Al Gray: Mr. Browning’s Exit Sign

Mr. Browning’s Exit Sign

Originally posted by CityStink
December 10, 2011
By Al Gray
The author, Al M. Gray is President of Cost Recovery Works, Inc., a provider of Cost Avoidance and Cost Recovery for America’s leading companies, businesses and governments desiring Superior Returns.
The undisputed king of overlay district zoning in the Augusta Area was the departed Jeff Browning, long time Planning and Zoning Director for Columbia County, master of the Evans Town Center Overlay District (ETCOD), the Columbia County Master Corridor Overlay district, the Fury’s Ferry Corridor Overlay District, the Washington Road Corridor Overlay District, the Columbia Road Overlay District, and the Bel Air Road Corridor Overlay District.
Other than making nice brick exteriors the rule rather than the exception and having a few token trees poked into the ground, the overlay districts have been largely failures. Columbia County simply never gave Mr. Browning an office tower filled with the planning and engineering staff to make the things work or to impose the rules uniformly.  Once this was lost, the overlays simply became a tool of extortion placed upon the poor hapless commercial property developer operating on borrowed money and time. This was predicted at the time the first overlay zoning district, ETCOD, was passed in 2000.
A study in 2003 showed only one property that met ETCOD’s stringent requirements, out of dozens of businesses built under its authority. The ordinance required variation hearings and notices for the slightest deviations and there were scores of exceptions, yet there had been only 4 variation hearings held and variance permits issued. The written rule gave way to the as-built rule, de jure law yielding to de facto law.  It became a simple matter for a developer with a little sense and time to spend to defeat the written rules by taking digital camera shots of allowed exceptions, measuring distances, and counting the number of approved parking spaces allowed his predecessors.
All these things drove poor Jeff Browning to distraction. Eventually they drove him back to Tennessee.
Of all the things Browning despised most and worked hardest to keep out of Evans were large electronic signs. The bankers were his undoing on that one.
One can only imagine old Jeff’s reaction to Columbia County itself erecting a very large electronic sign (see above at top of this article) on Ronald Reagan Boulevard. This incredibly bright sign sits   in front of the new Towne Center Park, which instantly has become a raging success. One might even call the weekend throngs there a vindication of Commission Chairman Ron Cross’ vision for the park, once seen as a heavily wooded minimalist utopia by the naturalist crowd – all ten of them.  That sign almost screams defiance of the tree huggers.
Crowds entering the park are advised of the latest movies showing, the time and temperature, and things we all love – Puppies!

Now that’s a sign overlay that works – in a place where Browning doesn’t any more.

Adopt a puppy. Hug a Columbia County Commissioner. After their own overlay wars and now Magnolia Trace, they need it.
Somehow an Excedrin PM ad would be most fitting on the Ronald Reagan sign. ***


Magnolia Trace: Money Trail Traces to the Gold Dome

**City Stink Exclusive!**

Magnolia Traces to the Gold Dome


Originally posted by CityStink
December 8, 2011
Augusta, GA
By IndyInjun

The author, Al M. Gray is President of Cost Recovery Works, Inc., a provider of Cost Avoidance and Cost Recovery for America’s well-known companies, businesses and governments desiring Superior Returns.

Old Gomer Pyle used to say “ Surprise, Surprise, SURPRIZE!!!” Well, the money trail from Magnolia Trace , LLC to Affordable Equity Partners of Columbia Missouri, might fork, meander, double back, and double CROSS, but the sleuth hounds of Augusta Today and are rarely shaken or even stirred in pursuit. The quarry was found in the bowels of a gold-domed lair in Atlanta.
Does this surprise anyone? It shouldn’t.
Affordable Equity Partners, Inc. boasts a leadership team headed by Jeffery Smith of parent JES Holdings, with affiliated companies named ES Dev Co, Inc., Fairway Construction Co., Inc., Fairway Management, Inc., and Capital Health Management, Inc. An article on exposes how Smith and his companies have played the campaign contribution and lobbying game very well in Missouri to the tune of capturing $26 million for low-income housing projects into 2009.
Has AEP played the same game in Georgia? Their own words suffice to provide our answer. “AEP has been involved in Georgia since the initial introduction of the state tax credit and was instrumental in formulating the revisions to the statutes in 2001.”
At this juncture, the process of following all of the related parties, employees, PAC’s and agents is not complete. There will be more to come.
What is revealed so far by researching these entities’ contributions via the Georgia Ethics Commission Campaign Contributor database?
Lt. Governor Casey Cagle got $882.50 from AEP going back to 2008. Sister company Capital Health Management Inc. gave Cagle another $10, 453.50 and gave House Speaker David Ralston $5000 in 2011, this nonelection year.
Then there are the PAC’s.
At this juncture, the Augusta Today and team is investigating another Missouri based entity that was noted to be working in conjunction with the AEP affiliate Capital Health Management to fund one of these PAC’s. The company has contributed many thousands of dollars to Georgia’s Legislators.
Was it coincidence that Ron Cross, a Nathan Deal supporter, and Trey Allen, Nathan Deal’s Columbia County Campaign Chairman, scurried to meet with Magnolia Trace developers in County Attorney Doug Batchelor’s office?
Or did they get calls from Casey Cagle, Nathan Deal, David Ralston, Ben Harbin, and Lee Anderson “encouraging” the meeting and their subsequent resolution in support of this unwanted public housing development?
Only the unforeseen and unpredicted are surprises.
Even a Gomer Pyle knows the score on this one.***
More to come.
Below is a a link showing the State of Georgia Housing tax  plan that AEP helped write for itself into law. It’s heavy reading for those of you with some time to kill.




Mislayed Overlay: The Video and Paper Trail on the Laney-Walker Overlay District

Originally posted on CityStink
Dec 8, 2011
Augusta, GA
By Al M.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.
Dee Mathis and this writer were placed on the agenda of the November 15, 2011 meeting of the Augusta Richmond County Commission to speak in opposition of the Laney Walker Overlay Zoning District. After our impassioned presentations, the motion to pass the overlay failed 4-6 and a motion to postpone to the January meeting carried 8-2.
Below are videos of Al Gray and Dee Mathis Speaking at the Nov 8th commission.

