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.

 

The Bounty Trace to Magnolia Trace

Originally posted on CityStink
Friday, September 21, 2012
Evans, 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.
The fury in and surrounding the Columbia County Commission Chambers on December 6, 2011 sizzled and seethed. Citizens packed the room and the overflow could have surrounded the building. An incongruous and unwelcome subsidized housing development, to be known as Magnolia Trace, was coming to their midst. The county commission had invited the intruder in. The Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA)was funding it. The only notice had been the real estate closing and starting of the building permit process. Revelations that the project’s limited partner, Affordable Equity Partners(AEP) of Columbia, Missouri, had – through subsidiaries, related entities, and PAC’s – liberally provided campaign donations to Georgia’s governor, lieutenant governor, speaker of the house and local state legislators added to the combustible mix. Capping it off later was the discovery that the county attorney also had worn the hat of closing attorney for the developers.
Inside, the commission chairman, three commissioners, and that county attorney were stoic, but their white faces and knuckles spoke fear.  Their position was one of relative comfort juxtaposed to the District Three commissioner, a man inopportunely appointed to the offending Department of Community Affairs board (albeit after DCA had approved the tax credit funding to AEP) and who had voted for the county’s resolution to endorse the project. His business had been picketed, his phone ceaselessly chattered, a local talk radio show with 60,000 listeners was hostile, and real pressure was on. He was beet red and seemed to be near break down.
An epic meeting ensued that concluded an hour and a half later with the commission engaging an outside attorney charged with seeing whether there were avenues to void the deal.  It was a fig leaf and seen that way. The project was too carefully planned and orchestrated for citizens to have a realistic chance of canceling it. After all, Affordable Equity Partners boasts of its long history of doing tax credit projects in multiple states and its role in encouraging states to provide the tax credits.  From the company website: “By forging strong relationships with key government entities, AEP ensures a secure and favorable investment environment for our investor partners.”
Who Done It?
The first stage in the development and investment process for a Low Income Housing Tax Credit project is said by AEP to be this: “A developer of an affordable property will admit AEP as its limited partner..” This portrays the circumstance of a group of local property developers gaining control of land, then engaging the AEP companies to structure the deal as a LIHTC financing. Who are the principals behind Magnolia Trace? They are hidden by the LLP structure, so that remains a mystery.
The birth pangs for this project came when an AEP entity named Peach Way Holdings LLC obtained an option on March 24, 2010 to purchase the land. Later the option would be exercised by Magnolia Trace LLP. Immediately the process began to submit an application to DCA for tax credits used to finance the project. Peach Way Holdings was the first entity publicly involved out of an AEP interconnected stable of companies who are very adept at carving out a lucrative niche.
Extraordinarily High Costs Meet a Stunning Reversal
The Magnolia Trace project was so astonishingly lucrative that the DCA staff initially refused to approve the application on December 14, 2010 (click link to view document) based on that fact and a host of other financial criteria. “Total development costs for this project are over $10 million dollars which translates into almost $141.24 (author used round numbers) per square foot. A similar project had total development costs of only $7,561,982. This translates to almost $2.5 million more of total development costs.”, DCA wrote. Despite having slammed the numbers as entirely too high and the applicant being barred from updating or modifying anything upon appeal, DCA  approved the credits for MagnoliaTrace in a letter dated March 14, 2011 (click link to view approval document) .Incredibly the approval notification letter has a DCA documents date stamp of January 7, 2011, 66 days before the document was dated!
A need to call upon AEP’s “strong relationships” within government to gain approval before December 31, 2010 lay in the expiration of a key contract with Peach Way Financial Services. The vaunted “genuine advocacy for both developers and investors” worked wonders to speed approval, evidenced by what looks like an obvious post dating episode, over a period interrupted by Christmas and New Years.
