Columbia County B.Y.O.B. Finances

OPINION by The Arrowflinger

What you are about to hear in this poor quality audio recording is the last three minutes of The Austin Rhodes Show of Friday, May 18, 2018. Your arrowflinging protector shook things up, more than a little, one might think.

When GB&T bank board members Rick Allen and James G. Blanchard were mentioned in the present tense, it was in the context of a meeting with law enforcement several years ago, before the bank merged with South State Bank and that Board of Directors was disbanded. Also, neither was a voting member of the Board with management oversight.

As to former Columbia County Commissioner Scott Dean, who was the acting chairman of the county finance committee, he actually did not object AT THE AWARD MEETING, but just listen to what he said in making the astounding motion to let Ron Cross and Charlie Allen vote!

Dean’s conviction was on charges unrelated to this banking vote. Judge Blanchard being the judge who put him in prison and would not grant a retrial despite recanted testimony is more a demonstration of how weird events get twisted in Columbia County. The Arrowflinger tried to get Judge Blanchard, a former family business partner, to discuss this ugly banking matter back in 2014, but somehow we had trouble connecting. There is more there, perhaps, for a later date.

With respect to Edward J. Tarver, he was a member of the GB&T Audit Committee in 2008 and 2009, before becoming the US Attorney on December 17, 2009. Tarver had audit responsibility for the 2008 Financial Statements, which later became the basis for the Columbia County bank selection in April 2010. About a month before his nomination, The United States Securities and Exchange Commission sent the GB&T Chief Financial Officer Darrell Raines a letter expressing questions, possibly requiring a restatement of those 2008 financials.

Imagine that! A sitting US Attorney’s immediately preceding bank Audit Committee work was questioned by the SEC! None of this seems to have dawned on Columbia County Finance. Or did they know? Or did one of them know?

As for Rick Allen, perhaps he can confer with his cousins who owned 40% of GB&T and his brother, the GB&T shareholder who delivered the bank a timely $100 million cash infusion and draft a banking bill like he wrote about in the Augusta Chronicle last year. We have the perfect title. We can call it the Rick Allen B.Y.O.B bill…..BAIL OUT YOUR OWN BANK bill.

-AF

 

The Boardroom Trail to the Talisman

OPINION BY The Arrowflinger

Talisman – an object held to act as a charm to avert evil and bring good fortune.

The revelation to the American public that its establishment media is biased, lazy, and protective of their turf surely by now must extend to the Augusta contingent of “recognized” media. After all, activists brandishing Georgia Open Records Requests and publishing their own stories reinforced by documents offering obvious proof got too big to ignore between 2011 and 2013.

By 2014, you might think their “professional” inquisitiveness would have taken hold, but the Metro Spirit took resolute opposition to perceived competition to extremes. When the reformers started investigating the Reynolds Street Parking Deck boondoggle the Metro Spirit cover was one of black helicopters over the deck. Somehow, they later were acknowledging the discovery of liens on the property under the parking deck as common news. There is no way they would admit that the City Stink blog systematically awoke Augusta to such a ridiculous circumstance without THEM! The exception was Metro Spirit Writer and radio talk show host Austin Rhodes occasionally would provide some coverage to the alternative media, most recently with the absurd Tractorgate Scandal that saw Augusta men and Equipment secreted three counties away for work on private property of an ex-Augusta contractor.

The Columbia County Commission meeting of May 6, 2014 was covered by Spirit reporter Eric Johnson, who promptly disregarded the directly presented challenge to then Finance Committee Chairman Ron Thigpen’s bonus with Georgia Bank and Trust. That bank was awarded a highly irregular mass banking deal with the county, with Thigpen recusing himself from the commission vote.

Instead Johnson decided to interject his own bias and implied that the real subject was instead Chairman Ron Cross, then up for reelection. The acknowledgement of all of our enhanced “time and attention on this stuff” was very true, however. He even got handed key documents in the hope that he would pick up on the story. No way Jose.

Collateral Metro Bank

Astounding. Georgia was number one in mortgage fraud in the USA for 5 years from 2000 to 2004, leading to a tsunami of bank failures in 2008 through 2010, losing 1/5 of the state’s banks, yet NOBODY can come to suspect any alligators in their local banking swamp. The “media” ad sales blindfold “reporters.” “Their” advertisers cannot be corrupt because they pay the media’s way.