Earlier this week, a decision was reached by Augusta Richmond County to resubmit, re-notify, and re-hear the application for the much smaller W-4 Foundry Overlay, which the applicant for the overlay, APD Urban Planning and Management LLC, asserts was the intent of the failed attempt to pass an overlay.
We applaud this decision.
This latest development came after a meeting that Ms. Mathis and I attended with ARC officials last Tuesday, November 29, 2011. APD, the Housing Department, and the Planning and Zoning Departments insisted that the people of the W4 Foundry Node were properly notified and that the application as approved by the Planning and Zoning Board only referenced permitted land uses for that node. Our position was that upon receiving her notice in early October, Dee Mathis called P&Z inquiring about getting a copy of the Application and in response got a 40 page package with the application and clear indications that the overlay district was the 100’s of acres, broader Laney Walker Overlay District instead of the small Foundry Node. *(please see the pdf files at the end of this article)
We also cited a direct email response from Lois Schmidt (see at the end of this article) to Ms. Mathis’ inquiry after the application passed the Planning and Zoning Board on November 8. This response was labeled “Information provided to Ms. Mathis 10.8.2011” This also showed the larger Laney Walker map. Therefore it was our contention that the application was improperly changed inside of the 30 day notification period, which rendered the notification given invalid and incorrect.
Also, we noted to the city/county planning officialdom, that it was clear that the original application intended to address the wider Laney Walker Overlay district, because Augusta Today members had video from the October 18, 2011 informational meeting at the Tabernacle Baptist Church showing that the big Laney Walker overlay was widely discussed and presented, with APD’s Warren Campbell referencing rolling out the larger overlay while standing in front of a map showing the Laney Walker zone with the smaller W4 District highlighted. (It is noted here for the sake of honestly reporting that he went on to say that the presentation was immediately focused on the W4 Foundry node.)  *****see video below:
We noted that the only folks notified of the informational meetings were residents of one corner of the Laney Walker district, while city/county officials and APD were clearly discussing the whole Laney Walker District, in particular Pine Street which lies in the center of the Laney Walker District. You can see the map and the discussion HERE. (see video below)
Not previously addressed to date is that the W4 Foundry node itself seems to have changed in configuration.
Yesterday, December 6, 2011, Ms Mathis and I were subjected to a very one sided “report”“ in the Augusta Chronicle in which P&Z continues to insist that this application was handled correctly throughout, suggesting that Ms Mathis and I are property rights zealots whose unreasonable demands must be mollified, lest ARC suffer costly litigation. Neither of us were interviewed for the story.
We believe that we fully documented that the Application was for the greater Laney Walker Overlay District and that the Application changed in midstream to the smaller W4 Foundry Node. We believe for the ARC Commission to have passed the “Laney Walker Overlay,” as it appeared on their agenda, instead of the “W4 Foundry Node Overlay”, would have been a grand mistake.
Wiser heads saw this evidence and prevailed, hence the decision to do the Foundry Node Overlay over and pass it in February. Now we have presented it to the public. We also hope Augusta and APD very quickly notify all of the Laney Walker residents and hold meetings with them, now that their future plans have been revealed.
Don’t try to set the Augusta Chronicle straight by posting this article. Links to the new kid are prohibited by the South’s Oldest News Paper.
We congratulate for providing an outlet that presents the whole story, complete with links to source documents. We congratulate Augusta Today’s team for videoing events that the rest of the Augusta media missed.
The Mislayed Overlay might just LAY the foundation for a new age of reporting in Augusta and the surrounding area. In the new media age, the people can see the evidence and judge for themselves.

Isn’t that wonderful?

The Paper Trail
Below is the email Dee Mathis received from Lois Schmidt from Planning and Zoning followed by the .pdf files referenced in the article revealing the wider Laney-Walker Overlay District:
Below are the .pdf’s of the documents Dee Mathis received by email :


Magnolia Trace: Expect Fireworks in Evans Tonight

Originally posted on CityStink
Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2011
Evans, GA
Al M. Gray, President of Cost Recovery Works, Inc. contributed multidisciplinary review techniques in support of this article.
It may not be the Fourth of July, but expect to hear some loud fireworks over the Columbia County Government Center in Evans tonight. Angry residents from Petersburg Station and other Martinez neighborhoods surrounding the controversial Magnolia Trace low-income rental housing development plan to show up in large numbers at tonight’s commission meeting in protest of the development that was unanimously approved by commissioners last year. They contend that the high density low-income subsidised rental housing will erode their property values, increase crime and put a strain on neighborhood schools.
A Facebook Group opposing the development called  Say No to Magnolia Trace Housing Project boasts over 225 members and that number appears to be growing by the hour. But will that translate into a large showing at tonight’s Columbia County Commission meeting?
The group has directed their ire particularly at Commission Chairman Ron Cross, who has said that the development will be a positive for their “older community”  and Trey Allen, The District 2 commissioner who represents Martinez and has also been supportive of the development.  Many are particularly displeased with Allen for not showing more concern for their property values when he was a vocal opponent of stadium lights at Augusta Prep because he maintained they would erode his property values in Spring Lakes. Opponents of the Magnolia Trace subsidised housing contend that this development will have a far more negative impact on their property values than “stadium lights.”
Though Commission Chairman Ron Cross appears to be an enthusiastic supporter of the development, Sheriff Clay Whittle and School Superintendent Charles Nagle are being more cautious. There are concerns that the influx of more low-income students into that part of Martinez will make Lakeside High a Title 1 school. Sheriff Whittle also has raised concerns about crime from other rental properties in the county, especially apartment complexes, but is cautiously optimistic given assurances that the Magnolia Trace development will require criminal background checks for applicants.
Still, neighbors of Magnolia Trace are not in the least bit “optimistic” and it is still not quite clear if they will be able to stop this development. The Georgia Department of Community Affairs has already issued the subsidies and the development is already under construction. What particularly angers the resaidents is that they were not consulted or made aware of the nature of this development before the commission gave its approval last year.
Even if they cannot stop the development at tonight’s commission meeting, they still want to voice their anger over the actions of their elected officials in this matter. They may not show up with pitchforks and torches (organizers haver promised to keep the protests civil), but tempers most certainly are running high. In fact some people are calling for the re-call of Chairman Ron Cross and commissioner Trey Allen. That’s not likley to happen under Georgia’s re-call laws, but it illustrates the anger and frustration some residents feel over this and  what they contend is a disconnect among the elected officials and their constituents.***
 Continuing Coverage
We will have a correspondent covering tonight’s Columbia County Commission meeting and we will bring you the report (including video) as soon as it becomes available.
If You Go:
What time?:  6:00pm today
Where?:   Columbia County Government Center Complex Auditorium, 630 Ronald Reagan Drive, Evans
Issue:       Citizens presentation Protesting The Magnolia Trace Low Income rental housing development .
Related Stories:


Magnolia Trace: No Trace of Trey

Columbia County Commissioner Trey Allen
Originally posted on CityStink
December1, 2011
Augusta, GA
By Al Gray
The author, Al M. Gray is President of Cost Recovery Works, Inc., a provider of Cost Avoidance and Cost Recovery for America’s leading companies, businesses and governments desiring Superior Returns.
The saga of the hotly-protested Magnolia Trace development on Old Ferry Road in Martinez Georgia is incomplete without an examination of the role of  Trey Allen, Second District Commissioner on the Columbia County Board of Commissioners. Magnolia Trace is within Commissioner Allen’s District. The project is funded by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA), upon whose board of directors Commissioner Allen sits, representing the 10th District.
This seems at this juncture to be mostly unpleasant circumstance for Commissioner Allen, as his appointment to the DCA board by Governor Deal in March of this year came 9 months after he, county attorney Doug Batchelor, and County Commission Chairman Ron Cross met with representatives of Magnolia Trace Limited Partnership in preparation of ushering through a resolution endorsing the project during the June 15, 2010 Commission Meeting.
At the time of approval of this resolution, which references “affordable single-family home subdivision of up to 50 homes” on 15 acres. Commissioner Allen was serving as Columbia County Chairman for Nathan Deal’s gubernatorial campaign.  What looked then to be a reward to a faithful supporter by Deal now looks to be a curse as the DCA is at the epicenter of one of the most furiously-opposed residential developments to be initiated in Columbia County in years.
Fueling Commissioner Allen’s current hot seat even more is his prolonged and furious opposition earlier this year to stadium lights for Augusta Preparatory Day School which will illuminate Springlakes Subdivision, where he resides.  Old Ferry and the Pass opponents of the Magnolia Trace subsidized housing have been disappointed so far that a similar degree of indignation for theirdiscomfiture doesn’t seem to be forthcoming from their 2nd district commissioner.
Will this most unfortunate combination of a bad deal, coincidence, and location of the latest Columbia County NIMBY (not-in-my-backyard)eruption taint, even doom, what was only yesterday the brightest political career out of Martinez in this century?
Memories run long there. Ask former Commissioner Frank Spears, who has carried the stigma of being “Mr. Rain Tax” for almost a decade. Only now does Spears seem likely to be rehabilitated enough for a come-back.
Now the bloom is off of  Trey Allen’s magnolia as the harsh lights illuminate his Springlakes home.
It will be interesting to see how he Deals with that.
Video: See the video Segment from the June 15, 2010 Columbia County Commmission Meeting where the the resolution was approved supporting the Magnolia Trace Development below:

Meeting to approve Magnolia Trace Project

Below is a copy of the Columbia County Commission resolution from June 15th, 2010 giving the county’s support for the Magnolia Trace development accompanied by an informational packet about the development. It clearly states “affordable housing.” The resolution green-lighted the Georgia Department of Community Affairs (a board which Comm Trey Allen now sits on, as he was appointed by Gov Nathan Deal) to begin the process of issuing tax subsidies for the development.

Magnolia Trace Information Packet

Dee Mathis Wins Battle Over Overlay Zone at The Marble Palace…For Now (Videos)

Dee Mathis Claims Victory at The Marble Palace

Originally posted by CityStink
November 16, 2011
Augusta, GA

Dee Mathis and her allies reigned victorious after the Nov 15th Augusta commission meeting in halting approval of a proposed overlay zoning district for the Laney-Walker/Bethlehem neighborhood. You can read more about the background over this here: Commission Set to Vote Today on Overlay Zone.
Bringing a flock of supporters, Dee Mathis was joined by veteran property rights advocate, Al Gray, in making oral presentations before the commissioners as to why they should deny approving the application for the overlay zone as submitted by the developer.

In the end a majority of commissioners, in a 4-6 vote, sided with Ms Mathis and Mr Gray and denied the application. A second motion was approved that would have the commission revisit the overlay proposal at the first scheduled commission meeting in January 2012. You can watch videos of the proceedings at the commission meeting below.

Al Gray’s Presentation:

Dee Mathis’ Presentation:

Video courtesy of Kurt Huttar

Related Article:

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Commissioners Set to Vote on Overlay Zoning District Today for Laney-Walker/Bethlehem

Will Dee Mathis and her allies be able to stop the Overlay Zoning District?

