Laney-Walker Overlay Do-Over

Originally on CityStink
Dec. 26, 2011
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.
The following documents were sent to us by Dee Mathis and Michael Sheil concerning the re-application process for the W-4 Overlay Zoning District in Laney-Walker. Not much has changed from the last time and it appears as though they will not be notifying residents of the wider Laney-Walker area about future plans for the entire neighborhood. The W-4 node is just one small portion of a much larger area that will include several overlay zones. For now it appears the project developer, APD Urban Planning and Management LLC, is focusing their efforts on just the W-4 node. But as we have told you in previous stories, the master plan call for a much larger area to be affected by new zoning regulations. We do hope that the city and the developer will begin notifying the residents of the wider Laney-Walker/Bethelehem area to include them in the process for their future plans.

SKMBT_C35311122116090

Al Gray: Fraudits with Less Than a Full Deck

Fraudits with Less Than a Full Deck

Originally posted on CityStink
December 23, 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.
OK, “Fraudits” isn’t really a word, but it is what one gets if he starts out with Augusta City Administrator FRed (Russell) leading AUDITS  which might find FRAUDS in Augusta-Richmond County’s ill-fated Tee Center and, specifically, the $12 million parking deck built by that government on land it mostly doesn’t own. Dispensing for a moment with this non-word that, in this case, makes sense with nearly perfect symmetry, Augusta’s commissioners should focus on the one word that really matters – Independence.
This is written by an author from some knowledge on the subject, having served within the internal audit departments of two Fortune 500 companies for a decade. A significant number of our cost recovery consulting operations since those years have been responsive to initiatives by corporate directors of internal audit. An even more pertinent factor is that this writer once recused himself from an audit being performed by subordinates. Forensic audits are tasked with such weighty matters, including amassing evidence for criminal prosecution, that failure to achieve total independence taints and ruins the findings.
The 6-4 vote this past Tuesday by the Augusta Richmond County Commission, on a substitute motion brought by Commissioner Alvin Mason , to engage a forensic auditing firm to investigate and report on the progression of events leading to construction of the TEE center parking deck was commendable. After all, meeting minutes from December 9, 2009 show Commissioner Johnny Hatney was told very clearly by Mr. Russell that the land under the deck was to be donated to the city. Yes, there were minutes from an earlier meeting in which there was discussion of the city gaining “air rights” above the ground floor while 933 Broad Street LLC, the land owner, retained ownership of the land under it. There might be justification for such hybrid ownership by bond financing requirements of a certain percentage of private partner ownership. It might have saved financing cost at the same time it obligated taxpayers. Much has been said in the media about these things, but most information is conflicting, changing, and biased as to sourcing.
Mr. Russell is at the epicenter of the confusion. Mr. Russell is tasked with selecting the forensic auditor to investigate the confusion. The process is circuitous – it leads nowhere and no one will believe the results if the investigation proceeds on this basis.
What has been revealed also points to issues within Augusta’s Law Department and special counsel it engaged for the Tee Center, associated deck construction, and financing. Answers from that quarter should have been immediately forthcoming, not three months of confused dawdling.
Forensic audits are serious business. When this writer worked for SLKP as its capital projects auditing manager within the internal audit department, our audit director and senior management without fail moved quickly to engage very tough outside forensics auditors and fraud examiners to achieve ultimate independence in every case where fraud appeared likely to have occurred. The forensics auditors quickly fire-walled off the investigations to the point that even we internal auditors who discovered the fraud were excluded. Why? Independence! This needs to be job #1 with the deck audit, as well.
One contractor payroll audit our capital projects audit unit performed at another company indicated a chance that the paymaster, a friend, had committed fraud in the form of forgery and issuing bogus paychecks. When this unhappy situation came to light, the staff auditor in charge was directed to exclude this writer who was his manager, and conduct the investigation directly with the contractor’s fraud investigators and the company Director of Internal Audit. Their investigation led to an admission of guilt, dismissal,  and full restitution of the funds stolen. In that instance those directing the investigation chose not to prosecute. In other cases involving commodity procurement, accounts payable, data processing, engineering, and construction fraud, the perpetrators were prosecuted, tried, and convicted. The bare-knuckles forensic auditors handled every one of those. What looked to be overkill never failed.
That parking deck fiasco on Reynolds Street is tremendously complicated. The Limited Liability Corporations owning land under the deck and in an ongoing joint venture with Augusta’s Convention and Visitor’s Bureau apparently enjoy common ownership with Augusta’s daily newspaper, which has understandably been almost totally silent on this matter. A state senator got caught up in this controversy inadvertently with a generous land swap. The Tee Center contract has the contractor working on cost-plus (albeit limited by a Guaranteed Maximum Price) basis on new construction, a historic building to be preserved, coordination with ongoing operations, a brown field site, and on land that the owner doesn’t own. A further complication is that the contractor’s CEO is running for Congress. A final consideration is that the Tee Center itself seems to have been sold on faulty premises on a foundation of years of controversial situations arising from the city’s public private partnership with the LLC’s, most of which were resolved at considerable expense to Augusta Richmond county taxpayers.
No forensics audit is going to clear the air from all these things. The smoke is welling up from too many places, some of them decades old.
What the immediate forensics audit can do is to report the sequence of events leading to the deck being built on mostly private land, whether that outcome was legitimately directed by financing requirements, and whether reports to the commissioners were consistent with the facts known by the city law department and the county administrator at the time of the reporting. The final product is more likely to deal with competence than fraud and whether answers to commissioners’ questions by the administration have credibility. If the forensics team finds evidence of fraud, they will pursue it.
Commissioner Grady Smith’s suggestion that an Augusta Richmond County grand jury investigate the situation before engaging a forensic auditor has no small degree of merit. A grand jury has subpoena power and if it strikes a brick wall of, say, the city attorneys and their outside counsel claiming attorney-client privilege with respect to the LLC’s what is the point of a forensics audit? A grand jury is a least independent of Fred Russell.
Furthermore, to this observer the forensics audit should definitely extend to the Tee Center planning, design, contracting, and change orders. Since this enormous project features the same project management, construction management, and administration as much of the city’s overall capital improvements program, issues that are identified, reported, and recommended upon will likely have precursors in prior projects and commonalities with current ones.
It is far from a stretch to assert, that this audit, properly done, should pay for itself.
This author has always been guided by the principle that once it is determined that someone is too crooked or too incompetent to be handling his money, it really matters not the intent, but the result. Then one removes the threat while recouping his money.
The people are watching this situation intensely as it calls into question not just governmental integrity, but that of the media, as well. Handle it will independence, diligence, and completeness Augusta Commissioners. You only have one shot at it. Don’t let it be deflected by Fred Russell. That is a habit that must end. You have to be INDEPENDENT, not purveyors of a smokescreen-spewing FRaudit.
Good luck.***
City Stink contributor Al Gray is President of Cost Recovery Works, a Lincoln County-based firm providing cost recovery and cost avoidance services focused on large construction projects, contracts administration, local taxation, land use planning, public policy, manufacturing plants and incentives. Examples of his work are to be found at ConstructionAudits.com


