Joe Bowles Plays Hardball with Augusta Riverfront LLC Over Parking Deck

Comm. Joe Bowles is talking tough over the parking deck

Wednesday, June 20, 2012
Augusta, GA
By The Outsider


Mayor Pro-tem Joe Bowles has some tough talk for the operators of the new TEE Center parking deck on Reynolds Street: either abide by the terms of the management agreement approved back in February or the deal is off!

The agreement that was hatched at the last minute on February 7th stipulated that  the $7 million liens on the property under the deck must be removed and the property must be transferred from 933 Broad Investment LLC (a subsidiary of Augusta Riverfront LLC) to the city’s land bank.

However, we here at CityStink.net discovered that these conditions have still not been satisfied. As of today, the liens have still not been removed and the property has still not been deeded over to the land bank. You can read our full report here–> Exclusive: Fred Wrestles, Augusta Gets Decked.

For commissioners who voted for the management agreement with Augusta Riverfront LLC, including Mayor pro-tem Joe Bowles, this must seem like yet another, in a long succession of broken promises, and it has to seem as though the last minute fix to approve  the management agreement was little more than a stalling tactic to bide more time for ARLLC. And Joe Bowles seems none too pleased with this latest revelation. In a report by Chris Thomas of WRDW News 12 yesterday, the Mayor pro-tem said that , “The city is basically operating under an agreement with them that is not in effect,” and that.. “It’s not good business practice. That is for sure.” 

Indeed. Since the basic stipulations of the management agreement have not been satisfied by Augusta Riverfront LLC (who are also the owners of the Marriott Hotel), then the city is paying a $25,000 a year fee to deck operators based on a contract that is made of thin air, much like the city’s air rights for the $12 million parking deck.

And Joe Bowles’ patience seems to be wearing thin with Augusta Riverfront LLC, saying that “If they don’t go ahead and get this straightened out,” Bowles said, “I say it’s time to go ahead and bid the parking deck back out. If we don’t hurry up and get that property donated to the land bank, I would say it’s time to scrap the deal and start over.”  When queried by Chris Thomas on this issue, city administrator Fred Russell could only say that “This is a long, complicated process.” *Watch Chris Thomas’ full report below: Joe Bowles is on the right track. It is time to re-bid this parking management contract and get a better deal for the city. In our May 29th investigative report, we discovered that there were  bids from other companies on the table that were much more favorable to the city. The agreement that Fred Russell negotiated with Augusta Riverfront LLC essentially amounts to a blank check, where the city assumes all of the expenses and risks, and ARLLC gets all of the benefits and most of the profits.

In fact, Richard Acree Jr, the Asst. Director of Augusta Facilities Management Division, recommended that the parking deck management contract be awarded to Aampco Parking Systems out of Houston, TX and not to Augusta Riverfront LLC. However, it appears  that city administrator Fred Russell simply ignored the better deal and instead favored a much more inferior management agreement with ARLLC… one that involves more expense, more risk and substantially less benefits for the city. Just why would Fred Russell do this if he is supposedly working for the city?

But it gets worse. In our May 31st investigative report, Augusta’s $714,357 ‘Incidental’ Cost,  we discovered that under Fred’s deal with Augusta Riverfront LLC, the city was assuming ALL of the operating and maintenance costs for the deck even when 150 ground floor spaces would still be under the ownership and control of ARLLC. And that’s on top of the $25,000 management fee the city would be paying them. In fact, under Fred’s deal the city would even be on the hook for paying for the toll booth operator, when Aampco had agreed to assume those costs under their bid. So, just what benefit is the city getting out of this deal? Not much. In fact, over the course of the agreement, the city would end up paying $714,357 for these additional expenses that should be  the responsibility of Augusta Riverfront LLC. Fred Russell called these expenses “incidental.”

So Joe Bowles has every reason to be upset, as should all Augusta taxpayers. We believe that the Mayor pro-tem was probably giving Fred Russell and Augusta Riverfront LLC the benefit of the doubt… that they would make good on their promise to transfer the land and that would provide an easy solution to what has become a complicated mess. But unfortunately, there are rarely easy fixes for fiascoes such as this, especially when you have a city administrator repeatedly withholding vital information from commissioners and a series of broken promises from Augusta Riverfront LLC.

This is precisely why Al Gray and Lori Davis urged commissioners to hold off on approving a parking management agreement with Augusta Riverfront LLC on February 7th. * Watch video of their presentations Below: Al Gray and Lori Davis urge commissioners to put brakes on parking agreement


But since then more has come out that shows just what a bad deal it was and to be fair, commissioners were not aware of these new revelations when they voted for it. They probably thought, in good faith, that all the loose ends would be tied up with the land being transferred, but  investing more good faith now in the same people who have continually mislead you would be an act of folly even greater than the horribly bad parking management deal negotiated by Fred Russell.

We hope Mayor pro-tem Joe Bowles stands firm in his resolve.. and we would suggest for the commission to STOP any parking management agreement being executed between the city and  Augusta Riverfront LLC. We also suggest revisiting the bids from other companies like Aampco that were apparently ignored by Fred Russell that would yield more favorable terms and less expense for the city.

But we will have even more coming out within the next few weeks on the much larger TEE Center management deal between the city and Augusta Riverfront LLC that will make ParkingGate look pale by comparison. We told you in our Special Report: No Way to Treat a Partner, that a CORE agreement does not exist between the city and Augusta Riverfront LLC for the management of the much more expensive TEE Center that was built adjacent to the ARLLC owned Marriott hotel. That’s right, the city built a $38 million facility without an executed agreement.. and once again, on parcels of land still owned by Augusta Riverfront LLC. And under the provisions of the original 1999 CORE agreement for the existing conference center, the only agreement that seems to exist that would currently govern the TEE Center operations, Augusta Riverfront LLC should have been responsible for the nearly $400,000 change order for a more expensive HVAC system they demanded the city pay because of more stringe
nt Marriott corporate standards.

