Category Archives: Midlands

Ben Hoover’s account of what happened at WIS

For those of you following this ongoing story, Ben Hoover posted this on Facebook last night:

Here’s what I want you to know.

Right now, I don’t have a new job and I need to make sure future employers and my community know why I was led to believe that my place at WIS was secure.

I’ve worked in TV 15 years. I understand and accept that stations have the right to not renew contracts. Especially in situations when ratings might be down or the employee did something wrong, or both sides couldn’t reach a salary agreement. None of those issues applied to me. In fact when I asked why my contract wasn’t being renewed station management assured me I had “done nothing wrong.”brgnP616_400x400

Please allow me to explain what I meant when I said that I was caught off guard. News management had recently slated me to do a follow up to “Hope in Hard Times” this coming November, after my current contract would have expired. They also planned to have a co-anchor with me in the field at Oliver Gospel Mission. The week before I learned my contract would not be renewed I taped station promotions that historically have run for several months. We were far along in the search for a new house. My children were enrolled in school for the fall. That’s why I walked in with a folder with long-term contract options for management to consider. But, I never had the opportunity to open that folder. There were no negotiations. It was made clear that management did not wish to renew early on in that discussion and that I had “done nothing wrong.”

My first contract with WIS was 5 years. My latest contract was one year in length. In both cases, both sides had to agree to terms. Some anchors choose longer contracts. Some choose for even shorter than one year. It’s a personal decision. Never was I told that a one year contract would pave the way for my exit. In fact, we agreed to come back together and discuss longer term options. If I entertained potential advancement within the company, never did management indicate or communicate that it would mean I would not be renewed. I have documented on multiple occasions my happiness with my co-anchors at WIS and my openness to calling Columbia my forever home. And, never in discussions did they indicate that my future at WIS was not an option. In fact, I got a very different response.

I truly appreciate the support from the community. It helps tremendously to keep me going in this short amount of time I have to find a new job. So, from where I sit today, I cannot afford to let vague comments, including those by others outside of the situation and not privy to the details, leave an impression that what happened was something that I did or it was just a parting of ways. That’s simply not true.

My announcement last Thursday was in line with how I was trained, my high standards of journalism, and with what’s been a big part of my career – doing the right thing. Viewers don’t deserve to be caught off guard or wonder for weeks where someone they’ve seen for 6 years has gone. And, nobody deserves to get half of the truth. I’ve always put the viewer first. That’s what I will continue to do. And, it is possible to do that while still being a loyal employee.

I don’t know where my next job will take my family and me. I’ve been put in a position to consider anything and everything. Right now, Columbia is home. And, in order to move on both professionally and personally I needed to fill in some blanks so that there would not be any questions that could negatively impact my family or my pursuit to find another job.

The Ben Hoover reaction

Suddenly, Donita Todd, general manager of WIS-TV, seems to be the least popular woman in town.

As you’ve probably heard or read, she’s bearing the brunt of viewer rage over the sudden departure of anchorman Ben Hoover.

Hoover announced the move thusly:

After 6 years of anchoring and reporting at WIS, this Friday, July the 4th will be my last day on the air. Recently, I was informed by station managers that they did not wish to renew my contract. Like so many other anchors and reporters in the past, I wish I was in a position to announce the next opportunity for my family and me. But, to be honest, I didn’t see this one coming. So, as we like to say on the news, you’ll have to stay tuned. And, maybe say a little prayer for my family and me.brgnP616_400x400

One of my closest friends shared this with me in the last few days: “If it’s not fatal, it’s not final…and, if it’s not final, it can be fruitful.” That friend is Judi Gatson. Working side by side with “JG” has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my career and life. Judi, Dawndy, Papa Joe, John, Ben, Rick and my core group of “news hounds” here will forever be like family to me. I will miss them like crazy.

Some of the stories I’ve covered over the years have been very heavy and hard to tell. A dad living on the streets after every corner of his life crumbled. The young parents in a fight and race to save their precious little girl. A military mom smiling through raw pain to ensure her son’s legacy (and dimples) aren’t forgotten. All of them, and others, facing down some of life’s greatest challenges. But, what’s always stood out to me is the one common thread that ties them all together – hope.

So, in the name of the dig deep, do good, work hard, “never give up” spirit so many of our viewers have shown me over the years, I say — HOPE is a pretty doggone good thing.

After Friday, you won’t see me on WIS anymore but please stay connected on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and email hoov11@hotmail.com. I promise to do the same. Judi Gatson Dawndy Mercer Plank WIS TV John Farley Ben Tanner

After two or three days of protest, the station put out this statement yesterday:

During the last several days much has been posted on social media about Ben Hoover’s departure from WIS news, much of it erroneous.

