Many Arrows Moment – Devouring the Rosary

Out here in the country, folks know better than to tie a goat to a rose trelise, but down the road in Augusta, Mayor Deke Copenhaver is getting ready to tie a whole herd of them to Richmond Counties last golden rosary, the SPLOST fund.
You can be sure that his honor would like to get out the gate in January before the new gardener arrives, especially since there is a big old hungry Judas goat hidden, yet in plain sight at the front of the line.

Yes, right now it is at the very end of the SPLOST ballot for tomorrow and this Judas goat reads like this – “If reimposition of the tax is approved by the voters, such vote shall also constitute approval of the issuance of general obligation debt of Augusta, Georgia in the principal amount of $22,395,000 for the purposes of (1) any one or more of the Augusta Projects, (2) the Recreational Multi-Use Facility included in the Hephzibah Projects, and (3) retiring the Augusta Notes. Yes or no”

Trouble is those bonds never got issued and the issuing URA Board is illegal. If the Voters approve the SPLOST, the Mayor and his cronies get to redirect UP FRONT money that was to go toward those bonds. Where will the money go? Probably to their favorite boondoggles, like that Mills Project that Georgia Regents University wants no part of.

The Berckmans Road swindle that went from Last to First was just a trial run for Deke’s grand heist on the way out.
All Augusta will have left is goat’s breath that will be the only thing coming up roses.

The mayor loves him some prayer breakfasts and probably this from Matthew “But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.”

This has been your Many Arrows Moment on Agraynation.com

Columbia County Tax Dollars Fuel a Banker’s Bonus???

You just have to laugh when the politicians in two urban counties down the road resort to hiding videos, switching meeting times, and cutting debate time in half to thwart an old busybody and his gang of reformers. Their latest trick play came between Tuesday May 6 and Thursday May 15, 2014 down in Evans. Columbia County has a pledge to post its commission meeting video within 48 hours of its Tuesday meetings, but it took 9 days for this one to see daylight.

Agraynation.com has been in the habit of bringing videographers to ensure that a video record is secured, but in a previous Columbia County meeting Chairman Ron Cross admonished that having video shot was unnecessary because the county provides it with so reliably. Not this time. This speaker had a most unpleasant message and an even tougher question but obviously had no prepared text to post later. Rather than let the explosive video and information out, the administration sat on it.

Metro Spirit reporter Eric Johnson observed and wrote a wonderful piece on the Commissioner Ron Thigpen bonus presentation titled “Collateral Damage.” The title was pure brilliance, because the collateral damage from the Columbia County banking scandal will range far, wide and deep.

Johnson implied that the talk was long-winded, overlooking that it was 8 minutes before a body that allowed 10 minutes until this campaign season began. He was also puzzled. The key exhibits were not shown to the public, because their sensitive nature commanded the decency to allow the Rons, Thigpen and Cross, to respond to the deep concern of this old supporter and friend.

To summarize, the county entered into a mass banking agreement with the Ron’s bank in 2010 after a series of recusals, mystery documents, a vote to allow 2 commissioners to even vote on it, and more irregularity than comes after a trip to a filthy restaurant. About the same time Ron Thigpen, who is President of the bank, got a new bonus that looks to have doubled because of the massive Columbia County money deposited in his bank.

Thigpen Bonus 2010 Change

The media around these parts whines that just about any issue involving money is too complex. This one isn’t. It is third grade math. If you have 1 over 2 (1/2), you double the result if you subtract 1 from the bottom number. That is how Ron Thigpen’s bonus was set up. After Columbia County’s $1 (hundred million) is applied at December 31st of that year, the equity denominator falls to $1(hundred million) from $2(hundred million). Sources of the county monies are an open records response and the bank equity figures are from the FDIC.

When all factors are taken into account, it would appear that the $22,000 cash bonus paid to Thigpen was 2.2 times higher than it would have been without the county deal.

Thigpen Bonus Received 2010

Last week Ron Thigpen was overheard in an ad for Chairman Cross’ reelection saying how “comfortable’ he was with Ron Cross.

We all can be comfortable along with him that fellow bank stockholder Cross did the right thing to enhance their wealth.

Collateral Damage, Mr. Johnson? That was very, very well done! Next up Cat Burglars and Cat bankers – the $12 million heist.

This is Arrowflinger Al reporting on a cloudy day from points west. Stick around for the missing video.

Intimidation in Evans?