Originally posted by CityStink
November 15, 2011
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.
Today is the day when Augusta commissioners will vote to either approve or halt a controversial proposed overlay zoning district for the Laney-Walker/Bethlehem neighborhoods in inner city Augusta. was the first in the media to tell you about the concerns over the overlay zoning proposal on October 6th in Urban Redevelopment or Land Grab?
Laney-Walker homeowner Dee Mathis got wind that the Augusta Planning and Zoning Department was planning to quietly approve an Overlay Zoning District for her neighborhood on October 3rd. Ms Mathis nor any of her neighbors had previously heard about this proposal and none of them were notified prior to the Oct 3rd meeting. Ms Mathis and property rights activist Mike Sheil, showed up at the meeting and challenged the legitimacy of the proposal moving forward because property owners had not been properly notified. Ms Mathis and many of her neighbors wanted more specifics about how the zoning changes would affect them and the use of their property. There were also concerns that the overlay zoning district would introduce commercial zoning into areas that are now zoned residential and impose architectural review guidelines on existing property owners. Because of the challenge by Ms Mathis and Mr Sheil, the vote by Planning and Zoning was postponed until Nov 7th.
Dee Mathis, Laney-Walker Homeowner

The Dog and Pony Shows

In the mean time, Planning and Zoning began to notify the affected property owners by mail and a series of informational seminars were scheduled to supposedly give residents more specifics. Dee Mathis kept requesting  all of the details of the proposal that would actually be voted on, but instead got mostly “vague” concepts and pretty water color sketches…. but not a lot of specifics. As you are probably aware, when dealing with Augusta government it’s always important to get the specifics in writing.
The seminars were not much more informative. Critics referred to them as being more “Dog and Pony Shows” than being informative and offering  specifics. It became obvious to homeowners like Dee Mathis, that the seminars, conducted by the private developer requesting the overlay zone and The Augusta Housing Authority, were mostly propaganda sessions designed to mislead residents with pretty water color sketches that had little to do with what would actually be voted on in the application.
In fact, Dee Mathis and a group of allies found glaring inconsistencies, vague language, and an application that was essentially incomplete. How could an incomplete application be approved? Well, according to the law, it shouldn’t. But that didn’t stop the Planning and Zoning Department from giving their seal of approval to the Overlay Zoning District on  November 7th, despite the objections raised by Ms Mathis and her allies. However, for the overlay zone to go into effect, it would need approval  from Augusta Commissioners. And that is where we are today.
What Will Commissioners Do?
Commissioners will take up the Overlay Zoning District at today’s 5pm BOC meeting at The Marble Palace. Inside sources are telling that Dist 1 Commissioner Matt Aitken (who represents the bulk of the proposed Overlay Zoning District) plans to vote in favor of the OZ. Commissioner Jerry Brigham (Dist 7) has  made public statements indicating that he would likely support it as well. So will this vote fall along mostly racial lines with white commissioners voting in favor of imposing  an overlay zoning district in a mostly poor , and black inner-city neighborhood at the behest of a private out-of town developer? What about the “cafeteria” sometimes-leaning-libertarian Mayor Pro-tem Joe Bowles? Will he side with the property rights activists and the rule of law? Or will he fall in line and side with the private developer and approve restricting property rights and approve an incomplete application with inconsistent and vague information that would likely not withstand a legal challenge? Where do minority Commissioners Mason, Lockett, Hatney, and Johnson all stand on the Overlay Zoning District?
The Dee and Al Show
Dee Mathis will be joined by ally and property rights advocate Al Gray at today’s commission meeting. Both are on the agenda to speak before the commissioners in opposing approval of the ordinance. Ms Mathis has also been organizing her neighbors and supporters on Facebook to pack the commission chambers today at 5pm to stop the overlay zone. Al Gray is scheduled to speak first.

Property Rights Advocate, Al Gray

Mr. Gray is no stranger to these sorts of battles. He successfully challenged a similar overlay zoning district in Columbia County for the Evans Town Center area. Though not a resident of Richmond County, Mr Gray is coming out to lend his support and knowledge to Ms Mathis and the residents of Laney-Walker/Bethlehem in fighting against this proposal. For Mr Gray it boils down to the simple issue of protecting individual property rights and following the rule of law. received the following press release from Al Gray regarding today’s vote:


Property rights activist and overlay zoning district veteran Al Gray has the following comment on the overlay motion coming before the Augusta Richmond County Commission Tuesday night.


The Augusta Richmond County government has been caught with its pants down so often Sheriff Strength could arrest them all for indecent exposure, yet it is poised to execute a plan initiated by a private entity that fails its own ordinance in uniformity, required notices, and completeness. This malignant plan as it is being executed is a dagger to the private property rights of every Richmond County landowner from McBean to Warren Road. Richmond County citizens are being told “trust us” yet again. They say this….”Trust our plan. We don’t know the details, but we MUST pass it to before you find out what is in it.”
When these overlays came to Columbia and Lincoln Counties, they were met with public hostility to the point that there was nearly a riot at the Columbia County Planning Commission in 2000. (Reporters at the Columbia News-Times of that day can attest to this as can Columbia County Commission Chairman Ron Cross who was seen on the front row waving his fist and being decidedly loud in defense of property rights.) The overlay ordinances had to be scaled back to meet public acceptance. The Evans Town Center Overlay was thrown out in Superior Court for lack of notification, yet many Laney Walker residents had not been notified as recently as October 25. In Lincoln County, negating a corridor overlay was a key campaign issue in Chairman Wade Johnson’s victory in 2008 and the proximate cause of the firing of his Planning and Zoning Director.
We trust that residents throughout Richmond County are acutely aware of the many recent failings of its government and have ample reason to be terrified at what lies in store for their most precious property rights at the hands of these failed “leaders.”

I suggest you all wake up. Now.

Al Gray
What Will Happen Next?
Inside sources are telling that the commission will likely approve the overlay zoning district proposal at today’s meeting. However, commissioners could be swayed by a large turnout of residents in opposition at today’s meeting. Dee Mathis has been making the rounds of local talk radio and has been busy getting the word out. Also, the property rights and rule of law arguments made by Mathis and Gray may also have an impact on some commissioners.
However even if the proposal does pass today, Al Gray doesn’t see it as a defeat but rather just the beginning: “The vote is (really) meaningless as the matter violates notification, common purpose, and completeness requirements of the application.”
Most opponents believe that the ordinance, if passed in its current form, could not pass a legal challenge in the courts.
What to Know if You Plan to Attend:
  • What: Augusta Commission Meeting
  • Where: Augusta-Richmond County Municipal Building, 530 Greene St, Room #803
  • When: Today (Tuesday Nov. 15th) at 5:00pm

**Advisory** You are encouraged to arrive early if you want a seat in the chambers. Protest signs are not permitted inside commission chambers. Opponents of the Overlay Zoning District proposal are planning to wear GREEN to show solidarity.