The pattern here seems to be quite clear. Under all of these deals between the city and Augusta Riverfront LLC, the taxpayers get stuck paying all of the bills and ARLLC reaps all of the rewards.. including having a $38 million new convention center built adjacent to their hotel giving them not only exclusive use of the facility but also substantially raising the value of their property.  Please stay tuned to our upcoming investigative reports into more waste and bad deals in regard to the TEE Center.

So, commissioners may also want to hold off on finalizing any agreements with Augusta Riverfront LLC over the TEE Center as well.. especially after our upcoming reports. As we’ve mentioned, no CORE agreement seems to exist, and like the parking deck, perhaps the city can negotiate a much better deal by putting this out to bid as well.  


Also, it should be obvious now that Fred Russell cannot be trusted to look after the city’s interests in negotiating these deals. In every aspect of the TEE Center and parking deck deals, Russell has consistently favored Augusta Riverfront LLC over the city for which he works. And not only that, Russell has withheld important information from commissioners that could have affected key votes over these arrangements. Can Augusta afford any more of Fred? Perhaps it’s also time to heed Lori Davis’ advice from that February 7th commission meeting and relieve Fred Russell of his duties as city administrator before he costs the taxpayers any more money, because at this rate, keeping him is becoming far more expensive than firing him. Stay tuned, more to come.***
OS

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Maybe it’s time to call the whole thing off!

Shameful Legislation Hurts CSRA Region and Lincoln County

Al Gray Remarks to Lincoln Co. Commissioners
6/14/2012

Chairman Johnson and Gentlemen of the Commission, thank you for allowing me to speak tonight. I have come to sound a warning about the proposed new 1% Transportation sales tax that comes before voters July 31st. Frankly, in all the years following public policy I have never seen anything this shameful.
The greater shame is on this county’s legislators – Bill Jackson, Lee Anderson, and Tom McCall for springing forth such an assault upon the people of this county. The bill that gave rise to this abomination was called the Transportation Investment Act. This bill set up a regional transportation roundtable for 13 counties, including Lincoln County. While it is true all had input, the law set up an executive committee of 5 to have the final vote for the 13 counties. They set it up so that Lincoln County is forced to be in this whole new level of regional government, whether we vote to pass or fail, so that our votes are diminished. This is taxation without representation. Worst of all they committed EXTORTION against us all, by denying state funds if we say “No!” Beyond this, this is a 14.2% tax increase that they swore to never vote for. Nor were any options even offered, like dedicating the 1% to our county.
Yes the shame is upon them and tonight I come to ask you to stop embracing this nonsense lest you bring greater shame on yourselves and the Chamber of Commerce, a group that risks its reputation by hawking this tax.
Politicians and Chamber representatives have been going around the CSRA saying this tax will raise $841 million under a base case. This is a LIE and the Promoters’ own data shows that. Here is a chart showing the base case. It is built on wild income growth numbers – 8% next year – that are a fantasy. The real numbers knock holes in these projections!
 Will we get only $650 million? Sales tax revenues are WAYYYYYYY down as the blue charts show over the last 5 years. Can we pretend our way back to prosperity?
Gentlemen YOU HAVE BEEN HOODWINKED!!!!!!! What these real revenue numbers show is that area wide, revenues will probably only cover $500 million to $540 million of the investment list projects! This will mean that the ones in the last years of this deal won’t be funded. Incredibly $6.6 million of the $7.7 million of Lincoln’s projects are to be built in these final years. 
 Source: Constrained List Spreadsheet from CSRA Regional Commission
The numbers say these projects will lack funding. You have been deceived and now are being asked to foist this deception upon the people of Lincoln County.
Beyond that, this is a terrible 14.2% increase in the sales tax. Frugal folks just cannot stand such an increase in any cost, for a 14.2% increase doubles living costs in 5 years. For this? This comes on top of a 23% sewer rate increase and several double-digit school tax increases. Look around! Who can afford that?
These deceivers have managed you get some of you excited over Lincoln County getting $722,000 a year in new discretionary funds. Well, based upon the data above this looks to be far less. This money is only coming to us because this scam makes Richmond and Columbia counties give up $7 million to bribe us into this wicked partnership with them. How is that right? A 1% new tax dedicated to Lincoln County would raise more revenue. Why are you excited about the same money or less with strings attached? Why are you willing to destroy your credibility for this?
Gov. Sonny Perdue said that DOT committed ENRON ACCOUNTING when it lost control of highway funds 4 years ago. Now they are all excited about getting their hands on this money. They want us to bail them out.
Mark Twain once said there were three kinds of lies….Lies….Damned lies and statistics……..now we can add a fourth lie – Tsplost.
My warning is this. Don’t go forth using these phony numbers after tonight. You know better and the people now know better.
Just vote no on T-splost. It is the only honorable thing to do.
For more reality based information on what Tsplost really is all about visit CityStink.net online.

Forensic Audit Subcommittee Making Progress

Tuesday, June 19, 2012
Augusta, GA

The Forensic Audit Sub Committee chaired by Commissioner Bill Lockett met today for the second time,  to discuss the scope of work necessary for launching a Forensic Audit concerning the Tee Center Parking Deck.  As previously discussed in this committee,  the first RFP (Request for Proposals), was released for bid with a scope of work that  was far too broad. Firms who showed an interest in bidding on the audit were asking for more clarification and direction.