During the recent look at Columbia County Georgia’s controversial 2010 Banking Services Request For Proposal, which was awarded to Georgia Bank and Trust, a bank in which 2 county commissioners held stock and a third is now President of the bank, Ms. Leanne Reece was seen at the County commission meeting accompanied by a young lad taken to be her son. You can see the boy in this video.

His presence was enough to change the topic of the presentation that night from Banking Services to the TIA 2010 scandal, because there was no desire to pressure his mom in front of him.

It is a shame the county commissioners aren’t so forgiving when it comes to applying pressure to county employees to get an intended outcome.

The banking RFP seems to have gone through the entire process up to a week or so prior to the meeting as Bid Title: Banking Services for Columbia County, GA Board of Commissioners Bid Number: 2010-005 but was on the Agenda April 20, 2010, the fateful night that the commission awarded the contract, as RFP 2010-005 Banking Services for the County and Water Utility.

Why is the title change potentially significant? Based upon the submissions by responding banks, the evaluation team only recommended Georgia Bank and Trust for the Water Utility accounts, county accounts the bank already had. Finance Director Reece was one of the evaluators and had even noted that the apparently winning bank based upon the evaluation, First Citizens Bank, had offered a 1% interest rate minimum. You can see evidence of Ms. Reece’s diligence. WHOA, she wrote there was “no floor” in the G,B&T proposal, an odd statement since GBT is shown to have offered a floor of 0.75%. Can it be that was true with the original submittals, since replaced by altered documents? With this gang of manipulators, who knows?

If she was that attuned to the greater interest earnings potential of First Citizens, why would Director Reece go along with the lesser proposal based upon a speculative analysis from county bond underwriter Jeffries?

This entire affair reeks of pressure put on a professional woman with a family by powerful men with control over her job.

You have to hope that job isn’t in jeopardy for yielding to human fear.

Pro-SPLOST Augusta Commissioner Goes Rogue

When someone is filled with venomous rage, they tend to not hear what is said. In this case, please watch and listen to the segment of question and answer immediately before Commissioner Donnie Smith’s reprehensible diatribe. Next you get to observe the reaction of Commissioner Bill Lockett, who demonstrated that he was listening to that discourse with keen interest, because he almost perfectly recited it back to Commissioner Smith.

When this effort began 30 months ago, it began 5 years beyond the capability of any hostile party to seek retribution against an employer, client, or reference. Exhaustive case studies are found on both the agraynation.com and costrecoveryworks.com sites. On this site are numerous videos, articles, and publications documenting the achievements of these past 30 months, which have resulted in tremendous savings to Augusta.

– Prevented misapplication of an overlay zoning district to a greater area than was legal.
– Did title search under Reynolds Street Parking Deck using the Georgia Superior Courts Website and the Augusta Clerk of Superior Court Office, found Augusta did not own the land under their facility, found there were $7 million in liens on the land, and then notified the media, commission and the Public. Then supported curtailing costs of the management contract.
– Supported the County Commission with efforts to institute last minute controls over the Convention Center project with the result that unlimited catering, audit rights were expanded and other costs were capped.
– Researched Urban Redevelopment Areas and successfully assisted the Augusta Commission in curtailing the Augusta Downtown Redevelopment Area.
– Researched Tax Allocation Districts and advised commissioners that TAD One was $10’s of millions under water.
– Supported a $184,000 reduction in the sales tax management project
– Found a $164,000 overcharge in a subcontract.

Augusta Commission Buries Old Sins with New SPLOST Abomination

IMG_1347

Presentation of Al Gray to the Augusta Commission May 6, 2014

This holey bucket, made up as a prop for one of your SPLOST meetings, is stunningly perfect as a depiction of Augusta’s Sales Tax Program. Properly designed, your liquidity slowly meters out one hole in the bottom, but the way this one is, liquidity spurts out all over the place, leaving the tree to wither. Augusta has been to the well too often with a bucket like this and this might be the final trip before the well is dry.

When you have a $12 million parking deck funded with sales tax built on land you did not own, that is a pretty big hole. When you have $2 million of sales tax funded kitchen equipment you were not supposed to pay for, exchanged for land that was supposed to be donated, that is a doubly big hole. When those sales taxes build a facility that drain the general fund, to the tune of $250,000 a year for 50 years to pay staff that were free under another agreement, that hole becomes a gaping maw. When you use sales tax to fund a municipal building and don’t use the right contracting, $20 million doubles to $40 million, on the way to $65 million. When you don’t recapture what contractors owe you, you lose $750,000 on your sewage contract, close to $150,000 on an office building, and untold $ millions on a convention center. Those are the big holes. The liquidity lost from myriad smaller ones may be greater, because Augusta doesn’t even have a sales tax program control manual built into its sales tax management contract.