A Voice Cried Out From The Wilderness


A Voice Cried Out from the Wilderness

A CityStink Editorial
Originally posted on CityStink
December 14, 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.
When CityStink.net and Augusta Today contributor Al Gray put up (this warning shot of a youtube video, few paid attention. (see video below)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yrD5tFz0s7k
Whoa.
When CityStink replayed this short presentation two thoughts about current events  leap to mind.
Nathan Deal’s Columbia County Chairman, Trey Allen, whom Al Gray directly warns in this video, is now in dire straits politically, economically and professionally because Deal “rewarded” him by appointing him to the board of the Department of Community Affairs (DCA). DCA is financing the hated Magnolia Trace subsidized housing development in the heart of Allen’s Martinez District of the Columbia County Commission. The citizens furor is stoked by Allen’s DCA post and his early meeting with the developer in the county attorney’s office.
Trey Allen could have heeded the warning and resigned from Deal’s campaign. Voters in the Georgia CSRA rejected Deal 2:1 and 60% to 40% in Columbia County, despite the entire political power structure standing behind Deal, including Rep. Barbara Sims, in whose district Magnolia Trace is to be built.
Then yesterday’s national news struck like a thunderclap. The U.S. Senate questioned MF Global CEO Jon Corzine about billions of dollars that were transferred out of customer CASH accounts and into his company’s accounts when the later came up short. Market Tickerguy   and CPAC 2009 honoree Karl Denninger wrote this in an article yesterday – “Prior to the CFMA of 2000 customer funds could not be invested in other than municipal or US Government debt fully guaranteed by the US Government…..As it stands right now any account you hold at any brokerage can be effectively stolen through being lost via the same mechanism.  Got that?  Good.  Your 401k, IRA, anything — all at risk.”
Mention of the CFMA of 2000 sent us back to Al Gray’s July 2010 video of warning. Yes, CityStink knows Gray’s economic and financial alarms seem incomprehensible to the layman, but this video is worthy of a careful and complete hearing. Why? It lays the responsibility for this devious act of Congress at the feet of Nathan Deal and tells of the consequences if the Dealer became governor. It tells of what lies ahead from Deal and company’s ruinous votes in Congress.
Now the ruin that lies in the wake of everything Nathan Deal touches is being visited on us. Ask the folks of Magnolia Trace. Ask ‘cash’ account holders at MF Global. Ask, the dismissed and forced-out staff of the Georgia Ethics Commission shortly after they received a complaint against – Nathan Deal.***
The voice crying from the wilderness was right.
Heck, ask Trey Allen. He looks to be the ultimate bad Deal victim.

