressional race could deny Peebles the nomination.

The first complication for Peebles is coming from Lt. Robbie Silas who is Sheriff Strength's brother-in-law. Silas has already racked up some key endorsements from former Sheriff Charles Webster and former State Senator J.B. Powell. Also, Sheriff Strength's wife is backing her brother in the race (Silas). Some say that is creating a bit of a family feud in the Strength household, but Mrs. Strength denies those claims.

Another problem for Peebles is that the man who has groomed him for the job, Sheriff Ronnie Strength, has said he will not endorse anyone until AFTER the July 31st primary... but that may come too late for Peebles, who's strongest challenge will come in the primary, not the General Election. With Strength staying mum and his wife openly backing Silas, along with former Sheriff Webster, many voters may think that Sheriff Strength is also supporting Silas behind the scenes, but many political insiders tell us that the Sheriff is backing Peebles, but many voters may not be aware of that.

Silas has strong support on the Southside and could split the white vote with Peebles, who is counting on strong turnout from West Augusta to propel him to victory. However, the competive GOP race for Congress could muck that up. A good chunk of Peebles' support is coming from Westside Republicans, but  his name will appear on the Democratic ballot. Will enough Republicans switch over and skip the competitive GOP congressional race to vote for Peebles in the Sheriff's race? Rick Allen, a West Augusta Republican competing in the congressional primary is hoping that doesn't happen. He will need all of the Republican votes he can get in Richmond County to surge past challengers State Rep. Lee Anderson,  Columbia County attorney Wright Mcleod, and Dublin attorney Maria Sheffield.  Either, way it seems like someone will end up as a political casualty over the hotly contested Sheriff's race: Will it be RW Allen or Scott Peebles?

These are the dynamics at play that have some political power brokers nervous about Peebles' candidacy and they want an insurance policy.... just in case their worst-case scenario happens: Richard Roundtree squeaks through and gets the Democratic nomination for Sheriff.

Enter Freddie Sanders
If anyone would have a good chance of winning The Sheriff's race as a Republican in heavily Democratic Richmond County, it would be Freddie Sanders. He definitely qualifies as a political heavy weight with high name recognition. Sanders also has a strong law enforcement resume spanning decades serving as Richmond County Police Chief between 1983-1985. That position was abolished prior to  consolidation. Since then, Sanders has earned a reputation as a no-nonsense attorney who is greatly admired and respected by his colleagues. And by the way, did we mention that Sanders is loaded? We mean his bank account.

For a Republican to beat a Democrat in the General Election for Sheriff, especially someone like Roundtree, it's going to be by heavily outspending them, and Sanders has the resources to do that. A competitive Democratic primary could easily drain most of the cash from the campaigns of candidates like Roundtree. He would have to scramble to replenish his campaign, while Sanders would be flush with campaign cash just waiting and sitting pretty for November.

But there's a bigger question at play over all of this.. why isn't the Sheriff's race non-partisan like most other local races? Well the answer seems obvious.. it's all about political power and for years the Democratic party controlled who was elected Sheriff.. but now Democrats are in the minority in state government. But  changing a county constitutional office (Sheriff) to a non-partisan race would affect every county in the state.. and the political parties are not going to want to give that up.

The other option would be to  abolish the position of Richmond County Sheriff and go to a Police Department with a police Chief appointed by the commission. But with demographics shifting in Richmond county, white Republicans are probably not going to be so keen on that idea, plus that would give up  a lot of the autonomy and political power associated with The Sheriff's office. So for all practical purposes, for the foreseeable future, this will remain a partisan position.

But for a Sheriff's race that promises a lot of political drama, Freddie Sanders just made it even more interesting. If a scenario does develop that keeps Peebles out and keeps Sanders in, we can be assured of a very interesting General Election race for Sheriff.. something that Richmond County is not accustomed to. More to come.

UPDATE: Freddie Sanders has stated that he is in the Sheriff's race to win it and will remain on the ballot regardless of who his Democratic challenger is. Well this is getting interesting. We shall see what happens if Peebles does get the Dem. nomination. Will Sanders stay in or bow out and back Peebles as some political observers expect? Or could he provide more drama for the General Election and walk away with it all to become the next Sheriff of Richmond County? One thing you can say for sure, this race will not be boring.***

The OS

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Corporal Gripweed: Who's Supposed to Clean Up This Mess?

Monday, March 19, 2012
Augusta, GA
By Corporal Gripweed

"The good will of the governed will be starved if not fed by the good deeds of the governors."

                                                                                      Benjamin Franklin
Poor Richards Almanac, 1753

 My wife and I had the pleasure of attending the annual St. Patrick's Day Parade in downtown Augusta on Saturday afternoon. The weather was perfect, the crowds were huge and the goodwill (as well as the green beer) was overflowing.

