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Mayor: Foul language fouling up restaurant tax conversation

 

Joe Max Higgins

Joe Max Higgins

 

 

Zack Plair

 

 

If Golden Triangle Development LINK CEO Joe Max Higgins arranges a joint meeting of Columbus and Lowndes County officials to negotiate how to divide a 2-percent restaurant sales tax, Mayor Robert Smith said he will not attend. 

 

For one, Smith doesn't believe the negotiations need a mediator. Secondly, he doesn't take kindly to being called a son of a b****. 

 

Renewing the tax -- which expires in June -- first requires a joint resolution from the city council and county board of supervisors for how the money will be divided. Each has approved very different resolutions, a move state lawmakers have said threatens to kill the tax altogether. 

 

Higgins stepped to the issue's forefront late last week, offering to spearhead negotiations between the city and county to hammer out a joint resolution.  

 

Councilmen and supervisors might shoot his proposal "to smithereens," Higgins told The Dispatch in a previous interview, but it at least would restart the conversation. He later added, "now let's get some sons of b****** together and talk about it." 

 

Smith took exception, telling The Dispatch Tuesday it was inappropriate for Higgins to refer to city or county elected officials with such a term, and indicated he felt it disqualified the LINK CEO from being a proper mediator.  

 

Also, Smith said it was the latest in a string of public profane jabs the city has endured in recent weeks regarding the restaurant tax debate -- a reference to Supervisors President Harry Sanders telling The Dispatch earlier this month "everything the city touches is f***** up and gone to hell." 

 

"The derogatory comments aren't called for," Smith said Tuesday. "I can agree to disagree without making derogatory comments about you or your organization." 

 

Smith is willing to negotiate, however, but he said it is incumbent on him and Sanders to call the council and supervisors to a joint meeting without a mediator. 

 

That's OK with Higgins, who told The Dispatch he meant nothing derogatory toward the elected officials. That's just how he talks. 

 

"I say s***, damn and son of a b**** at the Rotary Club," he said. "I've talked like that for the 14 years I've been here. 

 

"If Robert doesn't want me to be the mediator, he should know I don't really want to be the mediator," he later added. "Members of the business community asked me to be and I agreed. I'd rather take a poke in the eye with a stick. ... I've got a real job, and it isn't babysitting (the city and the county)." 

 

Higgins further recommended officials who had their feelings hurt by his language be fitted with "big-girl panties" so they can accomplish an agreement to keep the tax. 

 

"In my business, my feelings get hurt every day," he said. "Guess what? Life goes on." 

 

Sanders defended Higgins' language, as well as his proposal. He also offered some remorse for the language he used toward the city, though he stuck by the context of the message. 

 

However, he believes a joint meeting -- arranged by anyone -- is unnecessary. If Higgins' arranges it, though, he said he'll attend. 

 

"I got criticized for using the wrong (word) when talking about the city, and maybe I should have said that differently," he said. "... Now (the city) wants to have a meeting so they can all say 'Harry's racist' and 'Harry's a bad guy' and the county shouldn't get anything. A proposal has been put on the table, and I just think we should either vote for it or not." 

 

Sanders added he believes it is "short-sighted" for the city to jeopardize renewing the tax because Smith is offended by his and Higgins' language. 

 

"It's kind of childish, really," he said. 

 

CVB Executive Director Nancy Carpenter said she would like to see an unbiased arbitrator hired to lead the negotiations, though she noted she appreciates Higgins' "interest and involvement." 

 

"That would be fine with me," Higgins said.

 

Zack Plair is the managing editor for The Dispatch.

 

 

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