AG

ParkingGate: Lockett Denied Forensic Audit Again.

Augusta Commissioner Bill Lockett

Originally posted by CityStink
Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2011
Augusta, GA
By Jill Peterson
Al M. Gray, President of Cost Recovery Works, Inc. contributed multidisciplinary review techniques in support of this article.
Commissioner Bill Lockett brought up again at Monday’s committee meetings his desire to have forensic audits conducted in the Augusta-Richmond County government.  The wording on the agenda was as follows:
Task the Administrator with utilizing the procurement process to solicit the services of an  outside forensic auditing firm to perform an audit of the city’s finances and contractual  obligations.  The audit must include but not be limited to the following: (a) TEE Center  Parking Garage/ Land Acquisition/ Associated Leases/ Financing, (b) Utility Department  Water Rates for Golf Courses/ Other Special Agreements, (c) Environmental Services  Division, (d) Augusta Transit Department Privatization, (e) Augusta Municipal Golf  Course Privatization, (f) Retroactive Pay Increases, (g) SPLOST Fund Projects, and (h)  Land Bank. 
In Lockett’s explanation of his request, he explains that he’s uncomfortable with the way the Commission was told land would be donated for the parking deck and how the contract for operating the deck is being awarded.  The land in fact was not donated leaving the city’s deck to sit on land owned by a private entity headed by the same individual who heads the entity in line for a no-bid operating contract of the deck.  He also mentions the strange deals in obtaining other bits of land to do with the deck which seem to have cost the city more than they should, especially strange in light of the fact that the city did not obtain the majority of the land.
Lockett: There are so many unanswered questionswith the TEE center parking deck that it  calls out for an investigation. I’m not suggesting that any illegal actions occurred, but I do  know for a fact that lots of citizens of Augusta-Richmond County to include others from  outside the county are concerned about what has gone on utilizing the taxpayers’ money.   I’m concerned when we have outside attorneys doing real estate  transactions and at the  same time representing parties from both sides.  Now how can you get a good deal out of  that?   It doesn’t make  sense.  I’m not a lawyer, but I did teach business  law.  There are  just too many things.  I’m concerned when this body is informed about the possible  transfer of property and given a reason that a resolution  wasn’t necessary because the  Attorney General or someone had indicated that there was a  new  law that you didn’t have to do that, but nothing was provided to this body showing  that that was  indeed the case.
I’m also concerned when outside counsel representing this government  was asked for  a document and indicated he knew he had it but could not find it because it  was in a stack of papers.  And I do believe this document does not exist.
This is part of what I feel that a forensic audit should do.  Sure, we have internal audits  every year, but the internal audits don’t look for this sort of thing.  We need to look and  see, and I would hope that if this body allows this government to employ a forensic  auditing firm, I would hope that nothing is found, but I have seen so many things that I  feel that would not be the case.
The land bank I also questioned.  We need information on the past five years.  How much  land has been purchased by the city and at what cost?  What is the process used by the  city used to transfer land to the land bank and why?  When city property is transferred to  the land bank, is verification of sale required?
***
(He goes on with more questions about the land bank and with his questions for the other issues he wants looked into.  Video of the entire speech will be available here in the next day or so.)
For this to get to the full Commission meeting, three of the four members of this, the Administrative Services Committe, would have to vote yes.  Bill Lockett voted yes, Alvin Mason voted yes, Matt Aitken was absent (and has not returned our call as of this writing), and Jerry Brigham voted no.
Commissioner Jerry Brigham
City Stink called Jerry Brigham to ask him why he voted against this measure.  Commissioner Brigham says a forensic audit would cost too much, it would be truth seeking and implies a criminal violation, and that the proper channel for Lockett to take would be to go to the District Attorney if he thinks there’s something criminal.  He also said that, “in reality Lockett wants to put somebody in jail.  I’m not paying someone to investigate me.”
Mayor Deke Copenhaver was quoted in the Urban Pro Weekly this week on the same topic and takes the same stance as Brigham.  Copenhaver: “A forensic audit implies that there’s been a crime committed and it is something that would cost a tremendous amount of money and take a tremendous amount of time.  I’m not in support of that.”
City Stink then called Commissioner Lockett for his response.  Lockett says that a forensic audit costs no more than an internal audit and that the D.A. or GBI would expect a forensic audit before getting involved.  He also said someone going to jail is the last thing he wants; he wants a government that complies with the law.
So we seem to have differences of opinion as to whether looking for something criminal is desirable or not and how much a forensic audit would cost and whether or not it would be worth it.  Calls to the the accounting firm Cherry, Bekaert & Holland for cost comparisons between internal and forensic audits have not yet been returned, but price comparisons are definitely in order and will be followed up on by City Stink.

