TEE Parking Deck Exclusive: Augusta’s $714,357 “Incidental” Cost?


May 31, 2012
Augusta, GA
By Al Gray

  
The story Fred Wrestles, Augusta Gets Decked?, published on Tuesday, May 29, 2012, offered a detailed and documented exploration of a story of rejected parking management bids, a questionable management firm selection, and a detailed comparison of Augusta’s bid contract with the administrations proposed contract. The questions and issues documented required a lengthy recitation to convey the magnitude of the subject. It was an epistle for those liking details.

Today’s key word is “incidental. What is “incidental” within the Reynolds Street Parking Deck (RSPD) agreement? Can “incidental” be measured? Is “incidental” subject to debate?

What brought this subject to the fore was how the RSPD deck agreement deals with costs relating to the ground floor of the parking deck structure owned by designated manager Augusta Riverfront LLC specifically Article 3, Section 3.1 which includes this:

“The parties acknowledge that certain property and services paid for by Owner (Augusta) editor’s unitalicized textand required for the operation of the RSPD will also benefit Manager’s (LLC’s) editor’s unitalicized textground level parking facilities located underneath and adjacent to the RSPD. Such property and services include, but are not limited to (editor’s emphasis), traffic control gates and related equipment, lighting, and services of a toll booth operator (the “Incidental Services”). The Incidental Services would be required for the operation of the RSPD whether or not the Manager owned the ground level parking facilities, and allowing Manager to benefit from these Incidental Services does not materially increase the costs to Owner. Accordingly, in further consideration of granting air rights and easements to Owner for the construction and operation of the RSPD, Manager shall have the right to utilize the Incidental Services for Manager’s ground level parking facilities located underneath and adjacent to the RSPD, so long as such use does not materially increase the cost to Owner.”

Whoa!

This caused a scurry to do some math on the RSPD 2012 Budget dated 8/29/2011  (see last page of linked documents). The budget totals $206,370. The Deck structure (ground floor and floors above) has 650 spaces, of which 150 are property of the LLC, for 23% of the total spaces in the deck structure. The LLC percentage of the total deck structure, 23% times the total budget, is $714,358!!!! This is “incidental?” Is it not material?

To be clear, the legalese also essentially defines the “RSPD” as the ground floor parcels that Augusta bought, plus the structure above the ground floor. We laymen think the entire building structure from the foundations up as the “parking deck.” However, the annual budget didn’t restrict the numbers to the Augusta-owned portion,did it? Doesn’t the language of the agreement allow the LLC to bill Augusta for its Fee and costs of the entire structure, including the ground floor it owns? The language allows the LLC to bill Augusta for the toll booth operator, while labor costs are the bulk of the budget. Shouldn’t there be language clearly prorating the costs instead of provisions that costs  “are not limited to” those cited, which seems to open Augusta up to a cornucopia of costs?


With labor costs that are the vast majority of the agreement, the probable allocation of shared employee costs from the LLC’s hotel operations, further allocations between the RSPD and Conference center deck, and, finally, the need to further allocate labor costs between levels of the RSPD, and only an annual audit allowed to verify the costs, aren’t the phrases “incidental,” “not limited to” and “ materially increase” plain dangerous to the taxpayer? Did the length of the agreement get reduced to five years, as indicated to the Augusta Commission in February?

It is a $714,358 question and then some. “Incidental” can be costly.***


— Al Gray
Related Stories:
***Do you have a story idea, a tip, or would you like to write for City Stink? Then please contact us at: citystink@gmail.com***

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In Defense of Jim Plunkett

Augusta attorney Jim Plunkett

May, 30, 2012

Augusta, GA

By Al Gray


Veteran Augusta attorney Jim Plunkett has found himself at the epicenter of the controversy over the City of Augusta’s Tee Center and Parking Deck contracts since January. Commissioners blasted him with suggestions that he be fired, questions about his ability and even hints that suspect his work. How did such a mild-mannered lawyer find himself in this mess? Does he deserve to be under fire? What caused the uproar?

There were so many questions the answers for which are not in the public domain and empathy from reading the morass of legal documents that existed before Mr. Plunkett was brought on board by Augusta as its outside counsel, that this writer decided to meet with him to explore these questions. Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle graciously faciliatated the meeting in mid-March, which occurred in the offices of the Shepard, Plunkett, Hamilton & Boudreaux, LLP firm to negotiate, draft, and have executed the documents for the new Trade Center and the associated parking decks.


The primary objective was to see where the City stands with regard to the unexecuted Tee Construction, Operating and Reciprocal Easement (CORE) agreement that the Augusta Commission authorized and directed Mayor Deke Copenhaver to execute in December 2009. The CORE agreement is a critical piece of the legal work, as it sets forth the basic terms of the partnership agreement between the City and Tee Center Manager, Augusta Riverfront LLC. This CORE agreement is in the process of being finalized as the City elected to have as-built surveys done once construction is complete, rather than chance changes as the project was prosecuted. Mr. Plunkett explained that set-backs between the various parcels underlying the TEE center were a complication that he and the City sought to either avoid or handle in the final CORE agreement.

We discussed the challenges of having a smaller firm like Shepard Plunkett tasked with having to revise hundreds of pages of legalese on the various tracts under the Tee Center, parking deck, and particularly, the existing Conference Center. These legal agreements first arose with the initial conference center agreement in 1989 and were revised in 1998, with the expansion of the conference center at that time.

Whatever one’s position on the wisdom and viability of building the Tee Center, they should understand that Jim Plunkett was tasked with the unenviable tasks of cobbling together enforceable and defensible legal agreements in conformity with the myriad ownership arrangements, funding sources, and negotiations agreed to by the City Administrator. City counsel has little or no exposure to how existing agreements and construction contracts are being directed and coordinated while this legal work is being completed. Those things are the duties of the City Administrator and the city’s program manager, Heery International.

We activists at Augusta Today and CityStink.net appreciate the difficulty and complexity of the legal tasks. Too many harsh words and hinted accusations were made during the Reynolds Street Parking Deck controversy. There are plenty of valid criticisms of that project, but we hope to keep them focused on policy not personalities going forward.

Jim Plunkett has expressed the intention to work with the commissioners to draft as good of a document as possible for the City. As the Tee Center CORE, management, catering, and room block agreements move closer to commission consideration, we trust that getting access to the draft agreements with sufficient time to evaluate them will go far toward alleviating misunderstandings. Going forward it is our desire at Augusta Today and CityStink.net to provide helpful input into having effective operating controls implemented.

Thank you, Jim, for taking the time to meet and review many of the complications with the Tee Center project.***

Related Stories:
TEE Parking Deck Exclusive: Fred Wrestles, Augusta Gets Decked?

***Do you have a story idea, a tip, or would you like to write for City Stink? Then please contact us at: citystink@gmail.com***

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TEE Parking Deck Exclusive: Fred Wrestles, Augusta Gets Decked?

