27 March 2016

[tpc] - The Natchez Trace: A Write-up by Ellis Millsaps [Updated]

The Chronicles 
27 March '16


The Natchez Trace 
A Write-up by contributing writer Ellis Millsaps

*Ed. note: this is  a multi-part series that Ellis wrote about back in 2010 when he bicycled the Trace. A very good write-up, this is a trip I'd like to take sometime. 

 Last week I went on a three day bike ride on the Natchez Trace. The Trace goes from Nashville Tennessee to Natchez Mississippi. It’s a wide two-lane road with a 50 mph speed limit. The entire road is a national park. Originally it was an Indian trail, but in the early 1800’s people on the Ohio River began floating goods on barges down the Ohio and Mississippi to Natchez, selling their goods there and walking back on the Trace.

     No commercial vehicles are allowed. There are no stores or houses on the Trace. The only towns it goes through are Tupelo and Jackson. It’s perfect for bicycling.

     In the 1970’s I took two trips on the Trace. The first was three friends and I bicycling from Tupelo to Jackson, about 100 miles, and back. One of us, Rodney Temples, a crazy Vietnam vet, borrowed a bicycle to ride with us even though he had no experience, unlike the rest of us who cycled all over Atlanta. Setting out from Tupelo—after of course visiting the King’s birthplace—Rodney took off and yelled over his shoulder that he’d see us in Jackson.

     We caught him in about five miles and for the next ninety-five we’d have to stop and wait on him periodically and we filled that time singing to him, “Yeah, yeah, go to Jackson/ Go ahead you big-talkin’ man/ Go on go to Jackson…”The June Carter part of the song.

     The second trip was three years later. Dan Denoon and I rode from Jackson to Natchez and back, again a 200 mile round trip. We pulled into Natchez in July heat so hot you could see it rising off the pavement. On an otherwise deserted narrow street in an old part of town, while I was leaning against a wall to rest in the shade, an old black man appeared and told me he didn’t believe in that civil rights, that white folks were superior and the young coloreds were messing with the divine order.

     I also encountered my first armadillos in south Mississippi. They were still decades away from North Georgia. On both of these trips we rode the whole way the first day and stayed in a motel, then took two days to ride back, camping in sleeping bags without a tent along the way. Armadillos are so stupid they will crawl over a person in a sleeping bag scavenging for garbage. They do not fear tennis shoes flung at them. They got body armor.

     On last weeks’ trip my plan was to ride about 120 miles, from Muscle Shoals to Nashville, over three days, with my assistant Michael driving me to the starting point and Cynthia picking me up at the Nashville end. I figured three days to do the 120 miles because it’s hillier in Tennessee and I’m 30-odd years older than on the earlier trips. Also, I don’t sleep on the ground anymore. I booked two places to sleep in a bed near the Trace.

     This is a long tale so I’ll be giving it to you in installments. The next will be “Day One” and then with “Day Two” we’ll get some pictures, because it wasn’t until then that I figured out how to take pictures with my cell phone.

[tpc] - A Gold Dome recap: it wasn't good

The Chronicles 
27 March '16


Well, as previously mentioned on tpc, never underestimate the ability of the state legislature of Georgia to go full-on moron. I had a bad feeling about this year, as did many others. Our fears were apparently well-founded. It was truly bad. On to the bullet points!