Who might Magnolia Trace LLP/Affordable Equity Partners have called upon for help in this time of emergency? Lt. Governor Casey Cagle’s campaign got $882.50 from AEP going back to 2008. Sister company Capital Health Management Inc. gave Cagle another $10, 453.50.Capital Health Management in October 2006 had given $40,000 out of the $40,500 total of The Fund for Georgia’s Future (Filer # NC2006000414 ) who gave Cagle another $10,000 that same month. Capital Health Management in 2008 gave a whopping $100,000 to The Fund for Georgia’s Future, who dispersed it to a raft of legislators. and the Republican Party.
Capital Health had also given the campaigns of Speaker David Ralston $5,000, Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers $5,500 and Nathan Deal $6,300. Another PAC that AEP contributes to, albeit not as the dominant contributor, is the Committee for Affordable Workforce Housing (GAHC-PAC – Filer NC2008000070). This PAC gave another $6,100 to the Deal campaign in September 2010, $1000 to Ralston in December 2010, $5,973 for Deal in December 2011,  and $3,000 for Cagle in March, 2012.
Nearly $200,000 in campaign funds wins friends. In this case did it reverse a project rejection and move a date?
Magnolia Trace under construction
 A Masked Partner?
The DCA application process requires disclosure of all related and controlled entities. Peach Way Financial Services, LLC , the Development Consultant, seems to fall within this category, as William A. Markel, Executive Vice President of AEP, is listed as Peach Way’s Agent for its business registration with the Georgia Secretary of State with the listed mailing address in Missouri coinciding with AEP’s office address. However, in the tax credit application filed with DCA, Peach Way Financial, the project Developer Consultant, was listed with an Atlanta address and was reported to  “not have an identity of interest with any other entity in this chart.”  *(Click here to view Magnolia Trace parties document). It is noted that the “identity of interest” question applied to each and every entity in the chart.
A side note is that Peach Way Financial Services, LLC  is shown to have filed its business registration with the Secretary of State for 2011, when the application process remained in play, but is reported to be in a state of noncompliance for 2012. According to its contract, Peach Way Financial Services gets fee payments in 2012 from Magnolia Trace.
“Inefficient financial structure”
Before Magnolia Trace LLP’s sudden change in fortune, DCA had written this about the project: “….the financial structure is not an effective or efficient use of DCA resources.” What might be the reason that the “financial structure is not an effective use…?” Could it be that multiple layers of AEP affiliated companies produced the $2.5 million more in costs cited by DCA?
Arguably the largest money tree in the AEP stable is that the tax credit financing process allows “AEP’s ability to insert an experienced affiliate into every step of the tax credit process provides added security to AEP’s investors.” With Magnolia Trace, Peach Way Holdings secured the land option. Magnolia Trace LLP became the owner.  MACO Development Company, LLC is the Developer. AEP itself is the State and Federal Limited Partner. MACO Properties, LLC is the Managing Partner. Peach Way Financial Services LLC is the Development consultant. Fairway Construction Co. Inc. is the General Contractor. Fairway Management is the management company. All are related and most stood to gain fees, directly or indirectly.
How much  of the $2.5 million excess cost that DCA objected to might be found in having so many AEP companies involved? The land acquisition and construction ‘costs’ totaled $6,986,826, or a whopping $100 per square foot. The total development  ‘costs’ of $10,152,634 were $145.45 per square foot. Of the roughly $3.2 million difference, fees, overhead, and profit of the AEP stable of companies were about $2.1 million, or 66%.
A Lot More than A Trace of Money
Once a subdivision is complete, the AEP companies begin to draw management fees from leasing operations. Magnolia Trace will join 17 previous AEP company developments in Georgia. Projected management fees to be generated from the Martinez complex are estimated at $1,160,885.
The approved tax credits were $1,065,849. If the DCA’s figures and objections ifrom December 2010 are correct, the excess of tax credits over the norms would be about 25% or more than $250,000.
Magical Words to an Auditor’s Ears
The application contained the language “Certification of Actual Cost” and the authorizing provisions in Chapter 42 of the tax code preserve the rights and capabilities of audit before the tax credits are issued. This could prove providential in protecting state and federal tax revenues, as there are new homes for sale in similar neighborhoods for sales prices in the low $70’s per square foot. Upon audit can the $145 per square foot price supplied by the AEP companies be sustained?
The larger question is whether anyone will ever be allowed to audit this transaction.
Summary