It seems that forensic audits can become quite pricey when looking for criminal wrong doing. As I left this meeting today, I knew I had to tell what took place. The only media present were two regular writers for the Augusta Chronicle; Susan McCord and Sylvia Cooper.  As I rode down the elevator with Mrs. Cooper, we exchanged pleasantries and talked about what had taken place in the meeting.  I said to her,” I have got to get an article out for City Stink on this…  You do know that we named our blog in your honor.”  She acknowledged that she knew that, and said to me,”Your job will be easy.” I said, “I know it will, because I will be able to write exactly what happened in that room.”  We left it at that.  Here is what happened:

Commissioner  Lockett called the meeting to order and began to lay out his reasoning, a second time, for the need of a forensic audit. As he began his remarks, he talked about the fact that  a good portion of the scope of the work  in question had already been done by a group called, Augusta Today, and through a blog called, CityStink.net. He went on to say that this citizen’s group had given of their own time, and spent their own money to ask for documents in open records requests, to uncover the truth associated with the Tee Center parking deck. He revealed that the articles published by City Stink were all well researched and had supporting documents to accompany them. He presented to the group four such articles in the form of,”links,” for review. The CityStink.net articles he referenced were the following:

Committee members agreed to look at the articles researched and written by the,” citizen’s group“, without discussion…. The first shocking moment of the meeting!! I expected there to be some objection from General Counsel…. “Can’t believe those citizens“…..  Maybe just the name,”City Stink,” was beginning to get some respect. I began to listen closer.

Commissioner Lockett brought back up the fact that they had been told that all of the land under the parking deck would be donated.  He questioned the way in which property was acquired under the parking deck, with some being purchased by the city and other parcels remaining with Augusta Riverfront LLC. Seems that a parcel owned by State Senator Bill Jackson (The old gas station at 9th and Reynolds) had been  traded for property at 13th and Reynolds adjoining Mr. Jackson’s tile business. Why was it important to make this deal, but not with any of the rest of the parcels?  Another good question that brought Commissioner Guilfoyle, a new committee member, out of hibernation. He couldn’t understand why we all just didn’t believe Senator Jackson’s son, as he explained on the Austin Rhode’s Show, exactly what the truth was concerning this property trade, when it was uncovered by members of Augusta Today. 

Commissioner Lockett was quick to respond that all associated property could have been condemned and taken for city use. Commissioner Guilfoyle responded,”I believe this would have been a tough process.”  Touche….. In any event, the land under the tax payer funded parking deck still has a 6 million dollar lien on it. There is no disputing that fact. Also, the plan on the table is to turn the land under the deck, over to the land bank, let Augusta Riverfront LLC (Billy Morris and Paul Simon) own the bottom floor parking spaces and the tax payers get the air rights. General Counsel Andrew MacKenzieresponded with a blank stare. Not one comment from committee members either. I believe Jim Plunkett, outside Counsel  for the city called this,”Complicated.

Finally, After much discussion, Commissioner Lockett revealed the following items that he believed would be a narrow enough scope to put in an RFP to get to the bottom of all of this .  They are as follows:

Parking Decks
*Obtain and review the CORE and management agreements for the Reynolds Street Parking Deck RSPD and the Tee Center Parking decks. Identify controls deficiencies, if any, that might arise by having different agreements with potential cost-shifting exposures.


*Obtain and review lien documents filed against ARLLC or 933 Broad LLC properties situate under the RSPD and ascertain that the parcels can be transferred free of said liens to the City.


*Evaluate and determine whether City management and contracted legal counsel acted properly in allowing the RSPD to be constructed without executed agreements between the parties.


*Obtain and evaluate parking deck management Requests for Quotation covering subject parking decks, if any exist, to determine whether ARLLC or 933 Broad LLC ownership of underlying properties and subsequent ownership of ground floor parking spaces were disclosed to bidders  and whether bids were properly solicited, received, and evaluated.


*If there were alternative bids taken, determine whether the combined RSPD and Tee Center deck agreements allow costs materially in excess of those bids.


*Evaluate whether contracting out the operation of the RSPD to an operator not related to ARLLC or 933 Broad LLC would have been practical or will be be practical in the future given the relationships between the parties.


*Obtain CORE and management agreements to evaluate whether there are adequate controls in place to protect the City’s interests and finances from waste, abuse, fraud, or mismanagement by the Manager, including extensive rights of audit allowing continuous capabilities to audit these agreements.

As committee members began to cast their votes in approval of the new scope, Commissioner Guilfoyle took exception with the way the  consolidated government has operated, revisiting the  Grand Jury investigation of 1996 into city government. Recommendations were made to the  Commissioners of what needed to be done to rectify the problems that were uncovered. 

Guilfoyle commented that nothing ever happened. Commissioner Lockett countered,”Someone has put us in this predicament right now that we are in, and it is up to us to make the necessary changes when we know what is required. This is what our citizens expect, and this is what we will have to do.” 

We at Augusta Today and City Stink will continue to pay attention to all that goes on with this forensic audit and all that will go uncovered by the local media. We are getting somewhere, and it feels good!***

LD

Where you gonna say you caught these fish?