However, we simply cannot engage in a public conversation regarding details of Ben’s departure from WIS TV. It is a private personnel matter.

We sincerely thank Ben for his service to the station and the community and wish him nothing but the best in his future endeavors.

We also want to thank our viewers for their concerns and comments regarding this matter.

We can assure you that WIS remains fully committed to the excellence you have come to expect from this television station over the last 60 years.

Based on the response to the statement on Facebook, that oil has done little to calm the troubled waters. Some examples:

  • “You got rid of the wrong person. Donita Todd needed to go.”
  • “What part of the comments were “erroneous”? The part that the viewers want him back? That he and Judi were good together? That he put his heart into his work – walking to work in the snow, living with the homeless? Again what part was erroneous?”
  • “I don’t own a Bull. I never have. But I do know what a bull does several times a day. And this smells just like it.”
  • “Excellence is not a word to be used in any way by WIS. You did not allow him OR Judi to anchor the final broadcast. There is NOTHING excellent about that. Rest assured your other employees are planning an exit, because the station has lost it’s moral compass.”
  • “WOW!! I have read through many many discussion forums in my life…NEVER have I read through one where all the comments from the public voicing their opinion are all in agreement!!! The viewers have really spoken and come together on this one! WIS really should re-think their decisions on this one!!!!”

As always, I hate to see a guy lose his job, but there’s an emotional core to this protest that I’m having trouble understanding. Was there this kind of outpouring when David Stanton left? Maybe there was, I don’t recall — I was sort of busy with my own stuff at about that time. Maybe y’all can enlighten me.

Anyway, it must be some comfort to Ben to know he was so appreciated. I hope so.

Thoughts? Observations?

Rep. Finlay bitten by a snake!

And even though he says he expects people to make jokes about it, I’m going to resist the temptation to speculate that he’s been walking too close to the Tea Party.

Because to me, there’s nothing funny about snakes:

 Rep. Kirkman Finlay, R-Richland, has been bitten by a snake but is doing fine and is recovering.

“My ankle is swollen up the size of a pumpkin, or more like an eggplant,” said Finlay, who was bitten Sunday evening around dusk while he was out walking with his wife, Kathleen, near their house in the Hampton Hill neighborhood.

Finlay did what people are supposed to do when they are bitten by a snake — he went promptly to a hospital emergency room, where he was hooked up to heart monitor and other measures were quickly taken to be ready to counter any adverse reaction….

The snake attack happened very suddenly, he said.

“All I saw was a flash out of the bottom of my eye, and I felt like I’d been stung by about 10 wasps.”…

It was either a copperhead, or some kind of rat snake — we call them chicken snakes,” he said. “It was a small snake and only got one fang in.”…

I wouldn’t think a rat snake would cause a reaction like that. I mean, the difference between that and a copperhead is kind of like night and day — isn’t it?

Anyway, I hope he recovers quickly…

Bryan Caskey’s shotgun tie

Caskey tie

I had lunch today with Bryan Caskey at his club.

We’d had drinks at my club recently, so it was his turn.tie closeup

We talked about the kinds of things gentlemen talk about at real gentlemen’s clubs (as opposed to the trashy kind) — politics, whether one can actually travel ’round the world in 80 days, shooting for sport, etc. Then in the middle of the shooting part, I noticed his shotgun-shell tie.

So I thought it only right to share it here.

Then we went back to harrumphing about those political chaps, most of them vile Whigs and Jacobins, don’t you know…

Did you vote today? Were you the only one there?

Voted

Well, I did, and I was the only voter at the time. I was greatly outnumbered by poll workers, poll greeters, and media. It was 8:41 a.m., and I was the 46th voter to take a Republican ballot. Exactly one person had voted in the Democratic runoff.

Of course, I HAD to take a GOP ballot, having voted Republican two weeks ago. But had I not been wrongly, unfairly forced to do that (you should be able to vote in both primaries, any time), I would have anyway. I don’t think there was anything on the Democratic side other than superintendent of education, and I didn’t have an opinion on that choice. (Had I voted in that, lacking a view of my own, I likely would have accepted The State‘s recommendation and gone with Tom Thompson. As you may know, I generally, but not always, vote a straight State paper ticket.)

Whereas on the GOP side, I not only had superintendent of education and lieutenant governor, but a hotly-contested county council race.

On my way in I did something I don’t usually do, which is reveal how I was going to vote. Chalk it up to that knock on the head the other day; I cracked under questioning. And since I did it in the presence of the press, I’ll share it with you. I stopped to say hey to Tim Dominick from The State — he shot the picture below at my precinct (I hope The State won’t mind my sharing it — here’s the link to where I got it). He was chatting with a lady who urged me to vote for Bill Banning, for county council. Not feeling like being cagey, I said I would.

That shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who read this story, or who otherwise has been paying attention. A key excerpt:

Anti-tax and limited-government groups are helping Tolar…

In other words, Tolar is sort of the tea party option. I mean, seriously. Anybody who thinks taxes are too high in Lexington County is not likely to get my vote.

Anyway, please share your voting experiences today. You don’t have to say how you voted. Unless you want to. And even then, you don’t have to…

Quail Hollow precinct, right before or after I was there. Photo by Tim Dominick of The State; click on it to read the story at thestate.com.

Quail Hollow precinct, right before or after I was there. Photo by Tim Dominick of The State; click on it to read the story at thestate.com.

It’s pretty lonesome at these polling places today

Thus stood the lonely voting machines at 12:59 p.m. today at A.C. Moore Elementary School.

Thus stood the lonely voting machines at 12:59 p.m. today at A.C. Moore Elementary School.

How’s the turnout where you’re voting?

At mine, shortly after polls opened this morning, there were only two or three other voters there while I was. (My Quail Hollow polling place, by the way, wasn’t where I expected it to be — but I found it OK.)

While out to get a late lunch, I ran by some polling places in the sort of midtownish area, which may or may not have been typical:

  • At A.C. Moore, I stopped to chat for awhile with the poll workers, who had plenty of time to do so. Nancy Brock showed me the piece she wrote that just appeared in Jasper magazine. During the time I was there, one voter — Fran Zupan, former features editor at The State — actually stepped forward to vote. There had been 163 voters before her.
  • At Rosewood Elementary, I only went so far as the check-in desk, and there was no one waiting there to vote. The ladies working the desk said that 147 people had voted — 101 in the Republican, 46 in the Democratic. I could be wrong, but that’s a precinct I would expect to be heavily Democratic. Those numbers testify, it would seem, to even less enthusiasm among Democrats today.
  • At Sims Park, I saw more activity than I had at the three other places (counting my own Quail Hollow) combined. There were about 8-10 people milling about between the check-in desk and the voting machines. As of 1:08 p.m., 98 had voted in the Republican primary, and 46 in the Democratic.

I didn’t see any problems, and if there were any, they should have been fairly simple to solve, given the light turnout. But I did hear something sort of ominous at Rosewood…

Poll watcher Jim Daly, father-in-law of Richland County Treasurer candidate David Adams (I had run into the candidate’s father over at A.C. Moore) said during the few times there had been more than one voter at a time checking in, there was a bottleneck, taking several minutes for each voter. He said that was because of the laptops where the voter information was kept. In previous elections, there had been several printed voter rolls instead of a single laptop, and several voters could be processed at once.

From talking with the poll workers, he had gathered that this was expected to be a huge problem in the fall.

I told him I’d mention it.

Of course, we don’t even know who’s going to be in charge of Richland County elections in November…

Urgent! This van and trailer stolen, last seen in Cayce

10403313_10150410217284963_6346795741073221518_n

Burl Burlingame, way off in Hawaii, sends me a heads-up on this dire situation right here in Cayce:

URGENT!! PLEASE READ!! Our van (Oregon license plate: 146 FRN, white 2010 Ford Econoline 350 w/tinted windows) and trailer (white 18’ double axel) were stolen from outside our hotel room last night in Cayce, South Carolina. We are stranded here in Cayce now and are figuring out how to proceed. Unfortunately we will have to miss the show tonight in Charlotte NC with Foxy Shazambut we want to carry on with the rest of this tour if at all possible. If anyone in the North Carolina or South Carolina area has a van we can borrow and return to you after this tour ends in Ohio on June 28th, we would be more grateful than you can possibly imagine.

And if anyone wants to DONATE any money in any amount towards helping us buy a van/trailer, you can do so via PayPal at larryandhisflask@gmail.com. Needless to say, we are deeply and humbly grateful for any help in any manner than anyone out there can provide. Thank you all so much for always supporting The Flask…we hope and pray we can get through this horrible situation and carry on.

If any friends or fans or other kind souls can possibly let us BORROW any gear (ESPECIALLY a banjo, an upright bass and a trombone) in each city for the rest of the tour, we would be incredibly grateful…this is the only way we can continue on this tour and we want to carry on for sure. If you can help in any way, please email us at larryandhisflask@gmail.com. You can see our upcoming shows with Foxy listed under the “EVENTS” tab here on our Facebook page, under our main photo.

Here is what was stolen in addition to our van and trailer, if you have any leads once again email us at larryandhisflask@gmail.com.

