District 4 qualifying not extended after bomb scare

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August 11, 2006

Augusta's Municipal Building is back open after closing for nearly three hours today.

Officers evacuated the building after word of a suspicious package outside.

This suspicious package brought out deputies and the fire department...and left Augusta city workers standing in the streets.

Authorities were taking no chances. They blocked streets in front of and behind Augusta's Municipal Building.

"Noticed a yellow lunch box type package, we were unable to identify its origin," says Marshall Steve Smith.

All nine floors of the building evacuated as hundreds of city employees were told to take a three-hour lunch break.

"A leisurely lunch, but we didn't know what was going on yet," says city employee Betty Birch.

The bomb squad's X-Ray machine found that the package was just an empty lunch box.

"Obviously you cannot prove any kind of intent in this situation," says Marshal Smith. "We got a lunch box sitting beside a trashcan. Apparently the lunch box wouldn't fit in the trashcan, so they put it beside it."

The false alarm interrupted court hearings and the final hours of qualifying for the District 4 commission seat, but Director of Elections Lynn Bailey says she decided not to extend the deadline.

"There simply is no provision in the law that says if this happens, then you extend qualifying in any way," Bailey said. "To my knowledge, it's not an issue."

A small lunchbox caused a big hold-up. But with yesterday's foiled terrorist plot overseas on the minds of many, City Administrator Fred Russell says the precautions were necessary.

"You have to err on the side of caution, particularly with the events going on in the world," he said. "You do the best you can with what you've got."

The Board of Elections did not extend qualifying for the District 4 commission seat because of today's events. Here's a look at who's in the race.

Interim Commissioner Keith Brown wants to keep the seat. He will be challenged by Bernard Harper and Alvin Mason.

This race has already received a lot of attention, and we will continue to follow it.