Sunday Sermon: Nehemiah Gazes on Augusta

Listening to Old Nehemiah

Scripture for the Mayor’s Next Prayer Breakfast
Originally posted on CityStink
Sunday, Feb. 5, 2012
Augusta, GA
By Al Gray
The author, Al M. Gray is President of Cost Recovery Works, Inc., a provider of Cost Avoidance and Cost Recovery for America’s leading companies, businesses and governments desiring Superior Returns.
Local and state leaders are stuck on “moving forward” to the point of absurdity. There is a whole book in the bible that supports that positive , literally constructive, approach. The book of Nehemiah is a tribute to building and teamwork. The fifth chapter abruptly tells a different tale. There, readers see Israel in the throes of a depression, even as the great temple was being built. Nehemiah, perhaps as wise as was Solomon, saw dislocations happening and sprang into action before things spun out of control.
History repeats, it is said. Nehemiah would recognize our time well. There was a great famine. People could not repay their loans. Between taxes and debts they lost their lands and were forced to sell their children into slavery. By some accounts there was a dearth, more people than the land or economy could support.
There are many versions of the Bible to study that take on these problems in different contexts. I like the words of Nehemiah found in  the Bible Gateway’s Easy to Read Version. 
When I heard their complaints, I was very angry. 7 I calmed myself down, and then I went to the rich families and the officials…… Then I called for all the people to meet together 8 and said to them, “Our fellow Jews were sold as slaves to people in other countries. We did our best to buy them back and make them free. And now, you are selling them like slaves again!”
   The rich people and officials kept quiet. They could not find anything to say. 9 So I continued speaking. I said, “What you people are doing is not right! You know that you should fear and respect our God. You should not do the shameful things other people do! 10 My men, my brothers, and I are also lending money and grain to the people. But let’s stop forcing them to pay interest on these loans. 11 You must give their fields, vineyards, olive fields, and houses back to them, right now! ……”
 12 Then the rich people and the officials said, “We will give it back and not demand anything more from them. Nehemiah, we will do as you say.”
   Then I called the priests. I made the rich people and the officials promise to God that they would do what they said. 13 Then I shook out the folds of my clothes. I said, “God will do the same thing to everyone who does not keep their promise. God will shake them out of their houses and they will lose everything they worked for. They will lose everything!”
   I finished saying these things and all the people agreed. They all said, “Amen” and praised the LORD. So the people did as they had promised.
In verse 14, a too-big government was oppressing the people. What Nehemiah did was stunning
The people were also greatly oppressed by the servants and officers of the governor; but, during the twelve years that Nehemiah had been with them, he took not this salary, and ate none of their bread. Nor were his servants permitted to take or exact any thing from them. Having such an example, it was scandalous for their chiefs, priests, and nobles, thus to oppress an afflicted and distressed people.
The Lesson For AUGUSTA Today
We have a problem like that of Nehemiah and his people. The demographics of the baby boom population were always bound to produce a dearth. This writer acknowledged it and planned for it. The dearth was scheduled to strike after 2020, but it is of the here and now. The greatest wave of financial corruption the world has ever seen – ever-morphing, expanding with the speed of instantaneous communication and power of globalism – has sped up this dreadful time by a full decade.
In desperation, the formerly wealthy who were largely wiped out in 2008 have seized upon their political domination to restore their fortunes. If they go unchecked, there will be no American middle class in a scant 5 years. Are these things happening in Augusta, as elsewhere? Yes, they are.
When the share price of  the demised Wachovia Bank fell from $57 to $2 and Regions Bank suffered a similar tumble in 2007 and 2008, some in the know say it took a $Billion out of the wealth of Augusta. This writer estimates the losses at more than $600 million. Commercial and residential real estate, particularly resort homes, crashed in value.
These were sledgehammer blows to the wealth class and would have permanently shifted wealth to those who planned, saved, trained, and invested for these times. Those who lost want none of that. Their excesses of power and influence have been stunning, taking us to the brink of extinguishing the rule of law and flaunting the laws of mathematics.
The first levers of power to be engaged were over government contracts, stimulus funds, capital projects, and tax incentives. $50 million in improvements on lands Augusta doesn’t own, $millions in federal stimulus money dumped on Laney Walker to the benefit of the whitest of Columbia County developers who had lost in the crash, an unannounced ‘opportunity zone’ foisted upon Harrisburg, and a public housing project in Martinez greased by massive lobbyist funds to the highest of Georgia officials are overwhelming evidence. These are just the incidences that have been disclosed. More are coming.