Augusta, GA

By Al Gray
*editor’s note: supporting public documents cited in this article are available to view via hyperlinks (orange text) and in an addendum at the end of this article*

Our team of community watchdogs at Augusta Today and CityStink.net have not let sleeping dogs lie with the Tee Center and Reynolds Street Parking deck deals that were conditionally approved by the Augusta Richmond County last February 7. Readers might recall that the Augusta Commission then approved a deal for Augusta Riverfront LLC to manage the new Reynolds Street parking deck, contingent upon the land for the parking deck being deeded to the city land bank and being cleared of all liens. The decision was reached in a last-minute panic to get something passed to relieve the Commission of what was a very hot potato of an issue – how a $12 million parking deck got built on land the city didn’t own.

Has the land been deeded to the Land Bank and have the liens been released by Wells Fargo, the bank that holds the liens on the land under the Reynolds Street Parking Deck (RSPD)? The answer is NO, according to review of the Augusta Richmond County Clerk of Court deeds of record for the property as reported on the Georgia Superior Court Clerk’s Cooperative Authority. The deeds on the GSCCA site are certified to be county-good through May 23, 2012.

Augusta Today and CityStink.net contributors, armed with documents secured via Georgia Open Records Act Requests, the city’s excellent on-line document archives, and the help of several officials inside Augusta government, have taken scrutiny of the proposed parking deck deals to unusual lengths to get the answers to more questions.

Were the contracts for management of the decks put out for bid? Yes.

The City Procurement Director issued Request for Proposals RFP Item #11-087, Managing Augusta Parking Facilities, in January 2011 with a due date for bids to be opened on Friday, February 18, 2011. That the RFP covers the RSPD and the Parking Deck at the Augusta Marriott is established in the Introduction Section I on page 10 of the RFP with “The Procurement Department….is soliciting proposals to manage and operate the Augusta owned parking facilities located on Reynolds Street in Augusta to include the Parking Deck at the Augusta Marriott and the new Reynolds Street Parking Deck currently under construction”

Was Augusta Riverfront LLC the low-bidder? The LLC did not place a bid in response to RFP #11-087, covering the two Augusta owned parking decks between 9th and 10th streets in Augusta.

Augusta Riverfront did not appear as a party on the Pre-Proposal Conference Sign In Sheet of January 28, 2011. It does not appear on the Cumulative Evaluation Sheet. There is no indication that Augusta Riverfront LLC submitted a bid of any type in response to RFP #11-08.

If another firm offered an acceptable bid was it recommended and its proposal accepted? The bid of Ampco Parking Systems of Houston, Texas was recommended for acceptance, but all bids were rejected with the knowledge of the City Administrator. 


Mr. Richard Acree, Jr., Assistant Director of the Augusta Facilities Management Division wroteIt is…..my recommendation that we award the contract for Bid Item 11-087 to Ampco Parking Systems….” After an exchange of emails on August 5, 2011 between Augusta’s then Recreation Director Tom Beck, Procurement Specialist Nancy Williams, and Administrator Fred Russell, Mr. Beck wrote a letter to Ms. Williams on August 8 directing her to reject all bids associated with RFP #11-087. 

Are there costly inconsistencies between the sample contract included in the RFP that Ampco Parking System accepted and the one with Augusta Riverfront LLC that was recommended by the City Administrator for adoption by the City Commission? Apparently. They include:

1. Management Fee.

Ampco quoted a fee for the TWO Decks in the amount of $17,964.00. The fee in the management agreement in 3.1(see page 6) for the Reynolds Street Deck alone with the LLC is $25,000.00. After recovery of the $50,000 rental fee paid to Augusta under the Conference Center Deck agreement on page 3, the LLC gets another $25,000.00 fee.

There is a recommended contract in the RFP which appears to be largely based upon the previous conference center contract with Republic Parking. To be fair, the RFP agreement would have given the management company an incentive fee of 25% (up to 45% based upon increments of $100,000) of net revenues over $150,000 for both decks (page 33), while Augusta gets 100% of the RSPD net revenues, if there are any, with Augusta and the LLC management group sharing net revenues after the rental sum and $25,000.00 fee on the Conference Center Deck.

Why did the City Administrator agree to pay more fee on the RSPD than its recommended bidder quoted for TWO decks? 


2. Liability Insurance

The Deck RFP Addendum 1 stated “Liability Insurance is to be paid out of the management fee.” However, the RSPD agreement in 9.4 on page 17 states…” insurance premiums and any cost or expenses with respect to the insurance described in this Article shall be an Operating Expense of the RSPD.” Liability insurance is listed in the Article at 9.1.

Why did the conditionally awarded agreement with the LLC shift the liability insurance costs from the management firm to the city?

3. Operating Expense Limitations

The designated contract within Augusta’s RFP 11-087, page 32 of the RFP package, limits operating expenses to enumerated expenses and “other expenses as authorized and included in an operating budget approved in advance by AUGUSTA.” This provision was accepted by Ampco. The agreement conditionally accepted by Augusta with the LLC contains no such requirement, broadly defining “operating expenses” outside of the Annual Plan to include “(n) any other expenses incurred in the operation of the RSPD that would be considered operating expenses under GAAP.” (see Page 3) GAAP means Generally Accepted Accounting Principles.

Why doesn’t the agreement with the LLC limit what can be considered an operating expense to those expenses enumerated in the Annual Plan and authorized by Augusta?

4. Expenses Allowed Under the Annual Plan

Ampco submitted a bid compliant with Augusta requirements that included an annual budget. This budget shows expenses of $21,557. The management fee of $17,964.00 was added to this balance to arrive at total expenses of $39,521.00. Since the Ampco proposal covers both parking decks, adjusting the expenses to a factor of 0.54 (the ratio of RSPD parking spaces to total parking spaces in both decks) produces $21,341.43 in total non-labor operating expenses for the RSPD for the first year.

South Augusta community activist Juanita Burney submitted a Georgia Open Records Act Request to the city’s Law Department seeking the annual plan for the RSPD as submitted by selected management firm Augusta Riverfront LLC. After some delay and a follow-up request, she received documents including undated cover letters from Augusta Riverfront LLC,  accompanying one 12 month budget for 2012 dated August 29, 2011 and an 11 month budget dated January 26, 2012.

The August 2011 budget was used for comparison purposes, as it covered 12 months and was closer in timing to the Ampco budget. The LLC budget for expenses totaled $83,818.00, but $29,505.00 related to Augusta-provided utility costs and credit card fees which were outside of those listed within the RFP. This brought the total costs down to $54,113.00, which were higher than the Ampco adjusted total by $32,771.66. Bear in mind that the Ampco agreement only limited the manager to the specific types of expenses listed, but not totals, so actual costs may have exceeded the budget for Ampco.

Did the Augusta Administrator consider the budgeted expense differential between the rejected, but deemed compliant Ampco proposal and the much higher Augusta Riverfront budget? If not, why not?

5. Labor Costs Under the Annual Budget

Ampco’s labor budget was $212,225.00, plus labor burden of $44,444.00 for a total of $256,669.00, with the RSPD portion (0.54) totaling $138,601.26. Augusta Riverfront LLC’s labor budget was $95,150.00, plus labor burden of $27,402.00, for a total of $122, 552.00, or $16,049.26 less. Most of the extra cost from Ampco was the inclusion of a Supervisor and from unusually high worker compensation costs.

