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

Augusta’s Black Hole of Transportation Finance

OPINION by the Arrowflinger

Two months ago on the 13th of March, Augusta Engineering Director Dr. Hameed Malik appeared before the Engineering Committee of the Augusta Commission to provide an update on the downtown Transportation Investment Act projects. Please listen to these comments by Dr. Hameed referencing the need for Augusta to cut, downsize, delay, and even cancel the TIA projects in the middle of the program and especially the end of the Augustan TIA program. At the end he mentions discussions to do another REGIONAL TIA with other counties.

What? Augusta gave away $109 million to 12 other counties to make TIA work and its OWN projects face lack of funds? Only in Augusta!

Source – CSRA Region TIA Constrained Tool Master Spreadsheet
supporting the CSRA TIA Program at the time of passage in 2012

What? The projects at the end are short of money after the Augusta National Berckmans Road TIA projects were built to the hilt?

What? The first project completed, Riverwatch Parkway was to cost $30 million ($20 million TIA) but news reports said the TIA money was $30 million and the total cost $65 million. Doesn’t this scream that the 15% revenue shortfalls and enormous overruns mean that the out of control program needs a new regional one to cover it all up, and, as Dr Hameed said, to finish the present TIA projects?

Why are the politicians not telling the good people of Augusta and Columbia County, the other major donor county, that the Georgia Legislature passed Single County TIA/Tsplost in 2016, so Augusta could keep its $109 million after 2022? Even tiny Dade County can have its TIA without all of these complications.The 2016 bill prohibits getting out of a regional TIA mess until it is complete, so they are stuck.

Agraynation.com readers will recall several downtown projects got sent to the back of the TIA bus to allow the Augusta National finagling to build the Berckmans Road project to the max. Furthermore, during the TSPLOST debate and later this site provided enough facts to the public that Columbia County decisively, including the financial trickery in the numbers now apparent in the 16% shortage in funding.

Senators Hardie Davis, Jr. and Bill Jackson of the Augusta Delegation hatched this money transfer out of Augusta back in 2010. Now the damage is coming clear.

Why do establishment politicians continue to embrace a failed regional government while feeding it Hundreds of millions of dollars? Why do none talk about the double taxation that hit Augusta area to the tune of another $550 million with the new fuel taxes in 2015?

Only Representative Barry Fleming showed the bravery to promise corrective action.

Elect folks like Barry. Send the others down the road where they sent your money.
-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!

 

GOP Cookie Jar Lid Slams on Rep. Jodi Lott

LottJodi4879

 

The November 2014 race to fill Georgia House District 122 seat, vacated by retiring Representative Ben Harbin of Evans was the ugliest, most hotly contested election in the modern history of Columbia County. It saw 2 months of nonstop attacks by radio station talk show host Austin Rhodes on hapless candidate Joe Mullins conjoined with the collapse of the campaign of departing Columbia County District 3 commissioner Mack Taylor. Taylor’s efforts became mired in a nasty war with Mullins, complete with subterfuge, private investigators, and backdoor conniving with the radio talker.  Columbia County, sick of the carnage, chose political newcomer Jodi Lott in the December runoff.

Representative-elect Lott was probably giddy with excitement still when she was sworn in this January. Her refreshing enthusiasm, undiminished by the grinding  reality check of public life, was apparent to everyone in the area. Her primary campaign issue, a “fairtax” (a sales tax) to replace the state income tax, seemed unstoppable in the Georgia House of Representatives, as leadership and the membership voiced support.

Like the rest of us, Jodi Lott found the meaning of “lip service,” that when grizzled politicians like House leaders move their lips, you can count on it being in service to a lie. In this case her treasured tax relief met uncompromising doom at the hands of  Governor Nathan Deal, who cited the danger that moving from an income tax to a sales tax would pose to Georgia’s burgeoning film industry, which heavily benefits from income tax credits. The House leadership beat a retreat, citing the futility of going against the governor’s wishes.

That is the “official story.” Here is a much more accurate explanation. The reason that the citizenry of Georgia will never see their income taxes cut, or replaced by a sales tax, is that other income tax credits have been a back-door, almost totally-unaccounted for, stream of public funds to connected political donors from the Republican hierarchy in the legislative and executive branches.  They give away income taxes that have to be made up by increased income taxes on us. No income tax means that the payola scheme dies.

Our City Stink/Agraynation.com  collaborative effort uncovered the scandal in 2012, during investigation into the details of the Magnolia Trace subsidized housing development uproar.  After the public fury, this writer had traveled to the Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA) offices and spent an afternoon pouring over records of the Magnolia Trace income tax credit applications in the company of DCA attorney Phyllis Carr.  The review did not uncover any smoking guns assignable to Columbia County Officials, but found a huge one wafting smoke toward the Georgia Republican Party and its senior officeholders in government.

You see, the availability of income tax credits, especially the low income housing tax credit, had been around for years. Most of these credits expired unused. That was until Missouri based Affordable Equity Partners got measures through the Georgia legislature allowing the credits to be exchanged, marketed and sold to taxpayers who could use the tax credits.  Affordable Equity and its sister Capital Health Management, Inc. funded a bevy of GOP-beneficent PACs and made direct contributions to nearly all of the important party office holders. To date, Governor Deal has received $10,000, House Speaker David Ralston has received $9,500, Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle has received more than $17,000 from this stable of companies and related PACs. The  GOP, its incumbents in the legislature and other supporting PACs have received another $240,000.

Magnolia Trace affair was also a scandal in its approval process and the political donation largesse was a deciding factor for approval in this writer’s opinion. How widespread are these failures and malpractices by DCA and how much is it costing the people of Georgia?

Representative Lott and tax reformers take note! To get tax reform for the people the path is directly through your leaders’ hefty campaign finances.

Let’s see if the candidates now running for Senate 24 and House 123 seats on passing a “fairtax” have that much tenacity.

 

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?