King trombone
Holton trumpet
1952 olds baritone horn
Pbone trombone
Palomino upright bass
2 Deering good time banjos
SJC Custom Drums drum kit
Phil Jones 1200 bass amp
2 Godin 5th ave. guitars
Breedlove Guitars acoustic guitar
Ampeg 6 by 10 bass
Carvin 600 bass amp
3 venue DI’s
Fender Guitar blues junior
Camp gear
A ton of Larry and His Flask merch (tshirts mainly)
Skateboards
Nikon d-50 camera
Sennheiser USA wireless systems
2 summit audio tla 50
DBX 1231 dual 31 band eq
BBE 4821 sonic maximizer
@Gator rock case

If you’ve seen the missing vehicle and equipment, or can help in any other way, contact the Cayce police, or these guys at their Facebook page. You can email them at larryandhisflask@gmail.com.

They were supposed to play tonight in Charlotte, so hurry.

Below is video of the band. They seem to have a sort of “Willy and the Poor Boys” feel about them…

Could a man have a better headline on his obit?

HonorThis front page obit today noting the passing of Leroy “Nab” Inabinet bore a headline that any man should aspire to.

I suppose there are other attributes by which one would wish to be remembered — “good father,” “loving husband.” Some may aspire to the status of “hero.”

But you can only get so much into a headline, and in a newspaper it’s most appropriate to refer to the public side of a subject’s character.

With that in mind, it’s hard to beat this tribute.

It’s the sort of thing that makes me wish I’d known Mr. Inabinet, and feel a sense of loss because I did not.

Those who did were fortunate, and are no doubt reflecting on that today.

They say baseball will be very, very good to us

baseball talk

Seated are, from left to right, Mayor Steve Benjamin, developer Bob Hughes and moderator Jim Hammond.

This morning’s edition of Columbia Regional Business Report’s “Power Breakfast” series featured Mayor Steve Benjamin and developer Bob Hughes talking up Bull Street and baseball.

tie

Don’t read too much into the tie.

I had overslept and dressed in a rush for the hyper-early event, and didn’t realize until I got there that I had worn my tie with the layouts of classic Major League ballparks on it. As I hastily explained to Mike Fitts when I saw him there, this should not be construed as a sign of support on my part. I’m still sort of ambivalent about this thing. I, too, think minor league baseball could be very, very good to us, but I always wanted it down by the river, so… I don’t know how I feel about this consolation prize.

Also, I don’t know what to think about Bull Street overall, and I think part of the reason for that is that I still find it hard to envision. I get what Mr. Hughes says about the specifics of what will actually be there and how it will ultimately look will develop in an “organic” manner over the next couple of decades, and will largely be driven by market forces. But that makes it hard for me, and others, to make up our minds about it. Which, I know, has been infinitely frustrating to the mayor, who believes, as he reiterated, that we have to stop “kicking the can down the road” on this unique urban fixer-upper opportunity.

Anyway, here are some things that came up that seemed of interest to me:

  • Hughes talked the concept of “placemaking,” a concept that sounds to me a bit like the “third place” that Starbucks has always striven to be. He described it as a place where, if you arrange to meet someone there, you don’t mind if that person is late, “because there’s something to engage your mind.” In any case, we were invited to think of the Bull Street redevelopment, and I suppose the ballpark in particular, as an exercise in “placemaking.”
  • As a representative of ADCO, I wasn’t too thrilled with his complaint that “I’m tired of Columbia always making excuses for being hot.” He said it’s 6 degrees cooler than Dallas here, and this development is about showing people in a concrete way how much cooler we are.
  • The mayor again made his point that we have to stop thinking of ourselves as the “compromise… government town.” All the governmental entities that contribute to our local economy are awesome, he said, but they don’t pay property taxes. He thinks the city needs to be known to the private sector as a place that “aggressively seeks your capital and treats it well while it’s here.”
  • Benjamin observed that increasingly, people don’t move to a city because they found a job there; they move to a place where they want to live, and seek employment opportunities in that place. This development is about creating that kind of place. Hughes spoke of our local institutions of higher education as places that will crank out residents for Bull Street: “You’re graduating each year more people for this development.”
  • The ballpark was repeatedly touted as a necessary spark to draw the rest of the kind of development that will be needed for the project to succeed. Not having it, in the minds of potential investors/developers, would have been a deal-breaker, Hughes asserted. Now that it’s a done deal, everything can proceed.
  • Hughes invites people who want to be part of the development to “Bring me something you want to build.” That’s because “We cannot do Bull Street by ourselves;” the billion-dollar investment would be too much. He’s seeking “a diversified team of developers.”
  • He said more and more such developers are interested, even enthusiastic: At recent development gatherings across the country, the questions his team gets from potential developers have changed in a positive direction, going from “Why would I want to go to Columbia?” to “How big can my sign be?” and “When will the first pitch” be thrown in the ballpark.
  • But for the moment, he’s only interested in development that fits the architectural concept of the place. The buildings — whether apartments, attached single-family homes, or commercial — will be three-to-four stories tall. Anything taller than that would obscure “the dome” (by which I assume he means the cupola atop the Babcock Building) , and anything less doesn’t fit the concept. “If you’re not three stories tall, we’re glad to talk to you, but we’re not going to be interested in the beginning.”
  • When is “the beginning?” The plan is to start “moving dirt” this summer, and work will start on the ballpark in the early fall. We’ll see the first residents in August 2015, and “hotel, retail and baseball” up and running in April 2016.
  • How long will it take to complete the development? Hughes said, “I want it not to take 20 years,” and reckons that “We’re a great success if it takes 14 or 15.”
  • Possibly the least sensitive remark of the morning was something that Hughes quoted to the effect that “Old brick is depressing; that’s why nobody ever left this place.” I didn’t hear who he was quoting and I missed the larger point he was trying to make about the look of the place. He did say that five buildings will be preserved, which he said represented about 75 percent of the square footage of the most comprehensive wish lists for historic preservation that he’d seen.
  • There was a lot of talk about walkability and bikeability. One person asked how the development would be accessible by bike from the established neighborhoods across Bull Street. Hughes gave perhaps his weakest answer of the morning to that, suggesting that cyclists could cross at the light. Then he said something about a tunnel that runs under Harden perhaps being employed for that purpose on the eastern side.
  • Hughes noted with regard to the $31 million in publicly-funded infrastructure, “It takes me 20 years to get that.” Benjamin added, “20 years, and benchmarks that have to be met along the way.
  • “This project’s going to be judged by its success,” Benjamin asserted. In response to a question about opposition, he said, “I talk with people every day who are very excited.” He spoke of touring Charleston with Joe Riley, “the dean of mayors in the United States,” who spoke of building things that have “a permanent impact on a city.” Benjamin added, “In 50 years, no one will remember what the unemployment rate was,” or the crime rate. Or, he hopes, how acrimonious was the debate over Bull Street. He believes its success will wash all that away.

baseball been berry berry good to me

Beth Bernstein campaign kickoff

Beth1

I dropped by Rep. Beth Bernstein‘s re-election campaign kickoff on the way home this evening at the Tin Roof.

She had a pretty decent crowd — almost as many as I saw at the statewide stump meeting at Galivants Ferry last week. Which is a tiny group for statewide candidates, but a decent one for a House member.

And it was a diverse group, in the political sense. I saw longtime GOP operative Trey Walker (there as a USC governmental relations guy), Christian conservative Hal Stevenson (representing outdoor advertisers, not really himself), Michael Rentiers of Push Advocacy, and Rep. Rick Quinn, as well as a healthy number of Democrats and independents.

So, broad support, it seemed.

I don’t know anything about her general election opponent, Jeff Mobley, yet. If he’s having an event like this, I want to go to that, too. I haven’t heard from him, but he’s following me on Twitter, so…

Beth2

Way to go, John Paul. John, too…

Our pastor, Leigh Lehocky, welcomes Pope John Paul II to St. Peter's on Sept. 11, 1987.

Our pastor, Leigh Lehocky, welcomes Pope John Paul II to St. Peter’s on Sept. 11, 1987.

At Mass yesterday, I got to thinking about it being Pope John Paul II’s big day, after which he will henceforth be called SAINT John Paul.

I have a lot more memories of him than I do John XXIII. In fact, as important as he was, I really have no memories of John XXIII. I didn’t grow up Catholic, and my earliest memory of being aware of a pope at all have to do with Paul VI.

We particularly remember John Paul because he stopped by our church, St. Peter’s, when he was in Columbia on Sept. 11, 1987. I missed the ceremony because I was one of the editors responsible for our coverage of the papal visit, and couldn’t leave the office. I did get to see the Popemobile arrive at Williams-Brice Stadium, though — some of us climbed up on the roof of the old newspaper building (which now belongs to ETV) to watch the motorcade arrive — then went back to work.

But the visit is commemorated with a huge marble plaque (below), and various photos on the walls from the day. So I feel like, as a parishioner, I was a part of his visit to our church.

Of everything written about yesterday’s double canonization, I was most impressed by this piece, which explained how meaningless it is to speak of John as a “liberal,” and John Paul as a “conservative:”

Here’s the shorthand narrative about the canonizations of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II on Sunday that you’re bound to hear this weekend (or may have already heard). Ready? The first was a liberal, and the second was a conservative.

As with most black-and-white descriptions, this one falls short. To begin with, the terms “liberal” and “conservative,” as commonly understood in the modern political sphere, fail when applied to the church, which has always transcended such categories. The terms also limp when it comes to describing the former Angelo Roncalli and Karol Wojtyla.