 

Citizens of suburban, Republican Martinez, Georgia got an unwelcome subsidized housing project courtesy of unknown developers. If there is solace in this story it is that Martinez county commissioner Trey Allen got the Department of Community Affairs to reform its policy so that future locales will be notified beforehand of low income projects. The politicians got nearly $200,000 of campaign donations. The AEP stable of companies look to have secured a backdated approval of a project that DCA deemed excessive on the way to winning more than $1.5 million in development fees, $1.1 million in tax credits, and $1.1 million in management fees. Along the way, one entity looks to have been undisclosed as a related party and has fallen into noncompliance with Georgia’s business registration unit.
The identities of the parties who launched this controversial project will be hidden behind opaque partnership structures, while a cash-strapped state government sees its revenues drained, not only by very lucrative tax give-aways, but also by layered on costs that the state agency found to be excessive.
Can this really be government by and for the people?***
Al Gray

Wide Open Records at DCA put Sunshine on Magnolia Trace

Magnolia Trace Under the Magnifying Glass
Thursday, March 1, 2012
Evans, GA
by Al Gray
The furor over the construction of Magnolia Trace Subdivision, a low income housing development funded under the auspices of the Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA), was white hot back in November of last year. Much was said and written about hidden machinations behind this development, particularly the Columbia County Board of Commissioners’ resolution in support of the development at the apparent prompting of county attorney Doug Batchelor in June of 2010. Ire of project opponents reached epic proportions when it was revealed that Batchelor had worked for the developer, Affordable Equity Partners of Columbia Missouri, or one of its stable of interrelated companies on an earlier project and was the closing attorney when AEP affiliate Magnolia Trace LP purchased the land in the second half of 2011.
Speculation abounded, but truth lies in the documents, to the extent that they are discoverable. This writer prefers to focus on the story the documents tell, so was moved to examine the process by which Magnolia Trace came to be approved for DCA’s tax credit program. The review found that the DCA’s Qualified Application Program was so stunningly exhaustive in its information and filing requirements that very few mysteries would remain, should an examiner look at all of the filings that DCA has. Doing an examination of the required documents was natural and logical.
A Georgia Open Records Act request for DCA to make the Magnolia Trace Application available for inspection and copying was submitted last week, with the review taking place yesterday, Wednesday, February 29, 2012 in DCA’s Atlanta headquarters. Ms. Phyllis Carr, of the DCA Housing Finance Division, graciously coordinated the review, provided the documents, assisted, and answered questions.
The examination was intended to answer these inquiries: 1) Was Doug Batchelor prominently engaged by Magnolia Trace LP in the application phase? 2) Was there active involvement of Columbia County, over and above what has been disclosed, during the application process? 3) What was the nature of the agreement to purchase the land by Magnolia Trace LLP from previous owner DORRA LLC? 4)What realtor(s) were involved? 5)What entities benefited from this transaction and were politicians tied into them more than previously reported?
Beyond Batchelor’s involvement with gaining the favorable county resolution and being the closing attorney for the developers, no other evidence was found anywhere in the 8 inch thick application and supporting documents of his involvement or that of his firm, Hull Towill, and Barrett. The attorney appearing on the option for the developer to buy the property was the Atlanta giant, Smith Gambrell and Russell. VanMatre, Harrison & Volkert, P.C. Of Columbia, Missouri is the attorney of record for the project. Legal fees budgetted for the construction were $52,000, with no distribution among firms cited. Legal fees for land acquisition, where Batchelor is known to have fit in, were set at $15,700. Title and recording fees were a surprising $18,000.
Columbia County’s involvement beyond the controversial resolution endorsing the project was minimal. Most of the preliminary inquiries were done by intermediaries without the project or its owners being named. At December 31, 2010, when the application was due for decision, no issues pertaining to Columbia County remained.
The contract for the purchase of the land was executed March 24, 2010 between Peach Way Holdings, an affiliate of Affordable Equity Partners (AEP)and the owner of the land, DORRA, LLC. The particulars of purchase price, contingency upon DCA approval of tax credits, and eventual closing date have been widely discussed and will not be reiterated here. The contract for the sale shows that the realtor was Sherman and Hemstreet represented by agent Billy Franke. The deadline for closing of March 2, 2011 was obviously missed and was extended. The contract gave the buyer wide latitude to cancel the sale until it had approved and accepted the offer of tax credits on March 14, 2011.
The new information discovered in this review was that in a initial review and determination letter sent to Magnolia Trace LP, dated December 14,2010, the DCA “determined that the Application does not meet the required Threshold requirements of the Application.” The reason cited was that costs were out of line with other DCA developments. Magnolia Trace appealed within the allotted 5 days of the letter.
The tax credits were approved on March 14, 2011, three months before a sister AEP entity, Capital Health Management, Inc. gave Georgia House Speaker David Ralston $5000, so there was no quid pro quo evident in these events.
Overall, the strategy employed by AEP appears to be to internalize as many of the project planning, development, financing and other major cost components of its projects, meaning reduced use of other professionals. This strategy is employed in conjunction with lavish campaign contributions at the state level and to a much lesser extent, the local level, with Rep. Ben Harbin being the key local beneficiary.
Look for future reports here on the broader policy issues presented by this particular financing method for low income housing in Georgia, using Magnolia Trace as an example. The current effort was restricted to addressing local government in the process.No effort was made to investigate the DCA evaluation of this application after the initial rejection, because the reasons cited were costs, not local government factors.
No smoking guns were found in this examination as relate to Columbia County and its officialdom. What was found was a highly-regimented and documented process required by the Department of Community affairs accompanied by a high degree of supporting documentation. The author was and is most impressed, as not many recent reviews have found such accuracy.
The Columbia County Commission can breathe again.***
A.G.