And what a parade it was..Thousands of people downtown..floats, beads, bands, candy.....the whole shebang..

I also had occasion to wave to, (and in some instances to speak with) city leaders. Not to mention, a few of the candidates who are running for various public offices. From my vantage point, everyone was enthusiastic about the turnout, as well as the fact that the downtown area had such an influx of people who hopefully would spend some disposable income while there.

Imagine my surprise to discover that several downtown business owners were less than pleased with the city's preparation concerning the aftermath of Saturday's event. And they voiced their displeasure on Face Book, along with photographic evidence to back their concerns. As late as Sunday afternoon parts of the downtown area still looked like the day after Mardi Gras. Many of these same business owners were saying they would be cleaning up the areas around their shops in preparation to opening on Sunday.

What does this have to do with city government?

Since 2008 Augusta has had in place a program called CADI: Clean Augusta Downtown Initiative. After seeing the chatter on Facebook, I looked into the program. They were instituted to help existing city services while not replacing them. Fine.

And from what I've seen it's not CADI's job to clean up after this sort of an event. But it IS  the job of Augusta-Richmond County to make sure the streets are clean after an event such as this. A few questions come to mind after a debacle of this sort: Who is in charge of cleanup? Is it CADI? Is it the entity who filed the permits for the parade? Is it the city? Who will address the concerns of the business owners downtown? After all, they are the ones who have to clean up their storefronts after being taxed twice. Once as business and property owners and again under the BID agreement which funds CADI.

Or should someone in city government had enough forbearance to have thought of something as simple as having disposable cardboard trash bins available for public use?
One thing is for sure: someone, somewhere, somehow failed to anticipate the problem. Therefore, someone failed to formulate a solution. And I would be willing to guess that many downtown business owners are not happy with how the city handled this situation.
If this issue isn't addressed by city leaders to the satisfaction of downtown business owners.....the goodwill of the governed will be starved indeed.....***

You Can see video of the mess from WFXG below:
The Corporal's Previous Column:
Examining The District 1 Augusta Commission Race

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Sunday, March 18, 2012

Sunday Sermon: Behind The Patriarchs There Were These Archers

A True Arrow

By Al Gray

Genesis 21:20 And God was with the lad; and he grew, and dwelt in the wilderness, and became an archer. 

Yesterday I spent some time in an archery shop with a friend who has a new-found interest in bows and arrows. On the wall was a banner promoting a local group of Christian archers.  Seeing it prompted me to look into the Bible for accounts of archers, their lives, deeds, and legacies.  One source indicated that “Arrow” or “Arrows” is found 57 times in 53 verses, “bow” 70 times in 66 verses, and “Quiver” 7 times in 7 verses.  Most, of course, are found in the war, wrath, and judgment of the Old Testament.  

The story started out to be troubling. The verse above was about Ishmael, disavowed son of Abraham whose life as an archer began with his banishment from Israel with his mother. The Lord promised that Ishmael would be the father of a great nation.  In Genesis 17 it is said that he became the father of 12 princes.  Islamic tradition – Ishmael appears in the Qur’an - holds that Ishmael was a master archer, a prophet, devout man of worship, and patriarch of Islam. 

The next encounter was:

Genesis 27:3 Now therefore take, I pray thee, thy weapons, thy quiver and thy bow, and go out to the field, and take me [some] venison

The words were wonderful to a life-long bow hunter, but my troubles grew greater. These verses were those of an aged and weak Isaac imploring his favorite son Esau, a great hunter, to take a deer with his bow, prepare it, and bring it as father’s sought –out meal.  As it turned out, Esau’s commanded hunting trip presented an opportunity for his mother, Rebekah, and twin brother, Jacob, to trick old Isaac into conveying his blessing on Jacob. Earlier, in a bout of hunger Esau had foolishly sold his birthright to Jacob for some pottage. To use a Southern expression not relegated to just we archers, Esau bowed up. He was so angry that Jacob had to leave for exile. Esau ended up with Isaac’s estate and flocks. Years later the twins reconciled and Jacob became the patriarch of Israel.

Then there was the story of Jehoash, King of Israel, with whom the Lord had long been displeased:

14 Now Elisha had been suffering from the illness from which he died. Jehoash king of Israel went down to see him and wept over him. “My father! My father!” he cried. “The chariots and horsemen of Israel!”
 15 Elisha said, “Get a bow and some arrows,” and he did so. 16 “Take the bow in your hands,” he said to the king of Israel. When he had taken it, Elisha put his hands on the king’s hands.
 17 “Open the east window,” he said, and he opened it. “Shoot!” Elisha said, and he shot. “The LORD’s arrow of victory, the arrow of victory over Aram!” Elisha declared. “You will completely destroy the Arameans at Aphek.”
 18 Then he said, “Take the arrows,” and the king took them. Elisha told him, “Strike the ground.” He struck it three times and stopped. 19 The man of God was angry with him and said, “You should have struck the ground five or six times; then you would have defeated Aram and completely destroyed it. But now you will defeat it only three times.”

