Enslaved Forever on the TEE Plantation


Monday, November 12, 2012
Augusta, GA
By The Outsider
Al M. Gray, President of Cost Recovery Works, Inc. contributed multidisciplinary review techniques in support of this article
Now all Augustans lie prostrate to Massa Billy and Massa Paul, thanks to the 6-3 vote of the Augusta Commission to pass the TEE Center deal last Thursday, November 8, 2012. White, black, Mexican, Korean, Chinese or Indian, the entire City of Augusta is now enslaved to Billy Morris and Paul Simon or, if you believe Augusta radio talker Austin Rhodes at WGAC, the Morris children.
No one can really tell who the owners of the new TEE Center management company are because it didn’t even exist until last month and it was registered by an intermediary to keep the ownership hidden, something Augusta’s procurement policies seem to prohibit. It will just have to suffice that the person’s listed on various documents for the original Morris/Simon LLC suggest that the Morris family are the principal owners. Even the Augusta Chronicle, who has acted throughout the TEE escapades as a front for these shadowy LLC’s, has been forced to weakly acknowledge that there are ties with Morris Communications.
The place where they put the permanent shackles on the people was originally supposed to be Augusta’s wonderful new TEE Center, but the massas had confiscated the building before the last concrete set up. They weren’t content to just stick spurs in horses over there in their Hippodrome in Aiken County, now the children all across Richmond County find themselves bound to a plantation and they didn’t have to move to Morris’ Creek Plantation, Wade Plantation, Butterfield Plantation or Millhaven Plantation to do it.
When you are in Augusta, you don’t move to the plantation, the plantation comes to you. Worse of all, the legalese says you and your descendants are slaves to the Morris massa’s TEE House FOREVER!!!
Yes. You read that right.
Mayor Deke Copenhaver and Administrator Fred Russell cheered as Commissioner Corey Johnson, Commissioner Matt Aitken and four other commissioners voted for this:
“Term of this Agreement” shall mean the period of time commencing on the date of this Agreement and continuing in perpetuity for so long as the TEE Center is in existence and shall include the period of time following any casualty with respect to the TEE Center for so long as City has the right to rebuild the TEE Center.
Now reader, you are just about to read the last part of that and tell me it is a way out of the Tee Center for Augusta because it ends when the TEE no longer exists.  Well, it is like the old tale of Dem Bones – “Toe bone connected to the foot bone: Foot bone connected to the leg bone: Leg bone connected to the knee bone…..” You just have to make the connections to get the whole body of facts.
Reading on:
During the Term of this Agreement (perpetuity), City shall, at its sole cost and expense, maintain the TEE Center to the Standard for so long as the TEE Center shall exist.
Getting a better picture now, reader? The “Standard” is whatever Billy and Paul’s interpretation of what their Marriott Hotel says it is and Augusta has to pay whatever it takes to meet their ‘Standard.’ That sounds expensive already, doesn’t it?
Now you Doubting Thomases who are left thinking that this pay-out to Morris and Simon isn’t FOREVER, get with the program. “The knee bone is connected to the thigh bone, and the thigh bone is connected to the hip bone.” And so it goes with the Tee Center. You follow the boneyard and find out it is the TEE Center. Now a Doubting Thomas would say “Well, if Augusta decides to contract with someone else or close down the Tee Center, we can stop paying them or stop paying costs on their behalf, right?”
This isn’t exactly true, according to the contract:
The parties acknowledge that Developer has an important interest in insuring that the TEE Center is maintained in accordance with the Standard, whether or not Developer serves as the Manager or Caterer. Accordingly, this Agreement, and particularly this section of this Agreement, may be enforced by Developer. (Developer is the Morris/Simon)
 
In other words the Morris/Simon massa still has the power over the taxpayer, even if their contract is lifted.
Are you getting a queasy feeling in your stomach, Hephzibah? So you on Warren Road think that the TEE plantation you are on will meet an emancipation proclamation that sets you and all your descendants free from PERPETUAL bondage? Dear readers might still not be convinced that the TEE Center is their massa FOREVER. It’s time to read some more:
During the Term of this Agreement (PERPETUITY, remember?), City shall, at its sole cost and expense, procure and keep in effect fire and extended coverage for the TEE Center and all personal property located thereon, including rent loss or business interruption …, in amounts at no time less than the total replacement cost therefor. Such policy referred to above shall name City and Developer as loss payee and additional insureds, as their interest may appear.
 
So, there you have it. Augusta has to pay for the TEE Plantation in PERPETUITY and pay to insure that it is replaced in PERPETUITY. If it is destroyed, the Morris/Simon hotels are almost certain to be destroyed too, so replacement would be driven more by the Morris/Simon decision on what to do with their hotel complex than anything Augusta decides.
How great is the claim on Augusta’s tax system to pay for the TEE Plantation? On the financing side, the project was built using general obligation sales tax bonds, as certifications by the Construction Manager, R.W. Allen attest. General obligation bonds are backed by the fullest ability of Augusta to tax people out of their homes and businesses out into the street. On the operations side of the TEE Plantation, hoteliers get looted for the first $250,000 (another $100,000 goes into capital spending), but then the rest of the TEE Center losses come out of the General Fund, which also is fed by the power to tax folks into poverty. When a contract like the TEE contract gets executed, that obligation comes before paying for essential city services, like fire and police protection.
Now that the whole skeleton of bones has been assembled, the full picture of the TEE Center deal is this – All of the people of Augusta-Richmond County, their children, and descendants are now under double general obligations to the extent of the value of all of their property to the Morris children and descendants in PERPETUITY.
Get used to the shackles and chains that Mayor Deke put you into.  Only death or getting out of Augusta will give relief.
Can you say that you’ve been TEE-totally subjugated?
It sure looks this way to an Outsider.***
OS

