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

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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?

Rick, You Forgot to Call

In 2012 when you made a run for the Republican nomination for the 12th Congressional seat, the radio talker Austin Rhodes immediately attacked you for a long-ago donation to the infamous Champ Walker, a Democrat. I called in that day to defend you, recalling your teen years as a Republican.

Then Brad Owens of the Augusta Today group wrote a City Stink piece questioning added overhead charges on RW Allen LLC’s partial bill to Augusta for the Tee Center y’all were building. The contract said those costs were capped. You were incensed and maybe with justification because it wasn’t the final bill.

You and I had a lot of discussions during the 2012 primary season, but there is one worthy of recounting. We reminisced about our frequent childhood gatherings at Uncle Land and Aunt Carols’. I told you that, despite having created constructionaudits.com, I stayed out of Augusta because RW Allen had such a presence there that your company was unavoidable. A warning was that RWA operated in a cloistered environment of Augusta for decades, building complacency. Rising to executive status as you did meant not really knowing what was in the contracts RWA signed, but those would become campaign issues. We talked about the one Augusta project that my firm did at Reid Church, where RWA was contractor, doing an admirable job under tough circumstances. Finally, we got to how the epidemic of financial corruption decimating my retirement savings forced me to use Augusta as a lab to see if the old skills were still good enough to produce.

After 2 years of stunning results, that question has been answered.

Before that call concluded, this was said and is still meant. You are a very fine man, Rick Allen, and America and Georgia need fine men to step forward. There was an offer to work with you to develop positions that the people truly need, not the old tired Republican Party rhetoric. Finally there was an offer to prepare you for greater things -a run for the US Senate.

The words of warning remain the same. You have long alliances with people in whom you trust, but the people don’t. There is a record of commitments in those RWA contracts that you are oblivious to, but the two Johns, Stone and Barrow, won’t be. You have major contributors with interests in the Augusta Tee Center scam that the Augusta Chronicle can’t hide much longer. You are tied to banking in a state that was and is the epicenter of global bank fraud decimating responsible people. Perhaps the entire 12th is reluctant to yield representation and their children’s futures to the Augusta bluebloods, perhaps the most aggressively greedy plutocrats on earth
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My promise was to help you understand and rectify those things. We last talked just before the Tee Center budget meeting in February of last year. You said the political future was undecided. You were going to call before launching another run at the 12th. That call never came.

Good luck Rick. You are going to need it.

Domeward Bound No More

UPDATE: Legendary Lincoln County football coach Larry Campbell announced his retirement this week, which made the posting of this report and video timely, as Campbell and the Red Devils made the Georgia Dome their second home. Since this report and video were produced in the summer of 2013, there has been a $50 million publicly-funded parking deck added to the Falcons’ new stadium project, a $200 million change for HVAC (Augusta Tee Center readers will snicker at that.), and the land acquisition price soared.

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Nothing is loved in Lincolnton, Georgia more than its Red Devils football team. 14 state championships in the small school classification. Georgia’s winningest coach in Larry Campbell. More times than any other school as state runners-up. So many trips to the Georgia Dome to play in state play-offs that there is a slogan that rises every year here – “We are Dome-ward Bound.” 8 times would tend to do that for doting fans. They look for greatness under the Georgia Dome, but sadly those quests won’t be the same thanks to the work of another crew of devils, the Legislature that frolics under the Gold Dome.

At the end of a not-distant season, the Red Devils won’t be Dome-ward bound, for the legislature decided to bequeath $1.2 billion (over the next 35 years) of public funds dedicated to the Dome to Arthur Blank, the 90% owner of the Atlanta Falcons Football team, in the form of a new stadium to be leased and operated by the Falcons. The stadium costs are put at more than a billion dollars, but with all of the likely cost overruns probably will exceed Blank’s $1.6 billion net worth (just this month upped to $1.7 billion) by the time the new retractable-roofed stadium is completed.

Dastardly deeds that small town folk cannot really understand underpin the arrangement. After receiving Blank’s hefty campaign donations in recent years, Lt. Governor Casey Cagle killed a key conservative right to work bill that stood in the way. There was a failure to account for the damage that losing $19 million in hotel tax funding and $15 million in profits does to Georgia World Congress Center’s finances. Then World Congress’ own consultant suggested claw-back terms or profit sharing with the public in case 90% owner Blank sells the team with its $1.6 billion stadium lease, but it isn’t in the final agreement, which contains a provision only that the Falcon’s cannot relocate without a penalty.