What the Spirit’s Johnson blew off was a chance to investigate how Columbia County’s cash infusion into his bank may have boosted Thigpen’s bank bonus. Had he pursued it he might have found the Talisman. From there an epic of financial gamesmanship might have been his prize!

In this burgeoning saga, the Talisman is a man, recently the United States Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia, Mr. Edward J. Tarver. When the bank executive compensation contracts were changed for 2008 and 2009, before his appointment as US Attorney, Tarver sat on Georgia Bank and Trust’s Audit Committee. (Page 23)

For the bank, Tarver had to do absolutely nothing to ward off scrutiny from investigators. All he had to do was sit in his office. Mr. Tarver is a fine man by all accounts and is respected but the simple fact is that he could be a cross between Nelson Mandela and Billy Graham and be the Talisman. Common sense says that one look at documents signed by Tarver or approved by his bank audit committee would make federal agents turn away. That is just how things are in the real world.

He wasn’t the only well-positioned protector of the bank, either. Someone in Authority upon seeing this picture of the Bank Board in 2007, the year before the financial world came unraveled might have whistled and exclaimed with eyes as large as saucers, “these are the most powerful people in Augusta!”

The story almost sounds straight out of Washington DC and the recent news bombshells over the conflicts between the FBI and Department of Justice up there.

In Columbia County’s banking controversy, the bankers are off enjoying their stock sale proceeds but the county finance department and the finance committee of the County Commission will now have to explain why they have been incompetent, or far worse.

May be no Talisman for District One Commissioner Doug Duncan, who is running for the Chairmanship of the Columbia County Commission with the backing of those same bankers. He had the chance to investigate 3 years ago, shortly after taking his seat, but dropped the ball. Former GB&T Chairman Robert Pollard, Former GB&T Chief Operating Officer Ron Thigpen, and Former GB&T Voting Board Member Larry Prather are listed as Duncan Supporters.Former GB&T shareholder and current Columbia County Commission Chairman Ron Cross, who voted for the suspect award of the county primary banking contract to GB&T, is said to be a Duncan contributor.

Law enforcement on three levels of government has the greater responsibility of having turned a blind eye until the Statute of Limitations expired, possibly allowing financial thieves to escape prosecution.

There are no Pulitzer Prizes that will be awarded to Augusta “journalists” from this scandal, either. The artwork was nice, though!

-AF

Banking Hard Right into a Wrong Place

OPINION by the Arrowflinger

Well, Well, Well Scott Johnson, What an interesting set of developments since we last talked. Back then, y’all couldn’t identify the Commission Finance committee member who essentially redirected a huge 5 year Columbia County banking contract to Georgia Bank and Trust after First Citizens Bank won that bid, but lately you have gotten really good at finding and disclosing facts about Pam Tucker. Austin has insinuated that you were “looking for dirt” on Ms. Tucker during her vacation, her conversation got very efficiently recorded and replayed, and there was a further dust-up involving a banker. Heaven knows that wasn’t one of the GB&T bankers. No one dare do that back when the banking contract went down. A majority of the commissioners, including 2 out of three on the Finance Committee, were GB&T shareholders then, including one who was the Chief Operating Officer of the bank!

What are the new Developments?

Well, that bank wound up being the 2016 flagship of the whole American Banking Association, when its CEO Dan Blanton became chairman of ALL of the bankers. The ABA was regaled with a story we all heard, GB&T’s claimed focus of “Doing the Right Thing.” Based upon What I have seen there is absolutely no question the executives of that bank were doing the right thing – for themselves! Your doings are trickier, because your finance committee and finance department were “Doing Tha’ Thang Right!”

In the last 15 months the United States Attorney of the Southern District of Georgia very arguably an unwitting protector of the entire mess, left his post after 8 years and was replaced just 6 months ago.

In the last 15 months GB&T sold out at a premium of around $49 per share, up from the dark $9 per share days of 2009, just before your secret finance committee member swung over $100 million of Columbia County’s money into rescuing them.

Meanwhile, the employees of 83 percent of area banks who didn’t work for that bank, many who lost everything in 2009 and got no rescue from you all, and the 100 GB&T employees who lost their jobs after years of propaganda will read this with keen interest. What is worse, we read that you are quoted promising retaliation against one of them for questioning not only Tucker’s departure but that of another departed division director as well.

This was and is a national scandal and you are sitting in the middle of it.

Columbia County Finance got caught “Doin’ Tha’ Thang Right” but the taxpayers didn’t even get a peck on the cheek.

