Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Special Election Edition On Stands Friday

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City Paper Election Guide

By Paul Blake

* indicates Columbia City Paper endorsement

For Mayor

Joe Azar
Azar will tell you his opinion on something over and over again.  First it will be at an inappropriate setting in public.  Then it will be in his e-newsletter.  Finally he will have somehow acquired the phone number that you don't give out and call you Sunday night at 11 p.m.  If you let it go to voice mail, he'll just keep calling back until you answer.  He's a persistent and annoying SOB that just might show up at your house if you don't agree with him so you better press Azar on April 6.  Otherwise, he'll just run again and tell you what you are doing wrong... over and over again.

Stephen Benjamin
Arguably the most shameless of the candidates, Benjamin may want to be your preacher instead of the mayor.  At the Greenwood Baptist Church, Benjamin opened for the audience asking them to pray for former councilman Cromartie.    Benjamin is using Rick Quinn & Associates to help with the campaign (the same folks who are involved with the Henry McMaster for Governor campaign) and has received endorsements from the Columbia Firefighters Association (CFA), the Police Benevolent Association (PBA) and House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.).  In our opinion, Benjamin will owe lots of favors after this election and may plan to use the mayor position as a stepping stone.  He may end up breaking new ground as Columbia's first black mayor but he sure won't be the City's first good ole boy one.

Kirkman Finlay
Finlay has done an excellent job bringing leadership and fiscal responsibility to Columbia City Council.  He's not likely to be progressive on issues like the flag or the arts, but his track record on balancing the budget and reining in an otherwise out-of-control council may be the kind of leadership Columbia needs.  During the USC Law School debate, Finlay showed his safe side in not addressing the issue of candidates being excluded.  He made light about the arrival of Aarron Johnson and his protesters by remarking "here come the anarchists."  Morrison and Azar made it clear they would prefer a more open debate at the Law School, and Benjamin was allegedly at a fundraiser thrown by Clyburn in Washington D.C.    Debate goers joked that "maybe Benjamin had District of Columbia mixed up with Columbia, S.C.?"  One thing is clear, Kirkman is here for Columbia residents and he isn't running to stroke his own ego.

Stephen G. MorrisonSteve Morrison is a partner of Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP, who is most know for The Abbeville Case which was featured in the documentary Corridor of Shame.  Morrison calls the case, "The most important pro bono effort I have ever personally led is the effort to secure a constitutionally adequate educational opportunity for every child in S.C. regardless of race, geography or socioeconomic status."   Morrison is almost as large as his heart, and at-large city council candidate, Grant Roberson, said shaking his hand was like  "shaking hands with a pillow."   He is a big guy that promises big results.

*Aaron Johnson

Aaron Johnson is a small business owner of a production company located on Harden Street in Five Points.  He acts as a comedian on the popular local web program "Drinking In The Morning," but don't let his antics fool you.  Johnson is passionate about the issues and has held protests at the state house for support of public transportation and rocked the dome last Saturday with "Confederate Fagg" playing on the state house steps.  Although a mostly Caucasian crowd, several hundred people attended the protest to remove the confederate flag and Johnson even invited competing candidate Steve Morrison to speak who got the crowd chanting, "Take it down!"    Johnson is against the TIF and a strong supporter of the arts and community involvement.  While he presents himself as the people's candidate, don't be surprised if the youth vote turns out and makes Johnson one of the top contenders.

Sparkle Clark

Clark is Columbia's green-gay candidate.  Clark worked on the Tom Turnipseed for Attorney General Campaign and has worked as a postal worker for the past 28 years.   She presents herself as the working class candidate and wants, "A community of neighborhoods bridged together with businesses, parks and safe streets encircled in clean air, awash with clean water, and enveloped in an atmosphere of well-being." ...Hippie. In the 90s, she volunteered her time with Palmetto Aids Life Support Services (PALSS), and served as co-chair of South Carolina Gay and Lesbian Pride Movement (GLPM) and participated in a variety of efforts toward the attainment of Civil Rights of GLBT people.

City Council


Tameika Isaac Devine

Devine received her undergraduate degree in Business Management from Hampton University and her juris doctorate from the University of South Carolina School of Law. She is a founding partner in the law firm of Jabber & Isaac, PA.  Devine is a sitting council member despite a few controversies, including her mother getting a federal “community empowerment” loan for $280,000.

*Grant Robertson

Robertson is co-owner of the F-Stop camera shop on Harden Street.  Robertson is against the TIF and for a strong mayor system.  At the last council meeting Robertson scolded council over $150,000 spent on an efficiency study: "I find the practice of sending vast quantities out of our city when there are countless intelligent, creative, and experienced financial experts right here at home to be, frankly, reprehensible. We live in a city with an able and active Chamber of Commerce and no less than four college campuses, one of which has a nationally and internationally recognized business school. It would have been a simple measure to call together a focus group at minimal costs that could have been composed of local experts who are intimately familiar with the financial landscape of our city and I, for one, am disgusted that you have chosen once again to waste our tax dollars and send them out of state."

District 2

Alex Furgess

Furgess has lived in District 2 for eight years and is a local activist and volunteer. She graduated from Benedict College and is a former Richland One teacher.  Furgess says she will focus on building code enforcement and police and fire funding.

Harold “Puff” Howard
Puff is owner of Puff Howard’s Towing and Howard’s Garage on Two Notch Road. He is the brother of State Rep. Leon Howard.

Emma McGraw Myers

Myers is a Adjunct Professor at USC College of Social Work and is involved in the Jones-McDonald Neighborhood Association.
She wants to lower crime, create jobs and thinks District 2 needs a fresh start.

*Gary Myers

Lt. Colonel Gary Myers is running for the vacant District 2 city council seat.  Myers is a Columbia native, spent 23 years in the military, retiring as a Decorated Combat Veteran.  He later worked as a Department of Defense Contractor (international), taught Spanish and coached football at a tough inner city school.  Also, along with his brother a City Police Officer, he has mentored countless numbers of local youth.  He came home to Columbia after a special assignment to Haiti, where he assisted in the transition of the Haitian Government from Dictatorship to Democracy. We at City Paper often compare Columbia, South Carolina to Haiti and with Myers' experience, City Paper endorses him for District II in the hopes he will help transition our fair city to democracy, too.

Brian Dequincey Newman

Personal injury and criminal defense attorney with Rikard & Moses and a former Richland County prosecutor.

Josh Stroman

Stroman is a licensed minister and graduated with honors from Benedict College with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and the distinctions of Outstanding Senior and student government association president. Josh is the recipient of numerous fellowships, and in May, will graduate from the Harvard Divinity School. Josh has one little girl named T’Alitha who is nine.

Antonio Williams
If Joe Azar was black.

District 4

Kevin Fisher Owner of advertising firm Fisher Communications, Fisher ran for mayor in 2006 ,failed, and then wrote about Bob Coble in a Virgina-based entertainment newsweekly for the next three years.

Tony Mizzell Tony Mizzell, former Richland County Chairman and Vice President of Interactive Marketing at Chernoff Newman.  Mizzell served on Richland County Council from 1998-2006 and served as Chairman of County Council in 2005 and 2006.
Mizzel and his wife reside in the Brandon Hills neighborhood in Southeast Columbia with their two children, Sybil (9) and T.J. (6).

*Leona Plaugh Plaugh is touting her experience with budget issues.  Last time the city had a surplus, Plaugh was City Manager.  [After the previous harsh winter, City Paper thinks it's about time this city got a new plaugh!]

Walter Powell Jr. Powell is a former police officer and firefighter and has been endorsed by by the Columbia Firefighters Association and the local chapter of the Southern States Police Benelovence Association.  Powell looks like the kind of cop that won't give you a warning.

Mary Baskin Waters
Waters has a strong leadership background and experience in grant writing and business management. Dr. Waters currently serves as co-president of the Heathwood Neighborhood Association and is incoming president of the Columbia Council of Neighborhoods.  In 2009, Dr. Waters established a lectureship fund for women’s human rights, global issues and grant writing with the University of South Carolina.  Dr. Waters owns Albion Research Associates, LLC, and teaches at USC.   Waters is a strong woman and a strong pick for District 4.

Columbia Municipal Government and Politics Overview Fast Facts!

The City of Columbia has a council-manager form of government. The mayor and city council are elected every four years, with no term limits, elections are held in the Spring of even numbered years. Unlike other mayors in council-manager systems, Columbia mayor has the power to veto ordinances passed by the council; vetoes can be overridden by a two-thirds majority of the council.The council appoints a city manager to serve as chief administrative officer. Steve Gantt is the current interim city manager following Charles P. Austin's recent resignation.

The current mayor of Columbia is Bob Coble. Coble, now in his fifth term, has served as mayor since first being elected in 1990 and is the city's longest serving mayor. In September 2009, Coble announced that he would not seek a sixth term. Columbia holds elections for mayor every four years, with the next election in 2010; there are no term limits.

