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

Taking over the Augusta Commission Chamber

In early 2012, Augusta faced a dilemma. It had constructed a $15 million parking deck that it did not own. Local activists with the Augusta Today facebook group and CityStink.net had alerted the media when their research of real estate titles at the Clerk of Court’s office showed that the land was not owned by the city.

Cost recovery analyst Al Gray and Brad Owens took over the commission chambers to address the crowd and insist upon rights of audit, in what was seen as a one-sided contract.

Augusta Commission Asked to Chill Out

by Al M. Gray

Originally posted September 8, 2013

The Controversial Urban Redevelopment program is on the Augusta Commission Public Services Committee agenda for Monday September 9, 2013, but something else is attention-getting.  It was the request to approve the addition of a chiller to the Convention/Tee Center Chiller Plant. This item might not normally draw a commissioner’s attention, since the Marriott is said to be paying for it.

 

Let’s not beat around the bush. There are some pretty serious questions, old and new, that this request summons forth. We will begin with the new questions and end with the old questions.

 

Issue One: Cost Responsibility for Additional Chiller Space and Piping

 

 The Public Service Committee Meeting Item Coversheet contains this statement:

 

During the design of the TEE Center project, the chiller plant

 

was designed for future expansion. All piping stub outs and

 

additional space has been provided to add two additional chillers

 

and cooling towers.

 

 

 

Some of this space and capacity is now proposed for use in service of the Conference Center. However, the Conference Center CORE agreement, which I understand remained in place when the Tee/Convention Center was authorized, seems to place responsibility for Conference Center HVAC Equipment on Marriott owner Augusta Riverfront LLC. Did Augusta pay for the “additional space” and the piping stub outs under the Convention/Tee Center Contract?  If so, where did the contractual responsibility shift to Augusta?

 

Issue Two:  Effects of Chiller Deletions on Convention/Tee Center Construction/ Mechanical Contracts

 

The attachment to the Chiller Agenda Item is a letter from Morris Communications Corporate Architect Robert Kuhar dated August 19, 2013 discussing the expansion of the chiller plant. It contains this statement:

 

….. the central plant was a part of the design very early on in the project..

 

however due to budget constraints, it was not fully implemented. Addition space was

 

provided for expansion of the system.

 

 

“Not fully implemented” suggests partial implementation. How much of the design providing additional capacity and expansion to include the Marriotts and Conference center was implemented? Also, since the Convention/Tee Center project was built on a fast track basis on partially complete design, did all of the non-Augusta Convention/Tee costs get deleted from the contractor’s and mechanical contractor’s scope of work when the earlier design was deleted? This writer has seen large overpayments occur in similar circumstances.

 

Issue Three:  Chiller Redundancy and Cost Responsibility

 

Within the attachment to the Chiller Agenda Item, appears this:

 

A central chiller plant cools the new Convention Center with cooling towers locate d on

 

the roof.• Two chillers provide 400 tons of cooling each. There is a total of 800 tons of cooling

 

available. • When fully occupied during the warmest time of the year the current Conference Center requires approximately 400 tons of cooling.• There is 100% redundancy provided by the second chiller.

 

 

If this redundancy is to cover the Conference Center, shouldn’t that portion of the capital expenditure have been born by the Manager, Augusta Riverfront LLC, if the existing Conference Center Agreement still governed?

 

Issue Four:  Convention versus Marriott and Conference Center Separate Metering Status

 

In the supporting memo from Robert Kuhar, Corporate Architect of Morris Communications, dates August 19,2013 and with the subject line Centralized Cooling Concept there is this:

 

…the Marriott and Conference center could be metered by either flow meters or

 

BTU meters to determine cost of operation between the different facilities

 

 

 

This brings an old matter back up. You might recall that when Augusta citizen activist Lori Davis requested to see the electrical single line diagrams that will show how power is being distributed between The Conference Center, the Convention Center and the Marriott, she was rebuffed under the guise of “security.” Wasn’t there supposed to be separate metering of utilities to segregate Convention/Tee Center costs , from Marriott and Conference Center Costs? Where does this stand? Can you, the public, or this writer now see the documents and audit trail for these costs?

 

Issue Five:   Conference Center and old Radisson Hotel versus the 8 Air Turn Marriott standard

 

On August 17, 2012, activist Lori Davis submitted a Georgia Open Records Act Request inquiring into the design of the Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning systems for the existing Marriott/Conference Center before integration with the Convention/ Tee Center HVAC system. The response she received was a CD with empty file directories. The purpose for the inquiry was to evaluate the $399,000 change order to the smoke handling system, which was supposedly based upon a Marriott requirement for 8 air turns instead of the 2.5 designed. Since the Conference Center and Marriott hotel date back to 1999 (at that time the first building was a Radisson), we wondered whether those older buildings themselves met the 8 air turn requirement. Our next question, had that one met a negative response, would have been to ask why the new Marriott standard would apply to the Tee/Convention Center HVAC, which doesn’t appear to feed directly into either Marriott hotel, but into the Conference Center.  Also, any upgrade of the Conference Center to 8 air turns would have had to receive Augusta’s approval.

 

A final reason that might have brought responsibility for that $399,000 change order cost into question was that the governing Conference Center CORE agreement says this:

 

Section 7.2 HVAC Operations. Insofar as certain of the Improvements of the Parties shall be

 

internally connected through common conidors (sic)and passageways, Developer, in operating the air conditioning and heating system for the Hotels and the Expanded Conference Center, shall operate such systems in a manner which will not unduly drain heat, ventilation or air conditioning from the Improvements of any other Party.