Lies, Damned Lies, Statistics and T-Splost

Tuesday, June 19, 2012
Augusta, GA
By Al Gray
When Mark Twain described the 3 kinds of lies it was about the art of deception. We find about those too late.
Back in 1990 or so, I was returning to Evans one Friday afternoon after a week on my job down in Effingham County. The evening before I had gone fishing on the lower Savannah River and caught a tremendous number of Bluegills, which were on ice in the back of my truck.
Driving up Millhaven Road approaching Girard, there was a beaver pond on the right close to a high tension power line. As I got closer, I saw the head and shoulders of a man fishing in the pond. Having a busy weekend ahead made for a sudden plan to give away my fish.
I pulled off the road, shut off the engine, and rolled down the window. I said “ Hey…you having any luck?” He said “Not much, I only catched this lil ole brim”, as he held up a stringer with a fish about the size of 3 fingers. “I don’t believe there are many fish in this hole” and I asked him “would you like a mess of about 35 fish?” He said “ Sho’ would, I wuz about to give it up, its so hot out heah” He told me his name was Alonzo and asked if I could give him a ride back to “J-rod”
After we got to his house and transferred the fish from my cooler to his, he insisted on giving me a few $dollars for the fish and the ride. Just before I pulled away I asked Alonzo, “Where are you gonna tell your buddies you caught these fish?” He laughed and said “Ah’m gonna tell ’em I catched them in dat beavah pond!
I forgot about the whole exchange over the weekend, until late Sunday afternoon on the trip back, Just south of J-Rod there were a bunch of cars parked on the shoulder. They were alongside that beaver pond, and there was a whole row of folks fishing.
Never believe a politician or a fisherman. They will have you fishing in an empty pond catching only snags and mosquito bites.***
A.G.


Join the Anti-T-SPLOST movement on facebook here–>  Vote NO to T-SPLOST

A Patriot and a Heroine Departs Augusta

The Law Came in with Gail Force

 

Sunday June 17, 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.
 
Romans Chapter 5 perhaps sums up Christian faith more succinctly than any chapter in the Bible.  It begins with tribulations, perseverance, proven character and hope. It finishes with transgressions, condemnation, justification, reconciliation and concludes in grace.  In the middle one finds the Law in a curious light.
20 [o] The Law came in so that the transgression would increase….
Whoa! Many Bible scholars predictably avoid this improbable and seemingly out-of-place role of the Law, in such a negative light. Only those with passion for the Law, a keen intellect, curiosity, and fearless determination to seek truth in the Lord, like the legendary Rev. C.H. Spurgeon, address this passage. It is too daunting for most.
It wasn’t for Gail Duffie Stebbins. She found nothing daunting. Gail, a longtime friend, mentor, collaborator, and confidant, lived Romans 5 and exemplified why the notion that “the Law came in so that the transgression would increase” isn’t negative at all. It is the lifeblood of our society, key to our Constitutional rights, and, as Romans 5 shows, it demonstrates to all how we fall short.
Let’s return to the beginning of Romans 5.
Therefore, having been justified by faith,  we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and [we exult in hope of the glory of God.  And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance;and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
Nothing better sums up the life of Gail Duffie Stebbins for this old friend. She suffered tribulations throughout life, as all of us must, but the one that strikingly stands out from this perspective is that Gail was a capable, forceful woman who thrust herself into the melee of the ‘boys club’ of the Augusta bar and Augusta Judicial circuit. As the Augusta Chronicle  reported (Her father, Hubert) “Duffie raised his daughters to ignore gender boundaries and pursue any career path they wanted, saying “the sky is the limit.” She didn’t back down, taking a particularly aggressive stance against governmental predations of her beloved parent’s property rights. Her sword was Equal Protection under the 5th Amendment to the United States Constitution and her shield was the Due Process Clauses of the 5thand 14th amendments. Harmful overlay zoning ordinances with the Evans Town Center and Fury’s Ferry Corridor districts attempted to make short shrift of Hubert and Eleanor, her parents. She would have none of that. The dominant men would yield. Indeed, when a Superior Court judge threw out the Evans Town Center ordinance in a suit that Gail brought, the judge exclaimed to the county’s attorneys, She’s got you boys!  Of course, in good-old-boy fashion the judge delayed entering his decision in the case long enough for the “boys” on the county’s staff to remedy the deficiencies she prevailed upon, and then reenact the law.
After tribulations comes persistence. She was so accustomed to being abused by the boys that Gail knew the judge was going to give the government every break in the Town Center case. She persisted in a backup plan to prove nobody else had ever lived up to the rules. We went around taking digital photos, doing Georgia Open Records Act Requests, and Gail even went to the extent of measuring distances and counting parking places to prove we were right! Our persistence meant that after her court case and our presentations, the county was never again able to use that ordinance against a determined property owner. In demanding equal protection for Hubert, Eleanor and herself, she benefitted the rest of us.
The next stage is proven character. Gail insisted in following the second commandment of Christ – “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” – which is at the root of law and just common decency in how we treat others. She got a lot of that from her father, whom she adored. After Hubert’s death three weeks ago, she was cited and quoted in the Augusta Chronicle His daughter, Gail Stebbins, hopes people will remember her father as a man with ‘extreme integrity’ who cared deeply about those in need and wanted to leave the world a better place”….“He never asked for recognition,” she said. “Daddy was one of those who liked to quietly work behind the scenes.” Gail was nothing like that. The Law came in with Gail force and she was scarcely shy in defense of her family and community. She had proven character and toughness.
The last time we spoke was on the eve of our Augusta Today activist group’s intervention to defeat the Laney Walker Bethlehem Overlay District before the Augusta Richmond County Commission, in which Gail’s guerilla style defense of property rights would reign supreme. She counseled for us to avoid providing so much information about the city’s mistakes that their lawyers would correct the crucial ones and in fact advised against doing anything. It went something like “let them find out too late.“ I laughingly took half of her advice and we left enough untouched, unreported, and undiscovered issues to prove fatal should the need arise, even though we went forward in our (successful) opposition. Gail was like that. She was a fantastic sounding board.
One might think this friend would have trouble with the idea that she gathered hope. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Gail knew the score about a whole host of matters – law, politics, government, public policy, finance, world economy, and human nature. While we had not seen each other in several years, she was a steady counsel, fount of ideas, and source of practical thought. I treasured her wisdom, advice and perspective. She recognized the seriousness and precariousness of our world situation, but she had tremendous HOPE for her children’s futures.
Gail’s husband, Clay, represented our family when we had similar need to combat wrong with considerable ability and aplomb. He was a life partner in Gail’s battles and we offer him and their daughters our heartfelt condolences over Gail’s passing late last week.
Gail Stebbin’s life lent meaning to the words of Romans 5, Verse 20,  that says “The Law came in so that transgression might increase.” The great Reverend Spurgeon explains that for us this way. Sin always existed, but until the Law was introduced, there was no way to measure or prove the universality of sin. Law, as Gail practiced it, was a great equalizer. It showed that all men (and) women have fallen short, even the wealthy, the powerful, and the privileged. The end of the verse explains this way: “grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Exposing inequality was Gail’s way of exposing sin and overcoming it with God’s help.
Gail knew one thing supremely. She had hope “and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us….
10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved [f] by His life. 11  And not only this, [g]but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.”
Gail adored her father. In her last interview she said this – “He is my hero.
Now through hope and conquered transgression, she is reunited with him in reconciliation with God.
She was one of my heroines  and she was a fellow patriot.
Godspeed Gail, you will be missed for a while, but we will see you one morning soon.
Your old friend,
Al