The city council consists of six members (four from districts and two at-large). The city council is responsible for making policies and enacting laws, rules and regulations in order to provide for future community and economic growth, in addition to providing the necessary support for the orderly and efficient operation of city services.
Columbia Mayors of Days Current & Bygone

1855-1857Edward J. Arthur
1857-1859James D. Tradewell
1859-1861Allen J. Green
1861-1863John H. Boatwright
1863-1865Thomas J. Goodwyn
May 1865-April 1866James C. Gibbes
April 1866-July 1868Theodore Stark
July-August 1868Francis L. Guenther
August-November 1868Cyrus H. Baldwin
1868-1870John McKenzie
1870-1878John Alexander
1878-1880William B. Stanley
1880-1882Richard O'Neale Jr.
1882-1890John T. Rhett
1890-1892Fitz William McMaster
1892-1894Walter C. Fisher
1894-1898William M. Sloan
1898-1900Thomas J. Lipscomb
1900-1904Fort Sumter Earle
1904-1908Thomas H. Gibbes
1908-1910William S. Reamer
1910-1914Wade Hampton Gibbes
1914-1918Lewie A. Griffith
1918-1922R. Johnson Blalock
1922-1926William A. Coleman
1926-1941Lawrence B. Owens
1941-1946Fred D. Marshall
1946-1950Frank C. Owens
1950-1954J. Macfie Anderson
1954-1958J. Clarence Dreher
1958-1970Lester L. Bates
1970-1978John T. Campbell
1978-1986Kirkman Finlay Jr.
1986-1990T. Patton Adams
1990-presentBob Coble

Columbia City Paper will present a $5 gift certificate from Maurice's BBQ to the first person to present in person to City Paper co-owner Paul Blake the ethnic background of all previous Columbia mayors.  Hint: Every single one of these former Columbia mayors, to our knowledge, would have been allowed to become members of the Forest Acres Country Club.


A is for Assembly Street.  Keep it well-paved, add a few benches, and for God's sake do something about all those homeless bums who hang out at RCPL before the doors open in the a.m.!

B is for Ben & Jerry's.  Why the hell did they leave Devine Street?!  Exert some political clout and bring 'em back!

C is for City Paper.  All we're asking for is an exclusive post-election interview.  Nude centerfold negotiable.

D is for dog shit.  Keep the reservoir walkway clean!

E is for energy.  We look into our magic 8-ball and see hydrogen and nuclear power as the key to Columbia's future economy.

F is for Finlay Park.  Automatically renamed to the surname of the newly elected mayor.

G is for grocery stores.  As in, Olympia neighborhood desperately in need of.

H is for Huger Street.  Mayoral edict changes orthographic representation to Hugey.

I is for IHOP.  City smoking ban excluded from.

J is for Jesus.  Giant statue to rival Rio de Janeiro's at the top of the Meridian Building downtown.
K is for KKK.  We respect their right to assemble; we just think they should all have to wear Farrah Fawcett cut-off denim shorts.

L is for lewd.  Strip clubs within the city limits, please!  A Heartbreakers on every corner!

M is for Morrison.  Even if he doesn't win, he should at least become the official city greeter.

N is for NAACP.  Reach out and touch an African-American hand!

O is for opulence.  Restore the USC rotating restaurant - maybe throw in a craps table or two - and show the world we can compete with all the Vegases and Monacos of the world!

P is for Pop's Pizza.  Permanent ban.  Send him back to Mexico, where he can exhume corpses in peace.

Q is for queer.  More queer parades.  Rainbows, rainbows, rainbows!!

R is for riverfront.  Columbia remains the only major river-based city in the country without a developed riverfront business district.

S is for State newspaper.  The new mayor should thank his lucky stars that the biggest rag in town doesn't seem to care about more than $30 million in missing city emergency funds.

T is for tits.  Well else could the letter "t" be about?  Odds are, the next mayor's political downfall will have something to do with mammary glands.  What men will do for organic pillows.

U is for ubermensch.  The city needs a superman and nothing less.

V is for vultures.  Would somebody please look into why there's always a circle of buzzards flying around the Garner's Ferry K-Mart?

W is for whet my whistle.  Okay, so now that we're all a free-pour state, can we take the next step and introduce intravenous alcohol?

X is for X-rated.  Idea:  Glory holes at the Nickelodeon.

Y is for YMCA.  The closest thing to a gay bath we'll probably ever have.

Z is for Riverbanks Zoo.  For God's sake, boost funding for this major civic jewel.

Can Myers Restore Trust In City Hall?

Lt. Colonel Gary Myers is running for the vacant District 2 city council seat.  Myers is a Columbia native, spent 23 years in the military, retiring as a Decorated Combat Veteran.  He later worked as a Department of Defense Contractor (international), taught Spanish and coached football at a tough inner city school.  Also, along with his brother a City Police Officer, has mentored countless numbers of local youth.  He came home to Columbia after a special assignment to Haiti, where he assisted in the transition of the Haitian Government from Dictatorship to Democracy.

We pitched him the same off-the-wall questions we asked at-large candidate, Grant Robertson, last week. He was a good sport!

COLUMBIA CITY PAPER: Many in Columbia, this newspaper and current mayoral candidates included, have called for an end to the city’s longstanding policy of awarding taxpayer-funded grants and contracts to entities associated with city board members and employees. The questionable dealings over the years –some that involve sitting city council members—are too numerous to name here. What would you say to disenfranchised voters who are tired of this behavior? Why should those voters pull the lever for you on April 6? And what can city government do to get its own hand out of the cookie jar?

Gary Myers:
I would say that it is that perception that inspired me to run for public office.  If I were elected, I would fight to bring those challenges of “basement decisions” to light.  Tough decisions have to be made in the “Town Square”.  That is the only way this perception of “Good Ole Boy Politics” can be defeated.  I have spent the majority of my adult life fighting for the principles of Democracy.  There has to be a trust between elected officer holders and their constituents.  That trust seemingly has been violated.  Vote for me and I will help restore that trust.

CCP: What inspired you to run?

As I stated earlier, I have fought for democracy for the majority of my life.  My brother, at the time a city police officer, challenged me to leave Haiti, where I was working, and to come home to fight for better representation for folks in our old neighborhoods.  The major challenges he saw were: safer neighborhoods, better educational support, the environment and job opportunities for our young adults.  After years of research and involvement, I decided the only way to change the system was to get involved politically.

CCP: If you ever visit former councilman E.W. Cromartie in federal prison, what advice will you ask of him?

GM: What were his true goals and vision of Columbia and of District II?  Mr. Cromartie has been an important part of the Columbia political landscape for more than 30 years.  I might not agree with all of his actions and decisions, but in this arena he is an “expert.”  One can’t spend that much time in any profession and not know a ton of stuff.  I would try to gather as much information as I could to help District II and the city move forward.

CCP: How are your taxes coming along this year?

GM: [Laughter.] Done! And it looks like I will get a small refund.  For that I pray….

CCP: Public transportation has been a huge issue this election. Where do we start to fix our current system?

GM:  That is one challenge the new mayor has promised to take on.  I will hold him or her accountable for that promise.  Like you, I will be interested in his or her approach.  I will demand that my citizens (District II), be taken into full account as the new mayor develops a solution.  The residents of District II depend on public transportation.  We have to get to work.  As well, public transportation supports many of the economic and cultural venues in District II and it supports educational pursuits.  We have a critical need for public transportation and the current system is woefully inadequate.

CCP: If elected, being a public official will open your day-to-day life to more scrutiny. Say I had been digging around,, say, a fictional reporter, hypothetically, dug around in your curbside garbage cans in search of pill bottles and strip club receipts. What might he find?

GM:  I assume you are talking about something like a bong. [Laughter.] No, no drugs or anything like that in my past.  My life is actually (now) kind of boring for some.  I spent various chunks of time in other countries, during challenging times in their history, so to say I have seen more than my share of excitement is an understatement.  Today, I enjoy spending time with my lovely wife. I also spend time working with the youth of Columbia.  I know, boring.  However, when I am Miami it is a little different. [Laughter.] Oh, and you might find an empty bottle of outstanding rum from Guyana. A well kept secret.

CCP: I can’t believe you actually answered that one. Very informative. Okay, complete this word association exercise. The first thing that pops into your head:

CCP: Pot:

GM: Killer of my youth.

CCP: Sustainable:

GM: Catch Phrase.

CCP: Tameika:

GM: Grandfather.

CCP: Slathering:

GM: Columbia Politics.

CCP: Transparent:

GM:  Necessary.

CCP: How could the city effectively draw green businesses to our area?

GM: Just Do it!

CCP:  What would you do to fight the gang problem in Columbia?

GM:  Just Do it!

CCP: What would you do to revitalize Main Street and help bring business to the million square feet of available office space?

GM:  I would form a “Working Group of Planners and Laymen” to develop a concept of what we really want Columbia’s “Downtown” to look like and to be.  Then assess our potential resources and develop a plan from there.  Publish and promote the plan, using transparency as a tool to maintain interest and support.  There are many challenges along the way to development, but as in many cases, challenges are nothing more than opportunities for success.

CCP: Are Tax Increment Financing (TIF) districts a truly viable solution to revamp underserved areas of the city? If not, what do you propose?

GM:  Columbia city’s finances seemingly are in such bad shape, that TIF might be irresponsible.  We have to get Columbia’s finances in order first and then develop a vision of what we want to accomplish.  Once we do that we will look a TIF in its correct light, a potential tool to support our vision, nothing more.

CCP: You are leading a small covert ops unit embedded deep in enemy territory. Your objective is to scout an enemy munitions depot three miles west of a village that is neutral to the conflict and four miles north of your position. The main roads are heavily patrolled by enemy technicals. The terrain is heavy jungle and will complicate maneuvering. Helicopter transport will arrive (in the same location where you were dropped off) in three days to extract your unit. Your force consists of twenty Army Rangers with small arms, light mortars and a small contingency of heavy machine guns. How will you accomplish your objective, avoid detection and make it to the extraction point?