Commissioners Should Call Paul Simon’s Bluff

Originally posted on CityStink
Monday, October 29, 2012
Augusta, GA
By The Outsider
Al M. Gray, President of Cost Recovery Works, Inc. contributed multidisciplinary review techniques in support of this article.
Well here we go again. Just a week has passed since the  contract with Augusta Riverfront LLC to manage  the TEE Center failed to get six commission votes for approval and once again commissioners will revisit the issue today at noon. During the waning hours of Friday, Mayor Deke Copenhaver called for the special meeting of the commission for today to approve the management contract like he did a week ago. This tactic is to keep critics of the contract from being able to get on the agenda to speak out against it. Bottom line is: Mayor Copenhaver is bound and determined to ram this thing through at all costs.
And the costs could be very high for the taxpayers if this contract is approved today. We found out a couple of weeks ago that operating losses for the TEE Center would be around $900,000 a year — and the city would be on the hook for all of it. Mind you, these are the numbers coming from Paul Simon of Augusta Riverfront LLC, and if history is any guide in regard to their numbers, you can probably double those figures. That means that the new convention center could be a drain on the city’s general fund. Compounding these losses are loopholes in the contract that allow Augusta Riverfront LLC to shift their personnel expenses over to the city and even give out generous bonuses to their staff and stick the city of Augusta with the bill.
So what has changed with this contract in the past week? Absolutely nothing. It’s the same bad deal for the taxpayers that commissioners rejected last Monday. The mayor is hoping that he can persuade at least one or two commissioners to give in and approve the same contract today. He sent out an email this past Friday imploring commissioners to approve the contract at today’s special meeting and warned of losses and stigmatization of the facility if conventions have to be cancelled. The mayor is either terribly naive or being purposefully disingenuous.  Let’s hope enough commissioners don’t buy the Mayor’s lame argument. As we understand it, the Mayor may have even lost two votes since last week. We shall see after the results come in from today’s meeting.
Manufactured Crisis
Paul Simon of Augusta Riverfront LLC has been threatening commissioners with the prospect of convention cancellations as a means to force them to approve this hideously lopsided contract. It’s all a ruse and it reminds us of another manufactured crisis from the Fall of 2009, when commissioners were being given a similar ultimatum to approve the TEE center or risk losing a new Hyatt Place hotel. Well here we are three years later and there are still no signs of that hotel. You can read more about that in our previous story: The Hotel that Never Was.
Now why did Augusta Riverfront LLC wait until the 11th hour to bring a management contract forth? Why was this not done months or even years ago? Why? Because by waiting until the last minute, Paul Simon can manufacture a crisis and get the contract he wants — not the contract that is best for the city. In fact, this current contract was drawn up nearly entirely by his attorneys at Hull Barrett.What kind of partnership is that? What were the attorneys hired by the city doing all of this time? You would think the attorneys for both parties would have gotten together in a room and drawn up a contract — with each side compromising on certain points, overall giving both sides a contract with which they were satisfied. But that did not happen. Here we have a contract drawn up by the attorneys for the other side being dropped in the laps of commissioners at the last minute with them being told they must approve it — or else.
Or else what? To hear Paul Simon and Mayor Copenhaver tell it, the new convention center would lose out on conventions scheduled in January if this stinking pile of crap they are calling a management contract is not approved today. It’s all a bluff. Let’s remind everyone that the city is already loosing $900,000 the first year even with these conventions.  Any profit that these conventions may generate will mostly go to Augusta Riverfront LLC. They get the profits from booked rooms in their hotel. They get all of the profits from food and beverage sales prepared in the $1.4 million kitchen that the taxpayers paid for. Does anyone with an ounce of common sense think Augusta Riverfront LLC is going to cancel these events for which they are the sole party making any profit? The city just covers all of the costs, so Paul Simon’s company can make all the profit.
But let’s ask another question. Since Augusta Riverfront LLC does not yet have the contract to operate the facility, what gave them the authority to book these events in the TEE Center in the first place? How do we not know that these first couple of conventions were not already booked for the existing conference center? Does it not seem rather odd that a  group like the Georgia Chiefs of Police Association would book their meeting in a facility without anyone officially in charge to manage it? These events are typically booked many months if not years in advance. We’ve heard two stories — that the Convention and Visitors Bureau was booking these conventions and that The Marriott was booking them directly. But even if the CVB was booking these events, doesn’t a reservation require a deposit? And wouldn’t that come with the assurance that a professional company would be managing the event? Why is all of this being done backwards? Who books conventions in a facility where there is no one to manage it?
But nothing will be cancelled in January. Does anyone really expect the owners of The Marriott to start cancelling room reservations? Don’t bet your life on it. The excuse coming from the folks at Augusta Riverfront LLC is that they need time to train and hire staff to stage these conventions and they must have their contract approved before they can do that. That is utter baloney and they know it! Are we to believe that here in the last couple of days left in October of 2012 that they do not  have the adequate staff trained to handle these events that are scheduled at the convention center just a little more than two months away? Really? Is this who we really want managing this facility? Let’s be serious here. The folks at Augusta Riverfront LLC have been managing the city’s adjacent conference center for over 20 years now. The TEE Center is just a larger space. This is just an excuse to manufacture a false crisis.
Other Options Out There
But OK, let’s assume that Augusta Riverfront LLC is this woefully unprepared at the last minute. Why should  the city succumb to their demands because of their own incompetence? It’s not like there are not other options. According to city administrator Fred Russell, Augusta Riverfront LLC will not agree to  a 1 year interim management contract with the option to renew for 14 years. But perhaps another professional management company would. We have one right down the street that has a national reputation for managing large events. In just a few short years they have managed to turn a facility that had a maligned reputation that was struggling to attract events, into one that routinely brings big name acts to The Garden City.
That management company is called Global Spectrum. The way they have turned the James Brown Arena from a desolate embarrassment to an arena buzzing with activity with a renewed optimism is nothing short of miraculous. Officials at Global Spectrum have already indicated that they would have no problem hosting the first few conventions at the new TEE Center– so why not let them? At least Global Spectrum is not holding a gun to our heads demanding us sign a lopsided contract that gives them carte blanche to loot the taxpayers of Augusta. So, if the folks at the Marriott say they are unprepared at this stage to host these conventions, then lets go with the folks who are prepared over at Global Spectrum
. We just might find out that they could do a better job for less money. Their performance managing The James Brown Arena and Bell Auditorium has certainly been impressive
The Augusta Convention and Visitors Bureau should now be doing all they can to assure these groups who have conventions scheduled at the TEE Center that their event will go on and will be a smashing success and they look forward to  having them come back to the Garden City very soon.
The Next Step
So far, the only leverage Augusta Riverfront LLC has is issuing threats of convention cancellations. What that has done is create a diversion by manufacturing a crisis to take attention away from their awful contract that they are trying to strong arm commissioners into signing. So commissioners could neutralize that manufactured crisis today by making a motion to work with the Coliseum Authority and Global Spectrum to see to it that no conventions are cancelled. Then Augusta Riverfront LLC would no longer have something to hold over our heads and attention would be directed where it belongs — at the details of this contract.
If Augusta Riverfront LLC does not want to come back to the table as a partner, then I am sure the city can find any number of professional management companies, including Global Spectrum, who would be willing to come in and run this facility on terms much more favorable to the city. A lot of attention has been paid to the demands of Augusta Riverfront LLC — a company that has invested zero of their own dollars in this facility. They have essentially received a $50 million dollar gift from Augusta taxpayers — and that’s not good enough — they want more! So now its time for the commissioners to start paying attention to the interests of Augusta taxpayers — after all, we are the ones with all the money invested in this facility, not Augusta Riverfront LLC.
And if Mayor Copenhaver is really serious about getting a management contract approved, and if he really has the best interests of Augusta taxpayers at heart, he will stop pulling these stunts of calling these special meetings in hopes he can scrounge up 6 votes to pass this turkey of a contract. Frankly, it’s insulting to the commissioners and the people of Augusta to keep bringing this same contract back over and over. If the Mayor wants to do something constructive he would invite the critics of this current contract to the table and let’s go through it line by line and work together to get the best deal for the city.
So far, the mayor has seen fit to deny us an opportunity to be heard. But now is his chance to do the right thing. First of all chunk this lopsided contract. Then, bring all of the parties together, including the citizen activists who have done much of the work discovering the deficiencies in this current contract, and let’s go through it line by line and take out all of these loopholes and gotchas that will cost taxpayers $millions. That’s how this process should have been handled from the very beginning. It’s not too late to do it the right way now. ***

