GOP Cookie Jar Lid Slams on Rep. Jodi Lott

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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.

 

Columbia County Tax Dollars Fuel a Banker’s Bonus???

You just have to laugh when the politicians in two urban counties down the road resort to hiding videos, switching meeting times, and cutting debate time in half to thwart an old busybody and his gang of reformers. Their latest trick play came between Tuesday May 6 and Thursday May 15, 2014 down in Evans. Columbia County has a pledge to post its commission meeting video within 48 hours of its Tuesday meetings, but it took 9 days for this one to see daylight.

Agraynation.com has been in the habit of bringing videographers to ensure that a video record is secured, but in a previous Columbia County meeting Chairman Ron Cross admonished that having video shot was unnecessary because the county provides it with so reliably. Not this time. This speaker had a most unpleasant message and an even tougher question but obviously had no prepared text to post later. Rather than let the explosive video and information out, the administration sat on it.

Metro Spirit reporter Eric Johnson observed and wrote a wonderful piece on the Commissioner Ron Thigpen bonus presentation titled “Collateral Damage.” The title was pure brilliance, because the collateral damage from the Columbia County banking scandal will range far, wide and deep.

Johnson implied that the talk was long-winded, overlooking that it was 8 minutes before a body that allowed 10 minutes until this campaign season began. He was also puzzled. The key exhibits were not shown to the public, because their sensitive nature commanded the decency to allow the Rons, Thigpen and Cross, to respond to the deep concern of this old supporter and friend.

To summarize, the county entered into a mass banking agreement with the Ron’s bank in 2010 after a series of recusals, mystery documents, a vote to allow 2 commissioners to even vote on it, and more irregularity than comes after a trip to a filthy restaurant. About the same time Ron Thigpen, who is President of the bank, got a new bonus that looks to have doubled because of the massive Columbia County money deposited in his bank.

Thigpen Bonus 2010 Change

The media around these parts whines that just about any issue involving money is too complex. This one isn’t. It is third grade math. If you have 1 over 2 (1/2), you double the result if you subtract 1 from the bottom number. That is how Ron Thigpen’s bonus was set up. After Columbia County’s $1 (hundred million) is applied at December 31st of that year, the equity denominator falls to $1(hundred million) from $2(hundred million). Sources of the county monies are an open records response and the bank equity figures are from the FDIC.

When all factors are taken into account, it would appear that the $22,000 cash bonus paid to Thigpen was 2.2 times higher than it would have been without the county deal.

Thigpen Bonus Received 2010

Last week Ron Thigpen was overheard in an ad for Chairman Cross’ reelection saying how “comfortable’ he was with Ron Cross.

We all can be comfortable along with him that fellow bank stockholder Cross did the right thing to enhance their wealth.

Collateral Damage, Mr. Johnson? That was very, very well done! Next up Cat Burglars and Cat bankers – the $12 million heist.

This is Arrowflinger Al reporting on a cloudy day from points west. Stick around for the missing video.

Intimidation in Evans?

During the recent look at Columbia County Georgia’s controversial 2010 Banking Services Request For Proposal, which was awarded to Georgia Bank and Trust, a bank in which 2 county commissioners held stock and a third is now President of the bank, Ms. Leanne Reece was seen at the County commission meeting accompanied by a young lad taken to be her son. You can see the boy in this video.

His presence was enough to change the topic of the presentation that night from Banking Services to the TIA 2010 scandal, because there was no desire to pressure his mom in front of him.

It is a shame the county commissioners aren’t so forgiving when it comes to applying pressure to county employees to get an intended outcome.

The banking RFP seems to have gone through the entire process up to a week or so prior to the meeting as Bid Title: Banking Services for Columbia County, GA Board of Commissioners Bid Number: 2010-005 but was on the Agenda April 20, 2010, the fateful night that the commission awarded the contract, as RFP 2010-005 Banking Services for the County and Water Utility.

Why is the title change potentially significant? Based upon the submissions by responding banks, the evaluation team only recommended Georgia Bank and Trust for the Water Utility accounts, county accounts the bank already had. Finance Director Reece was one of the evaluators and had even noted that the apparently winning bank based upon the evaluation, First Citizens Bank, had offered a 1% interest rate minimum. You can see evidence of Ms. Reece’s diligence. WHOA, she wrote there was “no floor” in the G,B&T proposal, an odd statement since GBT is shown to have offered a floor of 0.75%. Can it be that was true with the original submittals, since replaced by altered documents? With this gang of manipulators, who knows?

If she was that attuned to the greater interest earnings potential of First Citizens, why would Director Reece go along with the lesser proposal based upon a speculative analysis from county bond underwriter Jeffries?

This entire affair reeks of pressure put on a professional woman with a family by powerful men with control over her job.

You have to hope that job isn’t in jeopardy for yielding to human fear.

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):
NOTE: you may be prompted to activate the SilverLight Plugin for your browser. This will only need to be done once.

 

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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