They ain’t gonna be happy with YOU!

An Ice Storm Came to Columbia County Government

OPINION by The Arrowflinger

July 22, 2014 found Columbia County Administrator Scott Johnson in the studio of Augusta radio station WGAC for an hour on the Austin Rhodes Show. The general topic of discussion that day was the upcoming Special Purpose Local Option Sales tax or SPLOST. An Arrowflinger called in to discuss the SPLOST projects and to opine that discussion was needed as to how secure the bank accounts into which SPLOST funds would be deposited were. (More on that to come.)

Toward the end of the show talk shifted to praising long-time Columbia County Emergency Management Director, Pam Tucker for her astute planning and the county’s superb response to the Winter 2014 ice Storm. Listen and admire the warmth, for these days the only warmth is emitting from anger, as Administrator Johnson and now Former Director Tucker are in the midst of a political war being fought by Columbia County District 1 Commissioner Doug Duncan against Tucker. Both are running for the Chair of the Columbia County Board of Commissioners, along with Developer Mark Herbert.

The way Columbia County has gravitated toward rank cronyism, perhaps we should call it the Columbia County Board of Collusioners.

May 22 is Election Day. May Columbia County elect the best candidate, or,more providently, the least damaging one. An emergency management professional has the training to do that.

Maybe Columbia County should hear how highly her current antagonists once regarded Pam Tucker.

Are Herbert or Tucker any Match for THE ARMADA?

OPINION by The Arrowflinger

Rarely, if ever, has there been such a display of raw, naked, affluent power as this fundraiser handbill for a candidate for the Chair of the Columbia County Commission.

This invitation to a (fundraising) “Event” for Doug Duncan, now the District 1 Commissioner, might have dissuaded Mark Herbert and Pam Tucker from even qualifying. It didn’t.

It is breathtaking. This is a crew perfectly capable of raising $400,000 or even more, if they want to maintain their ironclad control of Columbia County.

They do.

Over here one finds fellow Commissioners Trey Allen, Gary Richardson, and Bill Morris. Not an overt sponsor on this invite, current Chairman Ron Cross has been cited in the Augusta Chronicle as donating heavily to Duncan’s campaign. On it we find stalwart backers of Cross from earlier campaigns like Jean Garniewicz and the Ivey Brothers.

Over there one sees the names of three voting members of a board of directors of a bank, that kinda, sorta got a timely backdoor bailout from Columbia County, Robert Pollard, Ron Thigpen and Larry Prather.

A bunch of the rest are developers, realtors, and builders.

Of course, no campaign endorsement list for a Columbia County incumbent politician worth his, or her, salt is complete without Sheriff Clay Whittle. He has been at this for decades now, hasn’t he?

The most amazing aspect of this list are the power brokers from old Augusta throwing their weight into this contest. State Department of Transportation Board member (former Chairman) and former Augusta Commissioner Don Grantham, former Georgia Representative Barbara Sims, and former State Department of Transportation Board member and former Augusta Commissioner Bill Kuhlke are on this list. Throw in names like McKnight and Hull – both of those last names emblazoned on the new Georgia Cyber Center for Innovation and Training in Augusta – and you get a stunning array of power.

This election might have been over before it started.

But then again…

The political seafloor is littered with invincible armadas that suddenly developed holes in their Hulls.

-Arrowflinger

The JERK of Lincoln County?

On Tuesday April 19th, 2016 the Lincoln County Republican Party held a candidate forum at the public Library. Your Arrowflinger was there and asked the candidates very tough questions. Former House District 117 Representative Lee Anderson, now running for the Senate District 24 seat, and his wife Donna were seated the next row in front. When Lee got up to speak my questions were pointed at his previous record of voting for double digit fee, rate, and tax increases on us. Donna turned and called me a “jerk” numerous times, although the only clearly audible one was at the end, when I loudly challenged Lee to take further questioning.

Now, the point being made is that we go broke very fast paying double digit cost increases when our incomes are increasing less than 2%. Lee and Donna have a solution to this dilemma though. You see, Lee’s first cousin Superior Court Judge David Roper heads the guardian ad litem program in Augusta which became a national scandal because of the guardians’ ad looting. Now Donna is in that stable of ad lootems, supplementing their family income. We don’t have that option, do we?

None of the other candidates or their parties reacted with anger at my tough questions, only the one person divorcing parents would expect to stay calm.

