Macon's best political satirist tipped me to this: Macon Mayor Jack Ellis will spend several days in October in the Bahamas at a place called The Atlantis Resort - Paradise Island. And, yeah, it looks pretty nice.
He'll be one of the featured presenters at the Third International African Diaspora Heritage Trail Conference, according to the brochure you can download here. The mayor's in Africa and unreachable at the moment, otherwise I'd confirm this with him.
Anyway, this is a group looking to put together a tourism trail that will map the movement of slaves from Africa to the new world. Ellis says it's going to include Macon, though Macon tourism officials and folks at the Tubman African American Museum have said that's news to them.
The conference is being organized, to some extent, by Henderson Associates or Henderson Travel, both run by Ellis' old friend Jake Henderson. Ellis has hired Henderson over the years on various contracts, including one to bring another airline to the city (how'd that work out - anyone, anyone know?), and to market the Macon Music and Heritage Festival (again, remind me, was that a success?).
Henderson also ponied up about $1,000 to help Ellis travel to Elmina, Ghana in 2003, a donation The Telegraph had to force the mayor to disclose. Henderson's company also made those travel arrangements.
Ellis went to one of these diaspora conferences in 2005, where he wined and dined Danny Glover (of the Lethal Weapon series and other, more forgettable, movies) in an as-yet-unsuccessful attempt to get a big donation for the Tubman Museum. Again, this was news to the Tubman folks at the time, and to date Mr. Glover hasn't written a check. I called the Tubman this morning, in fact.
I know all this because I wrote a piece in May 2006 analyzing the mayor's travel habits and city credit card usage. It was the second time we'd written this story in his tenure, and maybe it's time to do it again. From that May 2006 story:
Ellis picked up the $257.50 tab at Mickey's Beach Bistro and Bar, an oceanside restaurant in "Bermuda's most famous hotel," according to one online review. That same day city records show Ellis spent $199 at a Bermuda clothing store buying, he said, the light pink jacket that got so many compliments during this year's Cherry Blossom Festival.
"That's the only one I could find that fit me," Ellis said.
The Telegraph examined eight months of city credit card usage by the mayor and his office staff, including several high-dollar meals and more than $1,300 in international cell phone charges. Ellis, who is in his second term as mayor, defended his spending and said he was elected to make decisions and he's no "caretaker mayor."
He spends money to promote the city, and questioning individual expenses is "nitpicking and witch-hunting," he said.
Remember, though, all this was happening as the city took out annual $5 million loans to make payroll and the city's bond rating was lowered. To continue:
Ellis said Macon was listed on the African Diaspora Heritage Trail at his behest, which should draw tourists from all over the world to Macon and the Tubman African American Museum. While in Bermuda talking about the trail, Ellis said he was also asking Glover for a substantialdonation to the Tubman, which needs millions to open its new facility on Cherry Street.
The trip itself - the flights and the hotel stay - was paid for by the trail committee, Ellis said. The city picked up the check at dinner one evening.
"(What was I supposed to say), 'Danny, I can't buy you dinner, but I'm asking you to pony up a million dollars?' " Ellis asked.
Tubman officials said they have no record of any donations or pledges from Glover. Janice Marshall, head of the Macon-Bibb County Convention and Visitor's Bureau, said she had never heard of the African Diaspora Heritage Trail until The Telegraph called about it. Online references to the trail don't mention Macon and the various tourist stops listed are in Bermuda itself.
Asked about this, Ellis said the trail is still being designed.
"Sure, we're going to be on it," he said.
As for Glover, (mayor's spokesoman Ron) Wildman said the actor hasn't followed up with the mayor yet, but "at least he knows Macon's here."
"Take a rich man to dinner," Wildman said. "Follow-up could come, it could not."
One last thing that struck me from that story: Ellis spent $40 in 8 months on 411 charges. It's a small number, but I know that when I need a number, I specifically avoid calling 411 because it costs $1 each time.
It will be interesting to see how many days, in this last year of his tenure, Ellis spends outside of Macon.