  • In this writer's estimation, the worst of a bad bunch was the fact that we couldn't even get SB145 on the Senate floor. This is the bill that would have added conditions such as PTSD, Autism, and a handful of other conditions to those who could legally (or technically illegally) get cannabis oil for treatment. Who was responsible for this? Lt. Governor Casey Cagle and Sen. Renee Unterman for starters. You can go ahead and add Gov. Nathan Deal to the list as well plus a good number of others who obviously don't like kids with Autism and hate our Veterans. I kid, maybe...No, the real thing was they've all sold their souls. That's all. Just follow the money, there's about to be hell to pay as I understand it. Hope these people are ready for the righteous lashing they're all about to get. Couldn't happen to a better bunch... 
  • The religious freedom bill, HB 757, went from a bill giving pastors and preachers the right to choose who they may or may not marry to complete carte blanche to discriminate not just in terms of sexual orientation, but also familial status. There will be financial implications for the state if Deal signs this into law. 
  • The brunch bill couldn't get out of committee. So, for the record, just know that you can't go buy a drink at a restaurant for brunch at 10:30 AM, or 11:30 or 12 noon for that matter. Just remember you sniveling subjects, the state controls whether or not you can have a Bloody Mary on a Sunday morning and they have said NO!!! In the words of Al Haig in 1981 - THE STATE OF GEORGIA... IS... IN CHARGE...HERE! 
  • There are more. Read the lovely Jessica Szilagyi's piece about it for the others. 
Well, at least they didn't completely destroy everything this time around. But just remember - they'll be back next January. And by they, I mean the locusts, whores, sociopaths, sell-outs, scoundrels, scalawags, et al. For the record, there are a few good ones. Not many. Just a few...

[tpc] - Sunday Check-in: Talkin' City of Covington Insurance

The Chronicles
27 March '16

~ ~ ~

As the Newton Citizen recently reported, the city of Covington's council meeting this past Monday did indeed cover other things than the geese at Ashton Hills (which, by the way, we might just be able to #savethegeese! Thank Goodness!).

For the first time in 12 years, the city has a new insurance broker/provider. Leading up to this meeting, the city had done something else for the first time in over a decade - they actually put it up for bid. A good thing, truly.

Here are the facts:

- the city has gone with a new provider, Ascension, who offered a flat rate of $95,000 and per staff and consultant recommendations offered the best in the way of services.

- the current provider, Gary Massey, who has been the insurance provider for the past 12 years, has been charging a 3.5% fee which, for the current year (2015/6), was a charge in excess of $150,000 per annum. Based on the information I've gathered, that's been the amount roughly for at least the last several years.

Now while it is true that Massey came in with a price of $78,000 with his bid for the upcoming year, there were concerns from some that perhaps the city had been paying too much for quite some time. Also, as previously mentioned, it seemed as if the range and scope of services would be better with Ascension.

In the aftermath of this vote, one city Councilman, Chris Smith, took to Facebook to call out half of the council and the Mayor:

"I can't express my disappointment in a council that continues to say they promote doing business local, and sent this out of town. Employees of the City call the three plus the Mayor that voted against your local voice when you have a problem. And was the lowest bid. Who's claiming to be conservative this morning?" 

For starters, this seems to be counterproductive to the city, but certainly it's Mr. Smith's right to air his opinions and mention his disappointment. What bothers me the most is that Smith, without probably realizing it, is basically telling staff - in this situation, the five city employees who served on the RFP committee to analyze this - that their findings are wrong and shouldn't count solely because Mr. Massey is local? And the conservative line? Well, I'd say going from almost $160,000 to $95,000 while getting more services seems to be pretty conservative to me.

There's been a lot of talk about this. The big thing sticking in the craw of many is why was the charge so much higher for the last several years. As one local told me - "what does it say when an agent cuts his fees 50%?" Perhaps the failure ultimately lies with the city for not having put it to bid sooner, although, as I understand it, there has been an effort to try to do just that the past few years but there was not the support on the council needed to make it happen. And that makes sense. Of the three council members who voted for it, two of them were not on the board until January of this year.

And as several have also said - if Ascension is not all that they're cracked up to be, then we put it up for bid again next year. At the very minimum, the city will be spending over $50,000 less than they did last year. That sounds like a win and a conservative action by the city of Covington Council & Mayor in this writer's opinion.


20 March 2016

[tpc] - Morning in Newton Co. - NCRP Edition

The Chronicles 
20 May '16 

~ Morning in Newton Co - NCRP Edition ~

Convention Chair Wesley Dowdy
readies his notes 
Greetings, readers. Hope it's all good out there.

In my last write-up about the Newton Co. Republican Party, I used the title of "Dawn of a New Day." If that was the dawn, then yesterday's county convention would put us into the morning of this new day and I'm here to tell you about it.

