Archive for June, 2008

Dee’s Goodbye Party at the Bennett’s

June 30, 2008

  It was an afternoon and evening for sharing memories in the backyard of Wayne and Betty Bennett’s Harris County home. They, with the help of WTVM anchor-reporter Semone Doughton, held a farewell party for departing anchor Dee Armstrong.  About 55 co-workers, former co-workers and family and friends came to the barbeque. 

  

 

Wayne Bennett and Dee Armstrong

 Wayne Bennett and Dee Armstrong

 

  Her contract with the station expires at the end of the year. She has filed a civil rights suit against the station. Her last broadcast was on the 6 p.m. Monday news.  That was not the main subject of conversation. It was an evening of fun and laughter, and as I said, for remembering.

 

   I first met Dee in 1977 when I hired her as a reporter and weekend anchor for WRBL-TV. I was news director as well as the evening news anchor. She was just out of high school. She knew the basics of reporting, having had a good teacher, my old friend Ed Wilson. He had hired her as a reporter for WDAK radio when she was still in high school.  What she didn’t know was reporting with pictures. We were using 16mm film at the time.  She learned how to do that rapidly.

 

  She worked at WRBL for a few years, and then got a job with at a Green Bay, Wisconsin station.  Her executive producer there was Steve Faust, the first news director I worked with at WTVM. (I worked with a lot of news directors at WTVM.  Every time the station would change ownership, it would change news directors, and sometimes in between.  The station changed ownership four different times during the 15 years I worked there.) She got a leave of absence to come home to Columbus when her father was dying, and, instead of going back to Green Bay, ended up in Atlanta, where she got married and went to Georgia State University. Tragically, she lost her first husband to a high-rise building construction accident.

 

  However, she ended up working for Steve Faust again when he hired her as a reporter right after I switched stations in 1986.  She was only there a short time before my co-anchor Rebecca Todd left. That’s when the station decided to make her my co-anchor. Wayne Daughtery, manager at the time, asked me what I thought about the idea. I told him I thought it was a good idea and would work.

 

  It did. Our ratings, which were already quite high – we were the undisputed ratings leader – got even higher over time.  At one point we got a fifty share, which is almost unheard of, especially considering that so many choices had become available on cable TV. No station in Columbus – or probably anywhere else – comes near that now.

 

 

Dick McMichael and Dee Armstrong

 Dick McMichael and Dee Armstrong

 

  When I retired from anchoring in 2000, we were still on top by a good margin. After that, I continued for a year in a public affairs capacity. In what was called  a corporate-wide layoff – Raycom owns almost 50 stations – I was laid off after that year, but asked to come back shortly afterwards to do some special news projects and documentaries, which I did.

 

 Now, after 22 years on top at WTVM, her broadcasting career closes. She told me she will become more immersed in her financial services career and has some other projects in mind. She started learning the financial services business when, as she told me, “I saw the handwriting on the wall.”

 

  Welcome to life after TV, Dee. It’s not bad – a lot slower, but not bad. .

 

 

Paul, Bob,Dick,Dee,Dave

 

Left to right:  Paul Therrien, WTVM pohotographer; Bob Jeswald, WRBL (former WTVM) weathercaster; Dick McMichael, retired WTVM (former WRBL) news anchor; Dee Armstrong, departing WTVM anchor; Dave Platta, WTVM sports director and anchor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     

 

 

Big Problem with Solving Water Shortages: Splintering

June 27, 2008

  The Metro Atlanta area is facing another long hot summer as drought conditions continue. Lake Lanier did regain some of the water it lost to last summer’s drought, but it wasn’t enough to bring the lake back to full. It is 14.4 feet below full and falling as the sun evaporates more than two-tenths of an inch every day.