Hank Johnson Could Get Some Company in Congress with Lee Anderson

Originally posted on CityStink
Saturday, August 18, 2012
Augusta, GA
By The Outsider

Hank Johnson was elected to the the U.S. House of Representatives in 2006, representing Georgia’s 4th congressional district, replacing Cynthia McKinney. Those were certainly big shoes to fill when it came to bringing embarrassment to the state of Georgia. McKinney provided an endless supply of gaffes and outrageous statements during her 12 years in Congress for late night comedy shows. But Hank Johnson has not disappointed.
In an infamous U.S. Armed Services committee hearing in March 2010, Johnson expressed his concern to Admiral Robert F. Willard, Commander of U.S. Pacific Command, regarding a military installation on the Pacific island of Guam, a U.S. territory. Johnson said, “My fear is that the whole island will become so overly populated that it will tip over and capsize,” to which Admiral Willard replied, “We don’t anticipate that.”
The video of Congressman  Johnson voicing his concerns about Guam tipping over received extensive airplay on just about every radio show, and late night comedy show imaginable, from Leno to Jon Stewart to Stephen Colbert. It still pops up today, more than two years later, as a reminder of some of the crazy things that can pop out of the mouths of members of Congress.
This upcoming January, Hank Johnson might be getting some company in Washington, DC from a fellow Georgian if state representative Lee Anderson makes it past Tuesday’s runoff and is successful in defeating current 12th district congressman John Barrow. Who can forget when  Anderson was asked about The Federal Reserve in a debate earlier this year and appeared absolutely clueless. Anderson seemed to think it was something like a rainy day fund, responding with: “We must build our reserves even stronger than what it is now…on the federal level,” and he went on to say that the legislature “building back our reserves up now.”
Anderson was not asked at that debate about his thoughts on Guam, and since he has refused to participate in any debates with his GOP challenger before Tuesday’s runoff and is refusing to go on radio shows and speak to the media in general, we wont be able to ask him . But we have to wonder what his response would be. Would Anderson even know what Guam is? Would he know that it is an island in the Pacific and territory of the United States? What’s Anderson’s position on Guam tipping over?
Based on Anderson’s performance in prior debates, the writers for the late night comedy shows are probably crossing their fingers that the Grovetown hay farmer wins the runoff this Tuesday. Along with fellow Georgian Hank Johnson, the jokes would write themselves and Stephen Colbert and Saturday Night Live would have an endless supply of material. Someone else who probably has their fingers crossed for Lee Anderson this Tuesday night is Congressman John Barrow.***
OS

Furor Over University Name a Gift for Lee Anderson?