To wit, the installation of the “liberal” Pope John wasn’t even an installation. Technically, it was a “coronation,” with the former cardinal-archbishop of Venice carried into St. Peter’s Basilica seated upon a grand sedia gestatoria (literally a “chair for carrying”), an ornate throne borne on the shoulders of 12 footmen, before he was crowned with a bejeweled triple tiara. John’s pronouncements used the papal “We,” and he once issued a document called “Veterum Sapientia,”recommending the use of Latin in seminary training and throughout the universal church. Indeed, one of his closest advisers and his personal secretary, the now 98-year-old Cardinal Loris Capovilla, called him a “great conservative.”

As for the “conservative” John Paul II, he issued several encyclicals that included slashing critiques of the excesses of capitalism and repeatedly called for justice for the poor; he was the first pope in history to visit a synagogue; he opposed many causes that U.S. conservatives supported (for example, the Iraq war); he tirelessly built bridges to other faiths, joining with other religious leaders for the first World Day of Prayer for Peace in Assisi, to the consternation of many in the Vatican; he issued sweeping apologies for past wrongs committed by the church (to, among others, Jews, women and those persecuted during the Inquisition); and finally, in a way no pope had ever done, he made full use of almost every form of media available to spread the Gospel….

The ways most people use “liberal” and “conservative” today are indeed nonsensical within the context of the Church. Which is one reason that I, as a Catholic, am personally uncomfortable with both labels…

The huge plaque just inside the front door of St. Peter's -- a few feet from where Msgr. Lehocky welcomed the pontiff.

The huge plaque just inside the front door of St. Peter’s — a few feet from where Msgr. Lehocky welcomed the pontiff.

Kevin Fisher missing Mayor Bob. Really.

Mayor Bob, during an editorial board interview in 2008.

Mayor Bob, during an editorial board interview in 2008.

This was published several days ago, but I just saw it, so I’m sharing with others among you who are just as slow on the uptake.

I enjoyed this column by Kevin Fisher in the Free Times. An excerpt:

Where have you gone, former Mayor Bob? A city turns its troubled eyes to you, woo, woo, woo. What’s that you say, Cola Citizen? Gentle Bob has left and gone away, hey, hey, hey …hey, hey, hey.

First, my apologies to Simon and Garfunkel. And also to Mayor Bob, if he’s offended. I hope not, because it’s meant as a compliment.

Indeed, we could use a little Mayor Bob about now. Can you imagine him fighting with council members in public? With concerned citizens? With anyone? Of course not. As I wrote about Bob upon his retirement: “Coble was eminently approachable as mayor, making each person feel worthy in their opinions and welcome to share them.”

While I disagreed mightily with him on a wide range of policy and management decisions (or the lack thereof), I always liked the way Bob conducted himself both personally and in his role as the city’s elected leader. Council followed suit, as the mayor sets the tone. And therein lies a lesson that Steve Benjamin needs to learn….

Those of you who remember Kevin running against Bob several years back may be surprised at these comments, but you shouldn’t be. Kevin can be an irascible critic — and has gotten under Mayor Bob’s skin a little over the years — but he’s fair-minded, and he’s given former Mayor Bob his due before. Back at the outset of that 2006 campaign, he said of the mayor, “He’s a really nice guy, and much nicer than me.”

But he also saw that as a weakness. He criticized Coble for “waiting for consensus” to lead, and for not being tough enough to say “no” to bad ideas.

Now, Kevin — and probably others — are missing that “waiting for consensus” stuff. That’s not Mayor Benjamin’s style.

Basically, the two mayors have complementary upsides and downsides. With Bob, you really could go nuts waiting for him to step out ahead of the rest of council. He really wanted that consensus. Steve is too impatient for that, so you get a lot of action. But after four years of his impatience, he’s created enough irritation on council that the action is increasingly one-sided, and little gets done.

Although it does seem like the ballpark’s going to go through, it will do so at serious cost to the mayor’s remaining political capital. There are more rough waters ahead — waters upon which Bob Coble would have poured oil…

How Benjamin, et al., are selling Bull St. ballpark

bull street

In case you don’t get these emails, I thought I’d share. The image above shows what the top of the e-blast looks like. Here’s the text:

In case you missed it, Sunday’s Op-Ed in The State made it clear that there WILL be a vote on the Bull Street baseball stadium this Tuesday evening. This vote will set the future direction of our city – survive or thrive!
Please share this article with your respective networks, post it on social media, and like it on the Building Bull Street page. WE NEED TO SHOW OUR GROWING VOICE OF SUPPORT!!!
 
