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 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