Originally posted on CityStink
Tuesday, August 14, 2012
Augusta, GA
By The Outsider
Al M. Gray, President of Cost Recovery Works, Inc. contributed multidisciplinary review techniques in support of this article.
With the local outrage over the new name for the new merged university dominating the front page of the daily paper, the evening news, and the talk radio shows, you’d almost have forgotten that there is a run-off in a week for the Georgia 12th congressional district GOP race.
Lee Anderson, who is now in a runoff with Augusta construction contractor Rick Allen for the 12th district GOP nomination,  ought to send Dr. Ricardo Azziz and the Georgia Board of Regents bouquets of flowers.
The furor over the university name change has successfully diverted local attention away from Anderson’s voting record in the state legislature and most importantly his support of T-SPLOST. There was a noticeable backlash against Anderson in his home base of Columbia County in the immediate aftermath of the T-SPLOST vote on July 31st. Despite failing in 75% of the regions throughout Georgia and being soundly rejected by more than 58% of voters in Columbia County, the tax still passed in the CSRA region, largely because of the voters in neighboring Richmond County. That means that Columbia County residents will still be forced into this new tax region despite voting against it.
We heard reports in the days following the T-SPLOST vote that some Lee Anderson signs were being taken down from yards across  Columbia County in protest of his support for the tax and  voting for it in the Georgia General Assembly. But T-SPLOST was not the only tax Anderson supported in the legislature that is disproportionately hitting middle and lower income residents. He also voted in favor of a $500 million hospital bed tax and Georgia Power’s advance billing of $1 billion in profits, hidden as “construction costs,” which lead to double digit rate increases for the average  customer. Voters in Columbia County were finally starting to pay attention to Anderson’s anti middle class voting record, and this presented an opening for Rick Allen in the run-off.
And then came the announcement from the Georgia Board of Regents last week that the name for the new consolidated university in Augusta would be named Georgia Regents University. All Hell broke loose. It’s been dominating the headlines for the entire week and there is no sign that the outrage will die down any time soon. William S Morris III even had a self-penned letter on Sunday’s front page of his Augusta Chronicle newspaper where he announced his resignation from the  board of GHSU over the name flap. Articles on the name controversy on The  Chronicle website have been getting by far the most comments, and callers to local radio talk shows have also been fixated on the name change.  More protests are planned for this week. We’ve noticed here that web searches for the congressional race and T-SPLOST have fallen off considerably in the last week. All of the interest seems to be on the name for the new university.
The timing could not be worse for Rick Allen. A recount request by Wright McLeod last week that yielded one vote had  delayed the inevitable show-down between Anderson and Allen. And during the uncertainty of the recount,  the announcement of the new name of the university came out, and got everyone talking.. Any momentum that Allen could have capitalized on over T-SPLOST seemed to be slipping away with the clock counting down to August 21.
To win the run-off next week, Allen will have to win Columbia County. The furor over T-SPLOST and tying Lee Anderson to it looked like it would be the winning strategy that could deliver victory to Allen. But now the furor has shifted to something else… the name of the new university. Will there still be enough outrage over T-SPLOST in Columbia County next Tuesday to sway the run-off election in Allen’s favor? That remains to be seen.
Allen is already handicapped by a depressed GOP voter turnout in Richmond County because of the Sheriff’s race. All of those republican cross-overs who took a democratic ballot in order to vote for Scott Peebles are not allowed to cross back over to vote in the congressional run-off on August 21st. Anderson did rather poorly in Richmond County in the July 31st general primary, in fact it was his worst showing in all of the counties in the 12th district. Allen could have been able to win Richmond County by a big margin and run up the vote tally and offset Anderson’s advantage in the rural southern counties next Tuesday, but because of the depressed turnout, Allen’s advantage in Richmond County will be negated and thus the largest county in the district will end up having a negligible impact on the race. That means Columbia County will decide this.
If Rick Allen can win Columbia County by the same margin as it rejected T-SPLOST, he will be the candidate facing John Barrow this fall instead of Lee Anderson. But for this to happen, Allen will have to position himself back to his Columbia County roots and distance himself from the political elites in Augusta-Richmond County, who have for the most part forsaken him anyway for the Sheriff’s race and have become more of a political liability. If Allen has any chance for a victory against Anderson, it will be found in Columbia County.
Linking Anderson to the unpopular T-SPLOST appears to be the winning strategy to take Columbia County. The key is to make sure the voters are still as outraged over T-SPLOST next Tuesday as they were a week and a half ago. One way this could be accomplished is to link the red hot outrage over the university name change to the outrage over T-SPLOST. They both have one common denominator: an overbearing state political body out of touch with the wishes of locals.
T-SPLOST failed in Columbia County, but  the Georgia General Assembly engineered the bill in such a way, that their wishes could be outvoted by people in other counties.. and that is exactly what happened. The legislature also sought fit to penalize regions that voted against the tax by withholding a large portion of state transportation matching funds. The voters were not really being given a real choice by the politicians under the Gold Dome in Atlanta. T-SPLOST was more like an act of extortion: vote for it — or else.
Lee Anderson was one of the state legislators who voted in favor of this flawed bill that took local control away from individual counties and gave it to a new regional government. Similarly, the wishes of many local residents and leaders were outvoted by another state body known as the Georgia Board of Regents when it came to naming the new consolidated university in Augusta. The case could be made that an overbearing state government  gave us the hideously flawed T-SPLOST and the extremely unpopular name for the new university abbreviated as GRU. Some can say that  T-SPLOST and the new university name are GRUesome, and Rick Allen would be wise to make that argument and continue to link Lee Anderson to the overbearing and out of touch state government  that gave us both.***
OS

