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

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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Can Augusta Media Mimic Copperfield and Make Parking Deck Vanish?

Friday, June 1, 2012

Augusta, GA
By Al Gray
Augusta’s $715,000 “Incidental” Gift1


David Copperfield’s illusion of making the Statue of Liberty disappearis“listed by the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest disappearance ever performed by a magician. ” In the closed-loop, incestuous world of Augusta media, similar miracles have been performed over the years, mostly by using the tactic of blowing up small incidents of monetary losses, -be they by graft, fraud, or plain stupidity – to divert attention from the elephants in the room. Grandma used to call this “straining gnats while swallowing camels.” The Reynolds Street Parking Deck doesn’t have tusks or a hump, but some folks who know better have camel hair on their bibs.

The bit players in the Augusta illusion are officials like Tax Commissioner Stephen Kendrick, who was still being hounded by the Augusta Chronicle a year later over a missing $25,000, and former city commissioner Betty  Beard’s  $20,000 supposed misappropriation of funds.
What Fred Russell made go away looked like this:

What Fred reappeared wasn’t an elephant, it was much larger:


If you are Augusta Riverfront, LLC, Fred relieved you of an ugly, unattended surface lot. What he came back with appears to be an enclosed, lighted, secure, landscaped, and operated lot at no capital or operating cost. 

Sweet. It must be nice to be a principal partner of Augusta Riverfront, LLC and the publisher of the only daily newspaper in the city, The Augusta Chronicle, where you can use your  influence in the media to create illusions through the art of distraction, just like David Copperfield.
Everyone should be so lucky as to negotiate a deal with Fred Russell like this.***

A.G.
1 Based upon the RSPD agreement submitted to the Board of Commissioners 1/30/2012




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In Defense of Jim Plunkett

Augusta attorney Jim Plunkett

May, 30, 2012

Augusta, GA

By Al Gray


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Augusta, GA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

1. Management Fee.

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

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

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


2. Liability Insurance

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

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

3. Operating Expense Limitations

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

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

4. Expenses Allowed Under the Annual Plan

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

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

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

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

5. Labor Costs Under the Annual Budget

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

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

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


6. Operating Cost Advance 


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

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


7. Capital Budget 


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

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

8. Credit Card Fees 


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


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

Summary 

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

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


Bradley Owens

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

Our UNEARNED Tax Credit – Good for Eternity

Taxing Times for the Spiritually Destitute

Sunday April 15, 2012
Augusta, GA
By Al Gray

Today is April 15th, a day on the annual calendar that brings dread, anguish, monetary pain and just plain resentment across the land. This year the coincidence of tax filing day and Sunday brought a welcome 2 day reprieve. People absolutely detest taxes, especially in these times of dysfunctional, corrupt, and even counterproductive government. Just this weekend came news that the vaunted, respected, and powerful Secret Service, who are protectors and guardians of the United States Treasury, had their Presidential advance team recalled from the country of Columbia because of entanglements with a group of prostitutes! One wonders how much lower our government can fall. The natural tendency is to become dubious of the justification to support such a government with our tax money. That is another subject best left to another day.


In Jesus’ day, the Roman government contracted out the collection of taxes to the subject states, with the tax collectors empowered to keep any excess taxes that were collected. Privatization of this unsavory process is nothing new, which is something our politicians spouting nonsense about the glories of contracting government out should think about but certainly won’t.



 9 As Jesus went on from there, He saw a man called Matthew, sitting in the tax collector’s booth; and He *said to him, “Follow Me!” And he got up and followed Him.

 10 Then it happened that as Jesus was reclining at the table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, “Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?” 12 But when Jesus heard this, He said, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I DESIRECOMPASSION, AND NOT SACRIFICE,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”


From historical accounts, a tax collector of that day angled very hard and probably had make ‘contributions’ to be awarded a tax booth, so it is remarkable that Matthew would respond so readily to Jesus’ call.