Related articles:

Busted: MD Mayor “Admonished” for Augusta Trip with Ripken Baseball

Mayor Bennett (left) and challenger  McGrady (right)

Originally published by CityStink
November 5, 2011
Augusta, GA

Al M. Gray, President of Cost Recovery Works, Inc. contributed multidisciplinary review techniques in support of this article.

City Stink first told you back on October 11th about Aberdeen, MD mayor Michael Bennett’s trip to Augusta, GA with Ripken Baseball officials: The Truth is a Funny Thing in Aberdeen, MD When it Comes to Publicly Financed Ballparks.
Mayor Bennett had a very different story for the audience in Augusta regarding his city’s financial history with the publicly financed Ripken Stadium from what the people back home are familiar with. Bennett supposedly wanted to “dispel rumors” from a 2007 Baltimore Sun  article that said the small city of Aberdeen, MD was losing hundreds of thousands of dollars annually on their stadium and a very lop-sided financial arrangement with Ripken Baseball made it next to impossible for the city to even break even. Plus, much of the promised real-estate development the city was hoping would occur adjacent to the ballpark never materialized. Of course City Stink got a hold of the budget reports for the city of Aberdeen and found that the city was still losing hundreds of thousands of dollars annually on Ripken Stadium and still having to dip into its general fund to service the bonds.
But Bennett made it sound like everything was just hunky-dory back in The Old-Line state. But people back home knew better. It seems for years, a series of mayors, including Bennett, tried unsuccessfully to renegotiate a better deal with Ripken Baseball to stop the financial hemorrhaging for Aberdeen taxpayers. Each time, the company refused. So why did mayor Michael Bennett come down and tell an audience in Augusta a completely opposite tale and sing the praises of Ripken Baseball?
As many of you know, Ripken Baseball and Augusta mayor Deke Copenhaver have been lobbying hard for a new stadium here in Augusta. But the public has been cool on the idea of committing public funds for the project. So when the news broke back in July that Cal Ripken’s home town of Aberdeen was suffering with a financial burden with Ripken Stadium, it seemed to reinforce what stadium critics here have been saying all along.
So on October 3rd, Ripken Baseball brought Aberdeen mayor Michael Bennett (at company expense) to Augusta to engage in some damage control and some truth bending. I mean if the mayor of Aberdeen, MD says all of this is a bunch of baloney about them losing money on their stadium then it must be true right? And of course Augusta reporters won’t ask any questions or dig deeper, right?
When the folks back up in Maryland caught wind of mayor Bennett’s trip to Augusta, there were naturally a lot of questions. Such as why was mayor Bennett down in Georgia on a lobbying junket for a company his city has a financial relationship with? And, why did the mayor neglect to give the crowd in Augusta the whole story?
Patrick McGrady, who is challenging Bennett in the upcoming Nov 8th election for mayor, filed an ethics complaint over the trip.
Well on Nov 1st, just a week before the election, the Aberdeen, MD Ethics Panel (many of whom were appointed by mayor Bennett) rendered a decision on the ethics complaint against Bennett, and it found the mayor IN VIOLATION of the city’s ethics ordinance: Baltimore Sun: Ethics Panel Admonishes Mayor Bennett.
You can view the official decision by the ethics panel below:
ethicsreport (1)
Even though the panel did not believe the mayor “willfully” violated the ethics ordinance, they did believe the potential for a conflict of interest did exist and that mayor Bennett should have disclosed this to the city council BEFORE making the trip. He notified the council more than a week AFTER when it had already hit the blogs and newspapers. The panel also concluded that the mayor, acting in an official capacity, was in effect lobbying on behalf of a private company that could result in that company receiving a  financial benefit (Ripken Baseball is trying to get Augusta to build them a stadium here). The panel did not consider the plane ticket a “gift”, nor has it been proven that mayor Bennett received some other direct financial benefit from Ripken Baseball for making the trip, but with it being election season, there are certainly many people asking questions about mayor Bennett’s motives for coming to Augusta to lobby on Ripken Baseball’s behalf and twist the facts about the financial burden of the stadium. Though there is no penalty for the ethics violation, the panel did “admonish” mayor Bennett for a “series of imprudent actions.”
How will this impact the election up there? Well we will find out after next Tuesday if this trip to Augusta cost Michael Bennett his job as mayor. The timing of this certainly could not be worse for Bennett. However things turn out in the election, many stadium critics in Augusta feel vindicated by this decision from the ethics panel in Maryland. The truth about the financial burdens of these stadiums are well documented, and for mayor Bennett and Ripken Baseball officials to come to Augusta and say that stadium critics here were spreading “rumors and misinformation” was not only disingenuous, but offensive. If they want to point the finger at who is spreading “rumors and misinformation” about the stadium, they may want to try finding a mirror.
Other media sources covering the ethics violation story:


The Ghost of David Fry

The ghost of David Fry spotted near the new parking deck


Originally posted on CityStink
November 3, 2011
Augusta, GA
The Outsider
Al M. Gray, President of Cost Recovery Works, Inc. contributed multidisciplinary review techniques in support of this article.
Well Halloween may be officially over but the ghost of David Fry is still lurking the streets of downtown Augusta. No, not down at 5th and Broad streets by the Haunted Pillar, but instead his specter has been seen haunting another cursed Augusta landmark: the new TEE Center parking deck by 9th and Reynolds streets.
It seems that the recent revelation that the city of Augusta doesn’t actually own the land where the new $12 million city owned deck sits and an impending trial over the attempted bribery of two Augusta commissioners involving this same parking deck has resurrected the restless spirit of David Fry.
Some of you may remember the name “David Fry” from two years ago. In August of 2009, the TEE Center and parking deck were in limbo because the commission had split along racial lines over whether to issue more revenue bonds because it was learned that the convention center was actually going to cost nearly double than the $20 million voters had  approved in a 2005 SPLOST referendum. Also, the addition of a parking deck across the street had some commissioners also crying foul, saying that the project had become too bloated and no longer resembled what voters approved and suggestions were floated to put in back on a ballot or redirect the SPLOST funds entirely. But that presented problems, because the TEE Center was inextricably tied to  a $37 million redevelopment project for Laney-Walker/Bethlehem. So if the TEE Center didn’t get approved with the extra money needed to build it, some white commissioners were threatening to pull the plug on the $1 per night hotel/motel surcharge and pull the plug on redevelopment of Laney-Walker/Bethlehem. The situation was at a stalemate, and no one seemed eager to give up ground.
Now enter David Fry. He was an Augusta attorney and former nightclub owner. In late August 2009, commissioners Alvin Mason and Corey Johnson contact Augusta law enforcement that David Fry approached them with an offer of a bribe “if” they changed their votes on the TEE Center deal. Both Mason and Johnson had been voting consistently against increased funding for the TEE Center. The story didn’t hit the news until early September 2009. What was particularly interesting is what Fry was offering the commissioners. According to Mason and Johnson, Fry told them that he could land them lucrative concessions in the new parking deck that would be built along with the TEE center (This is the same parking deck involved in the current “ParkingGate” saga).
WRDW’s Chris Thomas  reported on the bribe in this story: WRDW coverage of TEE center bribe scandal
Chris Thomas also reports that Fry contacted commissioners Jerry Brigham and Don Grantham about a week after commissioners Mason and Johnson came forward to law enforcement about Fry’s attempted bribe. Don Grantham says that he remembers being contacted by Fry on August 31st, one day before a vote on the TEE Center. Both Grantham and Brigham said they didn’t report the incident because they thought the whole thing was “ridiculous.” And it would have been ridiculous to try and get Grantham  and Brigham to switch their votes. Grantham had been the biggest proponent of the TEE Center on the commission and  Brigham had voted in support of it as well. WJBF also covered the breaking story of the bribery attempt here: Attorney arrested for trying to bribe 2 Augusta commissioners.
The fact that Fry was offering concessions in the parking deck was quite interesting. What authority did he have to make such a deal? And why the parking deck? It seemed very odd because in all of the TEE Center drama that was taking place, the parking deck was not mentioned very much.
A local afternoon radio talk-show personality tried to quickly explain it all away as much ado about nothing. He said that Fry was just an overly zealous lone gunman type who was extremely enthusiastic about the TEE Center and was upset with commissioners Mason and Johnson for holding it up. According to the talk-show host, Fry was particularly livid at Mason, whom he had donated money to in his campaign against Bernard Harper. According to this same talk-show host, many wealthy West Augusta types supported Mason in his first campaign, and that Fry felt “betrayed” by Mason. Don’t forget that Mason also received what he called a “threat” from a West Augusta “millionaire” over his votes on the TEE Center: details emerge on Tee Center “millionaire” threat.
The radio talk-show host explains the bribe as a way for Fry to get back at Mason and Johnson. He would offer them something he knew he could not deliver, get them to change their votes, get the TEE Center passed, and then leave them high and dry when it came time to collect on the bribe. Well that’s the theory of the talk-show host.
The problem was that the bribery attempt backfired and nearly sank the TEE Center.
But let’s really think about this. If David Fry knew that he was throwing out a canard for the commissioners, then why not offer something more grandiose and more sexy than a parking deck contract? I mean why not offer a lucrative concession in the TEE Center itself or in one of the hotels? Why not throw in a condo in Palm Beach, Florida and lifetime badges to The Masters? I mean if he had no ability to deliver on any of this, then why not promise the moon? Why did he choose to offer a deal in this parking deck? And why was an attorney willing to commit a felony to get the TEE Center and parking deck passed if he had absolutely no connection to it or anything to gain from it? Many people didn’t buy the story that David Fry was just some lone-gunman type and questions still linger if  perhaps more were involved and whether Fry was just a fixer for much bigger fish.
After Matt Aitken defeated Bill Fennoy in a run-off election for the Dist 1 commission seat, the approval of the TEE center was a forgone conclusion. His campaign had almost been entirely predicated on approving the TEE Center. So on December 7th, 2009, the commission quickly agreed to approve the TEE Center and parking deck along with the Laney-Walker/Bethlehem redevelopment. This also happens to be the same meeting when Fred Russell told commissioners that Augusta Riverfront LLC (or its subsidiary) had AGREED to donate the land for the parking deck.
The David Fry story disappeared about as fast as a sitcom on The CW network. The parking deck is finished and open and the TEE center is under construction. David Fry was indicted by a grand jury in June of 2010. An almost forgettable snippet of a story brought that news in the Augusta Chronicle: Chronicle: Fry indicted over bribe. And not much has been heard since then of David Fry. But now it is  being reported  that David Fry will now stand trial for the bribery attempt, more than a YEAR AFTER he was indicted. Apparently a plea-deal fell through at the last minute.Chronicle: Fry case to go to trial . We have to wonder  if the same attorneys involved in the Fry case are also the ones involved in the chronically postponed Scott Dean child molestation trial. But with the new information swirling around ParkingGate, the timing of the trial of David Fry couldn’t be any better, or worse (if you are Augusta Riverfront LLC)
So now it has become known that 933 Broad Investment Co LLC (a shell company of Augusta Riverfront LLC)
has owned the land where the new parking deck sits since 2003. That means they essentially own the ground floor of the parking deck. Augusta Riverfront LLC owns the Marriott hotel and will manage the new TEE Center. They want the management contract to run the new Reynolds street parking deck for a fee of $25,000 a year and they want to lease hundreds of city owned spaces at another deck adjacent to the Marriott for $50,000, which could net Augusta Riverfront LLC 10 times what they would pay the city for the lease. But either way, since Augusta Riverfront LLC owns the land where the new deck sits, they have control over those ground floor spaces.. and the ground floor of any parking deck is the most lucrative.
All of this new information prompts more questions. Did David Fry know  that Augusta Riverfront LLC would have a lock on the ground floor of the new parking deck and was that the concession he was offering in his bribe?  And is there a connection between David Fry and Augusta Riverfront LLC or one of their subsidiaries such as 933 Broad Investment Co LLC? Fry so far has has not been talking. Will he be willing to take the fall in exchange for something far more lucrative than a small “slice” of the parking deck? Or will Fry start to sing like a canary in his upcoming trial? And in light of the new turn of events and information learned over the past couple of weeks perhaps the FBI should take a second look at this case to see if Fry was merely an agent for someone else who could have delivered on the parking deck management contract concession. Would it be prudent to postpone Fry’s trial so that this case can be investigated further?
The Tee Center and parking deck has involved some of the most powerful players in Augusta, and the attempted bribery of two sitting commissioners of Georgia’s 2nd largest city.  Perhaps the upcoming bribery trial will  finally put the ghost of David Fry to rest once and for all, or it might expose a whole lot more skeletons in Augusta’s closet.