GM:  Planning, leadership, training, rehearsals, intelligence, confidence and execution.  We actually trained to scenarios similar to that one.

Give Unto Cromartie That Which is Cromartie’s…

By Jesus Christ

As some of you may recall, a few months back, the Divine Pops tore me asunder from my press box view of the heavenly assembly and sent me on a brief reconnaissance assignment to “famously hot” Columbia—which, as far as I can tell, is the closest thing in the universe to the armpit of Beelzebub’s asshole. But I’ll be the first to admit that “famously hot” is a tad less demeaning, and fits better on license plate frames, so who can blame the city patriarchs for their latest marketing sham?

By the way, the next time around, just in case I’ve been called back to the carnelian throne during the next city slogan contest, here’s my suggestion:

Columbia:  Sherman Didn’t Burn Enough

Anyway, I’ve been squirreled up in a Millwood FROG (or is that FRAG?) for just about as much time as a Son of God can tarry.  Really, there’s only so much Schlitz Bull Ice a messiah can imbibe. And what’s worse, I seem to have run out of fledgling Carolina wrens to massacre with my hot Daisy BB Air Pistol which I kyped from that annoying, snotty-nosed brat two doors down who’s always driving his Clint Bowyer Cheerios NASCAR remote-controlled car over my toes during my twice-daily peripatetic stroll around Martin Luther King Jr. Park.

Okay, where was I?  Oh yes, bored out of my omnipresent skull!  So I asked City Paper’s co-owner, Paul “Larry Flynt” Blake, for a new editorial assignment.  He suggested I write something about the upcoming Columbia mayoral election, preferably a candidate endorsement.

Do you have any idea how convenient omniscience is, by the way?  Fuck Google.  Easy-peasy.

First—and it’s a little off topic, but who’s going to stand in the way of a Christological tangent—but I can’t possibly be the only one who thinks that disgraced former Columbia City Councilman E.W. Cromartie II’s downfall is a triumphant opportunity for Yaphet Kotto (“Alien,” “Midnight Run”) to mount a silver screen (or boob tube) comeback.  Producer dibs on any forthcoming Spike TV Cromartie bio-flick in the next 12 to 24 months!  I’m just saying.

Well, shit, Mr. Benjamin, why didn’t you say the Wolfe Man was on his way?  (Obscure “Pulp Fiction” references are not above this God-Man!)  Anyway, Mr. Blake told me to submit something in the 800-word range, and I’m already halfway there.

All is epistolary masturbation on the way to my immaculate Columbia candidate endorsement.  Hell, I could have submitted my entire piece in Ugaritic, and what would it have mattered?  I’m God.  You’re mortal.  And you better vote for the candidate I tell you to vote for.  Or you’ll be stuck waiting to climb Dante’s Mt. Purgatory for eons to come.

Seriously, though, the Gospel writer had it spot-on.  I could really give a rat’s rear who the mayor of Columbia is.  Give unto Cromartie that which is Cromartie’s (a nice padded mattress in a white collar cell), and unto Bubba that which is Bubba’s.

The poor you will always have.  Also, the rich assholes, who have sold their souls to Lucifer for a taste of Mammon’s cockhead.  (Funny how “cockhead” is actually a correctly spelled word according to MS Word.  Good going, Bill Gates!)

What I really care about, however, is benches in the downtown business district!  What civic criminal mastermind decided to remove all of the my-damned seats for nearly two square miles?!  Myself!  All a guy wants to do after walking three miles from Millwood to the State House is to plant his angelic ass on a flat wooden slat.

So if there’s some bum out there promising to reinstall all of the benches downtown, plus is devising a way to replenish the missing $34 million from the city’s emergency fund, vote for him!

By the way, do you have any idea how difficult it’s been for me to reenact my miracle of the multiplied bread and fish?  The other day, I thought to myself, “Okay, why not feed the homeless around here in style?”  First, I had to trek all the way from Millwood to the Atlanta Bread Company on Main Street downtown.  Then, a few sourdough loaves in hand—and without the benefit of a bench to rest my Divine derriere—I had to haul butt all the way back to Five Points and wait at Garibaldi’s until they open at 5:30 p.m.  I’m telling you:  it took all day just to get the basic ingredients!  Then, by the time I managed to get that U-Haul down to the Oliver Gospel Mission, it turns out all the bums had already eaten their supper.  Sheesh!

Okay, here I am at 800 words.  Time for my big Messianic Endorsement.  Drum roll, please!

I, Lord Jesus Christ, Sovereign of the Universe, Holier than Thou, do solemnly endorse:

Kirkman Finlay III


Number One:  He has a park named after him.  (Have you ever taken a stroll around Morrison Park or made sweet love in the middle of Benjamin Park?)

Number Two:  The guy seriously invested in gargantuan signs all over town.  (You know what they say:  Big signs equals big…)

Number Three:  He has succeeded in singlehandedly putting the beard back on the antebellum map after a nearly 150-year dry spell.  (Gay bears, beware!  The beard and hairy back are back!  Rainbows and cigars for everyone!)

It Is Time To Define Ourselves

By mayoral candidate, Aaron Johnson

Columbia's government has been under the control of a small handful of power brokers for decades, now. The elite membership of this insiders' club have accomplished very little beyond benefiting themselves and one another. The results: a hodgepodge of half-baked plans, half-cocked schemes and half-actualized opportunities. A city that is rudderless, with no clear direction and no distinct ambition, no chartered course, no sense of cohesiveness at all.

To put it another way, despite having several high quality educational institutions, bountiful natural beauty and resources and some of the most creative and visionary citizens in the Southeast, Columbia remains completely unestablished. We live scattered, adrift, isolated and lost. When great things are accomplished in this city, they are accomplished from below. It takes individual artists and business leaders to rise up against - despite - the city government. It has been that way for as long as I have lived here. Our municipal leadership has never been an asset, nor a guiding light, though it has in many cases been a hindrance, and has in many instances muddled circumstances and dispensed with opportunities.

The authors of our local government have been filling in the blanks of this city as if it were a “Mad Lib.” A random program here, an under-utilized resource there, with nothing to draw it together. Examples:

Why did we let the opportunity to become a filmmaking capital of the East coast slip through our fingertips in 2006 and 2007, when so many studios and production companies wanted to do business with us?

Why doesn't Columbia have any sort of plan, goal or agent of change to deal with the issue of homelessness? Indeed, why has it done so much to act as a roadblock for the Midlands Housing Alliance (MHA), which, despite city council, has managed to raise over 11 million dollars in private funds to build a homelessness transition center?

Why did Leon Lott have to come in from the County Sheriff's Department to help deal with the pernicious problem of gang violence in our city? Why do we still not have a consolidated plan to deal with and manage gang activity in our city?

We are a city undefined. We have no claim to fame, no cause to celebrate, no goal to strive for. And yet, dear friends, and yet...

Perhaps, from the proper perspective, this can be a good thing.

For now, as the Old Guard's political machinery begins to loosen and dissemble, we have an opportunity, unique in our nation, to define our town. Upon its founding, Columbia was one of the first planned cities in the nation. We owe those founders for our simple, precise block system and the ease with which downtown can be navigated. Can we apply that principle of organized vision and careful planning to the roadmap of our destiny?

We have an economy that is bottomed out. We have no system, no method, no destination. In other words, we have a blank canvas. And the next decade can be worked into an exciting opportunity to paint whatever we want on that stark white canvas. We have a chance to pull together and build whatever city we can imagine.

With over 1,000,000 square feet of dead, empty space on Main Street, downtown is an empty vessel. Imagine the potential. Columbia could be the world's largest small business incubator. Main Street could become a world famous center for entertainment and the arts. Columbia could become the technology capital of the world. We can encourage "small town feel" businesses like green grocers, malt shops and toy stores to line the streets and draw tourists from the State House. With so many empty buildings we can make downtown literally whatever we want!

And what the current administrators of our city don't seem to realize is that these measures can be accomplished without the panacea of money. That's right, dear reader. You heard me right. Leadership and vision can be established in ways beyond spending money! Imagine if the mayor of our city stepped up to the podium and made a stirring call to action. Imagine if city council came together and elicited ordinances that fostered and promoted a cohesive, thought-out plan of action. This novel concept of "long term planning" and "setting goals with time components that are measurable" has worked for decades for private businesses and families. What if we used these same methods in running our city government? The results could be incredible. If we play our cards right, we might even end up with a real city. A place where young people will want to stay. A place where businesses will want to relocate. A place we will be proud to call home.

Just think.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Heritage of Hope

On Saturday, March 27, mayoral candidate, Aaron Johnson, and city council candidate, Grant Robertson, sponsored an anti-Confederate Flag rally at the S.C. State House. The rally featured performances by Confederate Fagg, Drink Small, and Say Brother. “The flag hurts our state in terms of public image and business opportunities,” Johnson said. “Most importantly, it sends a message to minorities in our beloved state that our government is still in a state of war. Even if the cannons are silenced... a flying flag of battle is an ideological statement that can not be refuted.”

By Chris Bickel

I was just thinking back on the rally and what a positive event it was and how much it meant to me, personally, to be a part of it.