As noted above, Ampco would seem to have been limited to the costs enumerated in its budget by the terms of the proposed agreement. The LLC can add costs that fall under GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles) Also, the language of 5.3 on page 8, of the RSPD Management Agreement states that the Manager determines the personnel necessary to operate the RSPD and in paragraph (f) on page 9 states that the Manager can assign “shared employees.

Are there sufficient contract controls over the assignment of additional staff and shared employees for Augusta when the Manager has this level of discretion? 


6. Operating Cost Advance 


The terms of the RFP, and accepted by Ampco, states in Article 3, paragraph 4 “The Operator shall be granted an operating fund advance equivalent to 2 months operating expenses, to be credited against the first two months of operation. “ The terms of the LLC agreement on page 11, in 6.2, provides for an ongoing 90 day operation expense fund balance.

Is the fund balance sufficiently offset by the LLC’s funding of the other deck agreement? 


7. Capital Budget 


The RFP and Ampco proposal contained no separate capital budget. The LLC budget included a schedule entitled “Equipment – Startup Cost,” which included a Riding Sweeper at an estimated cost of $59,000. The schedule also included additional cost of Freight and Tax. The Conference Center Deck Agreement in Paragraph 4 (page 5) states “With respect to any equipment owned by by Landlord but used for both the RSPD and the Demised Premises, Tenant shall pay a fair rental rate for the use of said equipment, as set forth in the Annual Plan in effect for the RSPD Management Agreement” No credit was found in the proposed RSPD budget for that sweeper, so perhaps it will be used only in the RSPD.

If the capital equipment was purchased via an Augusta bank account with Augusta funds, wouldn’t the purchase be exempt from (sales) tax? Will the prorated fair rental costs for RSPD capital equipment be included in the Annual Plan?

8. Credit Card Fees 


The initial Annual Budget for 2012 proposed by the LLC includes an expense item for credit card fees. However “Operating Revenues” includes discounts for credit card fees, which is consistent with the RFP sample contract.


**Could this give rise to double reimbursement of credit card fees?

Summary 

Augusta had a long running contract with Republic Parking that seems to have been the basis for its sample RFP contract. Ampco Parking did not find this contract objectionable and accepted large portions of it. In general, why are the agreements the City Administrator recommended so much more flexible in terms of internal controls? Will the relative infrequency of reporting and manager control over revenues and expenses provide Augusta with sufficient information to assure that potential conflicts of interest, alluded to in Article 5.1.b of the RSPD Management Agreement, have not arisen? Did the Administrator use the Ampco bid terms, conditions, and costs to negotiate the best deal possible for Augusta?

Questions abound with these deck arrangements. We could ask questions approaching the number of parking spaces in these parking decks. The Augusta Commission should have asked them before rushing to approve the parking deck agreements, too. ***


Bradley Owens

*Contributing to this report were Cost Recovery Specialist Al Gray, with South Augusta Community activist Juanita Burney and Harrisburg Community activist Lori Davis.

Forward to Redemption in a Generational Crisis

Horns of Despair to Horns of Jericho

Originally posted on CityStink
Wednesday May, 27 2012
Augusta, GA
ByAl 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.
In 1997 William Strauss and Neil Howe authored a book entitled The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy – What the Cycles of History Tell Us About America’s Next Rendezvous with Destiny‘.
This provocative book posits “Just after the millennium, America will enter a new era that will culminate with a crisis comparable to the American Revolution, the Civil War, the Great Depression, and World War II. The survival of the nation will almost certainly be at stake.  Strauss and Howe base this vision on a provocative theory of American history as a series of recurring 80- to 100-year cycles. Each cycle has four “turnings”-a High, an Awakening,  an Unraveling, and a Crisis. “ The authors located America in 1997 “as midway through an Unraveling, roughly a decade away from the next Crisis (or Fourth Turning). ” Since the growing, morphing financial, economic, political and moral crisis we are now in started in 2007, the authors look prophetic as to timing.
Others have cited that alternating generations go through enormous crises, because the generation that went through the last crisis must die out, erasing the memory of it, leaving the next generation to fall into the next crisis. The citation of 20 year turnings and being in the Crisis stage brought to mind our story of the day. It comes from the story of  Moses’ spies found in Numbers 13 and 14.
13 Then the Lord spoke to Moses saying,
“ Send out for yourself men so that they may spy out the land of Canaan, which I am going to give to the sons of Israel; you shall send a man from each of their fathers’ tribes, every one a leader among them.”
So Moses sent them from the wilderness of Paran at the command of the Lord, all of them men who were heads of the sons of Israel….
25 When they returned from spying out the land, at the end of forty days, 26 they proceeded to come to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation of the sons of Israel in the wilderness of Paran, at Kadesh; and they brought back word to them and to all the congregation and showed them the fruit of the land. 27 Thus they told him, and said,
“We went in to the land where you sent us; and it certainly does flow with milk and honey, and this is its fruit.28 Nevertheless, the people who live in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large…”
14 Then all the congregation lifted up their voices and cried, and the people wept that night. All the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron; and the whole congregation said to them:
“Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become plunder; would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?” 
So they said to one another,
“Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt……”