The legislature under the gold dome OK’d renewing the hotel-motel tax and using it to build a new stadium in 2011, but after 73% of Georgians arose in opposition, Governor Nathan Deal took negotiation of the final sell-out to the Falcons behind closed doors. Then it came to rest in the hands of Atlanta Mayor Kassim Reed, who rammed the agreement through a pliant City Council.
The Falcons and their supporters loudly claim that the team will be paying $800 million and the public only $200 million. Reed emerged with the final agreement and a press release saying that the public funds are “capped at $200 million,” but when if you read the legal documents, the terms said the funding will start at $200 million. Worse than that, analysis of various consultant reports puts public stadium funding at nearly $700 million, with several Hundred $millions more in operations costs funded by hotel motel tax once the stadium is built. The real numbers look like they are the reverse of what the Falcons’ claimed.

The Georgia Dome that the Lincoln County Red Devils played in is property of the state. 60% of dome use was not for the Falcons. The state was making $15 million a year while hosting high school, SEC, and NCAA football. Concerns were expressed in negotiations that such events might be be “not on economic Terms” after the Falcons take over operations of the new stadium. After all, they expect that ticket prices will increase 20% and that food and beverage prices will go up 44% to nearly $18 per seat. Can small town fans afford that? The costs are going to be so high that Mayor Reed’s final deal provides public assistance of $3.5 million a year, with automatic 2% increases, for a total of $184 million to “Stage Other Events.” “Other events according to the legalese are non-Falcon events, like Red Devil playoff games and all of the other ones that our Dome’s profits used to provide for.

The San Francisco 49ers sold naming rights to their new stadium for $220 million. Georgia and Atlanta gave their naming rights up to the Falcons at no charge in the deal.

When this correspondent posed a list of questions to World Congress before the revised deal was public, they refused to answer. The Atlanta Journal Constitution, where Blank sits on the board of directors, has been silent on nearly all of these things. Oh, and don’t expect to hold Nathan Deal or World Congress’ Frank Poe to accountable. They will be retired before the damage is known.

In news breaking in June, the World Congress Center just approved this design, which USA Today Sports calls CRAZY, writing “Will this thing actually get built?”

Despite these questions, huge costs, and conflicts, it appears likely that a perfectly good Georgia Dome will fall to the wrecking ball to yield to the Falcons new rookery. The public and the Red Devils will find their sell-outs under an intact gold dome across town, with the only dome-ward bound being lobbyists looking for ever larger Blank checks.

    OPINION

Enron Accounting Revisits DOT

On February 5 of this year the time of the groundbreaking for the Riverwatch Parkway Extension Project, WAGT TV26, WJBF Channel 6, and the Columbia County News-Times all incorrectly reported that the $34 million project was being funded wholly out of TIA-2010 funds, also known as TSPLOST.

The TIA funds for the project came out of the 75% funding level list approved by voters within the Constrained Projects List. There is a project cost estimate found in the details. That paints a truthful picture. Nearly $11 million for the project is reserved out of DOT highway and fuel taxes and there is a $3.3 million cost overrun already, leaving $20 million in TSPLOST funding.

You know there is something screwy when that many news outlets get it wrong and are all using the same number.

Well it didn’t take long to find the source. It was DOT, who came into the TSPLOST debate tarnished and smarting from Governor Sonny Perdue accusing them of “Enron Accounting,” but seems back to their bad habits by putting out a webpage showing TIA spending that looks to be TIA, alright – Totally In-Accurate. A Lincoln County project is only $1 million of TIA funding, but DOT listed it as $4 million. Wrightsboro Road in Augusta is shown as $19 million TIA funding, but it is only $2 million.

If DOT wants to reestablish its credibility after its flirtation with Enron Accounting they sure have a funny way of showing it.

How they are going to fund the huge cost increases with revenues collected so woefully low would make an Enron Accountant strain.

Victimized or Triumphant in a Gray State

Yes, I am A. Gray but we are all in a gray nation now. It is a nation of 75 million aging Baby Boomers and the massive pressures the simple math of that portends. It is a nation where the polydamnticians and manipulators want to hide the clear and simple truths found in the Bible and the Constitution of the United States in a gray fog. We find the rule of law being covered in a gray burial shroud by the very people sworn to uphold it. Swirls of gray dust billow out from our imploding institutions to cover us in what would be shame if we even pretend to be a civilized people.

 

 

These words were crafted from a perch 20 feet up an east central Georgia pine tree overlooking a sparkling lake. One vigilant squirrel had just alerted the entire squirrel network all of whom chattered ‘HAWK!’ In unison, lest even one fall victim. The squirrel feeding under the white oak below scurried next to a hollow log. It was a good thing, too for the hawk eye had picked him as prey. The sharp talons grazed his back just as that tree dweller popped into safety in a knothole. So it is with us. We have waited perhaps too long to escape danger. THIS is agraynation but a bright future beckons those who join in a network vigilant to the dangers lurking in the gray state we are in. Here in agraynation, we are going to wrest ourselves from being prey, laughing all the way at the polydamnticians, gold dome cowboys, exposed manipulators, crazy schemers, cozy crooks, devilish democrats, and especially the Pharisee Republicans who have gotten control of Georgia.