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Exclusive: Magnolia Trace Double Take: County Attorney Worked for Developer


Angry residents gave commissioners and the county attorney an earful back in December

Originally posted on CityStink
January 13, 2012
Appling, GA
By Hwy 221
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.
At the tumultuous Columbia County Commission meeting over the Magnolia Trace subsidized housing subdivision on December 6, 2011 City Stink videographer Jill Peterson caught WGAC radio talker Austin Rhodes lending sage advice to Columbia County Attorney Doug Batchelor here:

In case the audio was too poor for some readers, Rhodes said “From now on, you make sure that Mr. Batchelor has a standing order that if anybody like this comes in his office again – kick them out.“The double sounds of ‘Kaaa-Chinngg…” might have been ringing so loud in Batchelor’s ears that he missed Rhodes’ imperative.
As with most City Stink pieces, let’s seek guidance from the deed and court documents. Directives to mail executed sales documents to Mr. Batchelor appear on the warranty deed for the sale of the land on September 23, 2011 by Dorra LLC. To Magnolia Trace LLP recorded in Deed Book 7987 Page 196 and it looks like Mr. Batchelor signed as a witness on Page 197. Here are the delivery instructions:
PLEASE RETURN TO :
Douglas D. Batchelor
Hull Barrett, P.C.
7004 Evans Town Center Blvd., Suite 300
Evans, GA 30809
Directives to mail executed and recorded documents to Mr. Batchelor appear on the security deed from Magnolia Trace LLP on September 23, 2011 to Sterling Bank recorded in Deed Book 7995 Page 25. Here are the delivery instructions:
WHEN RECORDED MAIL TO :
Douglas D. Batchelor
801 Broad Street – 7th Floor
Augusta, Georgia 30901
Directives to mail executed sales documents to Mr. Batchelor appear on the Assignment of Rents from Magnolia Trace LLP on September 23, 2011 to Sterling Bank recorded in Deed Book 7995 Pages 35-39. Here are the delivery instructions:
WHEN RECORDED MAIL TO :
Douglas D. Batchelor
801 Broad Street – 7th Floor
Augusta, Georgia 30901
The warranty deed was recorded in the Columbia County Clerks office on September 26, 2011, with the security deed and assignment documents being recorded on September 29, 2011, apparently after being signed by Sterling Bank of Poplar Grove, Missouri and returned for recording. The assignment was re-recorded on October 10,2011 to include a missing exhibit.
The odyssey that began in the Spring of 2010 in Mr. Batchelor’s office looks to have concluded in his office in late September 2011 with Magnolia Trace LLC land purchase documents. Why were the developer’s purchase documents signed in county attorney Doug Batchelor’s presence? Why were the security deed and assignment papers directed to be returned to him after they were recorded? Does the county attorney usually become involved in closing developers’ property? The protesting citizens were told that the county had nothing to do with the sale of the Magnolia Trace property. Was this the truth? If so, why these delivery instructions? Was Mr. Batchelor serving two masters while garnering pay from both? Why are there no other local attorney’s work in evidence on the sale documents?
A decade ago a group of property rights activists was seeking support from Evans businesses in battling the Evans Town Center ordinance and thought a car dealer to be a likely ally. The manager very quickly asserted that he didn’t see that they had a problem, because the county attorney who wrote the ordinance was their attorney. Frankly, that story wasn’t believed then – there was no substantiation of it – and is hard to believe now.The county video of the December 6 meeting shows uncharacteristically halting, stammering, and searching by Doug Batchelor. That was hardly reassuring.
Earlier this week, the report of the special outside counsel engaged to explore ways of halting Magnolia Trace construction was released. It said that the development cannot be stopped.
The legal work on the other side in advance was just too good to overcome.

