One of the better gifts I received this year takes up no space and uses no batteries.
My own Christmas gifts from family members don't generally need batteries ("Another shirt! Hey, now I'll never be naked again, at least from the waist up!"), but I tend to give gifts that beep and squawk -- radio-controlled cars and gadgets that I wish someone else was giving me instead of a shirt.
But a nifty gift I received this year, no batteries required, was a funny note from a relative in Boston. He's still on the list to get the obnoxious annual Christmas letter from a wealthy relative; my slice of the family is no longer on the mailing list, dang it, because I was removed after poking fun at the letter in a column a couple of years ago.
Gee, wonder how they ever found out?
The annual letter, see, is so over the top that any reasonable person reading it would think, "Surely, these people can't be serious." For example, in the final one I read, they raved about such glowing achievements as their teen daughter's trip to France to spend the summer with her horse trainer, and a breathless description of the couple's whirlwind trip to New York for a Barbra Streisand (bleh!) concert.
I don't know what the bulk of this year's letter said, just one line passed along by the more down-to-earth Boston relative. The chirpy rich folks had this to say in their annual letter: "With God's help, we were able to purchase an investment property."
Pretty cool. I've seen the bumper-stickers, so I knew God was a co-pilot. But I had no idea He was a co-signer on loans, too.
The newest guilty plea can't be much of a Christmas present for Linda Schrenko.
Richard Leonard, who ran Schrenko's campaign for governor in 2002, pleaded guilty Tuesday to attempting to tamper with a witness in the case. His plea comes just a couple of weeks after Jonathan Turner of Barnesville, the chief financial officer of computer companies owned by one of Schrenko's co-defendants, pleaded guilty to another count related to delivering $32,000 in cash to the campaign.
The feds say former state school superintendent Schrenko, of Appling, her former deputy superin-tendent Merle Temple, of Evans, and South African businessman Stephan Botes scammed $600,000 in federal education funds and used it to boost Schrenko's campaign for governor and pay for a $9,300 face-lift.
Schrenko, Temple and Botes are the big fish, and have pleaded innocent to the 18-count indictment. Leonard and Turner are small fry, and their sentences undoubtedly will depend on how much they help the feds.
Prosecutors haven't said if there are other small-timers being grilled. For the time being, then, the big question is whether the top three will stick together, or if one of them will break ranks and help hang the other two in return for leniency.
Hanging together seems to be the choice of Augusta's commissioners, who as expected avoided an opportunity to reform their own dysfunctional government by allowing a simple majority vote to approve decisions.
There's little chance Augusta's majority Dem-ocrat delegation will reform the city government. But it's likely other area lawmakers could find a way to impose reform from Atlanta.
That won't be one of the topics on the table when the Columbia County delegation has its annual pre-legislative meeting with local government officials soon. Without reform of Augusta's government, however, there isn't likely to be much inter-county cooperation, either.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to email@example.com.)
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