Tax collectors who were Jews were doubly reviled as traitors. Because of the incentives to over collect and keep the excess for themselves, many abused the people with aggressive collection practices, even including beatings. Perhaps the social revulsion and distain of the masses had taken a toll. We will never know what motivated Matthew to join the band of disciples that day. What we do know is that Matthew needed Jesus and sensed it in a very immediate, profound way.


What is more is that Matthew brought even more tax collectors into the fold, as it is written “many tax collectors and sinners came and were dining.” The Pharisees were astounded that Jesus would affiliate with the social and religious underclass.  One supposes that they understood in some elementary way, that the physically defective, injured, maimed, and hurting would flock to anyone who was delivering relief from their conditions. Dining with detested tax collectors truly had them stumped.


Bear in mind that immediately before Jesus called Matthew from the toll booth, he had healed a paralyzed man, addressing a very obvious need of the physically downtrodden man. The subtle shift to dining with despised tax collectors pointed out those sinners had emotional afflictions that also justified Jesus prompt attention. “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” meant He came for those who confessed that they are sinners, not those whose zealotry kept them going through the motions of some liturgy, practice, or dogma without realizing or admitting their innate sinful nature. The Pharisee could not see the truth that …”all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”
Are we in our modernity any better suited to see this truth? Are we so caught up in social status that our churches spurn folks who appear to regularly fall short? Would anyone with an independent eye and judgment figure that we are later day Pharisees ourselves?


On this April 15 we need to tax our thoughts and minds on these matters so as to more faithfully attend to the central teaching of Christ.  AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH.’ The second is this, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’


In many ways this is the hardest tax of them all to pay. Its requirements are to give up the hatreds, animosities, dislikes, distains, and other emotional impediments we hold with a near religious fervor to truly love each other. It won’t be easy. Following Jesus never is. If we fall short, yet have faith that Jesus paid it all, that will become the biggest tax credit that we can imagine.




Last Sunday’s Sermon–> Easter Sunday: He Has Risen!

Sunday Sermon: The Sword of Goliath

The Sword of Goliath

Sunday Feb. 12, 2012
Augusta, GA

Everyone knows the story of David and Goliath. The round stones are remembered. Oft forgotten is the sword.

12  David went back and forth …….to tend his father’s sheep at Bethlehem. 17 Now Jesse said to his son David, “Take this … grain and these ten loaves of bread for your brothers and hurry to their camp. 

 20 Early in the morning David left the flock in the care of a shepherd, loaded up and set out, as Jesse had directed. He reached the camp as the army was going out to its battle positions…. the Israelites had been saying, “Do you see how this man keeps coming out? He comes out to defy Israel. The king will give great wealth to the man who kills him. He will also give him his daughter in marriage and will exempt his family from taxes in Israel.”

 28 When Eliab, David’s oldest brother, heard him speaking with the men, he burned with anger at him and asked, “Why have you come down here? And with whom did you leave those few sheep in the wilderness?…… I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is; you came down only to watch the battle.”

 29 “Now what have I done?” said David. “Can’t I even speak?” …. What David said was overheard ….. and Saul sent for him.

 32 David said to Saul, “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.” 33 Saul replied, “You …..  are only a young man, and he has been a warrior from his youth.”

 34 But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, 35 I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. 36 Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear…. 37 The LORD who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.”

 Saul said to David, “Go, and the LORD be with you.” David chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine.

 43 He said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. 44 “Come here,” he said, “and I’ll give your flesh to the birds and the wild animals!” 45 David said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty…..All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the LORD’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.”

 48 As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him. 49 Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground.

 50 So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him.

 51 David ran and stood over him. He took hold of the Philistine’s sword and drew it from the sheath. After he killed him, he cut off his head with the sword.



Let’s get the picture now. Goliath was a massive brute of a man with a mighty sword, heavy armaments, brass helmet, with a shield carrier in front and a formidable army at his rear. Defeating him seemed impossible and the people of Israel were resigned to defeat and decades of enslavement to very wicked, evil people.



