Equal Protection, Equal Accountability

Comments of Al M. Gray to the Augusta Commission
Equal Protection, Equal Accountability
March 1, 2016

Mayor Davis, lady and gentlemen of the commission, thank you for the opportunity to speak today.
The baseball great Yogi Berra once said “If you come to a fork in the road, take it” but after its last two meetings perhaps this body should stop, back up and try another fork before the wheels come off of Augusta’s government like one of those KME firetrucks. Citizens, officials, and observers far and wide have been taken aback by votes to remedy a pay-increase scandal which represents a horrendous breach of Constitutional equal protection for the one employee and the simultaneous dismissal of equal accountability for 3 others who arguably had more responsibility.

The vote and particularly the commentary during the last commission meeting filled me and most observers with dismay, not just because of the ugly tone, but because the transparency so loudly promised during the SPLOST campaign is obviously dead. A citizenry who saw its garbage collection service cut in half now sees, yet again, tomfoolery to shift money between accounts to cover benefits to the downtown.They see the time-consuming machinations this administration has undertaken to do it during a time in which new SPLOST controls were supposedly a priority.

The biggest scandal in Augusta history – the financially ruinous Tee Center/Laney Walker Development deal – wasted more $tens of millions than a convention of con artists could dream up. The principle TEE contract required extensive records to be kept until the year 2020, yet neither side of the ugliness of the last 2 weeks wants to empower Augusta by learning from its mistakes there. One faction wouldn’t want it out during the state Republican Party Convention at the Convention Center out of fear of embarrassing party officials and the city. The other seems to want to maintain the sloppiness to get tens of millions more in loot with assertions of “it’s our turn, now” or “we are getting our share.”

Politicians like to create a façade of controls to hide the looting, but not controls to stop the looting. With the TEE center Augusta wound up with the daisy chain of “expert” controllers costing a combined $1250 per hour who controlled almost nothing and rubberstamped nearly everything. The powerfully-written construction management contract that Augusta won was turned into mush at their hands. Why?

Your Gift From the Copenhaver

Another Yogism by Berra– “It is Déjà vu all over again” – fits my 40 year odyssey out of Augusta, back, and now into this chamber. The mid 1970’s found me at the Labor Department in Augusta working to administer the old 13 county CETA employment programs. Fury erupted among the mostly black program management in Augusta that Columbia County had preselected an overwhelmingly white contingent of ineligible folks, but then came the embarrassing find that Augusta’s enrollees were mostly black ineligible folks.

A poor blind black woman with a young lad in tow came into the Program Directors’ office to see the Reverend F. Francis Cook. “This is my grandson, Jonathan, who sees about me, the best he can, but he needs one of those CETA jobs you all are handing out,” she said. Deputy Director Cook was in tears. There were no jobs left for the eligible and deserving grandson. He got crowded out by black politics. F. Francis Cook made sure we quit running a program for cronies, to make room for his people and for ALL people.

Yes, you can use the system perfected by the last administration to loot the people and discriminatingly spread $millions but “They did it and we are too!” makes a twisted concept of equal protection, while hurting the wrong people -people in your community.

What happened over the last two weeks destroyed confidence that this commission desires the promised transparency and reform. Choose another fork, one of real reform; this one is a dead end for Augusta.

Thank you.

Here is the video

A Crusading Chronicle Turns to Jihad

The independent media in east central Georgia fully expected the Augusta Chronicle to launch a crusade against 12th District Congressman John Barrow, the leviathan-besting survivor of six previous bouts with Billy Morris’ crumbling media empire and we were not disappointed. The salvo began with an opinion piece on September 15 and letters to the editor blasting the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DNCC)’s ads on behalf of Barrow, which targeted Rick Allen’s government contracts. Allen, the Republican Party nominee opposing Barrow, quickly and adeptly incorporated the newspaper’s attack on Barrow into his own campaign ads.The crusade had begun.

The Chronicle and Allen actually were justified in ridiculing the DNCC ads, because it was RW Allen, LLC, who held those contracts, not Rick Allen, who has had a declining participation in his firm in recent years, while retaining the title of President of the Firm. Also, as Allen, the Republican campaign apparatus, local talk radio, and the Chronicle pointed out, most of those contracts were competitively bid on a hard price basis and the “cost overruns” were indeed minimal.