 

15 Reasons to Detest T-SPLOST and Punish its Promoters

T-SPLOST creates 12 new “regional” governments

Originally posted by CityStink
Tuesday, June 12, 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.
*Please see a video presentation by Al Gray warning county leaders about the perils of T-SPLOST—>Here
The Transportation Investment Act of 2010 (also referred to even in the legislation as the ‘Transportation Investment Act’) is being called T-Splost all over Georgia. The legislation establishes a new 1% sales tax supposedly dedicated to regional transportation.
Our region is the Central Savannah River Region, consisting of populous Richmond and Columbia counties, along with 11 rural counties. The tax covers a 10 year period. The funds are totaled for the region, then allocated based upon 75% a “constrained investment list of projects and 25% discretionary funds based upon an 80% non-state road miles per county and 20% based upon population. Funds are collected by the Georgia Department of Revenue, then transferred to the Georgia Finance and Investment Commission for distribution.
Confusing? You bet. That is intentional.
Here is the evaluation, from a cost recovery and fiscal conservative policy point of view of why TSPLOST is an abomination:
  1. The Bill says only the 5 member executive board has a vote on the final project list. Rural voters have no representation in that vote.(see Executive Committe paragraph ½ down the page) This is Taxation without Representation #1.
  1. Rural voters in 11 counties can vote it down, but still are subjected (See Special Districts, paragragh 2) to this regional government, if it massively passed in urban counties. This is Taxation without Representation #2.
  1. It is an Act of Extortion. The bill says regions that do not pass it see their state funds matching TRIPLED from 10 percent to 30 percent. (See Line 687-692, page 20, House Bill 277) (Good news is that it will fail in a region or two prompting a HUGE lawsuit.) Bill Jackson, Ben Harbin, and Lee Anderson voted to allow Nathan Deal to extort money out of us in this manner.
  1. Richmond County and Columbia Counties are Donor Counties, giving up an estimated $5 million and $2 million respectively, to fund the 25% discretionary funds for the other 11 counties. McDuffie County is said to be also a minor donor county, although the author’s analysis suggests it has a very slight benefit of less than $100,000 over 10 years.
  1. It is a 14.2% tax increase. Frugal folks get WIPED OUT by anything that increases living costs by double digits as your living costs double in less than 5 years (see Rule of 72). Worse, it compounds the 14% Georgia Power rate increases that Jackson, Anderson and Harbin gave us.
  1. The $840 million figure the Chamber is Presenting is A LIE AND THEY KNOW IT. It is built on a wild income growth figure of 8% next year. WHO is getting 8% pay increases???? Their own figure is $689 million, apples to apples. Even that is too high by $50 million because the “low case” numbers are known to be off for this year by more than 50%. (More on this later.)
  1. It introduces a whole NEW LEVEL OF GOVERNMENT!!!! Ron Cross contests that with your author, but it has its own governing body, revenue stream, financial apparatus, and it calls for NEW STATE/REGIONAL positions (House Bill 277 New Code section, lines 236-329) written into the bill.
  1. It turns over nearly all funding in the rural counties (HB 277, line 786-789) to DOT, an agency this whole deal is bailing out after it lost track of its contract obligations, a failure so bad that Governor Perdue accused DOT of “ENRON ACCOUNTING.
  1. Politicians already see this as a NEW way to divert or tie highway funds to such things as deepening the port at Savannah. This shouts WARNING!!!!!,for the state cannot be trusted with its TRUST FUNDS. Look up the Tire Fund, 911 fund, and Tobacco funds. What really is absurd is that this whole imbroglio was set up to CLAIM that it protected us from these SCAMS.
  1. This legislation creates a NIGHTMARE FOR RETAILERS as it requires separate sales and use tax reporting for each location! (See HB 277 lines 762-768).
  1. 17% of the revenues collected on motor fuels in Georgia go into the General Fund, not transportation (see pages 3 & 4). If transportation is the priority claimed, WHY is this true? What about the $750,000  to take a black bear census and to build bear underpasses on a state highway? Is that a transportation ‘priority?’
  1. Columbia County has huge funds from SPLOST which it uses for road improvements even on state highways. DOT keeps the motor fuel taxes. THIS IS A THIRD HUGE POT OF MONEY. Neither of the other two go away!
  1. Looking at the bill, it allows COUNTIES to charge Administrative costs (HB 277 Line 474). This is HIDDEN from cursory examination of this bill. No wonder the county administrators are drooling.
  1. Looking at the bill, it forces counties (HB 277 lines 800-850) to use DOT and envisions DOT as ‘consultant’ on the discretionary projects. The DOT’s Todd Long alluded to this during the Chamber of Commerce forum in Evans on Wednesday, June 6.
  2. House Bill 277 also states that the collection of T-Splost funds is subordinated to collection of the state sales and use taxes (see HB 277, lines 750-752).
As a past member of the Greater Augusta Chamber of Commerce, this writer is concerned that championing this outrageous deception will ruin recruitment for Chambers of Commerce. It might be an easier sell for the Communist Party to sign up new members after this misguided foray into public policy!
Let’s defeat T-Splost on July 31.
Along the way we need to make ALL of the county commissioners tell us their positions on this new tax so that we can be informed voters. They are calling it a “fair” tax, so isn’t requiring disclosure of their stance on T-Splost likewise FAIR?
Then make the politicians PAY.***
A.G.
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A Transportation to Heaven Investment