David had no reason to get involved. His father told him to deliver food and come back home. When he started asking questions his brothers said “Don’t you have sheep that need tending?” To cap it off, the only way Israel thought it could bring forth a hero was to bribe him with tax exemptions. You read this just now. How modern and true to our own corruption!


The king looked David over and saw a fresh-faced kid from the fields with no apparent battle experience or credentials as a warrior. David knew himself better, having an unheralded but very real history of valiantly defending those under his protection. He had no need of the king’s fanciful armor and weaponry. He chose what he could deliver with deadly accuracy.

His weapons were smooth round stones, worn into the hardest of orbs by eons in water constantly eroded by currents. His delivery was by a sling. He knew the weapon was simple, the delivery had to be exactly on target, or he would meet the fate from which he delivered the sheep.



Goliath was contemptuous of David’s unarmed appearance unknowing of the lad’s feats alone in the woods back home. He thought his greatness commanded a more credentialed adversary. Maybe it was all the brass, who knows? Then the boy started running – straight toward Goliath – with purpose, never deviating even a step. Goliath had nothing to fear, his mighty sword was in his grip.



Goliath never knew what hit him.




The sword he never thought would be turned on him cost him his head.

A fearsome lout, a modern Goliath, stalks our land. He cares not for our needs, wants, desires, freedoms or rights, only extending his crushing corruption in domination of us all. Before him go his shield bearers, the politicians, lawyers, administrators and lobbyists. This hideous monster thunders derision at we the people, seemingly with impunity.  Defeatists won’t challenge him. They cower behind a forest of excuses.



That Goliath intimidated with his voice for 40 days, it is written. The Goliath of Augusta has had his 40 years. We have heard his words of derision and contempt.   We have seen his brassy swagger. We have heard the words “why don’t you mind your own business?”  The doubters who should be our brothers question our motives. We like David say “Can’t I even speak?” We look for inspiration and get offers of tax exemption bribes.



Goliath was insulted by his opponent’s lack of armaments and credentials. Is the Augusta leviathan making the same mistake? Are truth, justice, and determination the hardened projectiles that will bring it all down?



Augusta and America yearns for a champion. If one comes, he won’t be riding in on a blaze of glory. He or she will probably be like David. He will take a very strange path to destiny, led there by God, or if you believe not in Him, fate. When he took to the field that day never did Goliath dream that he would lose his life on the blade of his own sword, wielded by so unlikely and unknown a defender of the powerless.



Are you Goliath?



Run!


 

The smooth hard stone of truth flung from unexpected hands is about to smite you. The people will have a sword.

It is yours.***




Previous Sermon:


Nehemiah Gazes on Augusta
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Sunday Sermon: Nehemiah Gazes on Augusta