JP

Al Gray: Mr. Browning’s Exit Sign

Mr. Browning’s Exit Sign

Originally posted by CityStink
December 10, 2011
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.
The undisputed king of overlay district zoning in the Augusta Area was the departed Jeff Browning, long time Planning and Zoning Director for Columbia County, master of the Evans Town Center Overlay District (ETCOD), the Columbia County Master Corridor Overlay district, the Fury’s Ferry Corridor Overlay District, the Washington Road Corridor Overlay District, the Columbia Road Overlay District, and the Bel Air Road Corridor Overlay District.
Other than making nice brick exteriors the rule rather than the exception and having a few token trees poked into the ground, the overlay districts have been largely failures. Columbia County simply never gave Mr. Browning an office tower filled with the planning and engineering staff to make the things work or to impose the rules uniformly.  Once this was lost, the overlays simply became a tool of extortion placed upon the poor hapless commercial property developer operating on borrowed money and time. This was predicted at the time the first overlay zoning district, ETCOD, was passed in 2000.
A study in 2003 showed only one property that met ETCOD’s stringent requirements, out of dozens of businesses built under its authority. The ordinance required variation hearings and notices for the slightest deviations and there were scores of exceptions, yet there had been only 4 variation hearings held and variance permits issued. The written rule gave way to the as-built rule, de jure law yielding to de facto law.  It became a simple matter for a developer with a little sense and time to spend to defeat the written rules by taking digital camera shots of allowed exceptions, measuring distances, and counting the number of approved parking spaces allowed his predecessors.
All these things drove poor Jeff Browning to distraction. Eventually they drove him back to Tennessee.
Of all the things Browning despised most and worked hardest to keep out of Evans were large electronic signs. The bankers were his undoing on that one.
One can only imagine old Jeff’s reaction to Columbia County itself erecting a very large electronic sign (see above at top of this article) on Ronald Reagan Boulevard. This incredibly bright sign sits   in front of the new Towne Center Park, which instantly has become a raging success. One might even call the weekend throngs there a vindication of Commission Chairman Ron Cross’ vision for the park, once seen as a heavily wooded minimalist utopia by the naturalist crowd – all ten of them.  That sign almost screams defiance of the tree huggers.
Crowds entering the park are advised of the latest movies showing, the time and temperature, and things we all love – Puppies!

Now that’s a sign overlay that works – in a place where Browning doesn’t any more.