Later radio talker Austin Rhodes quipped that the Andersons don’t need the money, but did the other Ad lootems who punished distraught parents with outrageous fees??

Usually the phrase “grab the wife and kids” is hyperbole in a political season, but can you families of the 24th risk having a rogue judge, rubber-stamp lawmaker, and angry guardian ad lootem wife all aligned against you in the event of divorce?

Think about it.

Watch and listen, as Arrowflinger Al gets tagged with yet another insulting label to join many other such Badges of Honor.

Lee Left the Gate Open – Tax Revenues Hoofed It

Back in 2011, during Lee Anderson’s last year in the Georgia House before his doomed attempt at the US House, your arrowflinging writer called and wrote him about the activities of the Tax Reform Council. Lee acted ignorant of the issues and directed me to his guy on the Council, plant nurseryman Skeeter McCorkle. He got back “Lee I know what McCorkle will do – he will get a whole new slew of agriculture exemptions!”

Anderson wasn’t in the Georgia House in 2012 when House Bill 386 passed containing all those costly new exemptions that real people are now having to make up.

Included in the bill was a provision giving nearly every farmer in Georgia, even home gardeners, what is now known at the GATE (Georgia Agricultural Tax Exemption) card. It looks like this.

Georgia GATE Card

Now when we used to visit Lee Anderson’s farm, each and every gate we passed through had to be closed and secured with a chain. So it used to be with Georgia Tax Exemptions.

What transpired was a comical statewide tax looting publicized heavily in the Atlanta Media, municipal publications, and even county papers like the Lincoln Journal. Some farming fellows tried to use their GATE card on the casket and vault for their fathers funeral. Others bought $100,000’s of lumber for home building. The carnage continues today at nearly every rural store in Georgia.

The tax losses exceeded 15% in many counties, causing property tax increases just like the 22% property tax Augustans got out of the same tax reform fiasco.

A Georgia Municipal Association map and chart depicted the damage statewide.GMA-map-for-blog

 

Another term, this time with Lee in the Senate, will be a real riot if the escaped money cows don’t come home.

Cow patties won’t fund education!

 

R.W. Allen’s Guaranteed Money Pits

IMG_4374Owners like to use a contract delivery method called “Design Build” when they don’t know what the heck they are building, don’t want to take the time to design it before bidding it out, or have a site with too many unknown conditions.  Since they don’t know these things they put a fig leaf of protection against unlimited costs called a “Guaranteed Maximum Price” or GMP. Even in commercial or industrial construction, supposedly knowledgeable in cost controls and with fewer unknowns, GMP contracts are a challenge to administer, because the assumptions the contractor gives in quoting a GMP generally last only days or weeks. Owners would be better off with a pure cost-plus contract with great controls, but the owner’s internal politics command at least a fiction of a fixed price.

Imagine trying to catch a butterfly in a windstorm – that is how elusive the “guarantee” becomes.

In government there is no better money-hemorrhaging device than these contracts, hence perhaps GMP should automatically be understood by citizens as being “Guaranteed Money Pit.”

The City of Augusta, Georgia loves to squander money using GMP contracts, having thoroughly embarrassed itself with the things. Augusta  built a $30 million Convention Center across land the city didn’t own and then had to pay for it with Kitchen Equipment added by change order to a “guaranteed” price,  spent about $50 million on a Municipal Building Remodeling that was supposed to cost $20 million mostly covered by another GMP contract, and built houses in the Laney Walker district with maximum-price, not to exceed contracts that never were adjusted to actual cost.

There were only three finalists selected by Augusta for the Old Green Street Library remodeling, and two of the three had “Allen” in their name. The low bidder who didn’t have “Allen” in its name and who bid on the whole project in its bid, with a Guaranteed Price for all of the work, somehow didn’t get the award. RW Allen, LLC was awarded the work on a piecemeal basis, destroying any figment of a guarantee in this writer’s estimation.

John Allen, nephew and contributor to Congressman Richard W. Allen, is a principal in the Allen-Batchelor firm, which was also on the finalist listing.

District 8 Wayne Guilfoyle said it best “if all three firms are proposing this project the following including the proper scope, met the required schedule and fully capable of completing the RFP why are we selecting the highest bidder?” Then later Commissioner Guilfoyle said “So we’re approving something we don’t have a clue, only a partial.

It must be nice to be R.W. Allen LLC and to have Augusta push you into a yet another money pit where nothing is guaranteed but more profits.

