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Posted: December 3, 2010 12:30 a.m.

Sonny’s disposition not so bright

The year 2010 came in on winged shoes and never stopped running.

It dashed past us in a flash, and here we sit, disbelieving this year is almost at its end but grateful for the sweetness that always brings a year to its close.

It is the season when we turn out attention to others, be they our own family and friends or those we do not know — but yet our neighbors — who are in greatest need.

Need is felt most keenly in the holidays, or so the Ghost of Christmas Present tells us in Charles Dickens’ "A Christmas Carol."

By various counts and national polls, shoppers are back in the stores in significant numbers and planning to spend a bit more this year than last. On-line shopping was up 16 percent on Cyber Monday. But I’ve got a sense that polls, if there were such, would show an off-the-charts jump in community and hometown efforts to help folks who can’t put food on their table regularly, those who need coats and clothes and a place to rest their head, and the children who might not even get a Christmas stocking.

I believe these hard times have imprinted all of us with a greater perception of the stark needs that surround us, even among our own families and friends. Doing good unto others is all the more critical — and heart-filling — this year.

But then there’s Gov. Sonny Perdue, who makes what I just posited a lie.

While staying incredibly quiet about the major ills in Georgia’s economy, while planning to leave office with no resolution of the state’s water wars, while leading no successful effort to solve transportation and education woes, he’s been very busy feathering his post-gubernatorial nest and that of his friends. The governor’s actions say "it’s all about me and mine."

We know from the Associated Press and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the governor and his staff have met frequently with Georgia Ports Authority officials about how his grain and trucking companies might expand their operations through more contacts in China and Cuba. The governor is one of the largest independent grain dealers in the state and has a far-reaching trucking operation. State law says governmental officials "may engage in no business with government, directly or indirectly, which is inconsistent with the conscientious performance of his governmental duties." Perdue’s spokesman suggested the governor has the same rights as any businessman to look for ways to grow his business. You and I both know a conflict of interest when we see one. These meetings were on your and my dime and time.

Now, this week we’ve learned from the AJC how some of the gov’s best buds, donors and long-time business associates are about to double their money on prime conservation acreage in Middle Georgia called Oaky Woods. Back in 2003, the gov bought 101 acres of Oaky Woods near his home in Bonaire, Houston County. The timber company that owned the whole tract offered it to the state in 2004, but the state couldn’t afford the asking price of $26 million. So the company sold it for $32 million ($1,600 an acre) to investors — read "friends of the Gov" — with plans for large-scale residential and commercial development. (The environmental community almost passed out.) Those plans drove up surrounding land values, much to the Gov’s delight. I won’t say surprise.The planned development tanked with the rest of the real estate market.

Come 2007, the gov’s associates tried again to sell the property to the state, for $14,000 an acre.

Nothing doing.

The property, still of primo value to the conservation crowd, languished until terms of a possible deal came to light just this week. It seems the current state budget includes $28 million in bonds to buy some 9,595 acres of Oaky Woods, and a DNR committee, then the full board will consider the purchase next week. The purchase price of $3,000 an acre is almost double what the gov’s cronies paid just a few years ago. Now find me just person whose property has doubled in value in the past few years. Just one.

Clearly, the acquisition of Oaky Woods is a coup from all environmental and conservation perspectives. The governor’s spokesman was quoted as saying since 2003, "the state has conserved over 200,000 acres through purchases, donations and easements." All well and good, but now I’m thinking that every acquisition since Perdue’s been in office ought to be scrutinized for friends, donors and business associates who might have gotten a sweet deal. So Merry Christmas to Sonny Perdue and Pals. Don’t worry about the little guy this year. Just enjoy yourselves.

P.S.: To all who’ve wondered about the disposition of the kittens who wormed their way into our home, a non-decision has been made. They are still here on the porch, warmly housed and generously fed. They’re allowed inside a couple of times a day, where they are an endless delight to us, while Sonny is passive and easily bored with them. Just don’t call me a cat person.

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