Dee Mathis Wins Battle Over Overlay Zone at The Marble Palace…For Now (Videos)

Dee Mathis Claims Victory at The Marble Palace

Originally posted by CityStink
November 16, 2011
Augusta, GA

Dee Mathis and her allies reigned victorious after the Nov 15th Augusta commission meeting in halting approval of a proposed overlay zoning district for the Laney-Walker/Bethlehem neighborhood. You can read more about the background over this here: Commission Set to Vote Today on Overlay Zone.
Bringing a flock of supporters, Dee Mathis was joined by veteran property rights advocate, Al Gray, in making oral presentations before the commissioners as to why they should deny approving the application for the overlay zone as submitted by the developer.

In the end a majority of commissioners, in a 4-6 vote, sided with Ms Mathis and Mr Gray and denied the application. A second motion was approved that would have the commission revisit the overlay proposal at the first scheduled commission meeting in January 2012. You can watch videos of the proceedings at the commission meeting below.

Al Gray’s Presentation:

Dee Mathis’ Presentation:

Video courtesy of Kurt Huttar

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Commissioners Set to Vote on Overlay Zoning District Today for Laney-Walker/Bethlehem


Will Dee Mathis and her allies be able to stop the Overlay Zoning District?

Originally posted by CityStink
November 15, 2011
Augusta, GA
By Al Gray
The author, Al M. Gray is President of Cost Recovery Works, Inc., a provider of Cost Avoidance and Cost Recovery for America’s leading companies, businesses and governments desiring Superior Returns.
Today is the day when Augusta commissioners will vote to either approve or halt a controversial proposed overlay zoning district for the Laney-Walker/Bethlehem neighborhoods in inner city Augusta. CityStink.net was the first in the media to tell you about the concerns over the overlay zoning proposal on October 6th in Urban Redevelopment or Land Grab?
Laney-Walker homeowner Dee Mathis got wind that the Augusta Planning and Zoning Department was planning to quietly approve an Overlay Zoning District for her neighborhood on October 3rd. Ms Mathis nor any of her neighbors had previously heard about this proposal and none of them were notified prior to the Oct 3rd meeting. Ms Mathis and property rights activist Mike Sheil, showed up at the meeting and challenged the legitimacy of the proposal moving forward because property owners had not been properly notified. Ms Mathis and many of her neighbors wanted more specifics about how the zoning changes would affect them and the use of their property. There were also concerns that the overlay zoning district would introduce commercial zoning into areas that are now zoned residential and impose architectural review guidelines on existing property owners. Because of the challenge by Ms Mathis and Mr Sheil, the vote by Planning and Zoning was postponed until Nov 7th.
Dee Mathis, Laney-Walker Homeowner

The Dog and Pony Shows

In the mean time, Planning and Zoning began to notify the affected property owners by mail and a series of informational seminars were scheduled to supposedly give residents more specifics. Dee Mathis kept requesting  all of the details of the proposal that would actually be voted on, but instead got mostly “vague” concepts and pretty water color sketches…. but not a lot of specifics. As you are probably aware, when dealing with Augusta government it’s always important to get the specifics in writing.
The seminars were not much more informative. Critics referred to them as being more “Dog and Pony Shows” than being informative and offering  specifics. It became obvious to homeowners like Dee Mathis, that the seminars, conducted by the private developer requesting the overlay zone and The Augusta Housing Authority, were mostly propaganda sessions designed to mislead residents with pretty water color sketches that had little to do with what would actually be voted on in the application.
In fact, Dee Mathis and a group of allies found glaring inconsistencies, vague language, and an application that was essentially incomplete. How could an incomplete application be approved? Well, according to the law, it shouldn’t. But that didn’t stop the Planning and Zoning Department from giving their seal of approval to the Overlay Zoning District on  November 7th, despite the objections raised by Ms Mathis and her allies. However, for the overlay zone to go into effect, it would need approval  from Augusta Commissioners. And that is where we are today.
What Will Commissioners Do?
Commissioners will take up the Overlay Zoning District at today’s 5pm BOC meeting at The Marble Palace. Inside sources are telling CityStink.net that Dist 1 Commissioner Matt Aitken (who represents the bulk of the proposed Overlay Zoning District) plans to vote in favor of the OZ. Commissioner Jerry Brigham (Dist 7) has  made public statements indicating that he would likely support it as well. So will this vote fall along mostly racial lines with white commissioners voting in favor of imposing  an overlay zoning district in a mostly poor , and black inner-city neighborhood at the behest of a private out-of town developer? What about the “cafeteria” sometimes-leaning-libertarian Mayor Pro-tem Joe Bowles? Will he side with the property rights activists and the rule of law? Or will he fall in line and side with the private developer and approve restricting property rights and approve an incomplete application with inconsistent and vague information that would likely not withstand a legal challenge? Where do minority Commissioners Mason, Lockett, Hatney, and Johnson all stand on the Overlay Zoning District?
The Dee and Al Show
Dee Mathis will be joined by ally and property rights advocate Al Gray at today’s commission meeting. Both are on the agenda to speak before the commissioners in opposing approval of the ordinance. Ms Mathis has also been organizing her neighbors and supporters on Facebook to pack the commission chambers today at 5pm to stop the overlay zone. Al Gray is scheduled to speak first.


