BBQ and Politics Don't Mix
Here's a story I don't think I'll ever read in the New York Times. Sounds like the mayor's got some problems down there.
Charleston Mayor Danny Jones' signature barbeque ribs may be yummy, but they're not exempt from the scrutiny of county health officials.
Jones, who once operated his own popular rib house, received inquiries about how he prepared his barbeque before serving it to hungry firefighters at the Charleston Firefighter's Ball on New Year's Eve.
County health officials say it's common procedure to check out the food preparation at such events, although this was a private party for firefighters at the Charleston Civic Center.
Jones believes he was politically, or maybe personally, targeted.
The mayor and a few other local officials claim that Dr. Steven Artz, board president of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, initiated the crackdown.
"My cooking for them was private," Jones said. "I think it's a personal thing with Dr. Artz. He has a problem with me."
Artz denied he had a rocky relationship with the mayor and said he did not directly order any actions regarding his food preparation.
"We all know the mayor has run a clean shop and this has all been blown out of proportion," Artz said. "I don't have any problems with the mayor. He's a likeable gentleman."
After a newspaper article appeared on the Firefighter's Ball prior to the event, Jones said his city office got a phone call from the health department "demanding" to know where and how he was cooking his ribs.
Jones said they weren't entitled to an answer.
"I can cook wherever I want," the mayor said. "I have smokers and cook them in a variety of places. I can cook in my garage or anyplace there's electricity. We didn't tell them. Quite frankly, they didn't know."
Anita Ray, the health department's environmental health director, made the phone call and defended her department's inquiry.
"I saw the article in the paper and was surprised we hadn't been apprised of the event," Ray said. "We had to make a couple of calls to make sure things were being handled properly."
Ray said she spoke with Artz, who asked her if she was going to the Firefighter's Ball. She said Artz didn't order her to ask about the barbeque, but she figured she needed to check it out.
After being stonewalled by the mayor, Ray talked to workers at Distinctive Gourmet in the Civic Center who would be handling the barbeque before serving it to firefighters.
Jones cooked up a batch of 180 pounds of ribs, but he did not attend the event.
Myron Boggess, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters Union Local 317, which sponsored the event, met with the mayor before the party to transport the ribs.
"I almost didn't get them down there; they were smelling too good," Boggess joked.
Boggess said Jones placed the food in about 10 stainless steel pans with layers of both plastic wrap and aluminum foil fitting snugly over them. The pans were placed into larger transport vats that kept the ribs warm.
Boggess turned the barbeque over to folks at Distinctive Gourmet, who served the food to the firefighters.
Boggess said he also received a phone call from the health department.
"They were asking me about the mayor's ribs," said Boggess, a firefighter at Charleston Fire Department's Station No. 5 in South Hills.
"They said they normally don't allow outside food brought into the Civic Center, but the mayor had worked it out and volunteered to cook us some ribs.
"I don't know what they were thinking, as if he'd put it in some Tupperware and throw it out on a table."
Artz said the health department regularly inspects events at the Civic Center, in addition to events such as Regatta.
Artz also serves as medical director of the Charleston Fire Department. Since becoming mayor, Jones has re-appointed Artz to that position as well as to his health department board spot.
But Jones said he remains convinced Artz is not his biggest fan.
"I know the guy doesn't like me and he never has," Jones said. "I don't think it'd be a good idea for him to show up at my house."
Contact writer Jake Stump at 348-4842.