Adopt a puppy. Hug a Columbia County Commissioner. After their own overlay wars and now Magnolia Trace, they need it.
Somehow an Excedrin PM ad would be most fitting on the Ronald Reagan sign. ***

AG

Magnolia Trace: Money Trail Traces to the Gold Dome

**City Stink Exclusive!**

Magnolia Traces to the Gold Dome

 

Originally posted by CityStink
December 8, 2011
Augusta, GA
By IndyInjun

The author, Al M. Gray is President of Cost Recovery Works, Inc., a provider of Cost Avoidance and Cost Recovery for America’s well-known companies, businesses and governments desiring Superior Returns.

Old Gomer Pyle used to say “ Surprise, Surprise, SURPRIZE!!!” Well, the money trail from Magnolia Trace , LLC to Affordable Equity Partners of Columbia Missouri, might fork, meander, double back, and double CROSS, but the sleuth hounds of Augusta Today and CityStink.net are rarely shaken or even stirred in pursuit. The quarry was found in the bowels of a gold-domed lair in Atlanta.
Does this surprise anyone? It shouldn’t.
Affordable Equity Partners, Inc. boasts a leadership team headed by Jeffery Smith of parent JES Holdings, with affiliated companies named ES Dev Co, Inc., Fairway Construction Co., Inc., Fairway Management, Inc., and Capital Health Management, Inc. An article on StLouisToday.com exposes how Smith and his companies have played the campaign contribution and lobbying game very well in Missouri to the tune of capturing $26 million for low-income housing projects into 2009.
Has AEP played the same game in Georgia? Their own words suffice to provide our answer. “AEP has been involved in Georgia since the initial introduction of the state tax credit and was instrumental in formulating the revisions to the statutes in 2001.”
At this juncture, the process of following all of the related parties, employees, PAC’s and agents is not complete. There will be more to come.
What is revealed so far by researching these entities’ contributions via the Georgia Ethics Commission Campaign Contributor database?
Lt. Governor Casey Cagle got $882.50 from AEP going back to 2008. Sister company Capital Health Management Inc. gave Cagle another $10, 453.50 and gave House Speaker David Ralston $5000 in 2011, this nonelection year.
Then there are the PAC’s.
At this juncture, the Augusta Today and CityStink.net team is investigating another Missouri based entity that was noted to be working in conjunction with the AEP affiliate Capital Health Management to fund one of these PAC’s. The company has contributed many thousands of dollars to Georgia’s Legislators.
Was it coincidence that Ron Cross, a Nathan Deal supporter, and Trey Allen, Nathan Deal’s Columbia County Campaign Chairman, scurried to meet with Magnolia Trace developers in County Attorney Doug Batchelor’s office?
Or did they get calls from Casey Cagle, Nathan Deal, David Ralston, Ben Harbin, and Lee Anderson “encouraging” the meeting and their subsequent resolution in support of this unwanted public housing development?
Only the unforeseen and unpredicted are surprises.
Even a Gomer Pyle knows the score on this one.***
More to come.
Below is a a link showing the State of Georgia Housing tax  plan that AEP helped write for itself into law. It’s heavy reading for those of you with some time to kill.
AEPtaxcredits
 

 

 

 

Mislayed Overlay: The Video and Paper Trail on the Laney-Walker Overlay District

Originally posted on CityStink
Dec 8, 2011
Augusta, GA
By Al M.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.
Dee Mathis and this writer were placed on the agenda of the November 15, 2011 meeting of the Augusta Richmond County Commission to speak in opposition of the Laney Walker Overlay Zoning District. After our impassioned presentations, the motion to pass the overlay failed 4-6 and a motion to postpone to the January meeting carried 8-2.
Below are videos of Al Gray and Dee Mathis Speaking at the Nov 8th commission.