I remember going to many rallies in the early 90's to remove the Confederate Flag from the State House dome. It seemed almost hopeless early on at those rallies, but enough people believed the flag was not a symbol of their community and that it represented far more than history or heritage. Eventually progress was made and the flag was removed - to a more prominent location - front and center. Compromise. Insert eye roll.

I also remember showing up (as a voice of opposition) to the rallies held in support of keeping the flag on the dome. Some of these rallies were huge.

I used to play in a punk band called In/Humanity. I had written a song in 1995 about attending a pro-rebel-flag rally. Over 500 people were in attendance to show their support of the flag. I juxtaposed this with a rally I had been to some days earlier. A rally to save the life of a man named Sylvester Adams who was on death row. Adams, an African American, had been given an unfair trial and was found by experts to be mentally retarded ("challenged" the better term?). About 50 people showed up for this. The protest was in vain, as Adams was executed.

In/Humanity was an angry band that wrote angry songs. The song juxtaposing those two State House rallies was titled "Southern Swastika". The lyrics were screamed as follows:

Here's a short note on the value of life in South Carolina - 1995
The power of protest to save a man's life
Pales to the fight to let a flag fly
Fifty can't stop the death of a man
Unjustly tried
But five hundred can
Raise a lot of hell in a battle flag's defense...
Preserving their heritage
and ALL it represents.
Get uber it - put the Southern Swastika in a museum where it belongs.

In/Humanity toured the U.S. three times and nearly every country in Europe. I always took a minute to discuss the flag issue in our state before we played the song. Screaming at like 500 bpm isn't necessarily the most coherent form of communication - so I always wanted to connect with the audience and share a bit about our community and the issues that concerned us.

Until recently I had no idea how easy it was to bring a rally to the State House. I mistakenly assumed such things were far out of the reach of "regular people." Only the well-connected had access to the State House grounds. Turns out I was wrong. It's within easy grasp. Had I known this in 1995, it would have been a dream come true for In/Humanity to have played those State House steps. To convey the messages that were so important to us.

But in a way, I'm glad it ended up being my (as some would call it) "joke band" that ended up playing those steps - 15 years later - in opposition to the flag which is so offensive to so many. As much as In/Humanity meant to me then, we were coming from a place of seething anger. As honest as we may have been, it would have been a negative spectacle which would not have created a vibe conducive to positive dialogue. 

I'm grateful that Aaron Johnson and Grant Robertson took a chance on putting Confederate Fagg on the bill. The end result was positive and fun. It was a party, but the flag issue was still front and center. I was personally afforded the opportunity to say a few words on the subject, but without having to dwell and revel in anger and negativity. The response was so loving and positive and absolutely will go down as one of my most treasured memories.

If nothing else can be taken away from that event, please take this: if my dumb band can play that granite stage - anyone can do anything. People have a voice. We can make things happen here.

Thanks to everyone who attended the spectacle - which was hopefully more than a spectacle.

With love,


Sunday, March 28, 2010


On April 9th the Soda City’s young and hip can look forward to another event with Atlanta, GA’s fast-rising stars of indie rock, MANCHESTER ORCHESTRA.  The band returns to Columbia in support of their new split EP and in continued support of their 2009 hit LP, “Mean Everything to Nothing.“   This album propelled an already growing level of popularity to new heights, topping out at #37 on the US Billboard 200 and as high as #8 on the US Alternative Album chart.  In this current year it has helped put them in front of thousands at Bonnaroo as well as during a co-headlining tour with Thrice, and it earned the band a cover feature in Alternative Press.
But Manchester Orchestra’s popularity is nothing new to Columbia.  The band has been making themselves a name at local venues for several years.  They’ve been doing sellout shows for much of that time - a pretty impressive feat for a band that’s just over five years old.  Their indie bashfulness and plethora of powerful rock influences (as various as pop rock, southern rock, and even rockin’ country) and regional proximity make them an obvious candidate for a local love affair.  They’ve simply become one of those bands that Columbia welcomes to town as one of it’s own, and we finally get to see them all grown up.
This time around, they’ll be sharing the stage at Jillian’s with main support from the powerful new wave inspired indie rock outfit, The Features.  Also along for the show are jangly pop rockers Biffy Clyro and O’Brother whose raw outbursts coupled with soft melody might very well steal the stage on any other night.  Make sure you’re there as some of indie rock’s best hit the stage in the Vista.

“Did You Just Say ‘Potsdam?’”

Grant Robertson won’t tolerate fiscal irresponsibility ...or lactose
By Todd Morehead

Politically speaking, Grant Robertson is the antithesis of a run-of-the-mill Columbia insider. Capitalizing on his creative thinking, staunch ideals and openness to ideas, the Aaron and Grant 2010 campaign has fashioned him into a viable contender for Tameika Isaac Devine’s at-large city council seat. Some believe he could be this election’s dark horse if a galvanized force of disenfranchised young voters head to the municipal polls on April 6.
Columbia City Paper recently caught up with Robertson and attempted to catch a glimpse of the man behind the infamous muttonchops.

COLUMBIA CITY PAPER: Many in Columbia, this newspaper and current mayoral candidates included, have called for an end to the city’s longstanding policy of awarding taxpayer-funded grants and contracts to entities associated with city board members and employees. The questionable dealings over the years –some that involve sitting city council members—are too numerous to name here. What would you say to disenfranchised voters who are tired of this behavior? Why should those voters pull the lever for you on April 6? And what can city government do to get its own hand out of the cookie jar?

GRANT ROBERTSON: I find the lack of coverage of these known “back room” deals in most media outlets to be alarming. It's not just about the philosophical dilemma of right and wrong—it is illegal! Punishments need to be doled out accordingly. In fact, Steve Benjamin recently released a treatise on transparency which, amazingly enough, echoing what Aaron and I have been saying since January. Of course, he received the laud by the local television stations for his vision and we were once again called drunks. Three things about me: 1.) I believe that cookies are to be enjoyed with milk, 2.) I am lactose intolerant, and 3.) I am jealous of people who are not—so I will do my best to keep anyone and everyone from eating cookies.

CCP: Let’s shift gears away from the anti-cookie thing. That’s political suicide. Speaking of that, if you ever visit former councilman E.W. Cromartie in federal prison, what advice will you ask of him?

GR: He always had really nice suits. I'd probably ask for his tailor. ...Probably not his accountant, though.

CCP: How are your taxes coming along this year?

GR: They... They're coming along.

CCP: You were notably absent at the recent Southeastern Beard and Moustache competition in Charleston. What gives?

GR: I just really don't like facial hair. It is a disgusting and abhorrent feature of the human anatomy that I just cannot reconcile. I mean, I have bearded friends, I really do; and they are still my friends. I just don't accept their choice in lifestyle. Not to mention that as D-List local celebrities, Aaron and I were actually the Masters of Ceremonies at this year's “What's Love” art festival, which was the same night as the Southeastern Beard and Moustache competition.

CCP: Public transportation has been a cornerstone of your platform. Where do we start to fix our current system?

GR: We tax people. Tax the hell out of them. (Laughter) No, just kidding. Well, not the first part, actually. We've found that with an annual car tax of about $5, we can keep the buses operational at a minimal standard. The alternative to this is to not fund them at all and lose all of our public transportation. The interesting thing is that when this happens we lose our current EPA rating, costing every citizen in Columbia $40 annually. The math isn't too hard here; we can pay around $5 and have a working bus system and cleaner air, or pay $40 and lose both.

CCP: Your campaign has stated that the city needs to quit raiding water and sewer funds to patch the city budget, especially considering recent water contamination issues and the continued flooding in Five Points. What can city council do to plug the leaks in the budget without pulling from other important funds?

GR: It all really goes back to accountability and transparency. Our new city manager is doing a good job of repairing the budget where it is—and honestly, I think that the amount of attention that we are all giving to it is going a long way to motivate present and future council to come up with creative solutions. Having truth in accounting, though, is the most important thing. As of now, our water payments are being treated as taxes rather than fees, meaning that the money we pay in does not necessarily go to water, but to anything in the budget that “needs” it. Simply having money go where it is supposed to go will plug these “leaks.”

CCP: If elected, being a public official will open your day-to-day life to more scrutiny. Say I had been digging around,, say, a fictional reporter, hypothetically, dug around in your curbside garbage cans at 2:00 a.m. last Wednesday morning in search of pill bottles and strip club receipts. What might he –or she—find? Now is the time to air it, Grant. Just get it off your chest...

GR: I can pretty much guarantee you that you don't want to go rummaging through my trash. You're going to find a lot of chicken wing bones, Shlitz cans, and saturated kitty litter. The worst things that I do are taped and aired on the Internet. My mom still calls Drinking in the Morning “that show you smoked cigarettes on.” ...And I have a confession to make. I actually don't smoke at all. I can't. If I do my lungs will collapse and I will die.
I was a two-pack-a-day smoker all through and after college. When I decided to quit two years ago because my snoring got so bad that I was waking myself up, I started taking the drug Chantix. It worked amazingly and, suddenly, my lungs were too. They worked so well, in fact, that they started pushing up more tar and mucus from my lungs than my bronchial tubes could handle and all but completely blocked my airflow. After spending a day in the ER, I talked to my doctor, who informed me that this happens to one percent of people who stop smoking. Before I left he added, “I bet you wish you hadn't quit now, eh? Just kidding! Don't start smoking again.”
Sorry, that was kind of a tangent, but I did want to get that off my chest. I also haven't been back to see him since that time ...mainly, though, because I don't have health insurance.