Once you’ve read the article, please take a moment to contact Mayor Benjamin and Council members Cameron Runyan, Sam Davis and Brian DeQuincey Newman to thank them for their leadership.
 
The important final vote will take place this Tuesday, April 8th at 6pm. Plan on joining us at City Hall for this very important moment in our citys future.

That’s followed by the text of the op-ed that was in The State over the weekend, which you can read here.

The vote is supposed to come today.

Gregory shocker: Who throws it all away for 100 grand?

Gregory's former office.

Gregory’s former office, on Tuesday evening…

This morning at the Capital City Club, which sits 25 stories up from Columbia’s economic development office, the regulars were all abuzz with the news that one of their number, Wayne Gregory, was in the county jail on embezzlement charges.

You know how shocked everyone was at his club when Winthorpe was arrested in “Trading Places?” It was like that, only not funny. There was a good deal of breathless talk about “one of our number” and so forth.

It had only been a few months since Gregory, 36, had replaced a longtime regular, Jim Gambrell, but we had started getting used to seeing him around. I had not had a chance to get to know him, but I knew who he was, and figured we’d cross paths at some point. Maybe not, now.

As I said in a comment yesterday (yeah, this whole post consists mostly of stuff I said before, but I thought this was worth a separate post):

Here’s what I want to know… Who risks it all for 100 grand? Who — among people who have good jobs (and his base pay was $110,000) — risks prison for a year’s pay, essentially?

Assuming I were someone who would steal, I’d be the sort of thief who would abscond with something more like $100 million. And that’s borderline… I mean, even if one has no morals, one should have a sense of proportion. A year’s pay just wouldn’t be worth it, aside from moral considerations.

Maybe it’s because, as a journalist, I’ve been in a lot of jails and prisons. I’m telling you, people, you don’t want to go there.

One last point: I’ve seen a lot of comments about “Here we go again” with our poorly run city. Well, yes and no. The one thing that distinguished this from some of the other recent messes is that the city immediately fired Gregory. In the long, painful separations of police chiefs, city managers and the like in recent years, we seldom saw such a moment of clarity and decision.

Of course, as Kathryn pointed out yesterday, Gregory had been charged with a crime. And I suppose that draws a bright line that has been missing in other situations. But in any case, the quick action makes this instance quite different.

ALL of Richland Election Commission should be replaced

This morning, when I read that there was the potential for every member of the Richland County election commission to be replaced, I wrote on Twitter, “And all five SHOULD be replaced.”

Rep. Nathan Ballentine both favorited and reTweeted my post, so I know I have at least one member of the delegation agreeing with me.

This afternoon, when I got back into town from a business trip to Greenwood, I got a call from a friend, a local businessman who is at the point of retirement, who said he was interested in serving if the delegation was interested in having him. He’s a man who has had a certain success in business, and has been very active in the community. He has no political interests or ambition, and doesn’t want to start playing political games at this stage in life. He’s just concerned about this problem in his community, and is willing to pitch in and help if anyone thinks he can.

In other words, he’s just the kind of person we need serving on the commission.

I called James Smith and asked what the procedure was. I was told he should call the delegation office and get a form to fill out. I passed on the information.

There are at this point about 40 names in the hopper. Here’s hoping that out of the 40, plus the additional ones that will come in now that they’re starting a new filing period, the delegation will find five people willing and able to fix this problem. And that the delegation will actually choose those five…

Guess you better slow your Mustang down

Yesterday, I saw the hawk on my way in to work. Today, I encountered a character from R&B legend, previously believed to be fictional.

There was this late-model white Mustang coming up behind me on Sunset Boulevard, coming on too fast. I got into the right lane, preparing to get onto the ramp for Jarvis Klapman, and it started to zip past me — but then we were both stopped by a traffic light.

My eye was drawn to the furious activity going on in the driver’s seat of that car. It was a young woman who was very busy applying makeup. She had a powder brush in her right hand, and rather than brushing it on, she seemed to be aggressively stabbing her cheek with the brush, and looking in her rearview to check the effect. Maybe she was trying to redden her cheek under the powder.

Then, I noticed the cigarette smoke curling up from her left side, partly blocked by her head. So I’m pretty sure that hand was fully occupied, too.

The light changed, and she stomped on the accelerator, and rushed away.

It was then that I realized that I had just seen Mustang Sally herself.

She needs to slow that Mustang down…

I was at St. Pat’s in Five Points. Where were y’all?

BizE8crIcAAksvp

Late in the afternoon Saturday, I sent out the above picture with the challenge,

My HQ today is @yesterdayssc in case any of my blog peeps care to join me. And if ye don’t, yer an eejit…

But none of y’all showed. At least not immediately. I only waited about another half-hour.