Earlier this week, a decision was reached by Augusta Richmond County to resubmit, re-notify, and re-hear the application for the much smaller W-4 Foundry Overlay, which the applicant for the overlay, APD Urban Planning and Management LLC, asserts was the intent of the failed attempt to pass an overlay.
We applaud this decision.
This latest development came after a meeting that Ms. Mathis and I attended with ARC officials last Tuesday, November 29, 2011. APD, the Housing Department, and the Planning and Zoning Departments insisted that the people of the W4 Foundry Node were properly notified and that the application as approved by the Planning and Zoning Board only referenced permitted land uses for that node. Our position was that upon receiving her notice in early October, Dee Mathis called P&Z inquiring about getting a copy of the Application and in response got a 40 page package with the application and clear indications that the overlay district was the 100’s of acres, broader Laney Walker Overlay District instead of the small Foundry Node. *(please see the pdf files at the end of this article)
We also cited a direct email response from Lois Schmidt (see at the end of this article) to Ms. Mathis’ inquiry after the application passed the Planning and Zoning Board on November 8. This response was labeled “Information provided to Ms. Mathis 10.8.2011” This also showed the larger Laney Walker map. Therefore it was our contention that the application was improperly changed inside of the 30 day notification period, which rendered the notification given invalid and incorrect.
Also, we noted to the city/county planning officialdom, that it was clear that the original application intended to address the wider Laney Walker Overlay district, because Augusta Today members had video from the October 18, 2011 informational meeting at the Tabernacle Baptist Church showing that the big Laney Walker overlay was widely discussed and presented, with APD’s Warren Campbell referencing rolling out the larger overlay while standing in front of a map showing the Laney Walker zone with the smaller W4 District highlighted. (It is noted here for the sake of honestly reporting that he went on to say that the presentation was immediately focused on the W4 Foundry node.)  *****see video below:
We noted that the only folks notified of the informational meetings were residents of one corner of the Laney Walker district, while city/county officials and APD were clearly discussing the whole Laney Walker District, in particular Pine Street which lies in the center of the Laney Walker District. You can see the map and the discussion HERE. (see video below)
Not previously addressed to date is that the W4 Foundry node itself seems to have changed in configuration.
Yesterday, December 6, 2011, Ms Mathis and I were subjected to a very one sided “report”“ in the Augusta Chronicle in which P&Z continues to insist that this application was handled correctly throughout, suggesting that Ms Mathis and I are property rights zealots whose unreasonable demands must be mollified, lest ARC suffer costly litigation. Neither of us were interviewed for the story.
Summary
We believe that we fully documented that the Application was for the greater Laney Walker Overlay District and that the Application changed in midstream to the smaller W4 Foundry Node. We believe for the ARC Commission to have passed the “Laney Walker Overlay,” as it appeared on their agenda, instead of the “W4 Foundry Node Overlay”, would have been a grand mistake.
Wiser heads saw this evidence and prevailed, hence the decision to do the Foundry Node Overlay over and pass it in February. Now we have presented it to the public. We also hope Augusta and APD very quickly notify all of the Laney Walker residents and hold meetings with them, now that their future plans have been revealed.
Don’t try to set the Augusta Chronicle straight by posting this article. Links to the new kid CityStink.net are prohibited by the South’s Oldest News Paper.
We congratulate CityStink.net for providing an outlet that presents the whole story, complete with links to source documents. We congratulate Augusta Today’s team for videoing events that the rest of the Augusta media missed.
The Mislayed Overlay might just LAY the foundation for a new age of reporting in Augusta and the surrounding area. In the new media age, the people can see the evidence and judge for themselves.

Isn’t that wonderful?

The Paper Trail
Below is the email Dee Mathis received from Lois Schmidt from Planning and Zoning followed by the .pdf files referenced in the article revealing the wider Laney-Walker Overlay District:
PZEmailSenttoDeeMathis
Below are the .pdf’s of the documents Dee Mathis received by email :

 

Magnolia Trace: After The Storm (videos with enhanced audio)

Originally Posted by CityStink
Wednesday Dec 7, 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.
As we predicted,  there were indeed a lot of fireworks at last night’s Columbia County Commission meeting. Angry residents, mostly from Martinez neighborhoods surrounding the controversial Magnolia Trace subsidized housing development now under construction off Old Ferry Rd, packed commission chambers giving commissioners an earfull.
Jennifer McCray, founder of the opposition group on Facebook: Say No to Magnolia Trace Housing Project gave a very civil presentation that voiced many of the concerns of the residents who were opposing the development and their frustration over being left in the dark by their elected officials. You can view Jennifer McCray’s presentation below:

Other speakers were a bit more theatrical like afternoon radio talk show personality Austin Rhodes. We kid Austin, but he is in the theater. Also later in the video Commissioner Trey Allen addresses some questions and makes a motion to hire outside counsel. Ron Cross remains defiant. See entire Columbia County Magnolia Trace video in two parts below (better Quality):
NOTE: you may be prompted to activate the SilverLight Plugin for your browser. This will only need to be done once.