For starters, it was the best-attended county convention I'd ever been to. We saw 74 qualified delegates and 11 guests for a total of 85 attendees. And unlike former years, there was no tension or exclusionary tactics, it was all very warm and welcoming. There was a little bit of unhappiness on both ends of the party as former establishment members felt like they weren't give enough delegate and alternate slots, while some of the former outsiders felt like the party was being foolish for giving spots to those who "slit our throats the last several times around." In the spirit of full disclosure, I was asked and did indeed serve as Chair of the nominating committee for this convention. Old friend Aaron Brooks also served on that committee with a few other folks. As we discussed, to have both of the fringes unhappy led us to believe that things were handled in the right manner. It's never perfect in this process, but I truly felt it went well. On to the bullet points! 

  • Super job and well done to Wesley Dowdy who served as the Convention Chairman. Wesley could probably give the one and only Randy Evans a run for his money as quite possibly the best Convention Chair I've ever seen in action. A 100% mastery of Robert's Rules of Order combined with his humor, quick wit and strong, resonating voice makes him a pro at this. Ole "Smooth Operator" Evans has been saying for years that he's not sure how much longer he can continue to preside over multiple conventions like he has. The Georgia GOP may do well to get in touch with Mr. Dowdy if that ever comes to pass. Again, he's just great. 
  • Party Chairman Ray Cowan and the rest of the Executive Committee once again did just a fantastic job getting prepared for this convention as they had also done for the precinct meetings last month. Well done, folks. Very well done. 
  • A major emphasis for the Nominating Committee, and this was reinforced when the Assembled Body accepted all of our slates, was this - giving delegate slots to as many new folks as we could and giving fair and proportional representation to supporters of all candidates and the various modes of thought that makes up the big tent of the Grand Old Party. 
And that was the biggest takeaway for me - the warm, welcoming feel combined with things being done as above-board as possible and being totally inclusive. Basically the complete diametric opposite of the way things had been done the last several years. 

When it was all said and done, 19 delegates had been sent to the 4th Congressional District; 10 to the 10th, and 22 to the State Convention in Augusta in June. An equal number of Alternates were also sent. It will be at these conventions where the delegates will be selected to go to Cleveland, OH for the National Convention of the RNC. It's quite the process and this is ultimately who will be selecting the GOP's nomination for POTUS. It's very important stuff.

But yes, another great day for the NCRP. Just as it was last month for the PMM, it was an honor to be able to participate as a Qualified Elector/Delegate as well as cover it as a Citizen Journalist.

I'll be reporting on the 4th District convention in April, as well as the State Convention in June. It is my plan to be in Ohio to report on the National Convention, too.


[tpc] A Convo with Syphoe

The Piedmont Chronicles

~ est. 2010 ~

[State of Georgia]

[Newton County]

- A Convo with Syphoe -

As reported in The Covington News and other outlets, Michael D. Syphoe has qualified to run as Chairman of the Board of Commissioners of Newton Co. as a Democrat. He joins Phil Johnson and Marcello Banes as qualified candidates for that position on the Dem side. Last week I wrote about the GOP side of things with this race. 

A self-described "visionary urban planner," Mr. Syphoe said in his press release: "let's be the team that reignites the economy of Newton Co. and implement sustainable work force development initiatives." He also said that his candidacy is "the start of a movement to change the political culture of Newton." 

Well...he's got the corporate buzzwords down, for sure. He was just missing "synergy." In terms of ranking all five BOC candidates based on the buzzwords, Tonto has Syphoe and Levie in a dead heat... 

The big question a lot of folks have about Syphoe is this: Where has he been? Also, there was a lot of noise and word on the street about him being a possible Craig candidate, or a Slate-of-8 guy. Or both. I decided to track down his number to talk to him. He answered. We talked. For about 40 minutes. More on that later. 

Let's cover the basics: 

- He is originally from Newton County. I verified this and have actually talked to two folks who went to NCCHS with him. I believe he was class of '73. 