Into the maw of this chasm of government money and power, a group of local citizens has sprung forth to meet it head on. This writer is proud to be amongst them. The danger to our fortunes, occupations, freedom, and even our lives is palpable. There have been threats. We acknowledge them and move forward with firm resolve. In the scant 4 months since the Augusta Today Facebook group, City Stink and ArrowFlinger Reports have been created, the results have been stunning and the support from the community has been overwhelming, yet humbling. We thank you all for that. I believe that through similar efforts we can claw Augusta and America back from the brink of an apocalypse.
The approach is simple. We formed a nucleus of dedicated researchers, professionals, and public policy freaks to identify, plan, document, execute, and publicize projects, supported by a guarded social network that now exceeds 200.  We pull from professional resources from across America. We try to excel in presenting documents for the public to examine on line that buttress our case. If there is opposition, they find themselves not in argument with our findings but in direct confrontation with their own deeds, words and documents! This was our plan from the outset. Its effectiveness is an epic success.
If one thinks upon it, the approach of turning government and power back upon itself can be seen as a form of martial-arts in which size and force of the opponent is his own worst enemy. We give the broadcast media a knowledge base and stories that cannot be fully explored in the two minutes or less that they have on the air. In these times of swift, yet unrecognized, shifts in local fortunes and power, we may prove instrumental in restoring the free market to the process, as traditional media remains welded to the past, unwilling to risk offending those who have failed. The past belongs to those who failed. We embrace the future with relish.
What can you do to help? First, you can form your own nuclei of project teams within the overall framework of Augusta Today, coordinating with our group or independently if you wish, much as the Magnolia Trace group has done. You will have to thoroughly vet the members and restrict the number to ten or less. You will have to have discipline and a high degree of coordination. (We learned this lesson the hard way, as we had no formal plan – we just ‘happened.’) Inclusion of media people is not advised, as the objective is to be a source for all dedicated to none.
There is no dearth of opportunities. The current group has at least six months of projects and stories already. There is room for expansion. Second, as we get the capability to accept donations, please contribute. Radio talk show host Austin Rhodes initiated this aspect of our efforts in order to engage tough legal counsel as a force multiplier against the City of Augusta, should common sense fail with regard to the City’s Reynolds Street Deck Agreements. Our current intention is to employ that resource there and elsewhere on projects from Augusta to the gold dome in Atlanta.
We acknowledge the tremendous role of the broadcast media in spreading our stories, particularly Renee DeMedicis of WNRR, Austin Rhodes of WGAC, Tony Powers of WNRR , George Eskola of WJBF, and Chris Thomas of WRDW. They have added a forceful dimension that we could never achieve. We will similarly embrace whatever journalistic print media survives this maelstrom too.
We have no Nehemiah, we have ourselves and our resolve to avoid the abyss of lawlessness, incontrovertible stupidity, arrogance, and abuse of power that lies ahead. Augusta’s mayor is stuck on “moving forward.”  We have seen the path he is on and we have bolted from it. How about you?
Nehemiah’s Message to Augusta Power Brokers and Manipulators
There have been times like these before in Augusta, periods of economic downturn and those finding themselves with decimated fortunes while still holding enormous political power with which they tried to regain their riches at public expense. The names Bert Hester and Gene Holley come to mind. Senator Holley was once one the most powerful men in Georgia and had amassed one of the state’s largest fortunes, before enormous losses in oil led to overly aggressive financial actions that ended with a conviction for bank fraud. When this writer recalled Holley’s conviction and imprisonment, it was wondered how Mr. Holley lived his final years. His obituary reported that they were spent in simplicity of lifestyle, regained faith, and in the love of his family and friends. That is not bad, not bad at all.
If you are one of the Augusta elite and high society, for your own sakes – follow the advice of Nehemiah. A storm comes and it is one in which we all need each other. Reject the rest of us and you will find yourselves in the gravest of dangers. Gene Holley’s epitaph wasn’t bad, not bad at all.
May your next prayer breakfast be blessed.
Nehemiah’s gaze is upon you.***