 

Video Part One

Video Part Two

The whole meeting could have easily devolved into chaos with an angry mob storming the commission chambers with pitchforks and torches, but cooler heads prevailed. Jennifer McCray quickly emerged as the responsible and level-headed leader for the opposition.
At the outset it appeared that all the residents might be able to do was pack the chambers and voice their anger at the elected officials they held responsible for the situation. It appeared that trying to stop the development was a lost cause. However, in the end the opposition won a small victory. Dist. 2 Commissioner Trey Allen made a motion for the county to seek outside counsel to study the possibility of getting an injunction or getting the developers to alter their plans. That seemed to satisfy many residents.
CityStink.net spoke with Jennifer McCray, the main spokesperson for the opposition, and  asked if she was pleased with  the outcome of last night’s meeting and she had this to say:
” Yes, I am pleased that the Commissioners are taking this seriously, and that they agreed to hire outside counsel. I am hoping that now  that they have seen the outcry from the community, they will be more willing to work with us and hopefully begin to build a relationship with the developer to try and find a happy compromise to this situation.”
But others are not so optimistic about the decision to hire outside counsel. Austin Rhodes called it nothing but “window dressing.” Many other citizens are still skeptical of the outcome from yesterday and see it as a “stalling tactic”.  The actions of the commission last night does not halt construction on the Magnolia Trace development. It will be interesting to see who the county hires as outside counsel and how vigorously they will pursue the matter. Or will outside counsel just tell the commission what they already know and stick taxpayers with a big bill. That  seems to be the sentiment of critics like Austin Rhodes.
We asked Jennifer McCray what her group was prepared to do if they are not satisfied with the results from the outside counsel. We asked if the opposition group would file its own lawsuit to halt the development. Ms McCray responded:
“I don’t know that a lawsuit of any kind could stop this. What we will need to find are loopholes that we can crawl through to stop this, or at least change the course. I hope that we can begin a dialogue with the developer to reduce the number of low income families being placed in those units, and instead balance it with elderly or disabled citizens.”
Ms McCray was not impressed with Ron Cross’ attitude towards the citizens at last night’s meeting.
“I was appalled at Mr. Cross’ behavior last night in the meeting. As an elected official, especially as Chairman,  I would expect him to keep his actions and comments as professional as possible. Attempting to bate the crowd with witty comments and outright sarcasm, I personally feel was juvenile and petty.”
Even though opponents did win a small victory last night, this saga is far from over. CityStink.net is working new leads on this story that could bring an entirely new dimension to it, possibly bringing much bigger names into the mix. Stay tuned, we will keep you updated as we learn more.***
*CityStink.net would like to thank Jill Peterson for providing the videos and Kurt Huttar for enhancing the audio.*

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Magnolia Trace: Expect Fireworks in Evans Tonight

Originally posted on CityStink
Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2011
Evans, GA
Al M. Gray, President of Cost Recovery Works, Inc. contributed multidisciplinary review techniques in support of this article.
It may not be the Fourth of July, but expect to hear some loud fireworks over the Columbia County Government Center in Evans tonight. Angry residents from Petersburg Station and other Martinez neighborhoods surrounding the controversial Magnolia Trace low-income rental housing development plan to show up in large numbers at tonight’s commission meeting in protest of the development that was unanimously approved by commissioners last year. They contend that the high density low-income subsidised rental housing will erode their property values, increase crime and put a strain on neighborhood schools.
A Facebook Group opposing the development called  Say No to Magnolia Trace Housing Project boasts over 225 members and that number appears to be growing by the hour. But will that translate into a large showing at tonight’s Columbia County Commission meeting?
The group has directed their ire particularly at Commission Chairman Ron Cross, who has said that the development will be a positive for their “older community”  and Trey Allen, The District 2 commissioner who represents Martinez and has also been supportive of the development.  Many are particularly displeased with Allen for not showing more concern for their property values when he was a vocal opponent of stadium lights at Augusta Prep because he maintained they would erode his property values in Spring Lakes. Opponents of the Magnolia Trace subsidised housing contend that this development will have a far more negative impact on their property values than “stadium lights.”
Though Commission Chairman Ron Cross appears to be an enthusiastic supporter of the development, Sheriff Clay Whittle and School Superintendent Charles Nagle are being more cautious. There are concerns that the influx of more low-income students into that part of Martinez will make Lakeside High a Title 1 school. Sheriff Whittle also has raised concerns about crime from other rental properties in the county, especially apartment complexes, but is cautiously optimistic given assurances that the Magnolia Trace development will require criminal background checks for applicants.
Still, neighbors of Magnolia Trace are not in the least bit “optimistic” and it is still not quite clear if they will be able to stop this development. The Georgia Department of Community Affairs has already issued the subsidies and the development is already under construction. What particularly angers the resaidents is that they were not consulted or made aware of the nature of this development before the commission gave its approval last year.
Even if they cannot stop the development at tonight’s commission meeting, they still want to voice their anger over the actions of their elected officials in this matter. They may not show up with pitchforks and torches (organizers haver promised to keep the protests civil), but tempers most certainly are running high. In fact some people are calling for the re-call of Chairman Ron Cross and commissioner Trey Allen. That’s not likley to happen under Georgia’s re-call laws, but it illustrates the anger and frustration some residents feel over this and  what they contend is a disconnect among the elected officials and their constituents.***
 Continuing Coverage
We will have a correspondent covering tonight’s Columbia County Commission meeting and we will bring you the report (including video) as soon as it becomes available.
If You Go:
What time?:  6:00pm today
Where?:   Columbia County Government Center Complex Auditorium, 630 Ronald Reagan Drive, Evans
Issue:       Citizens presentation Protesting The Magnolia Trace Low Income rental housing development .
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Magnolia Trace: No Trace of Trey

