Columbia Countys 2002 political season officially begins Thursday, when County Commissioner Frank Spears formally is holding a reception to declare his intention to run for what?
Well find out Thursday at 5:30 p.m. at the Jones Creek Club House. Spears is playing coy with what hell announce, but there are clues in an ad hes running for the event (its over on Page 5 - take a look) - namely, with the wording of the announcement as coming from The Committee to Re-elect Frank G. Spears to the Columbia County Commission.
He just laughs when asked, but my money is on Spears announcing just what the ad implies: his quest for re-election to the County Commission seat he won back in 1998. Spears also has been weighing a run for the newly created position of elected County Commission chairman.
Spears Commission seat isnt quite the same as it was four years ago. Along with creating the elected chairmanship, the Legislature is redrawing the county from five districts to four.
Spears current District 2 seat is being combined with a large part of County Commissioner Jim Whiteheads District 1 seat. Whitehead isnt running for re-election, so it made sense to draw his and Spears homes into the same districts so two incumbents wouldnt have to face each other.
Whiteheads neighbor, Planning and Zoning Commissioner Steve Brown, also is weighing a run for the seat, and would likely be Whiteheads choice if he decides to jump in. Its no secret that Whitehead and Spears dont get along; Whitehead prefers congenial, old-school, handshake politics, while Spears - who holds a journalism degree and sells insurance for a living - is media-savvy and happy in front of a camera.
Spears choice of a campaign treasurer seems aimed directly at a race with Brown: Roger Johnson also serves on Planning and Zoning.
Incidentally, Spears 1998 opponent, Bill Bohling, may not be out of the game. Hes being recruited for a run for chairman. Bohling is now retired from his security business, and would have plenty of time to devote to a post created with part-time pay and visions of full-time duties.
Other names are emerging as potential candidates for the chairmanship: Former County Commissioner Charles Allen; commercial contractor Ron Cross (his company is building the new Evans courthouse); and an active Chamber of Commerce volunteer also is contemplating a run at the top post. All would run as Republicans.
So far, no Democratic candidates are popping up, though there surely will be.
Qualifying isnt until July, with the primary in August. So the political season, starting now, will last for what seems like an eternity.
Last year, Gov. Roy Barnes minions strategically complained about State School Superintendent Linda Schrenkos travel expenditures, attempting to paint Schrenko as flitting all over Georgia running for governor while ignoring her duties in the Education Department.
The story quickly died, however, when it was discovered that Schrenko - who, after all, has 180 state school systems to oversee - actually ranked third in travel expenses by state officials.
So who is the biggest spender? Georgia Ports Au-thority Director Doug Mar-chand - a Barnes appointee. The Atlanta Constitution reports that Marchand, who spent nearly $50,000 on travel in 2000, came close to doubling that figure in 2001. Marchand, it seems, has a taste for first-class service and pricey hotels - including the Pierre in New York, at $750 per night.
And oops - Barnes sometimes goes along on the Ports Authoritys high-flying trips.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to barrypaschal@ yahoo.com, or call 863-6165, extension 106.)
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