26 The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying,

 27 “How long shall I bear with this evil congregation who are grumbling against Me? I have heard the complaints of the sons of Israel, which they are making against Me. 28 Say to them, ‘As I live,’ says the Lord, ‘just as you have spoken in My hearing, so I will surely do to you; 29  your corpses will fall in this wilderness, even all your numbered men, according to your complete number from twenty years old and upward, who have grumbled against Me. 30 Surely you shall not come into the land in which I swore to settle you, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun. 31  Your children, however, whom you said would become a prey—I will bring them in, and they will know the land which you have rejected. 32  But as for you, your corpses will fall in this wilderness. 33 Your sons shall be shepherds for forty years in the wilderness, and they will suffer for your unfaithfulness, until your corpses lie in the wilderness. 34 According to the number of days which you spied out the land, forty days, for every day you shall bear your guilt a year, even forty years, and you will know My opposition. 35 I, the Lord, have spoken, surely this I will do to all this evil congregation who are gathered together against Me. In this wilderness they shall be destroyed, and there they will die.’”
36  As for the men whom Moses sent to spy out the land and who returned and made all the congregation grumble against him by bringing out a bad report concerning the land, 37 even those men who brought out the very bad report of the land died by a plague before the Lord. 38 But Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh remained alive out of those men who went to spy out the land.
The power of resistance to change that we visited in last week’s message was clearly at work with the Israelites. Like Simon Peter, they treated the miracles that the Lord had wrought for them and before them as yesterday’s news. They rushed to compare the relative security of lives in bondage in Egypt- even their lives wandering in wilderness = to the dangers of confrontation and war necessary to take the Promised Land. The promises of milk, honey, and bounteous harvests were a venture into the unknown setting off internal conflicts that were more easily resolved in seeking return to the past.
Relative to The Fourth Turning cycle theory, Moses’ people broke the bonds of slavery to leave Eqypt at the middle of an Unraveling stage. Their memories of security, albeit security in bondage, conflicted with what should have been excitement over the future and taking ACTION to secure it. Strauss and Howe sayEventually, cynical alienation hardens into a brooding pessimism. During a High, obliging individuals serve a purposeful society, and even bad people get harnessed to socially constructive tasks; during an Unraveling, an obliging society serves purposeful individuals, and even good people find it hard to connect with their community.  The approaching specter of public disaster ultimately elicits a mix of paralysis and apathy that would have been unthinkable half a saeculum earlier.  People can now feel, but collectively can no longer do.”
By declaring that no one under the age of 20 would enter the Promised Land, the Lord was using the demographics of aging to eliminate the generation that fled Egypt with their sinful disdain of faith in Him wrapped fitfully in cognitive dissonance or resistance to change.  This was the Crisis stage. The people were dependent upon the Lord and would do nothing to help themselves. Concurrently with killing off the generation of failures, the Lord used the forty years in the wilderness to allow the second half of the Crisis stage to prepare the people to work for their final deliverance into the Promised Land.
 As the 4th Turning continues: ”A CRISIS arises in response to sudden threats that previously would have been ignored or deferred, but which are now perceived as dire.  Great worldly perils boil off the clutter and complexity of life, leaving behind one simple imperative: The society must prevail.  This requires a solid public consensus, aggressive institutions, and personal sacrifice….. Eventually, the mood transforms into one of exhaustion, relief, and optimism.  Buoyed by a new-born faith in the group and in authority, leaders plan, people hope, and a society yearns for good and simple things.” At the end of the 40 years in the wilderness the Tribes of Israel were at the stage to embrace their free will, not to reject the Lord’s plans for them, but to embrace them.
This writer believes firmly that we are between the Unraveling and Crisis. The great Baby Boom generation knows only prosperity learned in its awakening and continued by self-deceptive, massive debt creation to maintain the unsustainable for the last 30 years, a period during which GDP growth only exceeded debt creation for about one quarter.  We are probably 4 years into the Crisis state, so the next decade will see the denouement of the Boomer generation as leaders. The young folks will disavow the debt we have run up to maintain the delusion – that is a mathematical certainty. We went into 2007 and 2008 with average savings of $58,000 outside of our homes. Now many of our homes are underwater by that much. Predictably, most boomers will rage in denial, but they will not change. Look around. Observe. You won’t need to read the Bible or the Fourth Turning to see this if you truly open your eyes.
When one tries to warn Baby Boomers, the nonbelievers ignore him and the believers invariably say “The Lord is returning soon. I will depend on that!” Yes, he will return as promised and it might be in this Crisis cycle, but isn’t it sinful and presumptuous to pretend to know His timing when He told us we cannot?
How many will be the Joshua’s and Caleb’s of the Boomer generation and embrace what lies ahead, seize opportunity, and become beacons of knowledge and leadership of the young folks? This story, indeed all of human history,  says that it will be a small minority.  What awaits is a period on High, summarized this way:  ”A HIGH brings a renaissance to community life.  With the new civic order in place, people want to put the Crisis behind them and feel content about what they have collectively achieved.” For the people of Israel, made strong by 40 years in the wilderness, the high meant crossing the Jordan and seizing their destiny. For Caleb and Joshua, it meant that their sacrifice and courage in standing with full faith in the Lord’s promises were rewarded. They prevailed until the walls of Jericho fell to the sound of their horns.
Lord, give us, the wayward Boomers, the strength and faith of Joshua and Caleb. We didn’t deserve the fake prosperity we laid claim to. It is time to make amends. It is time to lead, even though our weary minds and bodies will resist. Most of us won’t make it, but those who do won’t have to cross Jordan alone.
AG

Overlay Somebody Else: My Battle With Columbia County Over Property Rights

Friday, May 25, 2012
Evans, GA
By Al Gray

New Year’s Day in the year 2000 did not find this writer worried about the world’s computer systems crashing because of the Y2K or much of anything else. Two new clients and two projects in Missouri – a state-of-the-art hot dog plant and a deli meat production facility beckoned. It was a very lucrative contract that took me away from the Augusta area, as nearly all of them have. A most successful bowhunting season had just been concluded. The parents were still able to take care of themselves. 1999 had been good, but 2000 would be even better. It did not start that way, January 1 pleasantries not withstanding.

Sometime in February, after trudging through 15 inches of snow in St. Joe, MO,  I returned to my motel room just in time to catch a call from my parents. It seems that they had gotten an official notice about an ‘overlay’ zoning ordinance to cover something called the Evans Town Center Overlay District (ETCOD). It concerned them that the county was looking to pass some sort of control over their commercially zoned property on Washington Road. We were not totally surprised, having attended one of the planning meetings for the town center at Savannah Rapids Pavilion.

Actually seeing the map of ETCOD was an eye-opener. It was a gerrymandered map that looked like a headless woman in a dress stumbling like a zombie. Then there was the matter of the text of the proposed ordinance. It banned any store over 30,000 square feet, imposed expensive architectural upgrades, and made plans to completely rework the zoning map via overlay zoning to impose government land use planning instead of free market economics. It was aimed straight at our family, who had decades long plans for a major shopping center to the west of Ronald Reagan Drive. Worse, it would have ruined decades of planning along with previous county officials which included gifted water and sewer easements and providing for a road into a subdivision.

The night of the first Planning Commission meeting, the elite of the Augusta and Columbia County development sector was in attendance. Your scribe had never made a public speech before. Knees shaking from fear and voice quavering, my speech might have gotten off to a disastrous start, but the first order of business was to loosen things up by poking fun at the gerrymandered map. The room exploded with laughter. A key point was made that the map was discriminatory, lacking uniformity of application. The county attorney would later agree, forcing new notices to be sent to everyone in a 3500 acre circle. Up behind the lectern, a transformation took place. The meek accountants knees were still knocking, but the cause had turned from fear to RAGE!

Things have not been the same since.

When the county was forced to make ETCOD a uniform circle, the action resulted in our family gaining scores of new allies against ETCOD. Even one of the chief proponents realized our position because her family’s land was now in the overlay zone! She exclaimed in a meeting. “We don’t want those rules on OUR PROPERTY!” Neither did a lot of folks. When the planning commission decided to ram through ETCOD, two of the commissioners stayed home in fear. The 3 left decided to ram the vote for the ordinance through. The entire room, it seemed, leaped to their feet and shouted “NO!!!!!!” It was the closest thing to a riot that Columbia County has seen in a public meeting in modern times. The county commission appointed a citizen’s committee headed by contractor Ron Cross to work out a compromise. The Evans Town Center Ordinance was birthed eventually, but the baby was a lot trimmer and caused less labor pain.

There were other battles to come. They are best left to another day.

The salvation of our family came in the form of gifts from our founding fathers. The 5th and 14th amendments to the United States Constitution provide each of us, as citizens with guarantees of Equal Protection Under the Law and that we cannot be deprived of property without Due Process of Law. More recently Columbia County implemented Corridor Overlays, Lincoln County did the same, and last year Augusta attempted to enact a flawed Laney Walker Bethlehem Overlay District. In each instance it was a privilege to help fellow citizens being assailed with threats to their rights from overlay zoning.