A Caesar Rendering Due

Originally posted on CityStink
Sunday,June 10 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.
All Americans should acquaint themselves with Andrew Jackson’s Farewell Address.  The unabridged version, distributed as a pamphlet, stands as a clear warning and prophesy. In it “Old Hickory” wrote:
 You will yet find there is a constant effort to induce the General Government to go beyond the limits of its taxing power and to impose unnecessary burdens upon the people. Many powerful interests are continually at work to procure heavy duties on commerce and to swell the revenue beyond the real necessities of the public service…. They succeeded in obtaining a tariff …. extravagant schemes of internal improvement were got up in various quarters to squander the money …  But, rely upon it, the design to collect an extravagant revenue and to burden you with taxes beyond the economical wants of the Government is not yet abandoned. …efforts will be made to seduce and mislead the citizens of the several States by holding out to them the deceitful prospect of benefits to be derived from a surplus revenue collected by the General Government and annually divided among the States….Do not allow yourselves, my fellow-citizens, to be misled on this subject. … It is, moreover, a system of injustice, and if persisted in will inevitably lead to corruption, and must end in ruin.
Don’t these words paint a hauntingly familiar picture in this election season when we are asked to vote ourselves a new tax for transportation improvement? There is nothing new under the sun when it comes to predatory government, is there?
Christians live with a dilemma in evaluating such things, for in Matthew 22:15-22 we find the duties of paying taxes in the context of perplexing instructions:
Then the Pharisees went and plotted together how they might trap Him in what He said. 16 And they *sent their disciples to Him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that You are truthful and teach the way of God in truth, and defer to no one; for You are not partial to any. 17 Tell us then, what do You think? Is it lawful to give a poll-tax to Caesar, or not?” 18 But Jesus perceived their malice, and said, “Why are you testing Me, you hypocrites?19 Show Me the coin used for the poll-tax.” And they brought Him a denarius. 20 And He *said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21 They *said to Him, “Caesar’s.” Then He *said to them, “ Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 And hearing this, they were amazed, and leaving Him, they went away.
What was ‘money’ then and now was whatever was branded as legal tender granted the privilege of being accepted in payment of the government’s taxes. The denarius coin was stamped with Caesar’s image, so Jesus responded simply “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s (legal tender money); and to God the things that are God’s (ourselves and wealth that stands beyond legal tender money).
When government strains the limits of the consent of the governed and the sheer mathematics of debt, the things it demands as “money” become debased. Indeed, the fall of Rome came when the denarius became so debased by the government’s own abuse, that other “things” assumed one of the two essential attributes of money – that of a Store of Value.  When some other “things” become stores of value – be they gold, silver, produce, grain, oil, or fertilizer – then they command more and more of the government’s legal tender required as units of exchange.  At some point the valuables assume both store-of-value and unit-of-exchange functions because the government’s money has gone worthless. Then governments get very hostile to the people.
Indeed, at the time of the Fall of Rome, it was said that the Roman farmers were so infuriated by the government’s raids of the stored value represented by their granaries, that they invited and implored that the barbarians’ invade to relieve them of tyranny from Rome.
We are at the same point here in our “modernity.” Our money is debased, so government is increasing its demands upon us – now wanting to tax our previously taxed savings when we spend them – and will continue to do this until the people rise up and put a stop to it.
Giving the government its due has to be limited to what the government needs to serve us, as Andrew Jackson intoned. As it moves beyond that, it gets into the realm of what is ours and interferes with our ability to give the Lord that which is his – support of church, charities, and our fellow men, women and children in need. Worst of all it grows its demands so as to enslave man and to deny him the time to devote to the Lord and to others.
Let’s spend no more time on that conundrum. Men halt the advancement of government power at some point, if there be patriots still drawing breath (there are). Let us turn to rendering to God that which is His.
What is His?
We are His along with everything that we have and are able to store value into. We are charged to tithe, so as to support the church in its service to the broader community and that must be a central aspect of Christian life and practice.
Matthew 10, Verse 28 makes it clear for us:

28 Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in [a] hell.

Pretty simple, isn’t it? We should be fearless toward government and fearful of God. We must love the Lord, not government. Government is just another Pharisee, trying to trip you up. Be not deceived. Look beyond their power to harm. Look to heaven. All else is false pretense.

Come thou Fount of Every Blessing and that isn’t the latest Caesar or his government.

AG

TEE Center Special Report: No Way to Treat a “Partner”

“Howdy, partner! Can you spare a few $million?”

Thursday, June 7, 2012
Augusta, GA
By Lori Davis

Our Augusta Today and CityStink.net group had limited representation at the January 30, 2012 meeting of the City of Augusta’s Finance Committee when several commissioners roasted the City’s outside lawyer, Jim Plunkett over the Tee Center parking deck agreements with manager Augusta Riverfront LLC. However, one comment reported by WJBF’s George Eskola struck home. “We’re supposed to be in a partnership but I’ve never seen partners treated as we’ve been treated in these issues accusing people of doing things wrong we don’t operate like that,” said Paul Simon who’s company Augusta Riverfront LLC owns the Marriott.
(*See the video of the WJBF report below… article continues below)

The comment sent me looking for the partnership agreement for the Tee Center that Mr. Simon was talking about.