CCP: I can’t believe you actually answered that one. Very informative. Okay, complete this word association exercise. The first thing that pops into your head:

GR: You're trying to make me sick aren't you?

CCP: Pot:

GR: ...sdam

CCP: Sustainable:

GR: Conference. ...Wait, did you just say Potsdam?

CCP: Rickenmann:

GR: Waste disposal

CCP: Slathering:

GR: Sausage gravy

CCP: Transparent:

GR: Not sausage gravy

CCP: Art Bar doorman:

GR: Huggable

CCP: How could the city effectively draw green businesses to our area?
GR: A.) Take down the Confederate Battle Flag from the State House grounds. B.) ...Take down the Confederate Battle Flag.
I'm going to lay this right on the table. There is absolutely no good reason to have it flying, and every argument I hear for it to stay there is either rooted in racism or misinformation. In the Sixties, when the flag was put atop the State House it only was supposed to be flown for four years: the length of the war. It's important to note, too, that this is not THE Confederate Flag; there are dozens of Confederate Flags. This is, in fact, a Confederate Battle Flag. Soldiers fighting in the Civil War would not have been wrapped in this flag, they would not have been saluting this flag, they would have been actively fighting under this banner. When soldiers were buried, they would have been buried under their own state's flag. Take it down, fold it up, and put it in a museum. The war is over and our state is not fighting the Union anymore. The flag is only acting as a barrier to green businesses and progress in general.

CCP: When was the last time you ran shrieking? And from whom or what were you fleeing?

GR: Aaron does this thing where he will try and sneak up on me in the darkroom at the F-Stop. I say “try” because normally, he does a really awful job at it. Picture, if you will, an adult man in a three piece suit, walking crouched around a darkroom, being careful to not to be sighted by another grown adult man singing Stevie Wonder songs at the top of his voice while printing pictures. Also, the crouching man giggles uncontrollably. I think it was back in November when he was actually successful—he popped up right behind me, like in a bad Sci-Fi horror movie. It scared the bejeezus out of me but he later admitted to me that he was impressed by the manliness of my howl.

CCP: Are Tax Increment Financing (TIF) districts a truly viable solution to revamp underserved areas of the city? If not, what do you propose?

GR: It really depends. In a place like the Vista, it worked very well. The Vista was an empty warehouse district and is now a thriving entertainment district. The use of a TIF district there was a huge boon to the city government as well as the people of the city. The proposed TIF districts at North Main and on USC's campus however are terrible ideas.
The blighted area of North Main is predominately a residential area, a lower income residential area, in fact. To put a TIF district here is absolutely irresponsible. The people who live there will be protected for about 20 years from an increase in taxes, but as is the nature of a tax increment financing district, the taxes in the area (if it even works) have been incrementing the entire time, and when that protective bubble bursts, these residents will have an incredible tax burden that they most likely will not be able to afford. Property taxes will sky rocket, and more importantly, rent will sky rocket. The TIF district will have not built up the blight, but will have simply displaced it.
The problem with blight is that there is no quick fix—it has to be a slow and deliberate process. I would propose deferring business licensing fees for community enhancing small businesses that come from within the community: small grocery stores, bakeries, butchers, coffee shops, arts related stores. Small businesses that are run by people in the same community work to foster strong relationships in the community.
The USC TIF is a stupid idea, too, but for a completely different reason. The University's property is non-taxable; how in the world is the City of Columbia supposed to make the money back to repay the TIF bond? Last time I checked, zero times anything is still zero. As for the areas that are not the University's property, I have to ask, why should we trust the current administration's design for a project as ambitious as Innovista? Their incompetence in just the [developer] hiring process should be proof enough that they do not have the business sense to develop something as grandiose as what they're planning. The slew of empty buildings on campus that they've built should be another strong testament to the future failure of Innovista. Bad economy? No. Poor planning.
Where are the fluff questions here? Noelle Phillips at The State asked me what my favorite book was—couldn't you do something like that?

CCP: Okay. How about this one: To prove yourself to blue-collar voters on the outskirts of the city who may not feel a kinship to a downtown candidate: Have you ever showered at a truck stop, sold Christmas trees and/or fireworks as a second job, tried to pick up a woman at a bar while openly bleeding from a head wound or do you have any friends or family members with Looney Tunes themed tattoos that also incorporate the Confederate Flag?

GR: I was really worried until the end there—yeah, I mean, I have a Tweety Bird tattoo on my ankle, and while it's not a true Confederate Flag, it uses the same motif. It's in the shape of a heart, with Abby's name spelled out in barbed wire.

CCP: At some point before announcing your candidacy, you must have said to yourself, “That’s it, damn it, I’m going to roll up my sleeves, hitch up my britches, and get involved in city government to make a change!” What inspired you to run?

GR: I've followed national politics from the time that I could vote—regrettably, it wasn't really until I got out of college and opened my own business that I turned my attention towards local elections. This city has not only been mismanaged for years and years, but the people of this city have been taken advantage of by those in power. I find it disturbing that during this election cycle, we suddenly have these plans and goals to fix neglected parts of town... programs that look and sound great at first glance, but will ultimately be destructive to the city as a whole. It's the typical smoke and mirrors of career politicians. I have to make this plea to the people of our city: do not let real estate developers and lawyers run our government any longer. Private interests, rather than the public interest, control their decisions; we need everyday people in government. We need those outside of the political machine to get our city back on track.

CCP: Win or lose, what does your running for city council, in itself, say to other young citizens of Columbia?

GR: We're doing our best to set an example for everyday people to run for office. It's clear that we've shaped the debate substantially and changed the overall tone of the race for the better. Whereas all the candidates pretty much sounded the same at the beginning, we've brought up issues that probably never would have even come up otherwise. We've acted as sort of a litmus test for the other candidates, in that we can say things without worrying about angering our constituents because, frankly, we don't have a defined constituency.
It is imperative that we always have citizen challengers, it not only brings fresh ideas to the table, but it also creates accountability for the 'front running' candidates. I'd like to make a second appeal to the readers: If this is in line, at all, with what you, yourself believe—please tell all of your friends and family to at least read more about mine and Aaron's policies at If you're sick of the status quote, and you want lasting change from within the city, go out on April 6th and vote for Grant Robertson for City Council at-large. For those of you who still don't know what 'City Council at-large' means, it's kind of like 'Mayor-Lite' and anybody in the City of Columbia can vote for me.

In the Belly of the Beast

By Baynard Woods

After my trip to CPAC, I decided to descend further into the belly of the beast. Which meant, for me, going home to Greenville. It is the home of Jim DeMint and Bob Jones University. I had always hated Greenville.

When we moved to Greenville from Columbia, in the mid-eighties, I was a skate-punk. We used to go to Bob Jones when we got bored. We’d skate around until their golf-cart driving security guards chased us. Then we’d ollie down some steps and flip them the bird and waltz off campus as they gawked at us.

We couldn’t go anywhere in that town without them evangelizing us. They’d froth at the mouth and scream about hell-fire. That was our way of fighting back… and it was all kind of fun.

A little later, I grew my hair out and drove a bug and looked like a hippy. I got kicked out of schools—DeMint’s alma mater in fact, named after a confederate general. I got pulled over at least once a week and called a fag and searched. It wasn’t fun at all.

And yet, this is the part that the Tea-Partiers are down with. Why weren’t they with Obama when he denounced the police-abuses against Henry Louis Gates? That’s what I don’t understand or trust about the “Oath Keepers,” the group who urge sheriffs, fire departments and other local authorities to resist the Federal government. I haven’t been personally assaulted, offended, pushed, cursed, or abused by the Federal Government, but all of those things have happened at the hands of local officials. How often have you been bullied by a local cop? And a federal agent?

The last time there was such a big State’s Rights outcry, it was against Civil Rights. The logic is the same now. Southern states argued that the Federal Government was imposing its will on them—when the Feds were keeping them from violently imposing their will on African Americans. The purpose of the Federal Government is to protect us against local abuses. When people rail against “activist judges” or require referenda to give people basic rights, they misunderstand the Constitution entirely. We have a Constitution not to protect the majority and make sure it can decide who should be excluded, but to make sure that the majority can’t do that. The purpose of the Judicial Branch is to stand up for the minority of one, the weirdo, the freak, the loner, and the loser.

Even if it is Bob Jones. I walked around the campus of the uber-conservative fundamentalist college on a recent spring day when the dogwoods were blooming (remember, Jesus was killed when the Federal Roman judge let the locals decide). The women’s skirts now hung only to their knees, instead of their ankles. It didn’t quite look like the campus of USC or Clemson, but it didn’t look like one of the Taliban schools either. As I strolled, I wasn’t and I didn’t flip any birds.

Bob Jones has cleaned up its image. But they’ve taken their fight from the streets into the political arena. And if I still lived in Greenville, I’d be damn glad that a Federal government existed to keep the Jonesers from imposing their will on me.

While, I was in town, I went to Jim DeMint’s office.  Danielle Gibbs, his Regional Director spent about fifteen minutes with me (without knowing I was a reporter). I wanted to ask about a crazy contradiction in the Senator’s thinking. At CPAC, he declared that we should get rid of the Federal Income Tax. And yet he thinks we should not only maintain but increase our military presence in the world. “Because we need to be near trouble spots,” Gibbs explained to me.