Pertinent to today’s events, in which the diabolical Agenda 21 plan is infiltrating all levels of government, the Evans Town Center Plan developed by consultants Rosser- Lowe, was even then replete with references to “smart growth” and “Sustainable Development”. You have to remember that Columbia County is a solid Republican County, not a place one would suspect that a socialist agenda could take root in. We have to be constantly vigilant everywhere.

The Evans Town Center Plan was supposedly based upon town centers in Redmond, Washington; Reston, Virginia; and Smyrna, Georgia. A key component of largely defeating ETCOD was this analysis comparing those places with the Evans Town Center. (Article continues below the chart)

ETCOD BATTLE CHART

When one can dissect the planner’s plans and turn the evidence against them, he can win huge victories against the odds, for the truth overwhelms the planners and allies arrive in droves.

A County Commissioner and two Planning Commissioners said that the ETCOD was a “Done Deal”

Well, it came UNDONE.

Thanks founders, for the Constitution. Agenda 21? That’s just another undone deal of our making.***

AG

Related Stories:

Fishing The Right Side

 

Originally posted on CityStink
Sunday, May 20, 2012
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 morning in late May had turned sultry early on the Florida fresh water sea. Panfishermen from across the Southeast descend on Lake George hoping to catch giant bluegills and shellcrackers on enormous beds during the magical few days in May that see the fish in a feeding frenzy. Alas, on this day your humble scribe was sitting in a boat on calm, listless waters surrounded by 60 other boats. Burgeoning heat had the cattle on the distant shore inching toward the water to join those who had braved alligators to go wading.
The fishermen were mostly bored as none were catching fish. Everyone was using standard rods and reels loaded with 10 pound test line. Switching to an ultralight rod, I decided to rework a shell ridge that had been fruitless for the last hour. The fish started biting. The catch began to pile up. The other 59 boats circled, getting closer, but nobody else was catching anything.  Eventually, about time the catch limit was reached, there were boats on top of the shell ridge, with one only 12 feet away, so casting was no longer possible!
On another boat far away in time and space, casting again in “fished-out” waters made for a similar bounty. The story is found in Luke 5:4-10
When He had finished speaking, He said to Simon,
“Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.
Simon answered and said,
“ Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, but [a]I will do as You say and let down the nets.” 
When they had done this, they enclosed a great quantity of fish, and their nets began to break; so they signaled to their partners in the other boat for them to come and help them. And they came and filled both of the boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw that, he fell down at Jesus’ [b]feet, saying,
“Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!” 
For amazement had seized him and all his companions because of the catch of fish which they had taken; 10 and so also were [c]James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon,
“Do not fear, from now on you will be catching men.”
This fishing trip happened at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. From that point on, Simon Peter witnessed a wondrous array of miracles, healings, parables, and teaching the way to salvation and eternal life. Mankind being as sinful as it is, none of these things mattered when tough times came near the end, when politicians, zealots, and even masses of people turned against Jesus. Ponder the words of Simon Peter “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!”
Let’s ponder that statement a minute. Simon Peter was acknowledging that his ways were the sinful ways of the world. He would follow Jesus every step of the way through His ministry, yet he remained captive to his position in society to the very end. Today this phenomenon is known as cognitive dissonance which is defined as anxiety that results from simultaneously holding contradictory or otherwise incompatible attitudes, beliefs, or the like.
Human nature being as it is, the person with cognitive dissonance typically reverts or seeks that which is familiar, socially acceptable, and less uncomfortable at moments of stress. Today it is often seen in our responses to the current, ongoing financial and economic collapse – a total certainty – which is generally wishing it away, while refusing to take action to save ourselves. We want our cushy, old lives back. Indeed, in Greece there have been bank runs in recent weeks to the tune of $500 million, inexplicably delayed two whole yearsafter the first bond defaults signaled to the people there that their deposits were not safe. Examples of calamitous delays in reacting to negative events appear throughout human history. The cognitive dissonance that gripped Peter was so powerful that he denied Jesus three times before people Peter perceived to be hostile to Jesus.
69  Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard, and a servant-girl came to him and said,
“You too were with Jesus the Galilean.”
70 But he denied it before them all, saying,
“I do not know what you are talking about.”
71 When he had gone out to the gateway, another servant-girl saw him and *said to those who were there,
“This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” 72 And again he denied it with an oath,
“I do not know the man.”
73 A little later the bystanders came up and said to Peter,
“Surely you too are one of them; for even the way you talk [a]gives you away.”
74 Then he began to curse and swear,
“I do not know the man!”
And immediately a rooster crowed.
75 And Peter remembered the word which Jesus had said,
“ Before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.
That is how powerful cognitive dissonance is. Peter had witnessed miracles by Jesus, yet the apparent inability of Jesus to save himself from arrest and persecution cast enough doubt that Peter’s weak human self readily defaulted to disavowing Jesus!
Only the resurrection and seeing the living Jesus broke the hold of evil human society and politics on Peter. The transformation came during another fishing trip.
After these things Jesus [a] manifested Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, and He manifestedHimself in this way. Simon Peter, and Thomas called [b]Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples were together.
Simon Peter *said to them,
“I am going fishing.”
They said to him,
“We will also come with you.”
They went out and got into the boat; and that night they caught nothing.
But when the day was now breaking, Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. So Jesus *said to them,
“Children, you do not have [c]any fish, do you?”
They answered Him,
“No.” 6
 And He said to them,
“ Cast the net on the right-hand side of the boat and you will find a catch.”
So they cast, and then they were not able to haul it in because of the great number of fish.  Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved *said to Peter,
“It is the Lord.”
So when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put his outer garment on (for he was stripped for work), and threw himself into the sea. But the other disciples came in the little boat, for they were not far from the land, but about [d]one hundred yards away, dragging the net full of fish…..
So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus *said to Simon Peter,
“Simon, son of John, do you [f] love Me more than these?” He *said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I [g]love You.” He *said to him, “Tend My lambs.”
 16 He said to him again a second time,
“Simon, son of John, do you [h]love Me?” He *said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I [i]love You.” He *said to him, “ Shepherd My sheep.” 17 
He said to him the third time,
“Simon, son of John, do you [j]love Me?”
Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time,
“Do you [k]love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I [l]love You.”
Jesus said to him,
“Tend My sheep.”
18 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go.” 19 Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He *said to him,
“Follow Me!”
Peter followed Jesus. He overcame his cognitive dissonance in the most complete way possible by embracing death to gain salvation through faith in a resurrected Jesus Christ.
That day in balmy Florida when this fisherman cast aside the ways of the entire fleet to embrace an unlikely technique that produced a bountiful catch wasn’t just like Peter in that one respect. It was also fishing on the right side of the boat.  If we go through life relying on the crowd and defaulting to our weak tendency for conformity, we will go home empty handed and hungry. It is only by breaking the bonds of sin, even embracing social disdain, ostracism and punishment to the point of death,  in embracing Jesus that we can ascend to eternal life.
These are transformative times, times in which those who are prepared for the worse must step forward to preserve the best.
There is only one side on which to be – the RIGHT side. We cannot afford to let denial keep us from it. Christ put it simply.
“Follow me!”