Here is what was found. Better said, here is what I didn’t find.

The Augusta Commission has only approved one document that might be seen as a “partnership agreement” for the Tee Center in the form of the Management Agreement Term Sheet (*click to view). It is UNSIGNED AND UNDATED, but was included in the package of documents when the Tee Center was approved by the Commission on August 21, 2007.

After the August 2007 meeting, the only later action was at the called meeting of the Board of Commissioners in early December 2009 where the Commissioners authorized the Mayor to  execute the Tee Center Construction Operating and Reciprocal Easement (CORE) Agreement in anticipation of beginning construction.

Seeing that as being the partnership agreement I submitted a Georgia Open Records Request to the Augusta Law Department for the executed agreement. They didn’t have it.

Deke Copenhaver NEVER signed a CORE agreement. It doesn’t exist.

Yes, you read that correctly. The partnership for the $50 million Tee Center and Parking Deck complex does not exist! What does exist has some really shocking provisions that I think should have Augusta demanding big money from Mr. Simon’s LLC!

What does exist is the CORE agreement on the existing Conference Center dated June 21, 1999 recorded in the records of the Clerk of the Augusta Richmond County Superior Court in Deed Book 648 on page 45. *(Click here to view the 1999 CORE Agreement for the existing conference Center)

The existing CORE agreement was not canceled or superseded by a more recent partnership deal as far as we can tell. What does this signed and executed agreement say? Page 13 has a whole bunch of wording that makes Augusta Riverfront LLC responsible for all manner of construction and maintenance cost throughout the term of the agreement (*Click here to view).

 Page 16 (*Click to view) says this: “Developer (Augusta Riverfront LLC) in operating the air conditioning and heating system for the Hotels and the Expanded Conference Center shall operate such systems in a manner which will not unduly drain heat, ventilation or air conditioning from the Improvements of any other party”

Nowhere in the unsigned, undated Term Sheet is there change in duties as they relate to HVAC or the existing conference Center. The Term Sheet even says “Augusta’s capital funds shall specifically not be used for items related to any Convention Center and/or Hotel capital cost.”

The Augusta Chronicle reported (*click here to view article)  about a controversial change order for an expensive HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) upgrade requested by Augusta Riverfront LLC, owners of the Marriott, writing ”The changes being requested include $399,083 for upgrades to the smoke exhaust system, increasing the number of air changes at the convention center from the Georgia minimum standard of about 2.5 per hour to eight per hour, as requested by Marriott. ”

Questions

If the signed and executed CORE agreement for the Convention Center puts responsibility for HVAC operations within the hotel upon the hotel owners and the 2007 Term sheet does the same for Hotel capital costs, why hasn’t the Commission, Mayor and Fred Russell demanded that Augusta’s partners pay these costs? Where is our $399, 083?

Where is the partnership agreement? Does Fred Russell mean to tell us that they built a $50 million complex using public funds with no partnership agreement?

How can it be legal to build a publicly funded project like this on unsigned, undated documents?

Shouldn’t all Augusta be channeling Mr. Simon’s objection -“I’ve never seen partners treated as we’ve been treated ” -right back at him?***
-Lori Davis


(*Below are pdfs of some of the public documents cited in this article)
2009 CORE GORA Request – Lori Davis
1999 Core – Radisson Hotel Conference Center (1)
1999 CORE – Radisson P. 13
1999 CORE – Radisson P. 16

ETCOD Center, The Land of Tomorrow Doomed by Its Own Flaws & The Rule of Law

Monday, June 4, 2012
Evans, GA
By Al Gray

In last weekend’s article, Overlay Somebody Else: My Battle With Columbia County Over Property Rights, the birth pangs of the ill-fated Evans Town Center Ordinance and the Evans Town Center Overlay District (aka ETCOD) in 2000 were revisited. This week, let’s look at what happened two years later, after the ‘rules’ had been in place long enough to judge how well they were applied.

During the heated debate of 2000, the spirit of economist and philosopher Frederic Bastiat had to have been there. Among his relevant quotes were these:

It is impossible to introduce into society a greater change and a greater evil than this: the conversion of the law into an instrument of plunder….Sometimes the law defends plunder and participates in it. Thus the beneficiaries are spared the shame and danger that their acts would otherwise involve… But how is this legal plunder to be identified? Quite simply. See if the law takes from some persons what belongs to them and gives it to the other persons to whom it doesn’t belong. See if the law benefits one citizen at the expense of another by doing what the citizen himself cannot do without committing a crime….Legal plunder can be committed in an infinite number of ways…..


We can add to his list of legal plunder “town center ordinances” and “overlay zoning.”
Augusta attorney Gail Duffie Stebbins might not know Frederic Bastiat but she knew that the Evans Town Center was legal plunder. In 2002 Ms. Stebbins sued to have the Evans Town Center Overlay Zoning Ordinance set aside for failure to give her and other property owners sufficient, defensible notice. A Superior Court Judge agreed with her. Columbia County responded by curing the technical defects, then reintroducing the same ordinance.


The As the Columbia County News-Times reported about the November, 2002 meeting: “It wasn’t any more quiet the second time around, ” an obvious reference to the near-riot that broke out in 2000 in a Planning Commission meeting at which the original ordinance was advanced to the Columbia County Commission.