Property Rights Advocate, Al Gray

Mr. Gray is no stranger to these sorts of battles. He successfully challenged a similar overlay zoning district in Columbia County for the Evans Town Center area. Though not a resident of Richmond County, Mr Gray is coming out to lend his support and knowledge to Ms Mathis and the residents of Laney-Walker/Bethlehem in fighting against this proposal. For Mr Gray it boils down to the simple issue of protecting individual property rights and following the rule of law.
CityStink.net received the following press release from Al Gray regarding today’s vote:

PRESS RELEASE!!!! PRESS RELEASE!!!!:

Property rights activist and overlay zoning district veteran Al Gray has the following comment on the overlay motion coming before the Augusta Richmond County Commission Tuesday night.

—————————–

The Augusta Richmond County government has been caught with its pants down so often Sheriff Strength could arrest them all for indecent exposure, yet it is poised to execute a plan initiated by a private entity that fails its own ordinance in uniformity, required notices, and completeness. This malignant plan as it is being executed is a dagger to the private property rights of every Richmond County landowner from McBean to Warren Road. Richmond County citizens are being told “trust us” yet again. They say this….”Trust our plan. We don’t know the details, but we MUST pass it to before you find out what is in it.”
When these overlays came to Columbia and Lincoln Counties, they were met with public hostility to the point that there was nearly a riot at the Columbia County Planning Commission in 2000. (Reporters at the Columbia News-Times of that day can attest to this as can Columbia County Commission Chairman Ron Cross who was seen on the front row waving his fist and being decidedly loud in defense of property rights.) The overlay ordinances had to be scaled back to meet public acceptance. The Evans Town Center Overlay was thrown out in Superior Court for lack of notification, yet many Laney Walker residents had not been notified as recently as October 25. In Lincoln County, negating a corridor overlay was a key campaign issue in Chairman Wade Johnson’s victory in 2008 and the proximate cause of the firing of his Planning and Zoning Director.
We trust that residents throughout Richmond County are acutely aware of the many recent failings of its government and have ample reason to be terrified at what lies in store for their most precious property rights at the hands of these failed “leaders.”

I suggest you all wake up. Now.

Al Gray
_________________________________________________________________
What Will Happen Next?
Inside sources are telling CityStink.net that the commission will likely approve the overlay zoning district proposal at today’s meeting. However, commissioners could be swayed by a large turnout of residents in opposition at today’s meeting. Dee Mathis has been making the rounds of local talk radio and has been busy getting the word out. Also, the property rights and rule of law arguments made by Mathis and Gray may also have an impact on some commissioners.
However even if the proposal does pass today, Al Gray doesn’t see it as a defeat but rather just the beginning: “The vote is (really) meaningless as the matter violates notification, common purpose, and completeness requirements of the application.”
Most opponents believe that the ordinance, if passed in its current form, could not pass a legal challenge in the courts.
What to Know if You Plan to Attend:
  • What: Augusta Commission Meeting
  • Where: Augusta-Richmond County Municipal Building, 530 Greene St, Room #803
  • When: Today (Tuesday Nov. 15th) at 5:00pm

**Advisory** You are encouraged to arrive early if you want a seat in the chambers. Protest signs are not permitted inside commission chambers. Opponents of the Overlay Zoning District proposal are planning to wear GREEN to show solidarity.