I took the libertarian point of view. “But Representative Paul would say they’re trouble spots because we are closer to them,” I replied.  There was no answer.

Here’s a news flash. The Military is part of the Federal Government. Sorry, but it is. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t talk about how bad the Federal government is and how great the military is.

The Federal government abused the Constitution plenty. Warrentless wiretapping by the NSA, the suspension of Habeas Corpus, illegal rendition, etc. But the Tea-Party has been silent on these issues because they aren’t really interested in limiting Federal power but in reviving all the old things that States Rights used to stand for.

So, to all the Tea-Party people who claim to worship the Constitution. Please, read Article 6 and save us all some time. It says that Federal Law supercedes State Law. End of discussion. You may want to go back and reargue the issues surrounding the Federalist Papers—which is fine, but it is not Conservative, it is radical and revolutionary and would require a new Constitution.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Sweet Vans “Aint Got Time”

By Shelby Sachs
Sweet Vans, a Columbia-based satirical rap group, has made it pretty clear that they don’t have time to play games with their latest EP “I Ain’t Got Time,” slated to be released on April 2. Fronted by MC B-Money and MC Ginger Snap, they are planning to, once again, pack out New Brookland Tavern with their nifty rhymes and sick beats.
With their fourth upcoming EP release through Srsly? Records, the two seem to have this whole music thing down pat, as if they know exactly what Columbia wants and how to dish it out. Yet, with this latest release, they are looking to reinvent their sound.
“This EP is more thoughtful and definitely more aggressive,” says MC B-Money. “We kept the ridiculous spontaneity though.”
According to MC Ginger Snap, “there's definitely a lot more into the instrumentation and development of the characters… it’s [more] theatrical.”
“I Ain’t Got Time” includes seven original crunk songs, featuring guest spots by local artists, Erich Skelton, Terrence Richard, 5Dollaz, John Thomy, E-Wheezy, and Katie Fresh. This is one of the first EP’s for Sweet Vans that include so many of their friends.
“It made our songs a lot more interesting and diverse. People get tired of our voices after a while,” said MC B-Money. “We knew a lot of talent, so we figured we might as well access our resources. I mean 5Dollaz? That man got crazy flow.”
With song titles such as “Which One of Y’all Motherf*ckers Stole My Bike,” and personal group favorites, “Captain Crunk Diesel,” and “Swagga on Lock,” this is certain to be yet another release from Sweet Vans that is not going to disappoint. “I Ain’t Got Time,” which will be made available at the show, will only be $5; that’s like $0.71 a song!
The group says this show will be unlike any other Sweet Vans show and will be pretty extreme and energetic.
“No one will know what to expect… [it’s going to be] really fleshed out and ridiculous,” said MC B-Money. “We’re playing with a full band featuring Cameron Gardner (The Heist and the Accomplice), Heyward Sims (Death Becomes Even the Maiden), David Stringer (All Good Citizens, SceneSC), [and] Blake Arambula (This Machine is Me).”
The future seems pretty darn bright for this comical rap duo. Heck, they might even need two pairs of sunglasses at the rate they are going! Having been a group only since late 2008, they have accomplished so much in such a little amount of time that the possibilities for this group are endless. You can expect a new remix album in the near future called “You Got Time?” as well as a mix tape.
Doors for the show will open at 8 p.m. and will feature sets by Magnetic Flowers, Junior Astronomers, and Kev Kev.
For more information, check them out on Facebook or Myspace, or follow them on Twitter at   HYPERLINK "" t "_blank"

Regional Briefs


Former judge facing prison in embezzlement case

Sentencing for John W. Hart, a former family court judge and Aiken County attorney, has been set for April 15.

In September, Harte pleaded guilty to involvement in a plan to help a former client liquidate and conceal millions of dollars that had been stolen from a local company. Under the terms of his plea agreement, Harte will serve one year and one day in prison and turn over three bank accounts worth around $483,000.

Two Columbia tax attorneys have also been charged in the case, but have denied any involvement.

KKK event planner working around venue snag

Tim Bradly, Grand Dragon of the Church of the National Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, isn’t letting a few setbacks dampen his enthusiasm for an upcoming membership drive and political rally.

The white supremacist group’s Aiken County event was originally scheduled for April, but has been postponed until June because the space they planned to book was already reserved by a youth baseball league. Bradly told the Aiken Standard he didn’t want the rally to disrupt the little league games.

The proposed new date for the rally is June 19. Bradly was made aware that the new date is the traditional date of Juneteenth, a day to celebrate the Emancipation Proclamation, only after he had set the new rally date and venue. The group plans to hold their rally, regardless, though Bradly said he wasn’t sure how attendance would be.

“I’ve had lots of emails, but if 100 people say they will come, it could still mean that only about 20 will be there,” he told the Standard.


Camper unnerved by surveillance camera in Francis Marion National Forest

Area outdoorsman, Herman Jacob, found more than he bargained for while collecting firewood on a recent camping trip in the Francis Marion National Forest; he found an unmarked video camera trained on a popular camping site.

According to the Charleston Post and Courier, Jacob took the camera home, notified local law enforcement and later received a call from the U.S. Forest Service, ordering him to return their camera. According to a spokesman for the Forest Service, the report states, the agency had set up the camera to monitor “illicit activities.”

The Forest Service reportedly refused to comment further on the cameras and gave no indication about what it does with the photographs it obtains, though a spokesperson told the Post and Courier that photos of persons who are not targets of an investigation are “not kept.”

Charleston attorney, Tim Kulp, whom Jacob contacted about the camera, expressed concern over a camper’s right to privacy and said the public’s expectations of privacy in the forest are different than in other public spaces.
“You’re not going to go to the bathroom in the parking lot of Wal-Mart,” he told the Post and Courier, “but you’re not going to think twice in the forest.”
Postal clerk accused of stealing, cashing customer money orders

A former clerk at the Johns Island post office has been accused of stealing and cashing money orders from Hispanic customers.

Investigators allege that at least eight victims, all Hispanic, purchased money orders from Chinequa Seabrook, 35, and that the money never reached its intended destinations. Police were alerted when one customer filed a complaint that a Postal Money Order for her child’s school tuition never arrived at the school, though records indicated that it had been cashed. A joint investigation by law enforcement and the post office branch found that the money orders never left their premises.
According to police, Seabrook is charged with financial identity fraud, breach of trust and forgery.

Jogger listening to iPod struck from behind by crashing plane

A single-engine airplane making an emergency landing accidentally struck and killed a man jogging on the beach.

According to multiple media reports, the plane, en route from Orlando to Norfolk, Va., experienced engine trouble and was instructed to land at the Hilton Head Airport. Before the pilot and his passenger could reach the airport, oil began to spray onto the windshield impeding visibility. Shortly thereafter, the plane’s propeller came off, forcing them to make an emergency landing on the beach.
Robert Jones, a pharmaceutical salesman from Woodstock, Ga., was jogging on the beach when he was struck and killed by the plane as it came down. Investigators said Jones appeared to have been listening to an iPod and wouldn’t have heard the near-silent, engineless plane as it glided down behind him.

Man upset over pending divorce, calls in bomb threat to courthouse

An Orangeburg man charged with making a bomb threat against the county courthouse has been released following a bond hearing.

Police said Melvin Bowman, 52, was taken into custody during the evacuation of the courthouse when he came into contact with a police officer and admitted to making the threat. He allegedly called in the threat after growing upset over a pending divorce.

If convicted, Bowman could face up to ten years in prison.

Letters to the reader

Dear elderly gentleman at the bus stop,
Considering April is upon us, I’ll assume the fact that you’re wearing a lime green suit and openly urinating at the corner of Rosewood and Beltline is part of your regular modus operandi and not related to St. Patrick’s Day. You definitely get some style points for both, but at least aim back toward the trees in this wind, man. I just washed my car.
Columbia City Paper

Dear people whose armpits reek as a misguided socio-political statement,
You want to really make a point, go vote in the municipal election on April 6. Let’s stink for a better tomorrow!
Columbia City Paper

Dear coworkers who just busted me on an Ab Slider machine,
Oh! Uh… What’s wrong with this little vacuum cleaner I found in the supply closet? I had to get down on my hands and knees to try to get under this chair, but it won’t turn on. That? I’m streaming an exercise video, dude. They, er, have the hottest chicks.
So, you fellas want to grab some lunch? Yeah, let’s just go ahead and get out of this room, altogether. …Nah, I’m good to go. I wear these bicycle shorts and sweatbands all the time.
Columbia City Paper

Dear ancient guardians of the Seventh Seal,
The same Kenny Loggins song has now trumpeted twice in one week. The forces of darkness are ushering forth. It has been half a generation since “Meet Me Halfway” was played in public at all. Now it sounds twice between two Sabbaths! God help us, Loggins, what have you unleashed?
Columbia City Paper

Dear fellow Tiger Beat readers,
Well, at least we’ve still got Feldman. ...And for as long as blood flows in that Corey’s veins, there’s still a chance for Goonies 2.
Columbia City Paper