Ms. Stebbins temporarily-successful law suit was easily sidestepped. The findings of the another speaker turned out to be fatal. The News Times report continued in its report: “The Evans Town Center is as dead as some misguided possum crossing I-20, run down by high-speed development,” said Al Gray, who’s family owns land in the town center district. ”


Brash statements? Not really. You see, there are concepts as old as society itself that found themselves into the Constitution of the United States of America and the Bill of Rights. Citizens cannot be deprived of EQUAL PROTECTION OF THE LAW under the 5th Amendment and cannot be deprived of property without DUE PROCESS OF LAW under the 14th Amendment. By these standards the ETCOD ordinance was doomed, because there had been scores of noncomplying structures and developments built with county approval. The proof was demonstrated in this presentation, made to the county commission that night.

**(See the ETCOD Nonconformity presentation below. Article continues after)ETCOD Nonconformity (1)


The approach was this. First, the ETCOD ordinance was broken down into the component standards. Second, digital photos were taken of all structures, buildings, parking lots, and landscaping represented by approved and constructed projects since the Town Center was launched in 2000. Third, the noncomplying features were categorized under the pertinent design standard that was violated. Fourth, the fact that there were scores of noncomplying projects and only 5 variances requested and granted was documented. Fifth, it was pointed out that the near-universal approval of nonconforming structures would simply doom the ordinance in court. 


This is how one defeats an overly aggressive government. One can turn the planners own ordinances, actions, and lack of enforcement against them. A property owner cannot be singled out for not conforming when equal protection says he must be accorded the same leniency of those who came before. Yes, that night Columbia County fixed Ms. Stebbins’ objections, only to run into decisive defeat before the meeting concluded. 

The county never was able to subdue a patient determined landowner after that night, because they were armed with knowledge of their rights and how to successfully demand the same standards as those who came before them. Those standards had been gutted by the county’s own hand. “Columbia County does not have the resources to manage 5-square-miles with the ordinance as it is written,” said Richard Sorensen, a Northwoods subdivision resident. “What you are biting off is more than you can chew.”
Indeed.
After all, equal protection has its roots in the Bible admonition “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Even politicians find themselves nodding in agreement with that.

The Town Center plan ended up being a collection of upgraded architectural finishes and landscaping, but the unenforceable parts died that night.

Today, Columbia County’s Richard Harmon is putting the finishing touches on a comprehensive rewrite of the Evans Town Center ordinances, based upon these realities. Wise heads prevailed in the end. ***

AG
Related Stories:
Overlay Somebody Else; My Battle with Columbia County Over Property Rights

***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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Sunday Sermon: Grab an Oar and Give all You’ve Got

A ‘Mitey’ Big Present

The Return of “Giving it Your All”
Originally posted on CityStink
Sunday, June 3, 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.
This writer’s favorite painting is “Washington Crossing the Delaware,” an 1851 work by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze. Yes, historians and assorted wags sniff that it is not historically accurate, because the famous river crossing happened in the night, but the art of it is that it conveys the sheer power of pain and sacrifice that gave rise to our wonderful nation. It also sets one to pondering about the future and whether we the people of America in this year of 2012 remotely have the dedication to give it all to God or country.
Focus on the men manning the paddles and oars in the boat, not the general or the officers. These brave lads came from a populace divided on even whether the Revolution was a good idea, much as our folks are divided today on government. They were not likely to win fame or fortune, yet there they were, giving the liberty movement their very lives. That same winter it was said Washington’s army could be tracked by the bloody footprints these patriot warriors left in the snow. They gave it all.
Jesus gave it all. He expects us to do that too. He watches from Heaven in observation of our actions, much as he sat one day observing people paying the Treasury.
41 And He sat down opposite the treasury, and began observing how the people were putting money into the treasury; and many rich people were putting in large sums. 42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which amount to a cent. 43 Calling His disciples to Him, He said to them,
 “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury; 44 for they all put in out of their [e]surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on.”
The sequencing of this story is curious as it is immediately before an accounting of the last days found in Mark 13, especially verses 9 through 13.
“But be on your guard; for they will deliver you to the courts, and you will be flogged in the synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them. 10 The gospel must first be preached to all the nations. 11 When they arrest you and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but it is the Holy Spirit. 12 Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and have them put to death. 13  You will be hated by all because of My name, but the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.
Religion and politics are the realms where men and women of faith in God and country have been making the ultimate sacrifice since the days of Genesis. The widow didn’t know where her next meal was coming from. She might have been facing starvation. She certainly increased her deprivation in contributing her last cent. The patriots in Washington’s boat suffered starvation, freezing temperatures, frostbite, and isolation from home and loved ones. They risked death in camp, in battle, and as traitors had they lost.
Today in this America people are fat, contented, and lazy. Few are the patriots. Few are those who give up everything to follow Jesus. City and suburban life foists neighborhoods where no one knows their neighbors, because very few feel a sense of community or a compelling reason to be part of a community. This writer has had the good fortune to migrate to country life. Here things are much different. Folks in this relatively poor county pitch in to help their neighbors. It isn’t all that uncommon to get the feeling that they will give you the clothes off of their back. People still GIVE without any expectation of anything received in return. The contrast between living and working in Chicago, Winston-Salem, or Savannah is quite amazing. One sees HOPE in rural America that our people still have it within themselves to sacrifice for the greater good.
When times become tough, faith and the willingness to sacrifice it all may be all a man or woman has left. Everyone doing it will keep society from something very dark indeed. One day, in which we all will rejoice, I believe everybody in the land will see this as a necessity for life itself.
Try not to count on the end times or predict them. Practice sacrifice for others. It is a ‘mitey’ fine thing.
Remember Washington’s frozen troops. They were not standing tall in the boat. They were throwing body and soul into the oars. The widow gave her last mite. Will you do the same?***
AG

 

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