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Busted: MD Mayor “Admonished” for Augusta Trip with Ripken Baseball


Mayor Bennett (left) and challenger  McGrady (right)

Originally published by CityStink
November 5, 2011
Augusta, GA

Al M. Gray, President of Cost Recovery Works, Inc. contributed multidisciplinary review techniques in support of this article.

City Stink first told you back on October 11th about Aberdeen, MD mayor Michael Bennett’s trip to Augusta, GA with Ripken Baseball officials: The Truth is a Funny Thing in Aberdeen, MD When it Comes to Publicly Financed Ballparks.
Mayor Bennett had a very different story for the audience in Augusta regarding his city’s financial history with the publicly financed Ripken Stadium from what the people back home are familiar with. Bennett supposedly wanted to “dispel rumors” from a 2007 Baltimore Sun  article that said the small city of Aberdeen, MD was losing hundreds of thousands of dollars annually on their stadium and a very lop-sided financial arrangement with Ripken Baseball made it next to impossible for the city to even break even. Plus, much of the promised real-estate development the city was hoping would occur adjacent to the ballpark never materialized. Of course City Stink got a hold of the budget reports for the city of Aberdeen and found that the city was still losing hundreds of thousands of dollars annually on Ripken Stadium and still having to dip into its general fund to service the bonds.
But Bennett made it sound like everything was just hunky-dory back in The Old-Line state. But people back home knew better. It seems for years, a series of mayors, including Bennett, tried unsuccessfully to renegotiate a better deal with Ripken Baseball to stop the financial hemorrhaging for Aberdeen taxpayers. Each time, the company refused. So why did mayor Michael Bennett come down and tell an audience in Augusta a completely opposite tale and sing the praises of Ripken Baseball?
As many of you know, Ripken Baseball and Augusta mayor Deke Copenhaver have been lobbying hard for a new stadium here in Augusta. But the public has been cool on the idea of committing public funds for the project. So when the news broke back in July that Cal Ripken’s home town of Aberdeen was suffering with a financial burden with Ripken Stadium, it seemed to reinforce what stadium critics here have been saying all along.
So on October 3rd, Ripken Baseball brought Aberdeen mayor Michael Bennett (at company expense) to Augusta to engage in some damage control and some truth bending. I mean if the mayor of Aberdeen, MD says all of this is a bunch of baloney about them losing money on their stadium then it must be true right? And of course Augusta reporters won’t ask any questions or dig deeper, right?
When the folks back up in Maryland caught wind of mayor Bennett’s trip to Augusta, there were naturally a lot of questions. Such as why was mayor Bennett down in Georgia on a lobbying junket for a company his city has a financial relationship with? And, why did the mayor neglect to give the crowd in Augusta the whole story?
Patrick McGrady, who is challenging Bennett in the upcoming Nov 8th election for mayor, filed an ethics complaint over the trip.
Well on Nov 1st, just a week before the election, the Aberdeen, MD Ethics Panel (many of whom were appointed by mayor Bennett) rendered a decision on the ethics complaint against Bennett, and it found the mayor IN VIOLATION of the city’s ethics ordinance: Baltimore Sun: Ethics Panel Admonishes Mayor Bennett.
You can view the official decision by the ethics panel below:
ethicsreport (1)
Even though the panel did not believe the mayor “willfully” violated the ethics ordinance, they did believe the potential for a conflict of interest did exist and that mayor Bennett should have disclosed this to the city council BEFORE making the trip. He notified the council more than a week AFTER when it had already hit the blogs and newspapers. The panel also concluded that the mayor, acting in an official capacity, was in effect lobbying on behalf of a private company that could result in that company receiving a  financial benefit (Ripken Baseball is trying to get Augusta to build them a stadium here). The panel did not consider the plane ticket a “gift”, nor has it been proven that mayor Bennett received some other direct financial benefit from Ripken Baseball for making the trip, but with it being election season, there are certainly many people asking questions about mayor Bennett’s motives for coming to Augusta to lobby on Ripken Baseball’s behalf and twist the facts about the financial burden of the stadium. Though there is no penalty for the ethics violation, the panel did “admonish” mayor Bennett for a “series of imprudent actions.”
How will this impact the election up there? Well we will find out after next Tuesday if this trip to Augusta cost Michael Bennett his job as mayor. The timing of this certainly could not be worse for Bennett. However things turn out in the election, many stadium critics in Augusta feel vindicated by this decision from the ethics panel in Maryland. The truth about the financial burdens of these stadiums are well documented, and for mayor Bennett and Ripken Baseball officials to come to Augusta and say that stadium critics here were spreading “rumors and misinformation” was not only disingenuous, but offensive. If they want to point the finger at who is spreading “rumors and misinformation” about the stadium, they may want to try finding a mirror.
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Other media sources covering the ethics violation story:

 

The Ghost of David Fry

The ghost of David Fry spotted near the new parking deck

 

Originally posted on CityStink
November 3, 2011
Augusta, GA
The Outsider
Al M. Gray, President of Cost Recovery Works, Inc. contributed multidisciplinary review techniques in support of this article.
Well Halloween may be officially over but the ghost of David Fry is still lurking the streets of downtown Augusta. No, not down at 5th and Broad streets by the Haunted Pillar, but instead his specter has been seen haunting another cursed Augusta landmark: the new TEE Center parking deck by 9th and Reynolds streets.
It seems that the recent revelation that the city of Augusta doesn’t actually own the land where the new $12 million city owned deck sits and an impending trial over the attempted bribery of two Augusta commissioners involving this same parking deck has resurrected the restless spirit of David Fry.
Some of you may remember the name “David Fry” from two years ago. In August of 2009, the TEE Center and parking deck were in limbo because the commission had split along racial lines over whether to issue more revenue bonds because it was learned that the convention center was actually going to cost nearly double than the $20 million voters had  approved in a 2005 SPLOST referendum. Also, the addition of a parking deck across the street had some commissioners also crying foul, saying that the project had become too bloated and no longer resembled what voters approved and suggestions were floated to put in back on a ballot or redirect the SPLOST funds entirely. But that presented problems, because the TEE Center was inextricably tied to  a $37 million redevelopment project for Laney-Walker/Bethlehem. So if the TEE Center didn’t get approved with the extra money needed to build it, some white commissioners were threatening to pull the plug on the $1 per night hotel/motel surcharge and pull the plug on redevelopment of Laney-Walker/Bethlehem. The situation was at a stalemate, and no one seemed eager to give up ground.
Now enter David Fry. He was an Augusta attorney and former nightclub owner. In late August 2009, commissioners Alvin Mason and Corey Johnson contact Augusta law enforcement that David Fry approached them with an offer of a bribe “if” they changed their votes on the TEE Center deal. Both Mason and Johnson had been voting consistently against increased funding for the TEE Center. The story didn’t hit the news until early September 2009. What was particularly interesting is what Fry was offering the commissioners. According to Mason and Johnson, Fry told them that he could land them lucrative concessions in the new parking deck that would be built along with the TEE center (This is the same parking deck involved in the current “ParkingGate” saga).
WRDW’s Chris Thomas  reported on the bribe in this story: WRDW coverage of TEE center bribe scandal
Chris Thomas also reports that Fry contacted commissioners Jerry Brigham and Don Grantham about a week after commissioners Mason and Johnson came forward to law enforcement about Fry’s attempted bribe. Don Grantham says that he remembers being contacted by Fry on August 31st, one day before a vote on the TEE Center. Both Grantham and Brigham said they didn’t report the incident because they thought the whole thing was “ridiculous.” And it would have been ridiculous to try and get Grantham  and Brigham to switch their votes. Grantham had been the biggest proponent of the TEE Center on the commission and  Brigham had voted in support of it as well. WJBF also covered the breaking story of the bribery attempt here: Attorney arrested for trying to bribe 2 Augusta commissioners.
The fact that Fry was offering concessions in the parking deck was quite interesting. What authority did he have to make such a deal? And why the parking deck? It seemed very odd because in all of the TEE Center drama that was taking place, the parking deck was not mentioned very much.
A local afternoon radio talk-show personality tried to quickly explain it all away as much ado about nothing. He said that Fry was just an overly zealous lone gunman type who was extremely enthusiastic about the TEE Center and was upset with commissioners Mason and Johnson for holding it up. According to the talk-show host, Fry was particularly livid at Mason, whom he had donated money to in his campaign against Bernard Harper. According to this same talk-show host, many wealthy West Augusta types supported Mason in his first campaign, and that Fry felt “betrayed” by Mason. Don’t forget that Mason also received what he called a “threat” from a West Augusta “millionaire” over his votes on the TEE Center: details emerge on Tee Center “millionaire” threat.