Magnolia Trace: Money Trail Traces to the Gold Dome

**City Stink Exclusive!**

Magnolia Traces to the Gold Dome

 

Originally posted by CityStink
December 8, 2011
Augusta, GA
By IndyInjun

The author, Al M. Gray is President of Cost Recovery Works, Inc., a provider of Cost Avoidance and Cost Recovery for America’s well-known companies, businesses and governments desiring Superior Returns.

Old Gomer Pyle used to say “ Surprise, Surprise, SURPRIZE!!!” Well, the money trail from Magnolia Trace , LLC to Affordable Equity Partners of Columbia Missouri, might fork, meander, double back, and double CROSS, but the sleuth hounds of Augusta Today and CityStink.net are rarely shaken or even stirred in pursuit. The quarry was found in the bowels of a gold-domed lair in Atlanta.
Does this surprise anyone? It shouldn’t.
Affordable Equity Partners, Inc. boasts a leadership team headed by Jeffery Smith of parent JES Holdings, with affiliated companies named ES Dev Co, Inc., Fairway Construction Co., Inc., Fairway Management, Inc., and Capital Health Management, Inc. An article on StLouisToday.com exposes how Smith and his companies have played the campaign contribution and lobbying game very well in Missouri to the tune of capturing $26 million for low-income housing projects into 2009.
Has AEP played the same game in Georgia? Their own words suffice to provide our answer. “AEP has been involved in Georgia since the initial introduction of the state tax credit and was instrumental in formulating the revisions to the statutes in 2001.”
At this juncture, the process of following all of the related parties, employees, PAC’s and agents is not complete. There will be more to come.
What is revealed so far by researching these entities’ contributions via the Georgia Ethics Commission Campaign Contributor database?
Lt. Governor Casey Cagle got $882.50 from AEP going back to 2008. Sister company Capital Health Management Inc. gave Cagle another $10, 453.50 and gave House Speaker David Ralston $5000 in 2011, this nonelection year.
Then there are the PAC’s.
At this juncture, the Augusta Today and CityStink.net team is investigating another Missouri based entity that was noted to be working in conjunction with the AEP affiliate Capital Health Management to fund one of these PAC’s. The company has contributed many thousands of dollars to Georgia’s Legislators.
Was it coincidence that Ron Cross, a Nathan Deal supporter, and Trey Allen, Nathan Deal’s Columbia County Campaign Chairman, scurried to meet with Magnolia Trace developers in County Attorney Doug Batchelor’s office?
Or did they get calls from Casey Cagle, Nathan Deal, David Ralston, Ben Harbin, and Lee Anderson “encouraging” the meeting and their subsequent resolution in support of this unwanted public housing development?
Only the unforeseen and unpredicted are surprises.
Even a Gomer Pyle knows the score on this one.***
More to come.
Below is a a link showing the State of Georgia Housing tax  plan that AEP helped write for itself into law. It’s heavy reading for those of you with some time to kill.
AEPtaxcredits
 

 

 

 

Magnolia Trace: After The Storm (videos with enhanced audio)

Originally Posted by CityStink
Wednesday Dec 7, 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.
As we predicted,  there were indeed a lot of fireworks at last night’s Columbia County Commission meeting. Angry residents, mostly from Martinez neighborhoods surrounding the controversial Magnolia Trace subsidized housing development now under construction off Old Ferry Rd, packed commission chambers giving commissioners an earfull.
Jennifer McCray, founder of the opposition group on Facebook: Say No to Magnolia Trace Housing Project gave a very civil presentation that voiced many of the concerns of the residents who were opposing the development and their frustration over being left in the dark by their elected officials. You can view Jennifer McCray’s presentation below:

Other speakers were a bit more theatrical like afternoon radio talk show personality Austin Rhodes. We kid Austin, but he is in the theater. Also later in the video Commissioner Trey Allen addresses some questions and makes a motion to hire outside counsel. Ron Cross remains defiant. See entire Columbia County Magnolia Trace video in two parts below (better Quality):
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Video Part One