 

 

 

Doesn’t this imply that the Tee/Convention HVAC would stand alone, with no requirement to meet the higher Marriott standard of 8 air turns? Was the $399,000 change order a necessary Augusta cost, given the authoritative documents? The Augusta Commission settled the construction contract issue by approving the change order, but did that settle the issue between the partners?

 

 

Issue 6: Morris Communications Employee Involvement

 

 

Is the involvement of a Morris Communications Executive indicative that Morris employees are the members of Convention/Tee management firm Augusta Convention Center Management LLC? What role does the corporate architect play in the management of these facilities?

 

 

Update: The Public Service Committee of the Augusta Commission voted to approve the installation of the additional chillers and related piping in its September 9, 2013 meeting. In the meeting Paul Simon of the Augusta Marriott asserted that there is separate metering of utilities between that which Augusta pays and that which the Augusta Marriott and manager Augusta Riverftont LLC  absorbs.

Augusta’s administration continues to hold the as-built drawings that would confirm the existence and contractual correctness of the separate metering. A review of the HVAC design must be the subject of a follow-up Georgia Open Records Act request to answer the questions as to whether the HVAC system design for the Convention/Tee center followed contractual divisions of responsibility between the Manager and the owner, the City of Augusta.

-AG

Teeing Off for the Last Time

Originally posted March 8, 2013 at 12:14 PM

Harrison view of Tee

 

by Al Gray

A journey for this writer that began about a year ago concluded on Monday, February 11, 2013 with a presentation before the Finance Committee of the Augusta City Commission. Commissioners Wayne Guilfoyle and Bill Lockett had requested a final act of assistance with respect to the tumultuous Tee Center operating agreements in the form of an analysis of the proposed Tee Center plan and budget that had been submitted by Augusta Convention Center operator Augusta Convention Center Management LLC (ACCMLLC), a subsidiary of Augusta Riverfront LLC and a related entity to Morris Communications, publisher of the Augusta Chronicle.

The Chronicle local government writer who reported on the meeting made no mention of my report, which was very kindly received by all of the commissioners.

The analysis provided was compiled in a very rapid fashion, as is customary with Augusta events, but questioned about $323,000 of costs (the revised schedule accompanying this article is somewhat higher from factors mentioned in the discussion) within the budgeted loss of $804,000. The discussion, key issues, and related amounts are as follows:

The inclusion of $10,048 for vacation and holidays had been questioned because budgeting 2080 hours indicated that the costs were included elsewhere in salaries. This was not seriously contested and it was agreed that using the figures for imprecise budgeting would not be determinant of the actual costs paid.

Since access to the management company’s records was not afforded Augusta, one had to assume that nothing else was in the “Payroll tax” line item besides payroll taxes, hence $24,626 in unidentifiable costs were questioned. ACCMLLC responded that there were insurance costs and 401k costs in the figure. The response was unsurprising and those other costs are defensible.

Credit card fees at $3,702 were questioned, because catering that would have generated heavy credit card usage has been stripped from the final agreement, leaving only event organizers as the only likely payers. ACCMLLC contested that assumption, but not totally convincingly, in this observer’s estimation.

Various maintenance items were questioned at $7,800, because the facility would be under warranty for a year, but this analyst had missed the fact that ACCMLLC showed those expenses starting in later months of operation. ACCMLLC convincingly answered that question.

Property Insurance at $48,000 was listed, despite the fact that property insurance was specifically to be bought separately by Augusta, not by the manager. The response was that the description was incomplete, with other insurance being included.

Electrical power was budgeted at 10 to 11 cents per kilowatt hour, whereas Georgia Power has special rates of as little as 3.5 cents per kilowatt hour. The amount questioned of about $115,000 was the difference in the average industrial rate in Georgia of 5.5 cents and the 11 cents budgeted. The response was that after some 6 months or so of experience, rates would be negotiated with Georgia Power. This writer is of the opinion that this was a cost that the manager should have negotiated in advance.

ACCMLLC had provided no figures for the labor costs of Tee Center employees when they work for the Marriott Hotel or existing conference center project, for which Augusta bears no costs. 50% of designated management employees and 20% of other employees produced an estimated $113,760 in question. This issue was not specifically addressed in the meeting other than that the audit of actual costs would catch any credit or refunds due to Augusta. Discussion ensued that the city must show extreme diligence in administering the Convention Center contracts, because there are 4 entities with separate accounting and contract treatment, despite the “Augusta Convention Center” moniker being used to refer to the overall facility, even extending to the titles on the plan and budget.

A suggestion was made to have the Tee Center accountant transferred over to Augusta, but that recommendation was not met with any approval.

A commissioner asked what the recommendation would be for approving the budget. The response here was that a budget should not be the basis for rejecting the plan, that it was probably wise to provide a cushion because no one wants to revisit it later in the year, and that respect for property rights attendant with approving the operating contract meant that the plan should be approved.

So many assurances beyond those in the contracts are on video at this point that it will be hard for the parties on either side to renege without generating a firestorm.

Everyone involved is Tee-totally exhausted.

Your correspondent would like to thank the City of Augusta for this opportunity. Doing the Augusta Project for a year and 3 months including the Tee Center before adding the Falcons’ Stadium project last month, provided simply stunning chances to expand knowledge into new areas of expertise especially Convention Centers. The Augusta Project is over, all objectives were attained with stunning success, and now the next phase will begin.

Thriving on the unconventional for the last 30 years has turned ‘boring’ accounting into a lot of fun.Now it will be fun to be able to market convention center expertise learned from the pros down on Reynolds Street.

To the citizens of Augusta, thank you for your kind support. Together all can strive to fix Augusta, as best we can. If Augusta can be fixed – do not underestimate the strides that have been made – anything is possible.

-AG