Land Swaps, Bonds and Air Rights: The Parking Deck Saga Continued

The parking deck at 9th and Reynolds Streets
Originally published October 30, 2011 in the defunct CityStink blog
October 30, 2011
Augusta, GA
Dustin Goads
Al M. Gray, President of Cost Recovery Works, Inc. contributed multidisciplinary review techniques in support of this article
Since City Stink first ran the story this past Wednesday on the Reynolds Street parking deck saga, the proverbial fecal matter has hit the fan. Unfortunately many people in the media are still missing the big story and some have chosen to divert attention away from the main issues and  toward State Sen Bill Jackson, implying that City Stink was accusing him of wrong doing and “dragging his name through the mud.”  Nothing could be further from the truth.
Sen. Jackson’s name only came up because public property records show he was involved in a land swap with the city so that a small 0.07 acre parcel that he had owned with a  business associate for decades could be secured for the new parking deck at 9th  and Reynold’s Street. The real issue that is being ignored is the inflated price the city ended up paying for that 0.07 parcel and its implications for 933 Broad Investment Co LLC (aka Augusta Riverfront, LLC), NOT that Sen. Jackson walked away with any huge pay-off or was somehow tipped off by someone to hit it big in land speculation. If you go back and read the article you will find that City Stink never made any such accusations.
Explaining the Land Swap Transaction
State Sen. Bill Jackson and a long time business associate, who is now deceased, had owned a 0.07 acre parcel at the corner of 9th and Reynold’s Street since 1969. It just so happens it was right where the city of Augusta needed to build a new parking deck. Instead of an outright sale of the property to the city, an arrangement was set up called a  1031 Exchange. When you hear the term “Land Swap”, this is what they are referring to. These are quite common in the business world, though not quite as common for municipal governments to be a party to. But it made good business sense for Sen Jackson to want to avoid paying capital gains on the outright sale of the property, since he says he was not particularly interested in selling. No one faults Sen Jackson for making a sound business decision. The 1031 allowed him to defer any capital gains. It also allowed for more purchasing power for the two parcels he wanted in the exchange, since capital gains would have gobbled up 15% of the profit from the sale.
However, the city didn’t just swap out land with Sen Jackson that it already owned. The state Senator was interested in two small parcels at the corner of 13th street and Reynolds street adjacent to his Tile Center business. Those parcels were owned by K&W Investment Co. You can view the property records here: 1311 Reynolds St parcel and 35 13th St parcel. But the thing is, to acquire these two parcels, the city paid out $119,000. And that is the main point. Sen Jackson just got the land.. no money. The $119,000 was held in escrow by a 3rd party intermediary while the transactions were being finalized. Even though Sen Jackson didn’t walk away with a big fat check in the deal, he did get a larger parcel that was of considerable more value to his business than the tiny 0.07 acre orphaned parcel he transferred to the city at 9th and Reynolds Streets.
Now a particular talk radio personality was making it sound like the land swap was at the very best a “wash” for Jackson or that he may have even lost money on the deal. Not quite. Acquiring the crucial corner parcel at 13th St and Reynolds St gave Jackson increased visibility and access for his Tile Center business and thus increased the value of all of  his land there. So Jackson made quite a good deal for himself, not faulting him with that, any good businessman would do the same thing. The question here is, in all of this, did the taxpayers make a good deal?
How Augusta Riverfront, LLC is the MAIN Beneficiary of the Land Swap
As we have said before the main player in the parking deck, aside from the city of Augusta, is Augusta Riverfront, LLC. This is  the company who will manage not only the new parking deck, but the new TEE Center. They also own the Marriott hotel adjacent to the new TEE center. As we first told you, the land where the TEE center parking deck now sits is owned by a company called 933 Broad Investment Co, LLC, which we found is a shell company of Augusta Riverfront, LLC. This means that the company who wants to manage the parking deck (at a yearly fee of $25,000) actually owns the land where the deck sits, EXCEPT for that one 0.07 acre parcel involved in the land swap with State Sen Bill Jackson.
As we just told you, the city paid out $119,000 in that exchange. What that did was essentially inflate the land values where the parking deck sits, establishing a price point of $1.7 million per acre! And who owns most of that land? 933 Broad Investment Co LLC (aka Augusta Riverfront, LLC). So that puts them in a pretty sweet position over this deck. They already own the ground floor of the deck, which means they get the revenue generated from the spaces on the first level, and now they want a $25,000 contract to manage the rest of the deck. Many city leaders are crying foul and saying they were mislead and want ALL of the land where the deck sits under city ownership. But not so fast. Augusta Riverfront, LLC can now assert that their land is worth $1.7 million per acre if the city wants to buy them out. That could also be used as powerful leverage in negotiating a sweet heart management contract for managing the  new Reynolds’s street deck and the one adjacent to the Marriott.
What Exactly Were Commissioners Told?
When several commissioners were told that the city did not own the land where they just built a $12 million parking deck, they were dumbfounded. It seems as though just about everyone on the commission was of the belief that Augusta Riverfront, LLC or its subsidiary had already donated their parcels of  land for the deck. But that never happened. Commission meeting minutes from 2009 clearly show that city administrator Fred Russell told commissioners on multiple occasions that Augusta Riverfront, LLC or its subsidiary had AGREED to donate the land to make way for the parking deck. You can view those commission meeting minutes on the City of Augusta website.