The liquidity coming in from SPLOST, shouted to the heavens in timely initiatives designed to promote the SPLOST vote, isn’t there and won’t be there. For instance, past Splosts made streams of interest income that have evaporated and been further diminished by use of high cost or inefficient banks, as Columbia County may be learning.

People get excited about lining up with the holes in your new SPLOST too. The Marriott folks want a $1 million skywalk, we see. Before giving them the money, which a former commission approved, wouldn’t it be prudent to see if there are offsetting charges from Augusta back to the Marriott? The Augusta citizens whom I was helping two years ago looked into several areas potentially offsetting that $1 million but were stonewalled by Fred Russell. Most of those centered on the Conference Center contract that was extended.

The biggest hole of them all is a chasm where truth should be. When the “news media” is so embedded in the subject of a story, as the Chronicle was with the Convention Center management, even their closest allies lose. Poor Rick Allen, the Tee Center contractor, believed what he read in the daily newspaper and became so un-witting that there were any loose ends that he accepted $7,000 in campaign donations from the top Marriott executive.

Augusta has another year to take the time to fix all the holes in SPLOST while the city and the region wrest with the burgeoning TSPLOST debacle which centers on Augusta also.

Take the time. Fix the holes. There are not many whole buckets of money left.

Blame it on the Evans UFO

The first report in this series, Conflict in Columbia County, peered into the April 2010 vote to grant the mass banking contract of Columbia County, Georgia to GB&T, Georgia Bank and Trust, a bank in which 2 commissioners, Ron Cross and Charlie Allen held stock and a third, Ron Thigpen, serves as Chief Operating Officer.

The award came after an extensive Request for Proposal was issued to about a dozen local banks in January. Responses were due by February 18th. Four county employees were designated as evaluators of the proposals: Water Director Billy Clayton, Accounting Manager Debra North, Finance Director Lee Ann DeLoach (then Reece), and Phyllis Swain. After the evaluations were compiled and the scoring totaled, First Citizens Bank scored the highest of the responding banks, with GB&T in second place. First Citizens quoted a minimum interest rate on deposits of 1%, with DeLoach noting the lack of a floor with GB&T relative to First Citizens and Swain noting that First Citizens had the best rate. The initial recommendation was to award the agreement to First Citizens.

GB&T had quoted a variable rate with a floor of 0.75%, 0.25% less than First Citizens. This put the minimum interest rate income from First Citizens 33% higher than GB&T.

That is when the UFO landed and all sorts of communications were disrupted. In this case UFO means Unidentified Financial Official. Some member or members of the County Finance Committee put the award on hold and sought direction from Jeffries, the County’s sole-sourced Bond Underwriter. When asked the identity of the Finance Committee member(s) who initiated the request from Jeffries, the county administration could not provide it, not could it provide any correspondence from Jeffries other than an Analysis showing that the county would earn more with GB&T. That analysis became the basis for what came to the commission as “Option Two” and a revised recommendation to award the mass banking arrangement to GB&T.

Out of a Finance Committee comprised of then Chairman Scott Dean, who is now in prison on an unrelated conviction, commission chairman and GB&T shareholder Ron Cross and District one commissioner and GBT executive Ron Thigpen, who was the UFO? If the UFO landed in the commission chambers, why is there no video, no tracks and no sign of his coming and leaving, only a mystery document which turned out to be wrong, predicting higher interest rates that never materialized and costing the county dearly?

Citizens-activists working with agraynation.com also sought whether First Citizens or the other banks responding to the RFP were invited to rebid or comment on the Jeffries analysis.The county answered that there was no written contact found with First Citizens after notification that their bank was on the list of finalists.

Finally, a response to a Georgia Open Records request to Columbia County, shows that the county was paid the 0.75% minimum throughout 2011 and 2012 on nearly all of the accounts covered by the mass banking RFP, rather than the much higher rates expected when the deal was awarded to the three commissioners’ bank.