- His family is from around these parts, and he's multi-generational, at least from the Social Circle area. I believe that's where his Grandparents lived, and he is born and bred Newton Co. 
Covington News

So, for the record, he hasn't just swooped in out of nowhere. But still, a lot of questions remain. From my documentation, he didn't register to vote in Newton Co. until February 1, 2016. And just how long has he actually resided in Newton Co.? Has he been in touch with Wm. Thomas Craig? What happened in Albany? Why is running? Who is this guy? Well, here's what I could gather based on the phone call. Let's go with bullet points: 

  • When did he move back to Covington? According to him, he's lived in Covington since September of 2014 when he came home to help look after his sick parent.
  • Has he been in touch with Wm. Thomas Craig, Esq.? No, he said. He said he's talked to Tommy Craig twice in his life. Most recently he chatted with him for a couple of minutes before the last BOC meeting. He said he talked with him one other time years back about a something. Can't remember, but it was something in passing - no business involvement. He said he doesn't really know Tommy Craig at all and stressed that he has no involvement with him. At all. 
  • Albany. He said it was all politics. Syphoe has been involved with Charter schools in the past (verified by MBM) and between that and a couple of other things, he felt like the offer was rescinded. He said there was nothing bad in his character or record that led to it. It sounded like he was still pretty PO'd about the whole thing. He stressed to me and anyone else to do the research and he was confident it would put him in a positive light. 
  • We also briefly touched on the Clayton Co. charter school issue as well. Didn't really get a cohesive answer on that one, and I'm still not sure what exactly was involved with that one. 
  • In terms of where he's been the last few years as many in the home county have been fighting hard to be the team to change the culture that he's describing? He says he's been to multiple BOC meetings over the years. I don't remember seeing him any, nor has anyone else I've spoken with, but honestly - I wouldn't have known what he looked like anyway. So...who knows? 
I think he may have gotten a bit irritated a time or two during the course of our interview, but he was really nice and gave a lot of information. He said he's been answering the Tommy Craig question multiple time per day, everyday, for several weeks now. He said he "gets it," though. He said "there's a lot of mistrust out there." He also said it was natural for people to feel that way and to "go off on tangents."

When I asked why, exactly, was he running, he responded with this basically: "I grew up in Newton County...it's home, and I love it." There are parts of the county that still get treated the same as they did in the 70's with the same lack of services. He believes there has been people in the position to change things who were too concerned with looking out for their friends or themselves rather than trying to work to improve things for everyone.

Now, on that particular point, this editor is in full agreement. That's the truth, in my estimation.

On a final note, I really enjoyed talking with him. He's a fun guy to talk to. Very intelligent, as his impressive resume would indicate, he seems to have a pretty good grasp on the issues, though perhaps none completely specifically. We made plans to try to meet up in person and talk some more.

Still some questions, though. We'll keep an eye on it.

I hope to have interviews with Phil Johnson and Levie Maddox fairly soon. I can't get Marcello Banes to answer my calls. I'll try to track down Aaron Varner at some point soon.

Til next time. 


[tpc] - A Different Take on Smoking - A Write-up by Ellis Millsaps

The Chronicles
20 March '16

- A Different Take on Smoking - A Write-up by Featured Writer Ellis Millsaps -

Special to The Chronicles


Whenever I read a piece by the anti-smoking true believers, they always cite the huge financial burden to society for the health costs of smokers.

I don't buy it. You'd think the fact that smoking could kill you would be enough, but the argument about the cost of smokers' medical care is, on its face, ridiculous. The cost of their lung cancer and heart attacks certainly come with a financial burden, but let's assume they didn't smoke.

They'd live twenty years longer; they'd collect Social Security and Medicare for those additional years. Then, they would still die, and that's often a very expensive thing. Also, as a rule, most people require much more in the way of doctor visits, medications, procedures, etc.as they reach the advanced years. As a matter of fact, it seems to me that the economy would be much better off if we all died at 62. Seriously.

I'm going to submit this to "I've Always Wondered" on the Marketplace segment of "All Things Considered" on NPR. I'll let you know if they analyze my argument.


Ellis is an attorney by trade but has worn many hats over the years: father, bus boy, stand-up comedian, novelist, wiffle ball player, rock'n'roll band manager, and at one time wrote a popular and funny column for The Covington News. A Fannin Co. mountain boy originally, Mr. Millsaps now stays at the mill village of Porterdale by way of 20 years in Mansfield. Usually funny and at times irreverent and subversive, he leans left in his political philosophy but can always be counted on for a pretty darn good write-up. The Chronicles are proud to have him involved... 