Video Part Two

The whole meeting could have easily devolved into chaos with an angry mob storming the commission chambers with pitchforks and torches, but cooler heads prevailed. Jennifer McCray quickly emerged as the responsible and level-headed leader for the opposition.
At the outset it appeared that all the residents might be able to do was pack the chambers and voice their anger at the elected officials they held responsible for the situation. It appeared that trying to stop the development was a lost cause. However, in the end the opposition won a small victory. Dist. 2 Commissioner Trey Allen made a motion for the county to seek outside counsel to study the possibility of getting an injunction or getting the developers to alter their plans. That seemed to satisfy many residents.
CityStink.net spoke with Jennifer McCray, the main spokesperson for the opposition, and  asked if she was pleased with  the outcome of last night’s meeting and she had this to say:
” Yes, I am pleased that the Commissioners are taking this seriously, and that they agreed to hire outside counsel. I am hoping that now  that they have seen the outcry from the community, they will be more willing to work with us and hopefully begin to build a relationship with the developer to try and find a happy compromise to this situation.”
But others are not so optimistic about the decision to hire outside counsel. Austin Rhodes called it nothing but “window dressing.” Many other citizens are still skeptical of the outcome from yesterday and see it as a “stalling tactic”.  The actions of the commission last night does not halt construction on the Magnolia Trace development. It will be interesting to see who the county hires as outside counsel and how vigorously they will pursue the matter. Or will outside counsel just tell the commission what they already know and stick taxpayers with a big bill. That  seems to be the sentiment of critics like Austin Rhodes.
We asked Jennifer McCray what her group was prepared to do if they are not satisfied with the results from the outside counsel. We asked if the opposition group would file its own lawsuit to halt the development. Ms McCray responded:
“I don’t know that a lawsuit of any kind could stop this. What we will need to find are loopholes that we can crawl through to stop this, or at least change the course. I hope that we can begin a dialogue with the developer to reduce the number of low income families being placed in those units, and instead balance it with elderly or disabled citizens.”
Ms McCray was not impressed with Ron Cross’ attitude towards the citizens at last night’s meeting.
“I was appalled at Mr. Cross’ behavior last night in the meeting. As an elected official, especially as Chairman,  I would expect him to keep his actions and comments as professional as possible. Attempting to bate the crowd with witty comments and outright sarcasm, I personally feel was juvenile and petty.”
Even though opponents did win a small victory last night, this saga is far from over. CityStink.net is working new leads on this story that could bring an entirely new dimension to it, possibly bringing much bigger names into the mix. Stay tuned, we will keep you updated as we learn more.***
*CityStink.net would like to thank Jill Peterson for providing the videos and Kurt Huttar for enhancing the audio.*

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Magnolia Trace: Expect Fireworks in Evans Tonight