 

 

Lake Lanier, October, 2007

Lake Lanier, October, 2007

 

 

  Billy Turner, of the Columbus Water Works, indicated that the drought probably won’t be as severe as it was last summer. The highest drought level is a 4.. The only part of the state that is still at that level is in the north Metro Atlanta area. The rest of the area is down to a 3. Most of the state, including Columbus, which had reached the #3 level, is at a 2, and the southeastern part of Georgia is at 0.

 

 

Billy Tuner, Columbus Water Works President

Billy Turner, Columbus Water Works President

 

  Efforts in Metro Atlanta are still underway to conserve water, with things like washing cars at home being banned, and limited lawn watering in effect, but can such measures do the trick?

 

  The Corps of Engineers has been allowed to hold back a little more water at Lake Lanier and some other reservoirs in Georgia, but not much. The Corps is mandated to keep level of river flow that protects downstream, was held back because the Corps must maintain the downstream flow. Folks downstream, especially at Apalachicola, Florida, like it that way. Metro Atlanta people aren’t all that happy about that.

 

  This drought has really brought home the mistaken past philosophy of dealing with this problem, which was to ignore recommendations made by planners long ago.

 

  Rick Perlstein writes in Campaign for America’s Future, “Atlanta boomed in the wake of the monster capital investments made in anticipation of the 1996 Olympics, the magazine [Atlanta magazine] reports; ‘In 1990, the Atlanta area was projected to draw 800,000 new residents over the next twenty years; in the ten years following the Olympics, the total population increased by almost 1.4 million…. But in that same ten-year period, the reservoirs that supply our most vital resource grew not a bit.’

  Perlstein says that a 1969 study by the Atlanta Region Metropolitan Planning Commission said infrastructure changes would be needed to avoid critical water shortages when Atlanta’s population reached between three and five million. In the 1980s, planners proposed networks of reservoirs throughout North Georgia. The project was deemed too costly. Instead, “What did the Atlanta metropolitan area do instead? Issue building permits – 48, 262 in 1996; 68, 240 in 2006.”

Turner told me that the big problem in the past has been splintering. Each county was looking after its own self interest. That doesn’t work. When making comprehensive water plans the state as a whole has to be considered.  The way one county use water affects neighboring counties.

Well, the planners are at it again. This time they are saying that, even with the emergency conditions caused by the draught, Atlanta will have enough water for the city to grow to 8 million people by 2030. Turner doubts that. So do I.

As I have said before, they put atlanta in the wrong place. Columbus has a greater water supply than Atlanta. Turner has stated in the past that Coumbus could easily handle a population of 6 million people. Metro Atlanta already has almost 5 million and look at the problem it is facing. It will have enough enough water for 8 million. I don’t think so, unless it can tap into another river system like it is exploring on the Georrgia-Tennessee line. Some are claiming that the border line is incorrect and that the Tombigbe River at that point is actually in Georgia.  Pursuing this would, no doubt add Tennessee to the Water War now being fought between Georgia, Alabama and Florida.

 

 

 

Georgia Corrections Commissioner Backs LOST

June 26, 2008

  Columbus Mayor Jim Wetherington, Georgia’s former Commissioner of Corrections,  picked up  support by the present Commissioner for his Local Option Sales Tax initiative. James E. Donald, Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Corrections, told Rotary Club of Columbus members that Georgians need to come together to do something about the prison problem in the state, and he believes that Columbus folks need to pitch in by voting for the LOST.

 

 

 

 

James E. Donald

Commissioner, Georgia Department of Corrections 

 

 

  He says his plan to stop putting away non-violent drug abusers, who are filling up the state’s prison system, will take the support of strong local police departments. Mayor Wetherington promises to spend the majority of the LOST money on beefing up the city’s safety department.

 

  It costs the state about 1.2 billion dollars a year to operate its Corrections Department, he said. And Governor Perdue has cut the department’s budget by 38 million dollars. Commissioner Donald says he takes that cut as an opportunity to be more creative about ways to make the prison system work better.  