T-SPLOST Passes in CSRA Despite Columbia County Saying No

Originally posted on CityStink
Wednesday, August 1, 2012
Augusta, GA
By The Outsider
Al M. Gray, President of Cost Recovery Works, Inc. contributed multidisciplinary review techniques in support of this article.
Bucking a statewide trend, it appears that the T-SPLOST tax has passed in the 13 county Central Savannah River Area region. The latest vote totals as of 11pm on July 31 showed a margin of 56% voting in favor and  44% voting against with a more than 6,000 vote spread. This is by far the best showing for the T-SPLOST   in all 12 regions of the state, where latest totals showed that the tax was failing in 9 out of 12 regions.
Perhaps the biggest repudiation of T-SPLOST came in the  metro Atlanta region, where voters are rejecting the tax by a wide margin of 63% against and 37% in favor. This, after millions of dollars were poured into the Atlanta region by pro T-SPLOST groups  for an ad blitz pitching the tax. Its failure in the metro Atlanta region will make things very complicated, since the law states that any region which does not pass the tax will have their state transportation matching funds slashed….and with metro Atlanta comprising nearly 50% of the state’s population, that’s a lot of money. You can now expect a barrage of lawsuits challenging the efficacy of T-SPLOST now that it seems to have failed in 75% of the regions, including the states’s most populous metropolitan area.
The T-SPLOST also failed in Coastal Georgia, which after metro Atlanta accounted for the most spending by Pro T-SPLOST groups. In fact, Chatham County rejected the tax by over 57%  despite the Savannah port deepening being a signature project touted by T-SPLOST backers.
So why did it pass in the CSRA? 
By looking at the most recent vote totals, it appears that T-SPLOST mainly passed here because of Augusta-Richmond County (the most populous county in the region) where it was approved by more than 58% of the vote with a nearly 6,000 vote margin. T-SPLOST did particularly well in predominately African-American voting precincts in Richmond County. The tax found its softest support in West Augusta and South Richmond County precincts with a slight majority of those precincts rejecting T-SPLOST.
The story was completely different in Columbia County where over 58% of voters rejected the T-SPLOST.   The latest totals showed 14,358 voting against and 10,340 voting in favor. But even though Columbia County voters resoundly  rejected T-SPLOST, they will  still be taxed anyway. Lincoln County and Glascock County also rejected the T-SPLOST. The nine other rural counties passed it, presumably because of the promise from politicians that they would be getting over $87 million in additional tax revenue from populous Richmond and Columbia Counties
Since this is a regional tax regime, Columbia County is tied to the other 12 counties in the CSRA region, including Augusta-Richmond County. Under the provisions of the tax district, Columbia County will be a donor county, giving up  over $23 million of its sales tax proceeds to other counties in the region. But under the T-SPLOST regime Augusta/Richmond County will be giving away $63 million of its sales tax proceeds to other counties, which makes the overwhelming support there even more baffling. Columbia County will also now be married to what many political observers consider a corrupt and incompetent Augusta-Richmond County for control of transportation dollars.
Impact on the 12th District Congressional Race
Lee Anderson voted for T-SPLOST in the Georgia General Assembly, and now he appears to be in a run-off for the 12 Georgia Congressional GOP nomination with either Rick Allen or Wright McCleod. Anderson defended his T-SPLOST vote by saying he was only voting to give the people a say in the matter. However, critics charged that the regional vote was unfair and would subject individual counties to the tax even if their voters overwhelmingly opposed it at the polls. That scenario now seems to have been born out in Columbia County. All 3 of Anderson’s GOP challengers said they were against T-SPLOST. Now there is speculation of whether there will be a voter backlash against Anderson in his home base of Columbia County because of the T-SPLOST outcome.
Also in the hot seat is Columbia County commission chairman Ron Cross, who heavily promoted T-SPLOST. Seeing as how it failed by such a wide margin there, his critics have yet another example to show  how the commission chairman is out of touch with the average voter in Columbia County. If there is any bright spot for Columbia County over the T-SPLOST outcome is that it may lead to the overwhelming passage of a referendum imposing term limits on county commissioners and the chairman.
Now the CSRA region will have one of the highest sales taxes in the state, making it less competitive for business. However, neighboring South Carolina  retailers are likely to see a jump in business from T-SPLOST. ***
Stay Tuned… more to come
OS

 