 

No Opting Out of The Greatest Transition

You got your demons, you got desires, well I’ve got a few of my own – Don Henley

Four years ago, a loose coalition of citizens came together to bring a powerful blend of research, online publication, media presence, and reform to Augusta, Georgia and east central Georgia. One started a blog named City Stink, that moniker being a statement of admiration for long-time Augusta Chronicle columnist Sylvia Cooper and her column City Ink, yet impishly labeling the town as the source for all manner of unsavory things. Augusta wasn’t the sole target, either. The archives of Agraynation are amply populated with the City Stink posts, which retain power and utility for change.

As with all human endeavors, members grew weary, lost stomach for the political idiocy, and allowed personal differences to intercede in what was a wonderful community effort. During a nearly two year hiatus, individuals in the group ventured out on various initiatives, successfully defeating SPLOST 7a in Augusta and forcing SPLOST 7b proponents to slash waste, while promising reforms. Members of the Facebook groups Augusta Today and Augusta Political Watch, along with old participants in the City Stink effort, have used the interruption in the fray to observe what transpired in the vacuum and how positive developments proceeded from those action-filled 30 months.

The methods were proven. Mistakes were made, but those were instructive.  Glenn Frey, the late Eagle and co-writer of “One of these Nights” said “We all have our dreams, a vision we hope will come true someday. When that ‘someday’ will come is up to each of us.” Yes, our demons and desires got in the way of continued success, but the need for action has never been greater.

America has lost nearly every institution with direct responsibility to control financial matters and the Rule of Law, foundation of social stability, is for practical matters dead. The Accountants have abandoned financial standards that protected us for decades. The Lawmakers have rewritten the Law to legalize fraud. The Ministry has thrown “THOU SHALT NOT STEAL” out of the Ten Commandments. The Bankers have destroyed one of the two functions that make the United States Dollar “money” and are on the brink of killing the other. The Media have been either silenced or captivated.

We have the tools to overcome it all. The Augusta reformers proved several important techniques and strategies. As great as the challenges are, the technology and methods are here to overcome them all. All that is missing is desire to make it happen.

Laughter is the best medicine and there are bounteous sources of outrageous humor that only need a little attention to have everyone laughing on the way to restoring our cities, counties, states and America. We are in the midst of the greatest transformation and transition in 400 years, if not all of human history.

“Agraynation” perhaps sounds a lot like “aggravation” to some. The subscribers list is stale, yet there are many in the community and state included in the automatic notification feature. Posts may be coming faster than you like via your email account. If so please UNSUBSCRIBE if you get one notification too many. Please accept my apology if notification that accompanies this post is that “one too many.”

Thanks to everyone for you encouragement, support, and participation. And……..welcome back to the fray.

– The Arrowflinger

 

After Lee Anderson Blew Off Clark Howard….

By The Arrowflinger

In 2010 Georgia House District 117 Representative Lee Anderson was getting calls from constituents with concerns about the upcoming House vote on Senate Bill 31, the infamous law that delighted more than seventy  Southern Company  lobbyists by giving the company’s Georgia Power Company over $1 billion in advance profits and a guaranteed 11% return on nuclear plant Units 3 and 4 at the Vogtle generating complex near Waynesboro. Famous consumer advocate Clark Howard begged Lee and the rest of the legislators to vote no and he did so repeatedly.


Seventy Lobbyists? With Lee it was the 71st lobbyist, his Southern Company-employed daughter, who mattered more than the folks back home.

Anderson of the 117th voted AYE.

These days Lee is campaigning for the vacated Georgia Senate District 24 seat waving his phone promising voters that he will answer the phone and call them back. He isn’t saying when. He called this constituent after his vote for SB 31.

Now where are we? Unit 3 was to have begun operation last month, but recent updates have the unit only 26% complete with a $900 Million Cost Overrun to be paid by ratepayers when Georgia Power gets its way after the May elections.

Contractors have been paid out to the 60% completion level, despite the unit being only 26% complete. This is the tight construction cost control the 70 lobbyists touted?

Clark Howard was right, but Lee Anderson’s 71st lobbyist home economics were the sizzle in the bacon for House District 117 residents, who got $109 a year higher invoices.

He isn’t much good at writing bills but is wonderful at raising them.

After Lee Anderson blew off Clark Howard, how are you going to pay your power bill and what is that hay farmer going to toss in next?