Columbia County Commissioner Trey Allen
Originally posted on CityStink
December1, 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.
The saga of the hotly-protested Magnolia Trace development on Old Ferry Road in Martinez Georgia is incomplete without an examination of the role of  Trey Allen, Second District Commissioner on the Columbia County Board of Commissioners. Magnolia Trace is within Commissioner Allen’s District. The project is funded by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA), upon whose board of directors Commissioner Allen sits, representing the 10th District.
This seems at this juncture to be mostly unpleasant circumstance for Commissioner Allen, as his appointment to the DCA board by Governor Deal in March of this year came 9 months after he, county attorney Doug Batchelor, and County Commission Chairman Ron Cross met with representatives of Magnolia Trace Limited Partnership in preparation of ushering through a resolution endorsing the project during the June 15, 2010 Commission Meeting.
At the time of approval of this resolution, which references “affordable single-family home subdivision of up to 50 homes” on 15 acres. Commissioner Allen was serving as Columbia County Chairman for Nathan Deal’s gubernatorial campaign.  What looked then to be a reward to a faithful supporter by Deal now looks to be a curse as the DCA is at the epicenter of one of the most furiously-opposed residential developments to be initiated in Columbia County in years.
Fueling Commissioner Allen’s current hot seat even more is his prolonged and furious opposition earlier this year to stadium lights for Augusta Preparatory Day School which will illuminate Springlakes Subdivision, where he resides.  Old Ferry and the Pass opponents of the Magnolia Trace subsidized housing have been disappointed so far that a similar degree of indignation for theirdiscomfiture doesn’t seem to be forthcoming from their 2nd district commissioner.
Will this most unfortunate combination of a bad deal, coincidence, and location of the latest Columbia County NIMBY (not-in-my-backyard)eruption taint, even doom, what was only yesterday the brightest political career out of Martinez in this century?
Memories run long there. Ask former Commissioner Frank Spears, who has carried the stigma of being “Mr. Rain Tax” for almost a decade. Only now does Spears seem likely to be rehabilitated enough for a come-back.
Now the bloom is off of  Trey Allen’s magnolia as the harsh lights illuminate his Springlakes home.
It will be interesting to see how he Deals with that.
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Video: See the video Segment from the June 15, 2010 Columbia County Commmission Meeting where the the resolution was approved supporting the Magnolia Trace Development below:

Meeting to approve Magnolia Trace Project

Below is a copy of the Columbia County Commission resolution from June 15th, 2010 giving the county’s support for the Magnolia Trace development accompanied by an informational packet about the development. It clearly states “affordable housing.” The resolution green-lighted the Georgia Department of Community Affairs (a board which Comm Trey Allen now sits on, as he was appointed by Gov Nathan Deal) to begin the process of issuing tax subsidies for the development.

Magnolia Trace Information Packet