Originally posted on CityStink
Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2011
Evans, GA
Al M. Gray, President of Cost Recovery Works, Inc. contributed multidisciplinary review techniques in support of this article.
It may not be the Fourth of July, but expect to hear some loud fireworks over the Columbia County Government Center in Evans tonight. Angry residents from Petersburg Station and other Martinez neighborhoods surrounding the controversial Magnolia Trace low-income rental housing development plan to show up in large numbers at tonight’s commission meeting in protest of the development that was unanimously approved by commissioners last year. They contend that the high density low-income subsidised rental housing will erode their property values, increase crime and put a strain on neighborhood schools.
A Facebook Group opposing the development called  Say No to Magnolia Trace Housing Project boasts over 225 members and that number appears to be growing by the hour. But will that translate into a large showing at tonight’s Columbia County Commission meeting?
The group has directed their ire particularly at Commission Chairman Ron Cross, who has said that the development will be a positive for their “older community”  and Trey Allen, The District 2 commissioner who represents Martinez and has also been supportive of the development.  Many are particularly displeased with Allen for not showing more concern for their property values when he was a vocal opponent of stadium lights at Augusta Prep because he maintained they would erode his property values in Spring Lakes. Opponents of the Magnolia Trace subsidised housing contend that this development will have a far more negative impact on their property values than “stadium lights.”
Though Commission Chairman Ron Cross appears to be an enthusiastic supporter of the development, Sheriff Clay Whittle and School Superintendent Charles Nagle are being more cautious. There are concerns that the influx of more low-income students into that part of Martinez will make Lakeside High a Title 1 school. Sheriff Whittle also has raised concerns about crime from other rental properties in the county, especially apartment complexes, but is cautiously optimistic given assurances that the Magnolia Trace development will require criminal background checks for applicants.
Still, neighbors of Magnolia Trace are not in the least bit “optimistic” and it is still not quite clear if they will be able to stop this development. The Georgia Department of Community Affairs has already issued the subsidies and the development is already under construction. What particularly angers the resaidents is that they were not consulted or made aware of the nature of this development before the commission gave its approval last year.
Even if they cannot stop the development at tonight’s commission meeting, they still want to voice their anger over the actions of their elected officials in this matter. They may not show up with pitchforks and torches (organizers haver promised to keep the protests civil), but tempers most certainly are running high. In fact some people are calling for the re-call of Chairman Ron Cross and commissioner Trey Allen. That’s not likley to happen under Georgia’s re-call laws, but it illustrates the anger and frustration some residents feel over this and  what they contend is a disconnect among the elected officials and their constituents.***
 Continuing Coverage
We will have a correspondent covering tonight’s Columbia County Commission meeting and we will bring you the report (including video) as soon as it becomes available.
If You Go:
What time?:  6:00pm today
Where?:   Columbia County Government Center Complex Auditorium, 630 Ronald Reagan Drive, Evans
Issue:       Citizens presentation Protesting The Magnolia Trace Low Income rental housing development .
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Magnolia Trace: No Trace of Trey

Columbia County Commissioner Trey Allen
Originally posted on CityStink
December1, 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.
The saga of the hotly-protested Magnolia Trace development on Old Ferry Road in Martinez Georgia is incomplete without an examination of the role of  Trey Allen, Second District Commissioner on the Columbia County Board of Commissioners. Magnolia Trace is within Commissioner Allen’s District. The project is funded by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA), upon whose board of directors Commissioner Allen sits, representing the 10th District.
This seems at this juncture to be mostly unpleasant circumstance for Commissioner Allen, as his appointment to the DCA board by Governor Deal in March of this year came 9 months after he, county attorney Doug Batchelor, and County Commission Chairman Ron Cross met with representatives of Magnolia Trace Limited Partnership in preparation of ushering through a resolution endorsing the project during the June 15, 2010 Commission Meeting.
At the time of approval of this resolution, which references “affordable single-family home subdivision of up to 50 homes” on 15 acres. Commissioner Allen was serving as Columbia County Chairman for Nathan Deal’s gubernatorial campaign.  What looked then to be a reward to a faithful supporter by Deal now looks to be a curse as the DCA is at the epicenter of one of the most furiously-opposed residential developments to be initiated in Columbia County in years.
Fueling Commissioner Allen’s current hot seat even more is his prolonged and furious opposition earlier this year to stadium lights for Augusta Preparatory Day School which will illuminate Springlakes Subdivision, where he resides.  Old Ferry and the Pass opponents of the Magnolia Trace subsidized housing have been disappointed so far that a similar degree of indignation for theirdiscomfiture doesn’t seem to be forthcoming from their 2nd district commissioner.
Will this most unfortunate combination of a bad deal, coincidence, and location of the latest Columbia County NIMBY (not-in-my-backyard)eruption taint, even doom, what was only yesterday the brightest political career out of Martinez in this century?
Memories run long there. Ask former Commissioner Frank Spears, who has carried the stigma of being “Mr. Rain Tax” for almost a decade. Only now does Spears seem likely to be rehabilitated enough for a come-back.
Now the bloom is off of  Trey Allen’s magnolia as the harsh lights illuminate his Springlakes home.
It will be interesting to see how he Deals with that.
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Video: See the video Segment from the June 15, 2010 Columbia County Commmission Meeting where the the resolution was approved supporting the Magnolia Trace Development below:

Meeting to approve Magnolia Trace Project

Below is a copy of the Columbia County Commission resolution from June 15th, 2010 giving the county’s support for the Magnolia Trace development accompanied by an informational packet about the development. It clearly states “affordable housing.” The resolution green-lighted the Georgia Department of Community Affairs (a board which Comm Trey Allen now sits on, as he was appointed by Gov Nathan Deal) to begin the process of issuing tax subsidies for the development.

Magnolia Trace Information Packet