13 March 2016

[tpc] - Sunday Check-in: Talkin' BOC Chair - GOP edition

The Chronicles 
13 March '16 

~ commentary/opinion ~

Howdy, fine readers! Man, did I go three weeks without a write-up of any kind? Jeez. I guess so. Sorry 'bout that. Been a tad busy. I have, however, posted a few things at the Chronicles FB page as well as my writer's page - M.B. McCart. Well, so qualifying week has come and gone. We'll be doing write-ups on all of the contested races over the next several weeks and months, but today we're going to do a preliminary article on the race for Chairman of the Board, Newton Co. on the GOP side. 


The one and only Levie Maddox announced his declaration to run and did indeed qualify for the Chairman's race. I had previously bemoaned the fact that we might not be able to bitch and moan about the current BOC 5 Commissioner since the word was he wasn't going to run for reelection in that capacity, but lo and behold - now we find "the worst politician ever," AKA, "Valet Levie," running for the top of the ticket! The political junkie and writer in me is beyond overjoyed! The citizen and taxpayer in me recoils in horror!

But, and I've mentioned this on this page a few times, Levie was the one to make the motion to shit-can W. Thomas Craig, Esq. Now, there are two theories floating around on this:

1. Levie had been in the Craig camp and had let several of the old guard and power elite bend his year but then unshackled himself from that group and is now somewhat on an island and is free & independent of the estab. Most folks aren't buying this one. They are instead believing this:

2. A conscious decision was made by the powers that be that there was too much noise in the system and that they needed to punt. To facilitate this, they decided they would let Tommy go, with Levie making the motion, to let things die down a bit to live to fight another day. Under this theory, Maddox is totally in the Craig Crew.

This semi-esteemed editor, from what I'm hearing and seeing, doesn't think either of these theories are completely plausible or correct; however, I believe there could some truth to both. In the words of the Wise One - there just truly ain't no tellin'! Newton Co. politics! Egad! Who the F knows at this point? As I've mentioned before, just when you think you've got a line on something and you think it's all about to clarify, something will happen that just blows it all out of the water. It's something else.

I will say this - it seems as if Levie and current chair Ellis have been at each other's throats for forever now. Most folks believe that Keith is the darling of Criag (and word on the street is that the Chairman has been seen over at Craig's office on College Ave. quite a bit lately, allegedly). So if that's the case, and if Levie is on the outside of the Craig bubble, then where does that put Levie? Or is it all just a Machiavellian end-around? Questions, folks, so many questions...

But, for the sake of argument, if Levie is indeed on the outs, and is on a lonely island, then where does that put Aaron Varner, former BOC Chair from 2001 - 2009 (also known as The Great Selling-Out of Newton Co.), the other declared and qualified GOP candidate for Chairman of the Board?

Well, per the word, that makes Aaron the new Craig candidate. Is that true? A lot of folks seem to think so. Remember, you precious earth-angel readers, we're just here to report - you decide! Again, one just has to think, "shoot...there just ain't no tellin."

I will say this about Varner - he's a nice fella to talk to, and he can sing Hank Williams Sr. better than anybody I've ever heard, but haven't we been there and done that at this point? Another thing I'll say about him is this - whereas a lot of folks have no use for him and truly believe that he's part of the bad guys, I know for a fact that there's a lot of people throughout Newton Co. that truly believe him to be a swell guy and will happily be supporting him in his campaign.

And at this point, I think that's the key differential between Maddox and Varner. While there is a lot of mistrust directed towards both of the them, Varner, at least, seems to have at least a trace amount of goodwill out there. From my vantage point, that's something that Maddox doesn't have, nor will he have, unless he were to have a public "come to Jesus moment" and explain to the electorate just where exactly is he at, and how did he get there.

There will be much more on this race in the days, weeks, and months ahead. Tune back in here in the next couple of days to read my initial analysis of the Democratic side of this position. That's where it starts getting really juicy!

Lord willin' & til' next time.

Your pal,