The DNCC baited a trap. The Allen apparatchiks, especially Morris Communications, stepped into it. John Barrow, a Harvard Law graduate, probably wasn’t an unwitting beneficiary. If he was, he won’t be much longer, for the denunciations and denials of the DNCC charges by Allen and the Chronicle will only focus attention on the scandal-plagued Tee Center project, now termed the Augusta Convention Center, where RW Allen was the construction manager and a Chronicle affiliate was the chief beneficiary. It wasn’t hard bid, but was one of those loosey-goosey “guaranteed maximum price” deals and Augusta was billed the maximum price.

Before the contract trap was even sprung by the Barrow team, the Chronicle-Allen media express derailed less than 10 days of leaving the station. Its crusade suddenly was rerouted into a jihad against Islamic US citizens of Augusta.

The Islamic Society of Augusta had gotten acceptance of an invitation to debate from both Allen and Barrow for a debate to be held at the Islamic Center in Evans on September 27. Steve Crawford, editor of the Columbia County News-Times, a Morris publication, had agreed to be the moderator. Both candidates agreed to the Islamic Society hosting the event, Crawford’s moderation, and the place.

With no warning, Morris management took its newly-found jihadi knife and backstabbed host and moderator by forbidding Crawford from moderating. The event was put into danger of cancellation. Barrow appeared at the side of the Islamic Society’s Dr. Hossam Fadel and denounced the Morris action. Rick Allen was silent with the only response being the Allen campaign’s celebration of the “gotcha” moment of capturing Barrow in the company of a Muslim “cleric,” as they put it.

The debate was ‘saved’ by moving it to the less-than-200-person capacity of the Columbia County Commission Chamber from the 800-person-capacity Islamic Center. By several accounts, hundreds were turned away who arrived on time. The Chronicle’s jihadi knife got them too.

Before the debate began, Columbia County Republican Party Chairman Dewey Galeas added fuel to outrage at Republican party tactics by refusing to take Dr. Fadel’s offered hand for a handshake. Such ugliness is sure to be linked to other recent incidents by the state and county Republican parties.

Inside there were discussions of these events and a question was asked about the threat of Islamophobia to the constitutional rights of US citizens that are supposed to exist despite race, creed, national origin, religion or political belief. Here is the video of those remarks.

The Insider at the Metro Spirit concluded:

When (talk radio show host Austin)Rhodes pressed Atkins to explain which candidate was uncomfortable with the Islamic Community Center as the venue, Atkins was honest.

“It was the Rick Allen campaign headquarters,” Atkins told Rhodes.

Someone in the Morris-Allen alliance decided that the images of knife-wielding terrorists beheading folks in Iraq would be a nice thing to pin on John Barrow, turning the law abiding, honorable citizens in the Islamic Society into victims of a back-stabbing. Newsprint won’t stanch the bleeding and electronic publication won’t heal the wound.

The Chronicle‘s express might or might not get derailed at a guaranteed maximum price to its owners, but November 4 is Judgment Day when the voters decide whose political future is decapitated and whether it will be with his own knife.

Augusta Ministers Rose Up for Georgia!

by AL M. Gray

Guest Column for the Urban Pro Weekly

The 2500 statewide votes by which Karen Handel lost the Republican Party nomination for governor to Nathan Deal in 2010 hurt this writer deeply. The corruption-plagued Deal became governor because the personal commitment to total courage had fallen short……leaving sighs of regret that “I should have…” or “we could have….” Four years later we have another chance to restore faith and honor in the office of Governor of Georgia. It will take one word – COURAGE.

In that decisive month of August, 2010, Nathan Deal came on the local Austin Rhodes Show twice and his powerful supporter, Congressman Paul Broun, was on once, each time for a half-hour. Knowing that your author was well versed in Deal’s voting record, scandals, and escape from Congress barely ahead of an ethics investigation, Rhodes allowed the next half-hour each time for a through rebuttal of the Deal propaganda. If only the COURAGE to speak out on talk radio programs had extended to a statewide effort, Nathan Deal would be just another failed, bankrupt politician.

Why can such bold statements be made? Going into the August run-off, the entire Republican Party establishment and almost all local officials of that party were solidly behind Deal. It was a powerful machine, yet here in the CSRA, it lost and decisively so! Counties within 50 miles of the WGAC radio station voted for Handel by 60% to 40%. Had we Handel supporters had the COURAGE to take our talk radio strategy across the state, Deal would have lost and our state spared four years of embarrassing outrages.