Cutting Through the Spin Over ParkingGate

Originally posted on CityStink
Friday July 20, 2012
Augusta, GA
By The Outsider
Al M. Gray, President of Cost Recovery Works, Inc. contributed multidisciplinary review techniques in support of this article.
Despite how some government officials and members of the local media have been trying to spin the events from this past Tuesday’s Augusta commission meeting, the citizen watchdogs who have been leading the charge for more transparency and accountability in the ParkingGate debacle won two significant victories.
Lori Davis went before the commission to appeal to the conscience of city leaders to “park” a very lop-sided management contract for the $12 million publicly financed Reynolds Street Parking deck with Augusta Riverfront LLC. As we detailed in a previous report, the lop-sided contract, that was drawn up by ARLLCs own attorneys (not those hired by the city) was riddled with loop holes and amounted to a blank check. To put it in simple terms, it was a bad deal for the taxpayers.
Earlier in the day on Tuesday we got word that there was some political maneuvering by Commissioner Jerry Brigham and Augusta Riverfront LLC President Paul S Simon, to try and ram through the contract at the last minute. This followed a finance committee workshop the previous Friday where a majority of commissioners said they were not prepared to vote in favor of the contract as it stood and wanted a thorough comparison of the deal with ARLLC and others that had been rejected by city administrator Fred Russell. City hired outside counsel Jim Plunkett was tasked by commissioners to provide that analysis. Many commissioners expected the parking deck management contract to be removed from the agenda for the July 17th commission meeting.
But surprisingly, early on Tuesday, a comparison  magically appeared just in time for the commission meeting that supposedly said the ARLLC deal was $14,000 cheaper than one Aampco Parking systems had submitted in an earlier bid. The only problem is, this comparison was drawn up by Paul S Simon and Augusta Riverfront LLC… the same folks who have been trying to get the lucrative parking deck management contract… hardly an unbiased source. Why didn’t Augusta’s hired outside counsel Jim Plunkett put together the comparison as he was tasked to do by commissioners at the Finance Committee work session the previous Friday? Paul Simon and Jerry Brigham probably thought they could catch commissioners off-guard like they did on February 7th, when a tentative management agreement was passed with similar last-minute political maneuvering. George Eskola, senior government reporter for WJBF news pointed out the obvious conflict of interest in Augusta Riverfront LLC providing their own comparison in his 5pm report on July 27th,  “But this comparison is coming from Paul Simon of Augusta Riverfront LLC the company that owns the Marriott not the city’s attorney who worked on the deal ”
But this time things would not go in Paul Simon’s favor. The contract was tabled for the second time in a month after Commissioner Jerry Brigham announced that he did not have the votes lined up to pass it. So now it will go back to the drawing board… where hopefully the taxpayers can finally get a more favorable deal, one with caps on what ARLLC can bill the city  and minus all of the loopholes that gave Paul Simon practically a blank check courtesy of the city of Augusta. This is what we have been asking for months…. to halt this hideously bad contract from being approved, and  to get a better deal for the taxpayers. The results from Tuesdays commission meeting now provide that opportunity.
But to listen to some in the local media, particularly a struggling weekly print tabloid, the results from Tuesday were somehow a rebuke of Lori Davis and a defeat for the citizen watchdogs at Augusta Today and CityStink.net. We have to wonder… what meeting did they attend? As we said, Paul S Simon and Augusta Riverfront LLC were unsuccessful in their last minute efforts to ram through a lop-sided management contract for the parking deck. Lori Davis, the citizen watchdogs, and the taxpayers of Augusta won that day.
Some in the media wanted to focus all of their attention on the vote to halt progress on the forensic audit looking into the questionable deals associated with the parking deck. Though certainly the circumstances and  the evidence uncovered thus far warrant a full forensic audit, it has hardly been the primary goal for the citizen watchdogs like Lori Davis who have been investigating this matter since October of last year. The main goal has always  been to make sure that the taxpayers get a better deal and a better return for its $12 million investment in the deck. This also means assuring that the city gets control of the land free and clear of all bank liens. The results from Tuesday’s meeting were a step in that direction.
The story that some in the media have been completely missing over the forensic audit is the hypocrisy of its most vocal opponents on the commission who have been complaining it is just a waste of taxpayer money, all the while these same people are more than eager to sign over a blank check to Paul Simon and Augusta Riverfront LLC in a series of bad deals that would pay for many forensic audits.
However, something rather stunning happened at Tuesday’s meeting that also seemed to go unnoticed by some in the Augusta media, particularly the folks at that struggling weekly print tabloid. In lieu of proceeding with the forensic audit, commissioner Joe Jackson made a substitute motion to forward this whole debacle over to the District Attorney and the GBI. That motion passed with an overwhelming majority. Wow. Whatever Jackson’s motivation, he is on to something here.  We have been having to go through a cumbersome and expensive process of initiating numerous government open records requests to uncover the evidence in ParkingGate.  Jackson’s move could now give government watchdogs and investigators unfettered access to the volumes of government documents that exist on these deals. Again, this is yet another win for the citizen watchdogs and taxpayers.
Commissioner Jackson also suggested that perhaps we should “open Pandora’s box” and look into the deals associated with the Laney-Walker redevelopment project. We could not agree more, and we have also been at the forefront of that investigation, initiating numerous open records requests that have revealed more waste of tax-payer dollars and possible fraud in that massive project.
These are all quite major revelations in this story, and a bit of a vindication for government watchdogs like Davis, but the narrative the folks over at that struggling weekly print tabloid have been attempting to pursue is one of ridiculing Davis over the childish behavior and disrespect shown by some  government officialsl. In particular, the writer at the tabloid mentions an incident at the Finance committee work session last Friday where Paul S Simon tried to belittle Lori Davis and us here at CityStink.net for our investigative reports into the parking deck debacle.  Simon called us the “bad press.” Well, we will gladly wear that title as a badge of honor coming from Simon.
We of course wouldn’t expect him to rave about our reporting, as we have pretty much thrown a wrench into his grand p
lans to get a lop-sided management contract for not just the parking deck but also the even more lucrative TEE Center. Mr Simon probably never expected anyone to question these deals, better yet dig deep into them with open records requests.They have become accustomed to a largely complacent local media, like the folks at the struggling weekly print tabloid, who find these matters just “too complex” to pursue. This has allowed Simon and the folks at Augusta Riverfront LLC near free reign in Augusta to get pretty much whatever they want courtesy of the taxpayers. This lead to them becoming complacent and feeling emboldened, and always looking for more. They never saw us coming.
The folks over at that struggling weekly print tabloid thought it was funny that some Augusta commissioners snickered when Paul S Simon admonished Lori Davis and us here at CityStink.net for an article we did a couple of weeks ago that showed how the management contract under consideration with Simon’s company was riddled with loopholes that had Augusta on the hook for maintenence and equipment costs  for the entire 640 space parking deck, when Simon’s company would still own and control the entire ground floor.We rightly pointed out this did not appear to be a fair deal for the city. But Simon took to the podium last Friday to complain,
You see all this stuff on these blogs that’s just wrong…they had me on a little street sweeper.” This prompted giggles from some commissioners in a scene that the weekly tabloid described as a “bunch of fraternity brothers” and according to the tabloid, this surely must have been embarrassing for that pesky Davis woman.
Notwithstanding the not-so-subtle undertones of sexism in all of this, the point that was also completely missed by the weekly tabloid is that amid all of these snickers from the good-ole-boys club, no statesman emerged to call Mr. Simon out, instead they fell over themselves to kiss his ring. Here was a man coming before them acting as though his company was doing Augusta a huge favor by allowing the city to use the Marriott brand on the $12 million parking deck the taxpayers had paid to build on his land. Simon’s company not only got a wonderful $12 million new parking deck courtesy of the taxpayers, but also a $38 million gift in a brand new convention center attached to his hotel, giving his company exclusive use of the facility. And we pay him hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for this honor. And now he was coming before the commissioners pretty much demanding that they sign off on a hideously lop-sided management contract that added more insult to injury. Talk about looking a gift horse in the mouth!
And Lori Davis should be made to feel humiliated in all of this? If anyone should feel humiliated, it’s the city leaders who have allowed themselves to be taken for such a ride. You build a $12 million parking deck on land you don’t even own, and even worse it has over $7 million worth of bank liens on it. You build a $38 million convention center without an executed CORE agreement and also on a parcel of land still owned by Paul Simon’s company. Maybe the snickers should have been directed at themselves. Surely, Paul Simon was probably saying “you suckers” under his breath.
But at the end of the week a majority of commissioners saw the bad deal for what it was and put a halt to it. Good for them. Commissioners Wayne Guilfoyle, Bill Lockett and Mayor pro-tem Joe Bowles have shown particularly outstanding leadership on this matter and should be applauded by the taxpayers. Sure, the buildings cannot be unbuilt now, but commissioners can now see to it that the taxpayers get the best return on their investment, and that has always been our primary goal from the beginning. People like Lori Davis should feel proud and the taxpayers of Augusta should thank her for her courage and perseverance in this ordeal.
And despite the ridicule from the folks at that struggling weekly print tabloid, there have been others in the local Augusta media who have provided commendable coverage of this story. Particular accolades go out to George Eskola of WJBF, Chris Thomas of WRDW, Renee DeMedicis and Doug at WNRR 1380 AM, Ben Hasan’s Urban Pro Weekly, The Metro Courier, Austin Rhodes and Scott Hudson at WGAC.
A free press is an integral part of any democracy, holding our government accountable to the people. The role of a free press is to cut past the spin and propaganda to get at the truth. This is a duty that some in the Augusta media obviously still believe in. Some though, like the folks at that struggling weekly print tabloid, seem to think it is more important to ridicule those of us who still believe in that principle. As they belittle the government watchdogs who have been breaking the big news stories over the past 8 months, perhaps it is out of frustration, as they see the writing on the wall and their role in Augusta’s media world slipping rapidly into irrelevancy. Oh and by the way, we can handle the ridicule. If we are making this many people angry in Augusta’s establishment, then we must be doing something right.***