It makes sense that Augusta Riverfront, LLC would agree to donate the land for parking deck. They were getting a sweetheart deal on the TEE Center and the management contract to operate it with no risk to them. In fact they were getting a $350,000 per year subsidy from taxpayers to run the facility. And the hotels owned by Augusta Riverfront, LLC are adjacent to the TEE Center and thus will get exclusive access to the facility. And don’t forget that the city forgave Augusta Riverfront, LLC of a $7.5 million UDAG loan that the city had acquired on their behalf back in the early 1990s for construction of the Radisson, now Marriott. So it is very plausible that commissioners would expect that Augusta Riverfront, LLC would “do the right thing” and donate the land for the parking deck.
The Deal was Changed but Someone Forgot to Tell the Commissioners
December 7, 2009 was when the crucial vote was taken that approved the deal over the TEE Center and parking deck. The meeting minutes show that once again commissioners were told by Fred Russell that Augusta Riverfront, LLC had agreed to donate the land and that the city would only need to acquire two other parcels, one from a “private individual” (that was State Sen Bill Jackson) and WAGT (though none of the actual parking deck sits on the former WAGT parcel). Commissioners voted to approve the deal based on this information. But somewhere along the way things changed, but commissioners were never told. It also was revealed that a much cheaper option for surface parking instead of a costly deck was rejected by Fred Russell without the knowledge of commissioners. Commissioners were not even aware of a parking study that proposed the cheaper surface lot option. Chris Thomas of WDRW reported on it.
So somewhere along the line the deal was changed  to where the city only acquired air rights above the ground floor of  the $12 million parking deck. But apparently commissioners were never told that the deal had changed. And was the parking deck even necessary in the first place? There is now a push among at least one Augusta Commissioner to clamp down on downtown parking to hopefully steer people to the new deck. So why was this deck needed? And who told the city it was absolutely necessary to build this deck?
Follow the Bonds, Follow the Money and Connect the Dots
The reason given now by city attorneys as to why the land was not donated by Augusta Riverfront, LLC is so that tax free bonds could be used for construction. But that begs the question: Why did the city need to purchase the 0.07 acre corner parcel from Sen Bill Jackson for the deck? If keeping the land under the control of Augusta Riverfront, LLC allowed for tax free bonds to be used for construction, then shouldn’t they have purchased that land from Sen Jackson instead of the city to consolidate ownership? But as we previously told you, the lopsided land swap with the city valued that parcel at $119,000, which then inflated the surrounding land values (owned by Augusta Riverfront, LLC) to $1.7 million per acre. How convenient.
The other question that begs to be asked is why The DDA (Downtown Development Authority) was taken out of the process over the issuance of the bonds for the parking deck? The DDA is a governmental authority whose original purpose was issuing and servicing bonds for downtown parking decks.. but NOT this particular downtown parking deck. Why?
Brad Owens, the founder of Augusta Today and a former member of the DDA and a frequent critic brings up the following points regarding the bonds:
The key here has been said a few times but folks have missed it. Let me put the two together here for everyone:
1.) City lawyers say the deal was changed so tax-free bonds could be used for construction.
2.) His (Mayor Copenhaver) comment was the bond attorneys would have never let matters stand if there were something wrong with the deal.
Now, here are a few bones that need to be dug up on this based on the excuse that has been given;
  1.  WHO issued the bonds?
  2. WHO is servicing the bonds?
  3. WHICH attorney is handling this and what are the fees being charged?
  4.  ARE these “double barrel” bonds?
  5. WHICH bank is holding the money for these deals?
  6. WHAT interest rate/fee/surcharge is being charged by the bank?
Incompetence or Collusion?
It appears that many mistakes were made in this process involving the parking deck by the city and each one of those mistakes were to the great benefit of Augusta Riverfront, LLC. So that begs yet another question: Was this just yet another case of incompetence by city officials, or was this collusion among some key people on the city payroll and Augusta Riverfront, LLC to orchestrate a very lop-sided deal that now leaves the taxpayers with a $12 million parking deck on land they don’t even own? Also, was someone at the city involved with the inflation of the value of the land where the deck now sits to benefit Augusta Riverfront, LLC and to the detriment of the taxpayers? Why were commissioners told by Fred Russell on multiple occasions, that Augusta Riverfront, LLC had agreed to donate the land only for that to change without the commissioners being made aware of the change?
Why didn’t the DDA issue the bonds, especially when financing parking decks is the original reason it was created by the state in the first place? Was this done in an effort to remove scrutiny and oversight from the bonds?
And why isn’t Mayor Copenhaver more outraged over this whole sordid affair? He seems to be more mad at the messengers for exposing the meeting minutes that show that commissioners were mislead over ownership of the parking deck land. The mayor had this to say: “Why do some people always want to look back at matters? We should be looking ahead.”
We could not disagree more with mayor Copenhaver. Public officials should be outraged over this. The mayor may want all of this to just go away but we will most certainly not just look the other way on this when millions of dollars in public money are involved and especially not when it appears the process may have been rigged from the very beginning. We would hope that mayor Copenhaver would share the concerns of the public over this.
You can be assured there is more to come on this parking deck scandal… so stay tuned.
**Update** The connection between 933 Broad Investment Co LLC and Augusta Riverfront LLC:
933 Broad Investment Co LLC
Augusta Riverfront LLC

* Al Gray and Kurt Huttar of contributed to the Reynolds Street Parking Deck series by searching land titles through the Augusta, Georgia GIS map site.