Columbia County B.Y.O.B. Finances

OPINION by The Arrowflinger

What you are about to hear in this poor quality audio recording is the last three minutes of The Austin Rhodes Show of Friday, May 18, 2018. Your arrowflinging protector shook things up, more than a little, one might think.

When GB&T bank board members Rick Allen and James G. Blanchard were mentioned in the present tense, it was in the context of a meeting with law enforcement several years ago, before the bank merged with South State Bank and that Board of Directors was disbanded. Also, neither was a voting member of the Board with management oversight.

As to former Columbia County Commissioner Scott Dean, who was the acting chairman of the county finance committee, he actually did not object AT THE AWARD MEETING, but just listen to what he said in making the astounding motion to let Ron Cross and Charlie Allen vote!

Dean’s conviction was on charges unrelated to this banking vote. Judge Blanchard being the judge who put him in prison and would not grant a retrial despite recanted testimony is more a demonstration of how weird events get twisted in Columbia County. The Arrowflinger tried to get Judge Blanchard, a former family business partner, to discuss this ugly banking matter back in 2014, but somehow we had trouble connecting. There is more there, perhaps, for a later date.

With respect to Edward J. Tarver, he was a member of the GB&T Audit Committee in 2008 and 2009, before becoming the US Attorney on December 17, 2009. Tarver had audit responsibility for the 2008 Financial Statements, which later became the basis for the Columbia County bank selection in April 2010. About a month before his nomination, The United States Securities and Exchange Commission sent the GB&T Chief Financial Officer Darrell Raines a letter expressing questions, possibly requiring a restatement of those 2008 financials.

Imagine that! A sitting US Attorney’s immediately preceding bank Audit Committee work was questioned by the SEC! None of this seems to have dawned on Columbia County Finance. Or did they know? Or did one of them know?

As for Rick Allen, perhaps he can confer with his cousins who owned 40% of GB&T and his brother, the GB&T shareholder who delivered the bank a timely $100 million cash infusion and draft a banking bill like he wrote about in the Augusta Chronicle last year. We have the perfect title. We can call it the Rick Allen B.Y.O.B bill…..BAIL OUT YOUR OWN BANK bill.

-AF

 

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

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

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.

 

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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