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

ParkingGate: Lockett Denied Forensic Audit Again.

Augusta Commissioner Bill Lockett

Originally posted by CityStink
Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2011
Augusta, GA
By Jill Peterson
Al M. Gray, President of Cost Recovery Works, Inc. contributed multidisciplinary review techniques in support of this article.
Commissioner Bill Lockett brought up again at Monday’s committee meetings his desire to have forensic audits conducted in the Augusta-Richmond County government.  The wording on the agenda was as follows:
Task the Administrator with utilizing the procurement process to solicit the services of an  outside forensic auditing firm to perform an audit of the city’s finances and contractual  obligations.  The audit must include but not be limited to the following: (a) TEE Center  Parking Garage/ Land Acquisition/ Associated Leases/ Financing, (b) Utility Department  Water Rates for Golf Courses/ Other Special Agreements, (c) Environmental Services  Division, (d) Augusta Transit Department Privatization, (e) Augusta Municipal Golf  Course Privatization, (f) Retroactive Pay Increases, (g) SPLOST Fund Projects, and (h)  Land Bank. 
In Lockett’s explanation of his request, he explains that he’s uncomfortable with the way the Commission was told land would be donated for the parking deck and how the contract for operating the deck is being awarded.  The land in fact was not donated leaving the city’s deck to sit on land owned by a private entity headed by the same individual who heads the entity in line for a no-bid operating contract of the deck.  He also mentions the strange deals in obtaining other bits of land to do with the deck which seem to have cost the city more than they should, especially strange in light of the fact that the city did not obtain the majority of the land.
Lockett: There are so many unanswered questionswith the TEE center parking deck that it  calls out for an investigation. I’m not suggesting that any illegal actions occurred, but I do  know for a fact that lots of citizens of Augusta-Richmond County to include others from  outside the county are concerned about what has gone on utilizing the taxpayers’ money.   I’m concerned when we have outside attorneys doing real estate  transactions and at the  same time representing parties from both sides.  Now how can you get a good deal out of  that?   It doesn’t make  sense.  I’m not a lawyer, but I did teach business  law.  There are  just too many things.  I’m concerned when this body is informed about the possible  transfer of property and given a reason that a resolution  wasn’t necessary because the  Attorney General or someone had indicated that there was a  new  law that you didn’t have to do that, but nothing was provided to this body showing  that that was  indeed the case.
I’m also concerned when outside counsel representing this government  was asked for  a document and indicated he knew he had it but could not find it because it  was in a stack of papers.  And I do believe this document does not exist.
This is part of what I feel that a forensic audit should do.  Sure, we have internal audits  every year, but the internal audits don’t look for this sort of thing.  We need to look and  see, and I would hope that if this body allows this government to employ a forensic  auditing firm, I would hope that nothing is found, but I have seen so many things that I  feel that would not be the case.
The land bank I also questioned.  We need information on the past five years.  How much  land has been purchased by the city and at what cost?  What is the process used by the  city used to transfer land to the land bank and why?  When city property is transferred to  the land bank, is verification of sale required?
***
(He goes on with more questions about the land bank and with his questions for the other issues he wants looked into.  Video of the entire speech will be available here in the next day or so.)
For this to get to the full Commission meeting, three of the four members of this, the Administrative Services Committe, would have to vote yes.  Bill Lockett voted yes, Alvin Mason voted yes, Matt Aitken was absent (and has not returned our call as of this writing), and Jerry Brigham voted no.
Commissioner Jerry Brigham
City Stink called Jerry Brigham to ask him why he voted against this measure.  Commissioner Brigham says a forensic audit would cost too much, it would be truth seeking and implies a criminal violation, and that the proper channel for Lockett to take would be to go to the District Attorney if he thinks there’s something criminal.  He also said that, “in reality Lockett wants to put somebody in jail.  I’m not paying someone to investigate me.”
Mayor Deke Copenhaver was quoted in the Urban Pro Weekly this week on the same topic and takes the same stance as Brigham.  Copenhaver: “A forensic audit implies that there’s been a crime committed and it is something that would cost a tremendous amount of money and take a tremendous amount of time.  I’m not in support of that.”
City Stink then called Commissioner Lockett for his response.  Lockett says that a forensic audit costs no more than an internal audit and that the D.A. or GBI would expect a forensic audit before getting involved.  He also said someone going to jail is the last thing he wants; he wants a government that complies with the law.
So we seem to have differences of opinion as to whether looking for something criminal is desirable or not and how much a forensic audit would cost and whether or not it would be worth it.  Calls to the the accounting firm Cherry, Bekaert & Holland for cost comparisons between internal and forensic audits have not yet been returned, but price comparisons are definitely in order and will be followed up on by City Stink.

JP