Listening to Old Nehemiah

Scripture for the Mayor’s Next Prayer Breakfast
Originally posted on CityStink
Sunday, Feb. 5, 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.
Local and state leaders are stuck on “moving forward” to the point of absurdity. There is a whole book in the bible that supports that positive , literally constructive, approach. The book of Nehemiah is a tribute to building and teamwork. The fifth chapter abruptly tells a different tale. There, readers see Israel in the throes of a depression, even as the great temple was being built. Nehemiah, perhaps as wise as was Solomon, saw dislocations happening and sprang into action before things spun out of control.
History repeats, it is said. Nehemiah would recognize our time well. There was a great famine. People could not repay their loans. Between taxes and debts they lost their lands and were forced to sell their children into slavery. By some accounts there was a dearth, more people than the land or economy could support.
There are many versions of the Bible to study that take on these problems in different contexts. I like the words of Nehemiah found in  the Bible Gateway’s Easy to Read Version. 
When I heard their complaints, I was very angry. 7 I calmed myself down, and then I went to the rich families and the officials…… Then I called for all the people to meet together 8 and said to them, “Our fellow Jews were sold as slaves to people in other countries. We did our best to buy them back and make them free. And now, you are selling them like slaves again!”
   The rich people and officials kept quiet. They could not find anything to say. 9 So I continued speaking. I said, “What you people are doing is not right! You know that you should fear and respect our God. You should not do the shameful things other people do! 10 My men, my brothers, and I are also lending money and grain to the people. But let’s stop forcing them to pay interest on these loans. 11 You must give their fields, vineyards, olive fields, and houses back to them, right now! ……”
 12 Then the rich people and the officials said, “We will give it back and not demand anything more from them. Nehemiah, we will do as you say.”
   Then I called the priests. I made the rich people and the officials promise to God that they would do what they said. 13 Then I shook out the folds of my clothes. I said, “God will do the same thing to everyone who does not keep their promise. God will shake them out of their houses and they will lose everything they worked for. They will lose everything!”
   I finished saying these things and all the people agreed. They all said, “Amen” and praised the LORD. So the people did as they had promised.
In verse 14, a too-big government was oppressing the people. What Nehemiah did was stunning
The people were also greatly oppressed by the servants and officers of the governor; but, during the twelve years that Nehemiah had been with them, he took not this salary, and ate none of their bread. Nor were his servants permitted to take or exact any thing from them. Having such an example, it was scandalous for their chiefs, priests, and nobles, thus to oppress an afflicted and distressed people.
The Lesson For AUGUSTA Today
We have a problem like that of Nehemiah and his people. The demographics of the baby boom population were always bound to produce a dearth. This writer acknowledged it and planned for it. The dearth was scheduled to strike after 2020, but it is of the here and now. The greatest wave of financial corruption the world has ever seen – ever-morphing, expanding with the speed of instantaneous communication and power of globalism – has sped up this dreadful time by a full decade.
In desperation, the formerly wealthy who were largely wiped out in 2008 have seized upon their political domination to restore their fortunes. If they go unchecked, there will be no American middle class in a scant 5 years. Are these things happening in Augusta, as elsewhere? Yes, they are.
When the share price of  the demised Wachovia Bank fell from $57 to $2 and Regions Bank suffered a similar tumble in 2007 and 2008, some in the know say it took a $Billion out of the wealth of Augusta. This writer estimates the losses at more than $600 million. Commercial and residential real estate, particularly resort homes, crashed in value.
These were sledgehammer blows to the wealth class and would have permanently shifted wealth to those who planned, saved, trained, and invested for these times. Those who lost want none of that. Their excesses of power and influence have been stunning, taking us to the brink of extinguishing the rule of law and flaunting the laws of mathematics.
The first levers of power to be engaged were over government contracts, stimulus funds, capital projects, and tax incentives. $50 million in improvements on lands Augusta doesn’t own, $millions in federal stimulus money dumped on Laney Walker to the benefit of the whitest of Columbia County developers who had lost in the crash, an unannounced ‘opportunity zone’ foisted upon Harrisburg, and a public housing project in Martinez greased by massive lobbyist funds to the highest of Georgia officials are overwhelming evidence. These are just the incidences that have been disclosed. More are coming.