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Failure of Journalism

The Morbidity of Our Era

By Ismail Lagardien

While there is a general understanding that print news media, especially newspapers, are in steep decline, there is evidence that journalism itself was being transformed and stripped of its intellectual independence and critical faculties. It would appear as if these qualities were being replaced by crude patriotism, the valorisation of militarism and a dangerous ethnocentrism – in the broadest sense of the word. This apparent crisis in journalism is, in some ways, reflective of a larger state of affairs that is best encapsulated by the expression “the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.”
This interregnum with its attendant symptoms of morbidity is framed by two conceptual bookends: The decline of the United States as global leader, and the insistence upon a renewed period of dominance. The matter of decline has been discussed at length by scholars; there is no need to reproduce that discussion here. What is of concern, however, is the way that the Right-wing has sought to reassert the United States’ global dominance, through initiatives like the “project for a new American century” (PNAC), in the years after the end of the Cold War – by any means necessary – and how journalists seem to have lost all courage and integrity by simply joining the encirclement.
The PNAC is held together by unabashed militarism and claims of “moral clarity,” (see,  HYPERLINK "" At the core of its mission is a broad propaganda project that includes “issue briefs, research papers, advocacy journalism, conferences, and seminars.” This project is as similar, at least rhetorically, to the nomenclature of Mussolini’s Italy than even the most liberal of citizens would be prepared to acknowledge. We should recall that among the cornerstones of Mussolini’s fascism was the way in which the state (as in the country) presented the public with a “mission” and “welded them into unity.” Under these conditions there is no loyalty higher than that which one pledges to one’s country – and that through war “the highest of nobility” is bestowed upon the people of a country.
It is within this social and historical context that mainstream journalists in the U.S. have chosen to side with the state and most especially with its military. One good example of this complicity is the statement by Dan Rather (April 2003) who said: “… when my country is at war, I want my country to win, whatever the definition of ‘win’ may be.” A second example, consistent with the “nobility” to which Mussolini referred, the journalist, Katie Curic of CBS, publically (during a formal broadcast) valorised militarism with sycophantic expressions like: “… navy Seals rock.”
This complicity between journalists (as citizens) and military forces is also consistent with Mussolini’s exhortation that “the function of a citizen and soldier are inseparable.” On this basis we can make the claim, therefore, that the era in which we find ourselves, one in which the country is engaged in an endless war and in which citizens are presented with demands like, “you are with us or against us,” journalists appear to have become part of an encirclement of patriotism, blind loyalty to the state (not to be confused with the government) and unwavering support for the military – notwithstanding the fact that war is, necessarily, mass slaughter on behalf of the state. In this sense we may state, with particular reference to journalism, that the legacy of our era may well be that journalists have failed society. Rather than serving as an antidote for the problem, the mainstream media have become part of the problem.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Polling locations for April 6

[googleMap] Capital Senior Center, 1650 Park Circle|Ward 1[/googleMap]

[googleMap] Marion Street Apartments, 1930 Marion St.|Ward 2 [/googleMap]

Ward 3/Ardincaple
Reformation Lutheran Church, 1118 Union St.|Ward 3[/googleMap]

Ward 4
Park Street Baptist Church, 2204 Park Street|Ward4[/googleMap]

Ward 5/Bluff/Olympia
Pacific Memorial Park, 200 Wayne St.|Ward 5[/googleMap]

Ward 6
Bradley Elementary, 3032 Pine Belt Rd.|Ward 6[/googleMap]

Ward 7
W.A. Perry Middle School, 2600 Barhamville Rd.|Ward 7[/googleMap]

Ward 8
David H. Swinton Campus Center, 1616 Oak St.|Ward 8[/googleMap]

Ward 9
Prince Hall Masonic Lodge, 2324 Gervais St.|Ward 9[/googleMap]

Ward 10
A.C. Moore Elementary, 333 Etiwan Ave.|Ward 10[/googleMap]

Ward 11
Ben Arnold Recreation Center, 1100 S. Holly St.|Ward 11[/googleMap]

Ward 12
Hand Middle School, 2600 Wheat St.|Ward 12[/googleMap]

Ward 13
Rosewood Elementary, 3300 Rosewood Dr.|Ward 13[/googleMap]

Ward 14
Sims Park, 3500 Duncan St.|Ward 14[/googleMap]

Ward 15
Melrose Park, 1500 Fairview Dr.|Ward 15[/googleMap]

Ward 16
Dreher High, 3319 Millwood Ave.|Ward 16[/googleMap]

Ward 17
Brennan Elementary, 4438 Devereaux Rd.|Ward 17[/googleMap]

Ward 18
Old Watkins School, 2612 Covenant Rd.|Ward 18 [/googleMap]

Ward 19
Latimer Manor Community Center, 100 Lorick Circle|Ward 19[/googleMap]

Ward 20
Earlewood Park Community Center, 111 Parkside Dr.|Ward 20[/googleMap]

Ward 21
Arden Elementary, 1300 Ashley St.|Ward 21[/googleMap]

Ward 22/Dennyside/Monticello/Ridgewood
Eau Claire High, 4800 Monticello Rd.|Ward22[/googleMap]

Ward 23
Shandon Fire Station, 2847 Devine St.|Ward23[/googleMap]

Ward 24
Kilbourne Park Baptist Church, 4205 Kilbourne Rd.[/googleMap]

Ward 25
Kilbourne Park Baptist Church, 4205 Kilbourne Rd.[/googleMap]

Ward 26
Hampton Park, 1117 Brandon Ave.[/googleMap]

Ward 29
Alcorn Middle School, 5125 Fairfield Rd.[/googleMap]

Ward 30
Arsenal Hill Park, 1800 Lincoln St.[/googleMap]

Ward 31
Hyatt Park Elementary, 4200 Main St.[/googleMap]

Ward 32
Charles R. Drew Wellness Center, 2101 Walker Solomon Way[/googleMap]

Ward 33
Martin Luther King Memorial Park, 2300 Green St.[/googleMap]

Ward 34
Pinehurst Park, 2300 Pinehurst Rd.[/googleMap]

Annie Burnside Elementary, 7300 Patterson Rd.[/googleMap]

College Place
John P. Thomas Elementary, 6001 Weston Ave.[/googleMap]

Burton-Pack Elementary, 111 Garden Dr.[/googleMap]

Pendergrass-Fairwold Elementary School, 5935 Token St. (temp.)[/googleMap]

Greenview Park, 6700 David St.[/googleMap]

Gregg Park/Woodfield
Shandon Baptist Church, 5250 Forest Dr.[/googleMap]

South Kilbourne Elementary, 1400 S. Kilbourne Rd.[/googleMap]

Harbison 1,2/Quail Valley (Lex. Co)/Oak Pointe
Harbison Community Center, Hillpine Rd.[/googleMap]

W.J. Keenan High School, 3455 Pine Belt Rd.[/googleMap]

Lykesland/Caughman Road/Pine Lakes/Mill Creek
Caughman Road Elementary, 7725 Caughman Rd.[/googleMap]

Meadowfield Elementary, 525 Galway Lane[/googleMap]

Parkridge/Riverwalk/River Springs
Harbison Fire Station, 131 Lake Murray Blvd.[/googleMap]

Asbury Memorial United Methodist, 1005 Asbury Dr.[/googleMap]

Polo Road
Polo Road Park, 730 Polo Road[/googleMap]

Pontiac/Woodcreek Farms
Pontiac Elementary, 500 Spears Creek Rd.[/googleMap]

Riverside/St. Andrews/Westminster
St. Andrews Middle School, 1231 Bluefield Road[/googleMap]

Skyland Drive Bible Church, 901 Skyland Dr.[/googleMap]

South Beltline
VFW Post 641, 534 South Beltline Blvd.

Walden/Beatty Road/Kingswood/Pine Grove
Pine Grove Elementary, 111 Huffstetler Dr.

Woodlands Park, 6500 Old Knight Parkway

Saturday, March 20, 2010

State, nation need to focus on what counts

By Andy Brack

Statehouse Report

MARCH 21, 2010 – With legislators in Washington struggling to pass health care reform and lawmakers in Columbia bickering over the state’s dismal budget, an air of passivity hovers around government.

Why can’t our leaders get anything done? What would the founding fathers think of these challenged politicians?

You’d think with a Democratic majority in Congress that health care reform, after a year of debate, would be a cinch, particularly with a lot of polling showing it to be what the majority of Americans want. But even with reports of how a health insurance company withdrew coverage when clients got sick, as highlighted this week in a S.C. Supreme Court case, squeaky wheels and Tea Partiers fill the airwaves with a lot of shouting.  In turn, middle-of-the-road leaders are showing they look more middle-of-the-road than anything else.

And in Columbia, the S.C. House passed a budget after working through Wednesday night.  There seemed to be a backslapping air about what they got done after pulling an all-nighter when, in truth, they labored to get a modest 30-cent cigarette tax through in a year so lean that it should have been a slam dunk.  On top of that, they wasted a lot of time talking about issues that divide us – like abortion – instead of focusing on things that need to be done.

In a time that demands pragmatism, solid leadership and vision, there seems to be little of any of it.  With this as a background, here are some questions that linger:

Mad. Why aren’t more South Carolinians mad about all of the cuts in government?  Most people seem apathetic and complacent, willing to accept whatever is done or just not paying attention.  With about $2 billion in cuts in state government in the last two years, the state can’t provide the same level of services, although people expect the same services.  When will people wake up and realize that these things cost money – that after hundreds of millions of cuts, there isn’t a lot of waste, fraud and abuse out there?  When will they realize the best way out of the problems we have is to invest more in education, not less?

Misguided. What’s with all of this anger by the so-called Tea Partiers?  Seems like the real reason they’re mad at government is because a black Democrat became president.  Why didn’t they raise any Cain when the GOP-controlled Congress spent trillions of our children’s legacies to increase the national debt to historic highs?