OS

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Commission Tables Parking Deck Management Contract

June 29, 2012
Augusta, GA
By The Outsider


Augusta Commissioners wisely tabled  the latest management proposal between the city and Augusta Riverfront LLC for the $12 million taxpayer financed Reynolds Street parking deck at yesterday’s commission meeting. The nearly 100 pages of legal documents were dropped in commissioners laps at the last minute as they were coming back from a Georgia municipal conference in Savannah. Several commissioners said they needed much more time to review the documents before voting on them. At yesterday’s meeting, Commissioner Jerry Brigham, made a motion to send the documents back to a Finance Committee work session for review. His motion was seconded and easily approved.

Lori Davis, a contributor to CityStink.net, had tried to get on yesterday’s meeting agenda to speak in opposition after learning last Friday that the parking deck contract would be up for approval; however, by that time the agenda had been conveniently closed out. Davis was at yesterday’s meeting nonetheless as a citizen observer. The citizen activists from Augusta Today, like Lori Davis, must consider yesterday’s vote as a delayed victory. Mrs. Davis and Al Gray urged commissioners to reject a similar agreement back on February 7th, but Commissioners went ahead and tentatively approved the parking management agreement with the proviso that the $7 million worth of liens would be released on the property that the deck sits on and the land would be transferred to the city’s Land Bank.

But our investigations revealed that has still not happened. The liens had not been removed and 933 Broad Investment LLC (a sister company of Augusta Riverfront LLC) had not transferred the land as promised…. yet again. Commissioner Joe Bowles was particularly upset with these new revelations having these stern words for Augusta Riverfront LLC in an interview with Chris Thomas of WRDW: “If they don’t go ahead and get this straightened out,” Bowles said, “I say it’s time to go ahead and bid the parking deck back out. If we don’t hurry up and get that property donated to the land bank, I would say it’s time to scrap the deal and start over.


After Bowles’ remarks, Augusta Riverfront LLC , their lawyers from Hull Barrett, and city administrator Fred Russell went into damage control mode. The lawyers quickly cobbled together nearly 100 pages of documents for a new management contract for the parking decks, and said that there was an agreement in place with Wells Fargo to release the liens. However, upon closer inspection, Wells Fargo was actually only agreeing to a partial release of the liens, maintaining a security interest in the $12 million taxpayer financed parking deck. What that means is that if 933 Broad Investment LLC defaulted on their $7 million loan, Wells Fargo would become the operator of the deck, and would get all of the revenue from the 160 ground floor spaces.


Also, when we put the latest management agreement under the microscope, we found that the terms amounted to a blank check for Augusta Riverfront LLC with no accounting controls and a nearly unlimited revenue stream to ARLLC courtesy of Augusta taxpayers. To put it in the simplest terms: It was a BAD Deal! But it should have been no surprise that this deal was so lopsided in favor of Augusta Riverfront LLC, since it was crafted by their own attorneys from Hull Barrett. Where was city attorney Andrew Mckenzie and city-hired outside counsel Jim Plunkett in all of this looking out for the interests of the taxpayers? Why would a management agreement totally crafted by the attorneys for the other parties even be placed on the commission agenda by city administrator Fred Russell? And why was this all done in such haste giving commissioners little time to review the volumes of documents and denying the opportunity for citizens to speak out in opposition?


Cost Recovery Accounting Specialist Al Gray, who is also a contributor to CityStink.net, developed a matrix comparing the latest contract proposal with Augusta Riverfront LLC with one that Aampco Parking Systems out of Houston, TX had agreed to earlier. You can view that matrix here–> Why is the Parking Deck Contract this Rigged? There was no comparison! The Aampco agreement was far superior to the one being submitted by Augusta Riverfront LLC. So why did Fred Russell ignore this better deal and go for the one giving a “blank check”  to Augusta Riverfront LLC?


Augusta Commissioners deserve accolades for putting the brakes on this very bad management deal and sending it back to committee. Particularly we would like to recognize Commissioners Bill Lockett, Joe Bowles and Wayne Guilfoyle for showing leadership on this issue and providing assistance in our investigations.


How to Proceed
So  what happens next? Well obviously this bad contract should NOT be approved. This is not something that just needs a few tweaks.. it needs a MAJOR overhaul. Here are 3 recommendations for Augusta Commissioners on how to proceed in regard to the management of the parking decks:


1. Let ARLLC keep running the decks temporarily as they have since October 2011 with the proviso that EVERYTHING is subject to audit and use the time to cure the issues with the TEE and Decks……or

2. Use the Aampco deal as a template and swap out the deck agreements. Put in strong audit rights. Get all capital purchases to be made by Augusta.

3. *Condemn the land under the decks because Augusta needs to get out from under paying 23% of the costs, then rebid the deck management out.