 

  Donald, a retired infantry general, hopes judges will start sentencing drug abusers to rehabilitation programs that require them to report regularly to day reporting centers, one of which is being built for Columbus. They go to the centers to be checked to see that they are not violating their probationary sentences and not returning to their old drug abusing ways.

 

  Georgia,” he says, “has the second highest rate of incarceration in the nation, second only to Florida.”

 

  He says just locking people up treats the symptom, but not the root cause of the problem itself. If only the symptom is treated, when the inmates are released back into society they return to their old criminal ways. He wants to lean more on crime prevention, education and rehabilitation.

 

  And he wants us to support Mayor Wetherington’s LOST. Maybe we will, but I know a lot of people, including a number of Rotarians, who are not for the LOST. Me? Well, I’m torn. We’ll get into that in a future post on this blog. Stay tuned.

BRAC Brings Big Volume Home Builders from Out of Town

June 25, 2008

  Howard Jefferson tells me that some local home builders are not happy with him. He says it’s because his company is working hand in glove with out-of-town builders who are building homes cheaper than they can. Howard is the Principal Alabama Broker for Coldwell Banker Kennon Parker Duncan & Key. (Disclosure: we are in the same Rotary club.) He has empathy for the local builders, many of whom he has worked with over the years, but says the large building firms are a reality of the times.

 

 

 

Howard Jefferson

Coldwell Banker Kennon Parker Duncan & Key

 

 

  The thing about it, though, is that, during this housing sales slump, his firm is selling a lot of new houses. And, with BRAC bringing close to 30,000 new people into the area, they expect to sell a lot more.  The reason the houses built by huge out-of-town firms are selling is simple: price. 

 

  The main action right now is in Russell and Lee Counties, and Phenix City in Alabama. “There is more land available, and you get more house for the money, and taxes are lower than in Columbus,” he told me.  He should know; he heads up the Coldwell Banker group in the Russell and Lee Counties’ area of Alabama. 

 

“We are the number one real estate company in this area.  We get a 35 percent share of all homes listed in Columbus, and a 40 percent share in the Phenix City, Russell and Lee County area.” 

 

  Howard took me on a tour of the Fort Mitchell area which was an eye-opener. First of all, he took me to a subdivision built by local builders that have a lot of houses for sale. Then he took me to Villages at Westgate, which is close to the Fort Benning west gate, the one that’s on the back side of Lawson Field.

 

 

 

Fort Benning’s West Gate

 

 

 

 These houses are selling just about as fast as they can build them, which shows that you don’t have to wait for BRAC to sell homes to Fort Benning soldiers. Tim Drew, a realtor on the site, says about 60 percent of home owners at Westgate are soldiers and their families.

 

 

 

Villages at Westgate

 

 

  Coldwell Bankers is selling them for Scenic Homes, which is headquartered in Snellville, Georgia. Scenic has constructed more than 5,000 homes in Georgia, Louisiana, North and South Carolina.  It’s the 54th largest builder in the country. Scenic claims that “Scenic Homes offers a wide variety of floor plans with up to approximately 2,900 square feet at a fraction of the cost of their competitors.”  Actually, according to Drew, the homes get as large as 3,059 square feet.

 

How can they do that?  For one thing, economy of scale. They can get better prices for building materials because of the large quantities they buy. Also, they have cheap labor, Howard told me. Who else makes tons of money using that philosophy? How about Wal-Mart?

 

  The houses in Westgate are impressive. It’s hard to believe that you can get such a large, new home for the price. 

 

 

 

 

 

 Great Room of a Westgate home

 

 

 

 

 

These homes range in price from $169,000 to $203,000. Coldwell Banker has already sold more than a hundred of them, and expects, before it’s all over, to sell more than 700 of them. The Fort Mitchell area is expected to grow by at least three thousand people as a result of the move of the 3rd Armor School to Fort Benning starting in the 4th quarter of next year.

 

    We’ll continue our look at the way BRAC will affect our area in future posts. Stay tuned. 