Jobs. Instead of focusing on creating real jobs, the S.C. House this month passed an “economic development competitiveness” bill that would cut corporate income taxes, improve a closing fund for big projects and generate some incentives. Come election time, politicians holler and harrumph about doing more for small businesses.  But now when they can do something, why do they continue to kowtow to big business and its big-box solutions?

Coordination. Does the legislature’s right hand know what the left hand is doing with corrections?  Budget makers originally wanted to cut 100 parole agency staff members – at a time when the state Senate is pushing a measure to give early-release to thousands of non-violent offenders to save money.  The catch?  Those folks would have to be monitored by the parole agency.  Huh?

Public policy matters.  Health care should be available for all Americans regardless of past conditions just like it is in every other major industrialized country. Education should get more money, not less, to make South Carolina more competitive and less backward.  People who want services like good roads, police protection, libraries, colleges and more should expect to pay a little more, not less, if they want the state to do better.

Screaming and shouting and focusing on the inane do little to move America forward.  The founding fathers knew that. Today’s leaders need to remember it.

Andy Brack is publisher of Statehouse Report.  He can be reached at

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Cut Off

Columbia City Council gives FPA a monopoly

on St. Patrick's Day beer sales as insiders profit

By Paul Blake

Five Points has been designated a city park -- just for the 24 hours of St. Patrick's Day.

Proponents of the idea say it gives police more leeway to enforce rules associated with the St. Pat's in Five Points festival, such as restrictions on outdoor consumption of alcohol and liquor and possession of coolers and backpacks.

But some Five Points merchants who had planned to sell beer at their establishments during the popular festival claim the new resolution could affect -- if not shut down completely -- their beer sales.

"It seems like they are doing everything they can to prevent retailers from selling beer," said Krista Snyder, co-owner of Disorderly Conduct, a business in Five Points.  "I was told I could get fined and be held criminally liable if someone leaves my store with beer that day."

The controversy had its genesis on February 3. That day, the Five Points Association, a nonprofit organization that runs the St. Pat's in Five Points festival, lobbied for and won city council approval to designate the entire Five Points area a park for the day.   The resolution also gave Five Points Association the potentially lucrative control over beer sales by requiring establishments to serve beverages in containers purchased from the nonprofit group if patrons were to drink alcohol inside the festival.

Last year, prior to the city council's resolution requiring that "possession and consumption of alcoholic beverages shall be permitted only in containers provided by the Five Points Association,"  the FPA took in $7,500 from sales of cups, which sold for on average 25 cents per cup. Now that the city council has required businesses to purchase cups from the nonprofit organization in order to sell beer out their doors,  the association could earn far more than $7,500 in cup sales this year.

In short, City Council gave the Five Points Association a monopoly on beer sales during St. Pat's in Five Points, providing the nonprofit with a guaranteed cut of as much as $160,000 in beer sales revenue.

The new law could also mean cuts in profits for bars and businesses in Five Points -- an irony given Five Points Association's mission to promote and foster business in the area. In previous years, merchants in the festival zone obtained one-day permits to sell beer and alcohol. They were able to sell beverages in any type of plastic container out the door, and that meant sizable revenue spikes during the festival that attracts about 40,000 people to the area.

Because of the new law, the state Department of Revenue in a letter urged Snyder of Disorderly Conduct to return a one-day license it had already issued. The state agency wanted to give Snyder a restricted license following passage of the park designation. Snyder refused, and she is now letting other merchants know they may have a right to sell beer that day -- without having to buy cups from Five Points Association.

[caption id="attachment_1289" align="aligncenter" width="446" caption="A letter from the Department of Revenue threatening the owner of small business "Disorderly Conduct" with criminal prosecution if their patrons leave the establishment with alcohol into the festival area."][/caption]

Friction between Five Points business owners and the nonprofit whose mission is to promote business in the area is nothing new. In 2007, City Paper detailed a growing rift between Five Points business owners and the Five Points Association, particularly regarding St. Pat's in Five Points. In the article, City Paper described how former board member Duncan MacRae tried to block Groucho's owners Bruce Miller and Deric Baum out of the St. Pat's event by assembling portable toilets and a stage in the way of their business. Other merchants shared similar stories, and many retailers protested by shutting down the day of the festival.

Merrit McHaffie, Executive Director of the Five Points Association, said the park designation and her organization's control over beer sales will bolster safety during the festival. Police weren't able to enforce some rules in previous years, she said, and the park designation and cup requirement will provide police with greater authority to write tickets for a number of violations, not all of which pertain to beer sales.

As for selling cups it is unclear what the Association will do on the day of the festival.  The festival organizers are claiming ignorance to what will be enforced that day.   "We were not asking anyone to buy them this year, but if a bar/restaurant wants to, they can,"  McHaffie wrote in an email to City Paper.  McHaffie responded with more ambiguity on the question of enforcing the "containers provided by the Five Points Association" in the new park designation resolution and passed the buck on questions to the Department of Revenue.

Outgoing president of the Five Points Association, Don McCallister, told City Paper, "I would say that the answer is yes--we cannot require them to use our cups, but would very much like to see beverages in plastic for safety reasons."   Although McCallister has admitted privately that he is powerless over the St. Pats In Five Points committee that organizes the festival.

But particularly relevant to Five Points Association's monopoly over beer sales is the nonprofit's close relationship to city government. In fact, due to receiving nearly 50 percent of its operating capital from taxpayers, Five Points Association is a quasi-public agency.

During the one-year period from April 2008 to March 2009, Five Points Association received $280,000 in taxpayer funding from the city's hospitality tax fund.

That money goes largely unchecked by city officials. Despite the fact that City Paper has reported how the Five Points Association has paid tens of thousands of dollars in "commissions" to board members and associates in conjunction with the annual St. Pat's in Five Points -- money that would not be available were it not for taxpayer funding -- the City of Columbia still does not require a certified audit of the organization.

In short, the city doesn't know how exactly Five Points Association spends $280,000 in taxpayer funds.

What's more, one FPA board member, Richard Burts, chairs the city's Hospitality Tax Advisory Committee at the same time he sits on the board of Five Points Association -- an apparent conflict of interest.

(Burts maintains no such conflict exists, since he recuses himself from votes pertaining to Five Points Association.)

Absent oversight by public officials, City Paper has attempted to audit the festival annually until the city implements a better process to account for how taxpayer money is spent. That hasn't always been an easy process for the paper.

Five Points Association failed to disclose commission payouts for the 2009 festival when City Paper requested such information in March of that year. More recently, City Paper requested a list of all vendors and consulting contractors and money paid to those entities for St. Pat's in Five Points. According to the state open records law, Five Points Association has until March 19 to provide City Paper with those records. At deadline, the organization had not yet provided those records.

Those records are important because the commission on beer sales in years past was 18 percent. That commission has meant  sizable amounts of money for people connected to Five Points Association. Last year, board member Kelly Glynn took in $4,570 in beer sales commissions after paying $2,750 in expenses -- giving her a profit of $1,820 for the festival. Glynn owns Village Idiot Pizza and Pub with her husband Brian, who formerly worked for Budweiser.

Not surprisingly, Glynn controls the beer order this year and stands to take in even more money in Five Points Association commissions. On March 7, at training for event volunteers, Glynn downplayed the significance of the beer contract when talking to City Paper. She said her business had to bid for the contract and compensation is on a sliding scale maxing out at 8 percent -- significantly lower than in previous years.

But even with a lower percentage, Glynn still stands to earn a healthy commission check. Last year, when Glynn's commission was $4,570, St. Pat's in Five Points had low attendance numbers and low beer sales figures due to rain. This year, weather permitting, Glynn stands to make an estimated $9,000 after expenses.  (Assuming beer sales are around $150,000 and expenses are similar to last year.)

Yet she isn't necessarily the greatest beneficiary of St. Pat's in Five Points. That distinction goes to Skip Anderson, the executive director of operations for the Columbia Blowfish who organizes a mostly volunteer staff for the St. Patrick's Day Festival. In previous years, Anderson received a percentage of wristband sales. Records show as much as $28,000 in wristband commissions were paid out in previous years.  Anderson denies ever making that much and last year he received $8,000 for his action on the wristband sales.

"No, it is not percentage based," Anderson told City Paper. "I'm just here to

help out and see what happens, man."

City Paper's interview with Anderson came to a halt when Duncan MacRae, the co-owner of Yesterday's and a co-founder of St. Pat's in Five Points, interrupted.

"Get off my ass," MacRae said.

Also benefiting financially from St. Pat's in Five Points is Jack Van Loan, the economic development director for Five Points Association.

Van Loan receives what can only be described as an Act of God Bonus. If St. Pat in Five Points isn't rained out, Van Loan receives $5,000.

St. Pat's in Five Points, for the record, is supposed to benefits charities. For the 2008 festival, which had expenses totaling $353,970, Five Points Association gave $39,500 to charity.

In other words, the City of Columbia kicks in $280,000 in taxpayer money to help put on a festival to benefit charities. That festival, in turn, generates about $40,000 for those charities -- making for a negative 88.5 percent

return on taxpayer investment.

Mayoral candidate Kirkman Finlay III told City Paper in 2007: "Three hundred thousand dollars in taxpayer money seems an inefficient way to give $30,000 to charity."