The radio talk-show host explains the bribe as a way for Fry to get back at Mason and Johnson. He would offer them something he knew he could not deliver, get them to change their votes, get the TEE Center passed, and then leave them high and dry when it came time to collect on the bribe. Well that’s the theory of the talk-show host.
The problem was that the bribery attempt backfired and nearly sank the TEE Center.
But let’s really think about this. If David Fry knew that he was throwing out a canard for the commissioners, then why not offer something more grandiose and more sexy than a parking deck contract? I mean why not offer a lucrative concession in the TEE Center itself or in one of the hotels? Why not throw in a condo in Palm Beach, Florida and lifetime badges to The Masters? I mean if he had no ability to deliver on any of this, then why not promise the moon? Why did he choose to offer a deal in this parking deck? And why was an attorney willing to commit a felony to get the TEE Center and parking deck passed if he had absolutely no connection to it or anything to gain from it? Many people didn’t buy the story that David Fry was just some lone-gunman type and questions still linger if  perhaps more were involved and whether Fry was just a fixer for much bigger fish.
After Matt Aitken defeated Bill Fennoy in a run-off election for the Dist 1 commission seat, the approval of the TEE center was a forgone conclusion. His campaign had almost been entirely predicated on approving the TEE Center. So on December 7th, 2009, the commission quickly agreed to approve the TEE Center and parking deck along with the Laney-Walker/Bethlehem redevelopment. This also happens to be the same meeting when Fred Russell told commissioners that Augusta Riverfront LLC (or its subsidiary) had AGREED to donate the land for the parking deck.
The David Fry story disappeared about as fast as a sitcom on The CW network. The parking deck is finished and open and the TEE center is under construction. David Fry was indicted by a grand jury in June of 2010. An almost forgettable snippet of a story brought that news in the Augusta Chronicle: Chronicle: Fry indicted over bribe. And not much has been heard since then of David Fry. But now it is  being reported  that David Fry will now stand trial for the bribery attempt, more than a YEAR AFTER he was indicted. Apparently a plea-deal fell through at the last minute.Chronicle: Fry case to go to trial . We have to wonder  if the same attorneys involved in the Fry case are also the ones involved in the chronically postponed Scott Dean child molestation trial. But with the new information swirling around ParkingGate, the timing of the trial of David Fry couldn’t be any better, or worse (if you are Augusta Riverfront LLC)
So now it has become known that 933 Broad Investment Co LLC (a shell company of Augusta Riverfront LLC)
has owned the land where the new parking deck sits since 2003. That means they essentially own the ground floor of the parking deck. Augusta Riverfront LLC owns the Marriott hotel and will manage the new TEE Center. They want the management contract to run the new Reynolds street parking deck for a fee of $25,000 a year and they want to lease hundreds of city owned spaces at another deck adjacent to the Marriott for $50,000, which could net Augusta Riverfront LLC 10 times what they would pay the city for the lease. But either way, since Augusta Riverfront LLC owns the land where the new deck sits, they have control over those ground floor spaces.. and the ground floor of any parking deck is the most lucrative.
All of this new information prompts more questions. Did David Fry know  that Augusta Riverfront LLC would have a lock on the ground floor of the new parking deck and was that the concession he was offering in his bribe?  And is there a connection between David Fry and Augusta Riverfront LLC or one of their subsidiaries such as 933 Broad Investment Co LLC? Fry so far has has not been talking. Will he be willing to take the fall in exchange for something far more lucrative than a small “slice” of the parking deck? Or will Fry start to sing like a canary in his upcoming trial? And in light of the new turn of events and information learned over the past couple of weeks perhaps the FBI should take a second look at this case to see if Fry was merely an agent for someone else who could have delivered on the parking deck management contract concession. Would it be prudent to postpone Fry’s trial so that this case can be investigated further?
The Tee Center and parking deck has involved some of the most powerful players in Augusta, and the attempted bribery of two sitting commissioners of Georgia’s 2nd largest city.  Perhaps the upcoming bribery trial will  finally put the ghost of David Fry to rest once and for all, or it might expose a whole lot more skeletons in Augusta’s closet.