In this story, one of redemption for a wayward king, the arrow was a symbol of victory to come over Israel’s enemies. The striking of the arrows on the ground thrice was prophesy of three victories over the army of Aram.

Not enough arrows struck.  Now we are getting somewhere. To achieve ultimate victory requires the use of many arrows, generally with plenty of reserves. Hunting buddies of this author can attest that the mistake that Jehoash made has no relevance at all to the author’s life. Challenges are nearly always surmountable if one looks to have plenty of sharp solutions ready for deployment and activation. Sometimes the hidden ones in reserve are even more powerful. Ultimately it is the unknown and imaginary ones that bring the adversary to a reckoning. There are many tales of overwhelming forces of archers and arrows in the Bible. Second Chronicles 17: 17 includes reference to a leader of the tribe of Benjamin named Eliada,” a valiant soldier, with 200,000 men armed with bows and shields.”  It took more than one quiver of arrows in those days, too!

Our final archer is one of this writer’s favorite characters in the Bible, Jonathan, the devoted friend of David, who readily and even eagerly subordinated his own claim to the throne of Israel to his best friend, to the point of repeatedly incurring the wrath of King Saul, his own father.

 16 So Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, “May the LORD call David’s enemies to account.” 17And Jonathan had David reaffirm his oath out of love for him, because he loved him as he loved himself.
 18 Then Jonathan said to David, “Tomorrow is the New Moon feast. You will be missed, because your seat will be empty. 19 The day after tomorrow, toward evening, go to the place where you hid when this trouble began, and wait by the stone Ezel. 20 I will shoot three arrows to the side of it, as though I were shooting at a target. 21 Then I will send a boy and say, ‘Go, find the arrows.’ If I say to him, ‘Look, the arrows are on this side of you; bring them here,’ then come, because, as surely as the LORD lives, you are safe; there is no danger. 22 But if I say to the boy, ‘Look, the arrows are beyond you,’ then you must go, because the LORD has sent you away. 
33 …. Saul hurled his spear at him to kill him. Then Jonathan knew that his father intended to kill David.
 34 Jonathan got up from the table in fierce anger; on that second day of the feast he did not eat, because he was grieved at his father’s shameful treatment of David.
 35 In the morning Jonathan went out to the field for his meeting with David. He had a small boy with him, 36 and he said to the boy, “Run and find the arrows I shoot.” As the boy ran, he shot an arrow beyond him. 37 When the boy came to the place where Jonathan’s arrow had fallen, Jonathan called out after him, “Isn’t the arrow beyond you?” 38Then he shouted, “Hurry! Go quickly! Don’t stop!” The boy picked up the arrow and returned to his master. 39 (The boy knew nothing about all this; only Jonathan and David knew.) 40 Then Jonathan gave his weapons to the boy and said, “Go, carry them back to town.”
 41 After the boy had gone, David got up from the south side of the stone and bowed down before Jonathan three times, with his face to the ground. Then they kissed each other and wept together—but David wept the most.
 42 Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace, for we have sworn friendship with each other in the name of the LORD, saying, ‘The LORD is witness between you and me, and between your descendants and my descendants forever.’”

Jonathan’s arrows that time were not of lethal intent. They were a signal, just as Jehoash’s arrow was a sign. They were symbols of present danger but a brighter future to come.  For our archers, that future was not always on of personal good fortune, as Jonathan was killed in battle with his brothers and his father, Saul, died from arrow wounds. These biblical archers might not have become the dominant figures of their generation, but they contributed mightily to what biblical patriarchs became.

Now is our time. Do you wisely store arrows of thought for times of need? Do you judiciously use them in service of God and mankind? Are you brave enough to enter the battles to come as America faces multiple perils? Could you steel yourselves to a supporting role behind a greater good, just cause, patriotic duty, or even some revolutionary leader? Doing these things are the stories of our religious past, our national legacy, and perhaps the key to our survival as a people.

Jonathan was a hero of Israel in his own right, having bravely faced down the Philistine army before David ever confronted Goliath. Yesterday, the archery specialist at that outdoors store, showed how a true arrow has no wobble and is incredibly straight. A true arrow flies straight to the target. Jonathan wasn’t just a true arrow, he was a perfect arrow. We should all strive to be that way.

"To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether 'tis Nobler in the mind to suffer
The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them " - William Shakespeare

Don't bow up like Esau, be a true friend, a straight arrow like Jonathan.***

By Brother Al Gray, High Reverend of The Church of What's Happening Now

Last Sunday's Sermon:
Zacchaeus Sought a Vantage Point, Not an Advantage Point