Exclusive: 1120 Florence Street, A Nightingale Singing Questions

Wednesday, May 16, 2012
Augusta, GA
By Al Gray

Within the last three years the Housing Department of the City of Augusta has contracted for the construction of multiple new housing units throughout the city, most prominently in the Laney-Walker Community. Questions in the community, city, and area abound. Are taxpayer funds being used wisely? Are the funds being disbursed according to governing regulations? How do costs compare with similar new homes in the city or in Columbia County?

The question of whether the home building funds were dispersed properly within the terms of the governing contracts and regulations has been reviewed. Augusta Today contributor Dee Mathis submitted a Georgia Open Records Request Act on February 23, 2012 to the Augusta Richmond County Law Department requesting:

“Plans and Specifications for the two units built under contract with the City of Augusta at 1120 and 1122 Florence Street; Payments made under the contract for the construction of these units, including invoices, payroll registers, and any other documents substantiating the costs reimbursed or paid to the contractor.”

As background, it is noted that Dee Mathis has exhibited keen interests in the real estate developments and revitalization efforts in the Laney-Walker neighborhood, having previously appeared before the city commission in opposition to the Laney-Walker overlay zoning ordinance.
The housing constructed was a duplex of two stories built by designated Laney Walker contractor J&B Construction and Services, Inc. The contract for it was dated June 22, 2010 and it was completed before, October 2011, when the final payment was made by the City of Augusta. J&B Construction is a designated Development Partner for the City’s Laney Walker Bethlehem improvement district.There are other development partners who have similar contracts and this review is not intended to single out this contractor but to address the City’s performance in administering similar contracts.

On March 6, 2012, Ms. Mathis received a two page response from Kenneth Bray of the Augusta Law Department accompanied by 60 pages of documents. This report summarizes the key points of the resulting review and commentary. **(

View Dee Mathis’ GORA Request Documents here)

The nature of the contract is that it provides for construction costs to be reimbursable up to a Not-to-Exceed (Maximum) Price This is established by the language throughout the contract **(to view, click–> here) including the following provisions:

The stated amount of the contract was stated in Article 1, Section A, paragraph 1 as an amount not to exceed $272,681.00 shall be expended ….. from NSP Program funds for construction costs related to the development of an affordable multi-family housing unit as part of the Florence Street Project.”

Then the contract states in  Article II, Section A, paragraph 2:The method of payment shall be on a reimbursement basis…..For invoicing, J&B Construction and Services, Inc. will include documentation showing proof of payment in the form of a canceled check or check register and completed reimbursement form that includes the amount requested, amount remaining and specific line items that relate to contract Budget…..”

Article V, Section F. states that “Requests for payment shall be accompanied by proper documentation….For purposes of this section, proper documentation includes: “Reimbursement Request Form supplied by HCD, copies of invoices, receipts, other evidence of indebtedness, budget itemization and description of specific activities undertaken”

Article V, Section H, states “Unexpended funds shall be retained by Augusta.This supports the nature of the contract as being cost reimbursable because had the contract been a Lump Sum, the full contract price payment would have precluded the existence of any unexpended funds.

Appendix B, Reporting Requirements, contains this statement: “Report will contain actual/estimated costs/date, issues and concerns”

**Payments were made based upon the Maximum price, instead of reimbursable costs

The progress payments made against the contract were based upon the original estimate, plus 3 change orders, and less contingency allowances, resulting in a total contract adjustment of $1,874.28, so that the total contract payments were $270,806.74. **(View Final Payments Document Here)
In response to Ms. Mathis’ Georgia Open Records Request Act inquiry, The Augusta Housing Department provided no billing support that evidenced that the billed costs were actual costs as defined by check stubs, check registers, paid vendor and subcontractor invoices, or payroll registers for contractor employee-performed work.

When this writer contacted Mr. Shawn Edwards, Neighborhood Stabilization Program Manager for the City of Augusta to inquire about the required billing support, he initially indicated that the City was only getting the reimbursement form from the contractor and was making payments based upon the agreed-upon contract price, contending that the contract price was the proper basis for payment, not reimbursable costs.   A follow up request is in process for Augusta to provide the actual cost back-up it might possess. This report will be updated if contradictory data is provided.

**The Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development has already cited Augusta for deficiencies like those in evidence for 1120 Florence Street.

James D. McKay, Regional Inspector General for Audit, Atlanta Region, issued an audit report in 2010 which included the following: During the review, we identified two concerns regarding internal controls and entering obligations before contracts were fully executed.

The City did not have internal controls in place to perform continuous and routine monitoring of its obligation process to ensure that its obligations were processed as intended and were valid. We discussed this matter with the City during the review, and the City agreed to develop monitoring procedures.

The City entered its NSP1 obligations into the DRGR database in June 2010 for its LH25 set-aside activities. At that time, the obligations were not valid because the contracts for those obligations had not been signed by all parties. However, the City obtained the required signatures and fully executed the contracts in August 2010, ahead of the September 5, 2010, deadline. We discussed this matter with the City, and it agreed that its obligations were not valid until the contracts were fully signed and executed by all parties.

The failure to secure evidence of reimbursable costs, while paying out contracts based upon the maximum price, would appear to be a 1120 Florence Street manifestation of the first exception that HUD  noted.

The second failure is definitely found to exist with the 1120 Florence Street units, as the contract was signed in June, 2011 **(View Signature Page Document Here), three months after the initial contract payment. **(View Line to Draw Document Here)
The Office of Management and Budget circulars governing the NSP1 funds include the following.

OMB Circular A-87, Cost Principles for State, Local and Indian Tribal Governments (05/10/2004) HTML or PDF (58 pages, 216 kb),

OMB Circular A-110, Uniform Administrative Requirements for Grants and Other Agreements with Institutions of Higher Education, Hospitals and Other Non-Profit Organizations (11/19/1993) (further amended 09/30/1999, Relocated to 2 CFR, Part 215

OMB Circular A-133, Audits of States, Local Governments and Non-Profit Organizations

There are indications that the reimbursable cost could be materially less than the maximum price in the estimate and adjusted contract price.

The contract pricing detail on page 4 shows a charge for a central air system with a 15 Standard Energy Efficiency Rating (SEER). **(View NTE Estimate Document HereThe unit installed was observed to be a Nutone Model  NT4BD.This model is shown by the manufacturer as a 13 SEER Heat pump, capable of reaching a 14 SEER if paired with a variable speed air handler.  The cost differential between a 13 SEER and 15 SEER is significant, because of the rigorous ductwork, blower, and air handler upgrades to achieve the higher rating. Having the HVAC contractor invoice, as required by this contract, and inspection of the installed system would settle this question.

The paid-out contract price included a line item entitled “Administration.”  In the absence of clarification, “Administration” would be an indirect cost which would be covered by the 15% Overhead and Profit allocation against all of the direct cost in the estimate, meaning that inclusion as a marked-up direct cost overstates “costs.” The overage would be $13,800, according to page 2 of the price estimate. **(See NTE Price Estimate Document Here) This single factor would be 5% of the total contract value.