WGAC Georgia Counties 2010

Courage is a more than a word. It is the difference in victory and defeat.

Courage arose in an unexpected way a dozen years ago in your city, when a group of brave ministers in the black community took the full measure of charges against Georgia Senate Majority Leader Charles Walker under prayerful consideration and stepped out to endorse a white Republican, Randy Hall. Their decision shook the state. To discontinue support of the most powerful black, Democratic Party politician in Georgia history took stamina and it did not come without repercussions, yet they did it with clarity and firmness of voice.

Their stand now gives you moral authority to take a position with those of us who are Independents, principled Republicans, Libertarians, and motivated voters in ridding our state of the Deal gang. We need to be telling our churchgoing brothers and sisters who normally unfailingly cleave to the Republican Party of the brave Augusta Ministers for Hall in 2002 and their stand. We should use every chance we get to remind them of the moral qualities that men and women of fail of all colors profess to live by, to raise their children by, and live religious lives for. We should ask them to have courage too – the courage to ditch their partisan loyalties for just one election year to make things as right as citizens of this great state can make them.

The governor’s race isn’t about President Obama. It is about us and our courage to confront powerful office holders gone astray. If your ministers can do that, then why won’t they and their ministers do this?

Talk to the people of other races in West Augusta, Columbia County and across our area. Tell them of your concerns. Let them know that you will rejoice if they just show the same gumption, independence, and honor to present the same principled opposition in showing Nathan Deal the door as your ministers did in 2002. Surely they wouldn’t want you to have a higher moral ground!

Georgia is in the heart of the Bible Belt but Georgians have had the unhappy history of letting charlatans bamboozle their way into office or stay after they have gone wrong. In 2014 one hopes that we have the same courage as Augusta ministers of 2002 and that honor prevails.

Cooking Sinergy on Reynolds Street

Some like to use the phrase “God Don’t Like Ugly” to describe situations where extreme karma erupt, but isn’t it more apt that both God and Satan have senses of humor when mortal humans gore their own ox?

Readers will see the title and immediately think “Synergy isn’t spelled that way!” Correct they are. Synergy is the creation of a whole that is greater than the simple sum of its parts. “Sinergy” is creation of an offense that is greater than the simple sum of its ingredients. “Sinergy” has gotten cooked up in heaping batches in a Reynolds Street kitchen in the Augusta Convention Center.

After the management at Augusta-based Morris Communications decided to go all-in cheerleading their TEE Center caper, which saw a Morris Communications affiliated company awarded with the management agreement to operate that now-infamous convention center, they failed to warn their local government reporters about the legal minefield lying in wait. Hundreds of pages of Uniform Commercial Code filings, easements and cross-easements, and the existing Conference Center operating agreement directly were impacted by the construction of the TEE Center. Poor reporters hadn’t the time or expertise to read the huge volumes required to avoid embarrassing blunders.

Sinergy struck reporter Susan McCord hard, when she published an expose about Augusta Commissioner Alvin Mason, prominently focused upon the number $1500, which was reportedly the amount of each of the campaign contributions made to Mason and fellow commissioner Corey Johnson by Augusta contractor Heery International in 2009.

$1500.

Whether it came through divine or demonic device is uncertain, but $1500 is the cost born by Augusta to refurbish existing kitchen equipment found in the TEE Center invoicing. According to the legalese in the documents recorded in the Office of the Augusta Richmond County Superior Court Clerk the equipment items were likely the asset of Augusta Riverfront LLC, the Morris affiliate. Under the ongoing 50 year Conference Center agreement, extended by the TEE Center agreement, kitchen equipment was the responsibility of the Augusta Riverfront entity, therefore any “existing” kitchen equipment in the complex would not have been the property of Augusta.

Did Morris’ newspaper slam Commissioner Mason for a $1500 ethical lapse when their affiliate enjoyed exactly $1500 Augusta funds to rebuild its equipment?

In Augusta a $1500 kettle whistles steam that Al Mason’s $1500 pot is black and the laughing imps who once hid out in the press room found their sinergy brewing in the $2 million taxpayer funded kitchen on Reynolds Street.

In the words of Bea Arthur……

When this writer spoke before the Augusta Commission against the SPLOST vote back in April, a heartfelt recommendation was expressed to have a “Truth Commission” empaneled in Augusta. South Africa found greater peace after Bishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela insisted on holding Truth Commissions after apartheid ended. Only when Augusta’s media giant comes to the table in a spirit of truth toward all communities and all people in your city will Augusta’s apartheid end.