Sorry about the “eejit” thing. It was the only Irish-sounding put down I could think of. I get it from Roddy Doyle.

Saturday was a quick-in, quick-out deal for me, compared to my usual habits on this day. I had been uncertain that I would attend at all. My son’s band was going to play at Henry’s up the street, but one of his bandmates had a death in the family the night before and they had to cancel the gig. I did run into a couple of his present and former bandmates — these guys have played in a lot of bands together over the years — at Yesterday’s, sans instruments.

It was a beautiful day for it. Sorry I missed y’all.

My grandson, waving to a tractor in the parade. You have to understand, that tractor was The Most Important Thing in the parade...

My grandson, waving to a tractor in the parade. You have to understand, that tractor was The Most Important Thing in the parade…

I thought it very Hemingwayan to celebrate standing in one spot, foot propped on bar.

I thought it very Hemingwayan to celebrate standing in one spot, foot propped on bar.

Biy9bUCIcAITz62

When I arrived for the party in mid- to late afternoon, things had already reached this stage…

That's Laura and Brooke, moving at blurry speed behind the bar at Yesterday's/

That’s Laura and Brooke, moving at blurry speed behind the bar at Yesterday’s/

Troy Thames and Adam Jones, two of my son's past and present bandmates.

Troy Thames and Adam Jones, two of my son’s past and present bandmates.

This table at Yesterday's kept breaking out into wild cheering, for no apparent reason.

This table at Yesterday’s kept breaking out into wild cheering, for no apparent reason.

Kept trying to get a decent panoramic photo. Kept failing...

Kept trying to get a decent panoramic photo. Kept failing…

Best costume. This guy was all like "I'm going to be a James Joyce character today."

Best costume. This guy was all like “I’m going to be a James Joyce character today.”

Too bad. He sounds like the kind of chief the city could have used

Busy day today, but I didn’t want it to pass completely without saying a word about this:

COLUMBIA, SC — A candidate for Columbia police chief on Wednesday leveled tough criticism toward city officials as he withdrew from the search….

In an interview with The State newspaper, Fisher said the city lacked consistency within its leadership and questioned why interim Chief Ruben Santiago remained on the job after being the target of a federal and state investigation.

But Fisher stopped short of calling the city dysfunctional.

“In my close to 40 years in law enforcement, I’ve had the fortune to work in a cohesive, visionary environment where all seem to have the same goals – the politicians and the professionals,” Fisher said. Columbia “could have been a challenge for me.”

The selection process had been “laborious and indeterminate,” Fisher said.

He also indicated that the frequency with which City Council discusses merging the police and sheriff’s departments was a concern. Those conversations affect the entire organization, he said.

“There is no consistency in leadership and expectations,” Fisher said….

This is too bad. A chief who came into office with his eyes this wide open might have had a chance of succeeding. I say “might” because anyone who works — indirectly — for a city manager who in turn works for seven very divided bosses is highly likely to fail.

Columbia is increasingly dysfunctional under this system that the political elite managed to maneuver the voters into keeping. And it’s getting worse day by day. Anybody with clear vision is likely to run the other way rather than take this job…

Pay AGAIN? Sure and ye must be after takin’ me for an eejit

How many of these people do you think would pay TWICE?

How many of these people do you think would pay TWICE?

That’s what I expect a lot of people to say when they leave the St. Pat’s celebration in Five Points this Saturday and try to come back in — assuming, of course, that they’ve learned a cheesy Irish accent from the same dialect coach who trained the “Lucky Charms” guy in “Austin Powers.”

Expect a few donnybrooks over that.

I don’t know what I think. On the one hand, it seems reasonable to me, as it has seemed reasonable to the organizers of this annual festival from time immemorial (this never happened in Jack Van Loan’s day!), to allow people to come back in if they’ve paid once. I mean, when you’ve paid for an all-day event, I can think of all sorts of reasons (say, for instance, you are constitutionally incapable of taking advantage of a port-o-john) why you might need to leave briefly and come back — and you DID pay for the whole day.

On the other hand, the public safety argument has some force on its side, although I’m not entirely devastated by the logic:

But the new policy will allow police and private security to better monitor who is coming and going.

In the past, people were screened the first time they went through the festival gates but not necessarily when they came back, interim Columbia Police Chief Ruben Santiago said. Instead, those returning just showed an arm band and walked in.

Now, everyone inside will have been screened, eliminating the risk of bringing contraband, Santiago said. The policy also keeps people from leaving so they can drink more or use drugs before coming back, he said.

“We know that everybody who is in there has been through security,” he said.

Franks also hopes the no re-entry policy curbs some of the disturbances the festival causes in surrounding neighborhoods. There should be fewer people walking through yards and less trash…

What do y’all think?