Using prices from Lowes in comparison to the estimate provides a mixed picture. The estimate prices for bricks and blocks would be a savings, but the prices of wallboard, lumber, mortar mix, concrete, roofing felt, and access doors seem to indicate losses. (These are current prices and can only be used as points of reference, as the actual contractor costs would govern.)

The contract estimate shows the “cost” per square foot on page 6 to be $79.73 **(See NTE Estimate Document Here), exclusive of land costs. Review of the real estate transfer shows the lot to have cost Augusta $12,000, taking the total square foot “cost” to $83.24. By comparison the sales prices of new homes in Grovetown, which include the developers overhead and profit on top of construction costs,  are in the $76 to $82 range. This would indicate as much as 10% savings could be had by complying with the reimbursable cost standards of Augusta’s contracts.

KEY QUESTIONS – Since there are dozens of similar Augusta contracts within the Laney Walker Bethlehem development project, wouldn’t the savings from enforcing the contracts as written save between 5% and 10% of construction costs? Wouldn’t the cost savings justify obtaining comprehensive, detailed costs? Based upon the $37,500,000 committed by the city to these developments the savings would range from $1,875,000 to $3,750,000.

Isn’t Augusta in danger of having to repay $100,000’s of thousands of dollars, if HUD finds the city out of compliance with its payment of the Neighborhood Stabilization Program contracts?

If Augusta’s contractor’s can save money by changing suppliers and methods, isn’t it worthwhile to help them do so under the cost reimbursable contracts?

More to come.

– Al Gray




Below are the pdf documents referenced in this story:



Dee Mathis 1120 Florence GORA Request1120 Florence Street NTE Price Estimate1120 Florence Street Contract1120 Florence Signature Page1120 Florence Final Payment1120 Florence Draw 1

The Life Choice

The Lamp vs. Lamp Post Conundrum

Originally posted on CityStink
May, 13 20012
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.
William Shakespeare described a conundrum very succinctly with the words “To be or not to be, that is the question.”  Life is full of conundrums and they grow even more prolific in troubled times such as these. Some are hardly trifling matters, with dangers and even death hanging in the balance. The greatest of these challenges are of an existential nature in this life and the next, even extending to the way one passes from this life to eternity.
Our Bible passages for today are found in Luke 11:33-54 of the New American Standard Bible.
33 “ No one, after lighting a lamp, puts it away in a cellar nor under a basket, but on the lampstand, so that those who enter may see the light. 34 The eye is the lamp of your body; when your eye is clear, your whole body also is full of light; but when it is bad, your body also is full of darkness. 35 Then watch out that the light in you is not darkness.36 If therefore your whole body is full of light, with no dark part in it, it will be wholly illumined, as when the lamp illumines you with its rays.”
Woes upon the Pharisees
37 Now when He had spoken, a Pharisee *asked Him to have lunch with him; and He went in, and reclined at the table.38 When the Pharisee saw it, he was surprised that He had not first ceremonially washed before the meal. 39 But the Lord said to him,
“Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the platter; but inside of you, you are full of robbery and wickedness. 40 You foolish ones, did not He who made the outside make the inside also? 41 But give that which is within as charity, and then all things are clean for you.”
42 “But woe to you Pharisees! For you pay tithe of mint and rue and every kind of garden herb, and yet disregard justice and the love of God; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. 43 Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the chief seats in the synagogues and the respectful greetings in the market places. 44 Woe to you! For you are like concealed tombs, and the people who walk over them are unaware of it.”
45 One of the lawyers said to Him in reply,
“Teacher, when You say this, You insult us too.” 
46 But He said,
 “Woe to you lawyers as well! For you weigh men down with burdens hard to bear, while you yourselves will not even touch the burdens with one of your fingers. 47 Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets, and it was your fathers who killed them. 48 So you are witnesses and approve the deeds of your fathers; because it was they who killed them, and you build their tombs. 49 For this reason also the wisdom of God said, ‘ I will send to them prophets and apostles, and some of them they will kill and some they will persecute, 50 so that the blood of all the prophets, shed since the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, 51 from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the house of God; yes, I tell you, it shall be charged against this generation.’52 Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge; you yourselves did not enter, and you hindered those who were entering.”
In Hamlet, Shakespeare continued: “Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them.”  This day, in the year of our Lord 2012, finds us at such a juncture.  The physical world seems in rebellion against the people, with some saying that the disasters are the fruits of mankind. The financial and economic worlds stand on the verge of collapse on the backs of monumental folly, theft, greed and fraud.  The political world is a morass of corruption. The spiritual world sees epic waves of immorality unchallenged by churches more attuned to these other worlds than in doing the work of Christ. What man or woman can stand against these things? Isn’t it a lot easier and more comfortable to stay on the sidelines? The trouble with this is that one is, in so doing, hiding his lamp – making it go dark by accepting evil and even engaging it as a friend.
Jesus expanded on his parable by calling out the deeds of the religious zealots of his day, saying they paid heed to religious doctrine alone, while ignoring the hurting of the people.
Even more fitting to our day is the admonition you love the chief seats in the synagogues and the respectful greetings in the market places. Indeed, our financial and political system stands on the brink of an apocalypse because fraudsters and incompetents still hold their positions after their grandiose looting. Worst is that most of them remain among the ranks of the respected despite epic failure.
The death of the American middle class and descent into the impoverished class is touched upon in these words you weigh men down with burdens hard to bear, while you yourselves will not even touch the burdens”  The actions of the global financiers are straight from the recipe recommended by the great Communist, V.I. Lenin, who wrote “The way to crush the bourgeoisie is to grind them between the millstones of taxation and inflation.”  Every time the system nears a state of correcting itself, our leaders use dishonest accounting, currency debasement, and ability of the government to spend unlimited amounts of “money” to keep the deception going a little longer. Using inflation perpetuates their positions of power in the markets. Governments have tried this during and since biblical times with the same result for centuries – the currency collapses, leaving the people destitute.
You have taken away the key of knowledge. This charge may be the most damning of all relative to current events. The very folks who are charged with informing the people of the dangers – the media, the ministers, the accountants, and law enforcement – are actively engaged in selling the soothing notion that all is normal. A veritable wall of censorship exists whereby failed establishment economists, consultants, and educators have kept their positions despite being demonstrably wrong and even deceptive. Ministers are as captive to expectations of a cushy modern life as any other people and are loathe criticizing perceived benefactors in banking or government. Accountants have even gone so far as to destroy their franchise to promote accounting “rules” to cover up outright looting. Law enforcement has ignored criminal offenses in the hundreds of thousands to the point that the rule of law is virtually dead.
Finally Jesus lays out the real conundrum for those who know his Word, the realities of the world about them, the tremendous forces about to become manifest, and the power of evil. I will send to them prophets and apostles, and some of them they will kill and some they will persecute.”History has shown that those who are brave enough to show the way, to throw off the shackles of entrenched power, and to become shining lamps to the world instead are highly likely to be hung from lamp posts instead. Therein lies the power of the conundrum evident in Hamlet and in Luke 11:33 – the choice is a life considered so precious that one should seek to extend it at all costs versus a glorious life likely to end abruptly consequent to one’s principled actions.
With respect to our doomed financial system, the phrase “extend and pretend” is often used to describe the overwhelming human response. Its power over humans cannot be better demonstrated than by Jesus’ own plea at the prospect of his pain-racked body being nailed to the cross: “let this cup pass from Me.”
The Lord knows what is at stake for those called to his ministry and those called to serve mankind in troubled times like those of today. May He grant those of us with the duty He has prescribed the sort of determination and resolve in words from the birth of our republic.
Give me Liberty or give me Death!
The light of those who choose both Him and the blessings of liberty will become blazing beacons in a brighter future.
To be or not to be, that is the question.