That is how it looks from up here in the Lincoln County pine woods across the lake.

AG

Mother (of) Goofs – The Convention Center that Rick Built

This is the Convention Center that Rick built.
Conference Harrison Bldg

This is the parcel
http://gismap.augustaga.gov/PropertyCard/Default.aspx?pin=037-3-
That lay under the Convention Center that Rick built.

This is the Center Manager/Owner
paulssimon
That had the parcel
That lay under the Center that Rick built.

This is equipment the partnership deal said would be paid for by
Tilting Kettles
That Center Manager/Owner
That had the parcel
That lay under the Convention Center that Rick built.

This is the Administrator who worked with Rick to bill the city for


That kitchen equipment that was going to be the cost of
That Center Manager/Owner
That had the parcel
That lay under the Convention Center that Rick built.

This is the lawyer who looked in vain for the city commission-executed PARTNERSHIP CHANGE
permitting
Augusta Attorney Andrew McKenzie
That Administrator to work with Rick to bill the city for
That kitchen equipment that was going to be the cost of
That Center Manager/Owner
That had the parcel
That lay under the Convention Center that Rick built.

This is the Architect paid to prevent contracting snafus
who got excluded from reviewing the purchase for which
That lawyer found no partnership change to allow
That Administrator to work with Rick to bill the city for
That kitchen equipment that was going to be the cost of
That Center Manager/Owner
That had the parcel
That lay under the Convention Center that Rick built.

This is the land right Augusta found it had under its Convention Center after
Air Rights?
That Architect noted his exclusion from the purchase review that might have stopped
That which the lawyer found no partnership change to allow
That Administrator to work with Rick to bill the city for
That kitchen equipment that was going to be the cost of
That Center Manager/Owner
That had the parcel
That lay under the Convention Center that Rick built.

This is the Manager/owners parcel value for which Augusta was forced to trade the equipment to use its own building
on
That empty land right Augusta found it had after
That Architect noted his exclusion from the purchase review that might have stopped
That which the lawyer found no partnership change to allow
That Administrator to work with Rick to bill the city for
That kitchen equipment that was going to be the cost of
That Center Manager/Owner
That had the parcel
That lay under the Convention Center that Rick built.

These are the $8250 in 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 campaign contributions from the Center Manager/Owner
paulssimon
Rick got after buying

That equipment value it became necessary to trade for
That empty land rights Augusta found it had after
That the Architect noted his exclusion from the purchase review that might have noted
That which the lawyer found no partnership change to allow
That Administrator to work with Rick to bill the city for
That kitchen equipment that was going to be the cost of
That Center Manager/Owner
That had the parcel
That lay under the Convention Center that Rick built.

This is the rival donkey in Congress grinning like a mule eating briars

That Rick got those campaign contributions from the Center Manager/Owner seeing
That equipment value it became necessary to trade for
That land right Augusta found it had after
That Architect noted his exclusion from the purchase review that might have noted
That which the lawyer found no partnership change to allow
That Administrator to work with Rick to bill the city for
That kitchen equipment that was going to be the cost of
That Center Manager/Owner
That had the parcel
That lay under the Convention Center that Rick built.

$200 Theater Tickets Trumped a $20 Million Cost Recovery Effort?

UPDATE: At the August 5, 2014 meeting of the Augusta Commission, the Augusta media got its panties in a wad over $200 James Brown Movie premier tickets and ruffled feathers between Mayor Copenhaver and Commissioner Bill Fennoy.

In any place other than Augusta, a request for the Augusta National Golf Club to pay up $20 million just might have attracted a camera lens.

****************************

Mayor Copenhaver, Gentlemen and Lady of the Commission, today let’s go down the Road of Good Intentions known as TIA 2010. Here is a road sign Commissioners Bowles and Lockett tried to install on this twisted road before we got to this Fiasco Junction.

This program has gone structurally bust in the 13 County CSRA region to the tune of $80 million to $140 million. Revenues are nearly 10% short versus budget. The investment projects’ costs are worse – now reported at the $538 million of 2011, but stood at $630 million when TIA passed. Worst of all is that higher number bore increases of 2% per year, but the cost of early projects is increasing more than 5%.

What happens to Augusta and its partner counties when funds run out in year 8? Augusta gets 60% of Phase 1 money, so the other counties could see Augusta’s early projects eat up their funding.