 

Impact of the BRAC Impact Hearing

June 23, 2008

  Last Tuesday evening I got the feeling that most people are still in denial about the huge way our world is changing and how they are going to have to change with it.

 

                                           \

  BRAC hearing at Columbus Public Library

 

  At the BRAC impact hearing at the Columbus Public Library, we all were given the opportunity of saying which of our transportation needs should have the top priority when 30,000 new folks with their thousands of cars and trucks move into the area.

 

 

                                          Voting Remote

Casting my vote

 

 

  When five options were listed on the screen, we used our voter remotes to register our choices. After all of the clicking was done, not to my surprise, the vast majority, 53 per cent, clicked on “minimize congestion.”  

 

                                         

 

 

“Add new sidewalks and bike trails” came in second at 22 percent.

 

 The one I clicked, “improve transit service” came in 4th at ten percent, beat out by “repair existing roads” at 12 percent.

 

  Last, and a big surprise to the folks who were conducting the hearing, was “improve access to Fort Benning,” at only 4 percent.  After all, the growth at Fort Benning is the reason for the big influx of people to our area.

 

  One man in the back of the room said he was surprised that “improve transit service” got such a low vote. I joined him in that opinion and said, “Considering the energy future, you have to wonder why people are still talking cars and roads and not mass transit and rails.”

 

  The man sitting next to me joined in with, “When gasoline hits $12 a gallon you are not going to have to worry about traffic congestion. People won’t be driving their cars.” 

 

  Retiring Deputy Superintendent of the Muscogee County School District Dr. Robin Pennock, said, “Solving the traffic congestion problem will take a combination of all of the options on that list.”

 

 

                                          

  Dr. Robin Pennock, Deputy Superintendent MCSD

 

  She was right, in my view.

 

  The BRAC (Base Closure and Realignment Commission) issue is bringing out a lot of other issues that are important to our community. They would be important, even if the

area wasn’t about to grow by about 30,000 people in the next few years.  I’ll be discussing them in future posts.

 

 

 

     

 

 

Premier Podcast: Eddy Arnold, Ray Charles and Dick’s World

June 14, 2008

What do Eddy Arnold and Ray Charles have in common and what do they have to do with this blog? Find out by clicking on the link below.

dicksworld_2000 

Welcome to Dick’s World

June 8, 2008

 

  I’m Dick and I welcome you to my world.

 

  My world, geographically, is Columbus, Fort Benning, Cumming, Smyrna, Kennesaw, Atlanta, and Athens, Georgia, Phenix City, Alabama, and Anywhere, U.S.A.

 

 That’s because I live in Columbus, which was just listed by some organization that does such things as the 4th best place in the United States to raise children. I am not sure why, but maybe one reason is because one of our Little League teams won the Little League Baseball World Series a couple of years ago. Balancing that are the low scores that too many of our public school kids are achieving on standardized tests.

 

  My son, daughter-in law, and two grandsons live at Cumming.

 

   I have stepsons, a step daughter-in-law, and step-grandchildren in Kennesaw, Atlanta, Athens, and one who drives a semi and just might call me from anywhere in the country.  

 

   I go to Smyrna a lot because my niece and her family live there.

 

    Part of this new blog of mine will be about what happens where they live since that’s part of my world.

 

   The rest will be about current events in Columbus, Georgia; Phenix City, Alabama; Georgia, Alabama, and, well, the world.

 

  It will also be about philosophy, movies, books, TV shows, music, politics and anything that I just happen to want to talk about.  

 

  Also, I am interested in you and what you think. So you are welcome to comment on any post on the blog. I just ask that you refrain from hardcore gutter language – oh, a hell or damn here and there is okay – and libelous statements. I reserve the right not to print any comment, but I don’t recall not publishing any non-spam comment on my last blog, newsmanbook.com.   

 

  Again, welcome. Please make yourself at home.