AG

 

Uncivilized Emotion or Wisdom?

Moving Barbarians and Titans

Originally posted on CityStink
May 6, 2012
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.
Berkshire-Hathaway stands at the pinnacle of world finance, having weathered decades with stunning returns for its investors under the guidance of the legendary Warren Buffett and his sidekick Charlie Munger.  This week Munger set off a small firestorm by questioning the wisdom of a young superstar of investing, David Einhorn, in recommending gold as an investment. The curmudgeonly Munger said “Gold Is a Great Thing to Sew into Your Garments If You’re A Jewish Family In Vienna In 1939 but civilized people don’t buy gold.”  Critics slammed these words as a backhanded put-down to the Jewish Einhorn, while others noted that the barbarous relic, as gold has been called to by Buffett, has greatly outperformed Munger and Buffett’s flagship Berkshire for the last decade. Their attitudes toward precious metals are unmoving.
The mention of Jews in exile, gold, and immovable titans brought to mind the Book of Ezra, Chapter 1, Verses 1 – 11.
In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and also to put it in writing:
2 This is what Cyrus king of Persia says:
“‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Any of his people among you may go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the Lord, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem, and may their God be with them. And in any locality where survivors may now be living, the people are to provide them with silver and gold, with goods and livestock, and with freewill offerings for the temple of God in Jerusalem.’”
Then the family heads of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and Levites—everyone whose heart God had moved —prepared to go up and build the house of the Lord in Jerusalem. All their neighbors assisted them with articles of silver and gold, with goods and livestock, and with valuable gifts, in addition to all the freewill offerings.
Moreover, King Cyrus brought out the articles belonging to the temple of the Lord, which Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from Jerusalem and had placed in the temple of his god.[a] Cyrus king of Persia had them brought by Mithredath the treasurer, who counted them out to Sheshbazzar the prince of Judah…..
11 In all, there were 5,400 articles of gold and of silver. Sheshbazzar brought all these along with the exiles when they came up from Babylon to Jerusalem.
Reversing Exoduses
 
Yes, this is a story of moving back from an exodus of the Jews then, and more recently in 1949. The people of Judah had swept into bondage by Nebuchadnezzar and had been transported to Babylon with their treasures, which included gold and silver from the temple in Jerusalem. The book of Ezra is the story of their return to their lands in the 6thcentury B.C., much as they returned after the Holocaust, in Munger’s reference, and World War II.
Barbarous then and now
 
The second facet of this story is the transition from barbarity to benevolence (and back) of powerful worldly titans. The Babylonian Nebuchadnezzar had been uncivilized in his treatment of the Jews. He enslaved them, threw those who offended him into furnaces, and used precious metal wares from the temple in Jerusalem in his pagan temples. According to the Book of Daniel, he grew so evil that the Lord beset him with madness, sending Nebuchadnezzar into his own exile as a beast of the fields. He eventually acknowledged the Lord and was restored to his throne. Alas, his heirs returned to barbarity and evil.
Last week Mr. Munger totally missed the point with his remarks. Hardly a “barbarous relic,” then Gold turned out to be a lifesaver for those Jews in the 1930’s, a hard money deliverance from the hideous, very real barbarity of the Nazi’s. It bought them safe passage out of Hitler’s Europe and provident savings toward a new life in safety and freedom.  Throughout Ezra, the importance of gold and silver to the people in times of evil shines through in repeated references and accounts.
What may turn out to be truly uncivilized are our modern monetary and financial systems under the control of the perhaps the most corrupt men the world has seen since Hitler and Stalin. Our life savings and fruits of our labor are mere digits in various computers under the authority of people who can eviscerate their value with mere keystrokes, men who have proven amoral, thieving, and remorseless in electronically converting our “assets” to their use by outright theft or by “money-printing.”  The situation is so bad that this clip came out of Southpark Studios after the near banking collapse of 2008:
In this evil world what is “civilized”? “Responsible”? The Berkshire corporation of Buffett and Munger was beneficiary of bail-outs facilitated under the electronic monetary system, so are these titans of business really credible arbiters of what is “civilized” versus “barbarous?” Are titans like these foisting a modern society built on looting while calling it “civilized?” (Later in his interview, Munger repeatedly cited the increasing “sin” in our world and the danger it poses, so he is not absolutely oblivious to reality. )
Titans moved and unmoved
 
Our business and political titans of the day are mostly resolute in their worldview. Many are globalists bent on one world government. They are people who are seemingly immovable.
Pay heed to the words in Ezra.  “The Lord movedthe heart of Cyrus king of Persia.” Indeed, “The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah.” Isn’t it truly incredible that the Lord moved the heart of a ruler of a gentile empire to free the Judeans, restore their lands, replace their treasure, and rebuild His temple in Jerusalem?
Why was Cyrus so powerfully moved? The ancient Jewish historian Josephus wrote in Antiquities of the Jews – Chapter 11
“ This was known to Cyrus by his reading the book which Isaiah left behind him of his prophecies; for this prophet said that God had spoken thus to him in a secret vision: “My will is, that Cyrus, whom I have appointed to be king over many and great nations, send back my people to their own land, and build my temple.” This was foretold by Isaiah one hundred and forty years before the temple was demolished. Accordingly, when Cyrus read this, and admired the Divine power, an earnest desire and ambition seized upon him to fulfill what was so written…..”
Imagine the powers of reading your name in a 2 century old prophesy! The Old Testament is replete with other pagan kings being bent to the Lord’s will or being tools of the Lord. Here in Ezra, we read of one who read the works of the Jewish prophets and honored them with belief and action.
Pray today that the titans of our world are moved by the Lord to do the right thing and honor His commandments, from which our rule of law derives. Be prepared to consider that they may be not so inclined, remaining resolute in their pursuit of one world government, corrupt finances, and power. Then you can determine for yourselves whether that which is “uncivilized” and “barbaric” in their eyes might be a lifeline out of evil times. Pray that another Cyrus will emerge who will be moved by the Lord and his holy word to restore our temple, the Constitution of the United States.
Should they do these things, no one need be compelled to move themselves into exile, wear garments lined with hidden gold, or live in fear in our own land.

Lord, move us one and all, even the titans. If this be not Your will, move us with the wisdom to protect ourselves from them, until You move another Cyrus in our direction.

AG