Into the maw of this chasm of government money and power, a group of local citizens has sprung forth to meet it head on. This writer is proud to be amongst them. The danger to our fortunes, occupations, freedom, and even our lives is palpable. There have been threats. We acknowledge them and move forward with firm resolve. In the scant 4 months since the Augusta Today Facebook group, City Stink and ArrowFlinger Reports have been created, the results have been stunning and the support from the community has been overwhelming, yet humbling. We thank you all for that. I believe that through similar efforts we can claw Augusta and America back from the brink of an apocalypse.
The approach is simple. We formed a nucleus of dedicated researchers, professionals, and public policy freaks to identify, plan, document, execute, and publicize projects, supported by a guarded social network that now exceeds 200.  We pull from professional resources from across America. We try to excel in presenting documents for the public to examine on line that buttress our case. If there is opposition, they find themselves not in argument with our findings but in direct confrontation with their own deeds, words and documents! This was our plan from the outset. Its effectiveness is an epic success.
If one thinks upon it, the approach of turning government and power back upon itself can be seen as a form of martial-arts in which size and force of the opponent is his own worst enemy. We give the broadcast media a knowledge base and stories that cannot be fully explored in the two minutes or less that they have on the air. In these times of swift, yet unrecognized, shifts in local fortunes and power, we may prove instrumental in restoring the free market to the process, as traditional media remains welded to the past, unwilling to risk offending those who have failed. The past belongs to those who failed. We embrace the future with relish.
What can you do to help? First, you can form your own nuclei of project teams within the overall framework of Augusta Today, coordinating with our group or independently if you wish, much as the Magnolia Trace group has done. You will have to thoroughly vet the members and restrict the number to ten or less. You will have to have discipline and a high degree of coordination. (We learned this lesson the hard way, as we had no formal plan – we just ‘happened.’) Inclusion of media people is not advised, as the objective is to be a source for all dedicated to none.
There is no dearth of opportunities. The current group has at least six months of projects and stories already. There is room for expansion. Second, as we get the capability to accept donations, please contribute. Radio talk show host Austin Rhodes initiated this aspect of our efforts in order to engage tough legal counsel as a force multiplier against the City of Augusta, should common sense fail with regard to the City’s Reynolds Street Deck Agreements. Our current intention is to employ that resource there and elsewhere on projects from Augusta to the gold dome in Atlanta.
We acknowledge the tremendous role of the broadcast media in spreading our stories, particularly Renee DeMedicis of WNRR, Austin Rhodes of WGAC, Tony Powers of WNRR , George Eskola of WJBF, and Chris Thomas of WRDW. They have added a forceful dimension that we could never achieve. We will similarly embrace whatever journalistic print media survives this maelstrom too.
We have no Nehemiah, we have ourselves and our resolve to avoid the abyss of lawlessness, incontrovertible stupidity, arrogance, and abuse of power that lies ahead. Augusta’s mayor is stuck on “moving forward.”  We have seen the path he is on and we have bolted from it. How about you?
Nehemiah’s Message to Augusta Power Brokers and Manipulators
There have been times like these before in Augusta, periods of economic downturn and those finding themselves with decimated fortunes while still holding enormous political power with which they tried to regain their riches at public expense. The names Bert Hester and Gene Holley come to mind. Senator Holley was once one the most powerful men in Georgia and had amassed one of the state’s largest fortunes, before enormous losses in oil led to overly aggressive financial actions that ended with a conviction for bank fraud. When this writer recalled Holley’s conviction and imprisonment, it was wondered how Mr. Holley lived his final years. His obituary reported that they were spent in simplicity of lifestyle, regained faith, and in the love of his family and friends. That is not bad, not bad at all.
If you are one of the Augusta elite and high society, for your own sakes – follow the advice of Nehemiah. A storm comes and it is one in which we all need each other. Reject the rest of us and you will find yourselves in the gravest of dangers. Gene Holley’s epitaph wasn’t bad, not bad at all.
May your next prayer breakfast be blessed.
Nehemiah’s gaze is upon you.***

Al Gray

 

Last Word: Religion in Politics

On September 15, 2011 the Arrowflinger heard C-Span Washington Journal host Susan Swain pose the morning question of whether a candidate’s religious stance has any bearing on whether a citizen votes for him. This prompted a rowdy call concluding with “Most politicians….are more crooked than a barrel of fish hooks!” This video from a turnip patch expounds on the theme of that morning.

The situation that prompted this unscripted humor was that the ArrowFlinger had gone on local talk radio to promote various candidates, including Speaker of the House David Ralston, who was mistakenly praised as “a reformer,” but then the Speaker took a $17,000 lobbyist-paid vacation.

Warning to politicians. DO NOT GO WRONG after this man has put his name on the line in support of you!

Here is the C-Span interview, concluding in a barrel of fish hooks.