Al Gray

 

Al Gray: Serenading The Gold Dome Denizens

Originally posted on Citystink
Thursday, Feb. 2, 2012
Augusta, GA
By Al Gray

It’s hard to be humble when you are a Georgia legislator. The Arrowflinger Al tackles the hot topic of Ethics in the Georgia Legislature – There aren’t any.  So he decided to put his frustrations over Georgia Gold-Domers to song. See his video serenade below. You can see more Arrow Flinger videos at: www.agraynation.com

Al Gray: Now, A Fair Deal from the Governor

A Fair Deal From the Governor

Originally posted by CityStink
Sunday, Jan. 15, 2012
Augusta, GA
By AL Gray
The author, Al M. Gray is President of Cost Recovery Works, Inc., a provider of Cost Avoidance and Cost Recovery for America’s leading companies, businesses and governments desiring Superior Returns.
Among Governor Nathan Deal’s 2012 legislative proposals there is real gem, one that cries out for implementation and doesn’t require new legislation – taxation of internet sales. Enforcing the abandoned use tax requirements already on the books  will increase Georgia’s tax revenues from sales and use taxes to where they should be, increase fair compliance, and put Georgia’s imperiled retailers on equal footing with out-of-state wholesalers and online sales sites, like the booming Amazon.com.
Cries of “taxing the internet” or this being a tax increase are wrong. Ignorance of the law is no excuse. The existing laws of the states with sales taxes, including Georgia, invariably include a reciprocating use tax. Georgia has a use tax that operates this way – if the consumer buys an item of taxable tangible personal property where the seller did not charge the sales tax, that consumer is legally bound to complete a use tax return and pay the use tax due to the state at the time of filing the return.
The use tax return form and instructions explaining how the use tax operates are found online here.
No new legislation is needed. This is not a new tax. It is the Georgia “Fair tax.” Everybody pays, or they should be paying. Why not allow and encourage the Georgia Department of Revenue to audit residents for payment of the use tax on their online purchases? It can be done electronically by requesting taxpayers’ annual credit card listing of transactions to allow the revenue auditors to verify that purchases from unregistered, unremitting out-of state firms have been reported for use taxes and that the taxes have been paid on taxable transactions.
Auditing use taxes would very quickly gain compliance from the imposition of interest at 12% and onerous penalties, provided that the use tax return was updated to provide for payment of these items. Another boost to compliance is that there is an infinite audit period for residents who have not filed, because failure to file eliminates the 3 year statute of limitations. Couple 12% interest onto 10 years of taxes will get anyone’s attention!
The first group to be audited and brought into compliance with the laws of the state should be the members of the Georgia General Assembly. The politicos can lead by example or face being made examples. The Georgia Department of Revenue should be required to audit these Georgia citizens first, publicize failures to comply, and impose full penalties and interest for a number of years.
Once citizens and legislators, alike, rediscover this Fair tax, Georgia’s retailers will have more than a level playing field because of the onerous shipping and handling charges applied by the online sellers.
Congratulations to Governor Nathan Deal on this very timely, justified, reasonable, and fair component to tax reform. It is one that will work. Thank you, governor, and let’s roll with this great idea.

Good Deal.***

Al Gray

A Voice Cried Out From The Wilderness


A Voice Cried Out from the Wilderness

A CityStink Editorial
Originally posted on CityStink
December 14, 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.
When CityStink.net and Augusta Today contributor Al Gray put up (this warning shot of a youtube video, few paid attention. (see video below)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yrD5tFz0s7k
Whoa.
When CityStink replayed this short presentation two thoughts about current events  leap to mind.
Nathan Deal’s Columbia County Chairman, Trey Allen, whom Al Gray directly warns in this video, is now in dire straits politically, economically and professionally because Deal “rewarded” him by appointing him to the board of the Department of Community Affairs (DCA). DCA is financing the hated Magnolia Trace subsidized housing development in the heart of Allen’s Martinez District of the Columbia County Commission. The citizens furor is stoked by Allen’s DCA post and his early meeting with the developer in the county attorney’s office.
Trey Allen could have heeded the warning and resigned from Deal’s campaign. Voters in the Georgia CSRA rejected Deal 2:1 and 60% to 40% in Columbia County, despite the entire political power structure standing behind Deal, including Rep. Barbara Sims, in whose district Magnolia Trace is to be built.
Then yesterday’s national news struck like a thunderclap. The U.S. Senate questioned MF Global CEO Jon Corzine about billions of dollars that were transferred out of customer CASH accounts and into his company’s accounts when the later came up short. Market Tickerguy   and CPAC 2009 honoree Karl Denninger wrote this in an article yesterday – “Prior to the CFMA of 2000 customer funds could not be invested in other than municipal or US Government debt fully guaranteed by the US Government…..As it stands right now any account you hold at any brokerage can be effectively stolen through being lost via the same mechanism.  Got that?  Good.  Your 401k, IRA, anything — all at risk.”
Mention of the CFMA of 2000 sent us back to Al Gray’s July 2010 video of warning. Yes, CityStink knows Gray’s economic and financial alarms seem incomprehensible to the layman, but this video is worthy of a careful and complete hearing. Why? It lays the responsibility for this devious act of Congress at the feet of Nathan Deal and tells of the consequences if the Dealer became governor. It tells of what lies ahead from Deal and company’s ruinous votes in Congress.
Now the ruin that lies in the wake of everything Nathan Deal touches is being visited on us. Ask the folks of Magnolia Trace. Ask ‘cash’ account holders at MF Global. Ask, the dismissed and forced-out staff of the Georgia Ethics Commission shortly after they received a complaint against – Nathan Deal.***
The voice crying from the wilderness was right.
Heck, ask Trey Allen. He looks to be the ultimate bad Deal victim.

AG

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. ***

AG

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.
Summary
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 CityStink.net are prohibited by the South’s Oldest News Paper.
We congratulate CityStink.net 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:
PZEmailSenttoDeeMathis
Below are the .pdf’s of the documents Dee Mathis received by email :