Doesn’t an old construction guy like Chairman Cross know that nothing produces more controversy and lawsuits in procurement than awarding bids based on new criteria that have been denied to the other bidders? Isn’t doing something like that and having it lose 33% more revenue than the recommended vendor even worse? How much of his net worth is in that bank stock and its related business ventures, anyhow?

A lot of answers are due Columbia County voters before May 20.

Here is a video presentation recorded in the waning days of April 2014.

Next up in the series – County Revenue Vaporized by the Evans UFO?

Conflict in Columbia County?

Would y’all just look what we have here! In April 2010 the award of Columbia County’s Major banking agreement was on the Columbia County Commission agenda. Uncomfortably, three Commissioners had stock in Georgia Bank in Trust at the time of this vote. The county attorney seemed concerned about the whole area of ethics but it looks from up here in the pine woods that the entire commission was prepped to put on ballerina slippers and tiptoe through the minefield of awarding the county’s mass banking agreement to, well, Georgia Bank and Trust.

District One Commissioner Ron Thigpen was Chief Operating Officer of GB&T (very recently promoted to President). The county attorney found he could avoid the technical definition of a “Conflict of Interest” by recusing himself from this, an official vote of the commission. The county attorney found that the other GB&T shareholders Ron Cross and Charles Allen, Jr., held less than 5% of the bank’s shares and the bank being publicly held fit another exception in the Ethics Ordinance. The final step in the fanciful footwork that carried them to apparent safety was getting the not-ensnared commissioners Scott Dean and Trey Allen to bless the choreography and allow Cross and Charlie Allen to vote, which they did, awarding the banking deal to their bank.

Did the commission gracefully tiptoe across the ethics minefield on gilded slippers, as they would have us believe? Or were they really tap-dancing across it wearing snowshoes?

One of the Rons sure looks like he stepped on one of those Vietnam -era “bouncing betty” mines with a slow trigger. After all, it has taken 4 years for the damage to pop up and show itself to the taxpayers of Columbia County.

The mine had “Appearance of a Conflict” written all over it. The shrapnel might just now be striking. Wasn’t the key issue for Cross and Allen really how much their stock made up of their total assets and how much they stood to gain? How could Thigpen make myriad impartial decisions, beyond just that commission vote, like whether to increase or pay down debt when his bank stood to gain or lose revenue from the county’s deposits there?

Coming up next in the series is “Blame it on the UFO!”

-AF

The Costly Energy Bills from Hardie Davis

This week Augusta radio talk show host Austin Rhodes of WGAC was heard being dismissive of the 7% increase in homeowner electric utility bills over the past five years from the controversial Georgia Senate Bill 31, which passed in 2009 with help from Senator Hardie Davis. SB 31 was heatedly debated because the bill guaranteed Georgia Power a separate 11.5% return on two new nuclear reactor units being constructed at Plant Vogtle on the Savannah River in Burke County, giving opportunity for all manner of cost-shifting hanky-panky. The law also came under fire for paying advance profits of over $1 billion over and above the costs of building the units. The Georgia Public Service Commission, who had the staff to evaluate the technical parts of the bill and who actually has the rate setting authority in the state, was bypassed by the legislature, prompted and cheered on by a flock of as many as 70 lobbyists clogging the aisles. Finally, the legislation exempted industry from the onerous special rate increases, meaning that the full burden falls on small businesses and residential payers.

Augusta’s Senator Hardie Davis was hardly alone in focusing on the jobs created for several thousand workers, many of them temporary construction craftsmen, while disregarding the costs to the millions of Georgians of the burgeoning rates.

Let’s take a look at the effects of SB 31 so far on a residential power bill. On top of the SB 31 costs, one must also add the additional 1% TIA 2010 or TSPLOST tax that Hardie also voted for. The Hardie Tax and Rate Increase Total is nearly $13.

Hardie Power

Now consider how much the wages to cover that 7% increase have increased since 2009 to the latest available in 2012. WHOA! The average Georgian has actually lost almost another percent because of wage reductions. (Now to be honest the TSPLOST tax did not come in until 2013 but it certainly is in the mix now.)

The Hardie cost increases are compounding every year against falling wages and salaries.

To conclude, that is a power play Augustans cannot afford.

All the confirmation Austin and everyone else should need was said by fellow WGAC show host Clark Howard in the clip below.

Hardie Davis is Georgia Power’s best friend. Can Augusta afford him as its mayor with such disregard for the people?