Distrust grows from Augusta swapping projects between Phases. Augusta was permitted to move the two Berckmans Road projects from the last phase to the second phase, but has a side deal with the Augusta National for a loan that moves the main project to Phase 1. The amount funded is just the $16.7 million base cost of that project. When the real costs come in, those projects could cost $2 million more. If the funds are capped at $16.7 million Augusta bears that cost. If the escalated costs are allowed to Augusta, we bear the cost.

The National’s project overruns mean promises to the people get dropped, here and throughout the region. Already $7.5 million for Municipal Transit promised didn’t get a dime in 2013.

The arrangements with Augusta and the Augusta National are of dubious legality. Nothing in TIA 2010 provides for a private entity to interject itself to secure earlier funding. The TIA citizens’ advisory panel we citizens were promised had oversight wasn’t even allowed to vote on the changes.

What of the Berckmans right of way – a TIA allowable cost? The proposed land swap with the National could be a net payment to Augusta that appropriately belongs to the regional fund. How can you separate out the complete costs of those options, like tunnels, the National wants from the TIA portion?

Finally there is the matter of trust. We cannot trust Augusta. The National paid $1.9 million an acre for its last purchase yet you are giving up 13 acres bordering the course itself with no attempt to get the National to pay – not loan – the $20 million or more their project will cost. Then look at the Highlands Avenue Project, where you are using 90% in other funds over and above TIA to meet the contracted price. All counties were to report all costs, including other sources, but Augusta didn’t. How many other games is Augusta playing with us?

In February reports flew out about the “TIA success” here. The press used a deceptive TIA funding list largely of non-TIA funds. Today legislators are meeting in Atlanta over transportation thinking this disaster actually works.
Let’s douse that notion by loudly demanding concrete action to secure that state guarantee of funding we heard in the TIA campaign.

For the Augusta National – Doing business with the last Augusta administration was high risk. Pay for your project to get free of this embarrassment now.

Basenji’s Don’t Roar on Reynolds Street

Morris Communications has a new online venture it has branded as ROAR.us, but its three year case of lockjaw over the scandal-wracked TEE Center and Parking Decks doesn’t show any sign of soon loosening into ear shattering howls.

Morris wasn’t so quiet in the run up to approval of the $50 million boondoggle. In fact it published a piece stating that the land its affiliate owned was to be deeded over to the city. It published guest columns from Convention and Bureau chairman Barry White, saying that the Morris affiliate would donate $1 million of land and cover costs over the $350,000 funded by the hotel/motel tax, and another from the CVB’s Abram Serotta promising that the funding would be covered by hotel/motel tax.

The noisy cheerleading promising no cost to the taxpayer over the $350,000 motel tax support is one bookend. The other bookend came in late 2012, when the Augusta Commission admitted that the operating costs could drain nearly $900,000 from the property tax supported general fund. The losses narrowed to $535,000 after the books for 2013 were closed, but did not receive rigorous questioning from a plaint Augusta Commission.

Between the bookends came a bribery trial arising from the Convention Center parking deck agreement, revelations that the land promised for donation for the parking deck by the Morris affiliate had $7 million in liens on it, the shocker that Augusta had bought $2 million of kitchen equipment that was the Morris affiliate’s responsibility, the stalemate of the management agreement that provided no accounting control over comingled food and beverages, comingled electrical costs that were supposed to be separately metered, and other snafus got virtually no attention from the Augusta Chronicle (Dare we now call it the Augusta Scamical?) other than meek postscripts noting that there are “ties” between the Morris affiliate Augusta Riverfront LLC and the Chronicle.

The Basenji breed of dog is bark-less because its voice box is muted. The Morris’ Augusta Chronicle and sister publications have been reported to be muted by senior management by the best of all sources – their ex-employees.

The attention given to Augusta’s General Fund during the month of August revived attention to Morris caper and the surprise reversal of assurances that no general funds would be touched by the Convention Center Operations. The public was roaring its anger in the Commission Chamber on August 28, but the sound from Morris Communications sounded more like a basenji’s muffled, whiney grunt from a corner of that empty taxpayer-money-hemorrhaging parking deck on Reynolds Street.

Many Arrows Moment – Devouring the Rosary

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

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

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

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

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

This has been your Many Arrows Moment on Agraynation.com

Pro-SPLOST Augusta Commissioner Goes Rogue

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

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

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