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Movement on Forensic Audit; Brigham Defiant.


Augusta Commissioner Jerry Brigham

Originally posted at CityStink
Friday, Feb. 3, 2012
Augusta, GA
By The Outsider
Contributions were made to this article by Al M. Gray, 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.
There appears to be some traction on the forensic audit for the questionable land deals involved in the controversial new $12 million TEE Center Parking Deck. It was reported yesterday that the city’s procurement department has issued a request for bid proposals for the audit. That’s the first step towards choosing a forensic auditing firm and putting a price tag on the effort. The motion that the commission approved on Dec. 20, 2011 was to begin the process of looking for an auditing firm.  Once bids are submitted, commissioners would still need to approve allocating the money. And that’s where Commissioner and Finance Committee Chairman Jerry Brigham vows to fight it.
A defiant Brigham told Chris Thomas of WRDW that “people are just muddying the water with a forensic audit“. See Chris Thomas’ report with Commissioner Jerry Brigham below:
Chris Thomas’ Story
Assuming that all the controversy surrounding the parking deck is much ado about nothing, Brigham says: “Why waste $30,000 on something where there is nothing to it?
It’s interesting that Brigham is so concerned with saving money on the audit, which is peanuts when compared  to the millions of dollars that the city may have been duped out of on the parking deck and TEE Center.
Brigham’s defiance against the audit also gives the impression that he may have something to hide. If you remember, back in the fall of 2009 when the entire TEE Center project was at a stalemate over increasing funding, Brigham’s name got caught up in a scandal where local attorney David Fry attempted to bribe Commissioners Alvin Mason and Corey Johnson to switch their votes on the project to get it passed. Brigham admitted back then that he had contact with Fry and was made aware of his intentions; however, he neglected to go to the police with that information. Brigham says that at the time “I did not think that this was nothing more than talk.
Commissioners Mason and Johnson ended up contacting police over the incident and Fry was arrested on charges of attempted bribery of public officials. Allegedly, Fry was offering special management concessions to the commissioners in the TEE Center parking deck, the same one at the center of the current controversy. Some people laughed that off as ludicrous at the time; that Fry had no authority to make such an offer, but many people believe that Fry was a go-between for more powerful figures who could deliver on the promise.
And just in time as the management agreement for the parking deck goes back before the commission on Tuesday, Fry’s bribery trial will begin the day before on Monday, February 6th:  Talk about timing!
There is a March 16th deadline for bids on the forensic audit, and despite how it may appear politically for Brigham, he contends he will fight against its approval anyway. Brigham told Chris Thomas that if there is an audit on the parking deck then it should also include the Laney-Walker redevelopment. Actually, that is a good idea. The bond financing for the Laney-Walker/Bethlehem redevelopment project is inextricably tied to to the TEE Center and parking deck. However, Brigham’s suggestion seems to be more about “muddying the waters” to direct attention away from the parking deck where there is more funny smoke than inside Willy Nelson’s tour bus. And Brigham should be reminded that he opposed Commissioner Bill Lockett’s request for an omnibus forensic audit that would have covered the Laney-Walker/Bethlehem Redevelopment.
Scrutiny of the Laney-Walker project will happen in due time. In fact, we here at City Stink have already raised many questions in the past several months over the Laney-Walker Overlay District, which Brigham supported.
But as this forensic audit proceeds, commissioners must make certain that a few things  happen:
  1.  City Administrator Fred Russell should have absolutely NO involvement in the process of choosing the auditing firm to conduct the investigation. Russell is up to his eyeballs in this scandal, and there is ample evidence to suggest that he purposefully misled commissioners on multiple occasions.
  2.  The audit should include both the TEE Center Parking Deck AND The TEE Center. The stench over this   deal wafts over both sides of Reynolds Street. We already told you about parcels under the TEE Center that were supposed to be deeded to the city that never were. A forensic audit of the entire TEE Center project would likely need to occur anyway based on what is uncovered in the investigation over the deck, so why not kill two birds with one stone, instead of having to go back and pay for a separate audit on the TEE Center?
  3. The primary  criterion for selecting the forensic auditing firm should be thoroughness and not just who is the cheapest. It is imperative to choose a firm with a stellar professional reputation in investigating these sorts of cases with no connection to Augusta’s “Good-ole-Boy Network“. That means it’s likely best to go outside of Augusta.
We are hoping that Brigham is alone on the commission now in continuing to oppose the forensic audit. Commissioners Aitken, Bowles, and Jackson also voted along with Brigham in opposing the audit at the December 20th, 2011 commission meeting. But we hope that most of them have now changed their tune with all of the new information that has come out in the last two weeks and is expected to come out next week.
This is one issue where commissioners probably are going to want to be on the right side. If this thing continues to get much worse than it already has, then any commissioner who continues to oppose the progress of the investigation is going to look mighty foolish and suspect in the eyes of the public.***

Stay tuned, more to come.

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Austin Rhodes’ Challenge: Hire a Lawyer!

Augusta afternoon radio personality Austin Rhodes

Originally Posted By CityStink
Thursday, Feb. 2, 2012
Augusta, GA
By The Outsider
Contributions were made to this article by Al M. Gray, 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.
Austin Rhodes started his radio program off yesterday by issuing a challenge to the members of the citizens local government watchdog group on Facebook called Augusta Today: Hire a lawyer! It’s not because that Augusta Today is in any sort of legal trouble, but rather Rhodes contends that ultimately it will take legal action for the citizens activist group to get real action on their goals of government reform at  the Marble Palace.
Augusta’s government is kind of like  a meth addict. Their behavior is often highly inappropriate, but  they don’t think they have a problem. They’ve been doing  things this way for so long that to them it’s just the normal way of operating. In addiction psychology, that’s known as DENIAL. You can’t just politely ask them to change their ways. Sometimes there has to be an INTERVENTION. And that’s where the lawyers come in. So far, members of Augusta Today have been presenting the evidence of the bad deal the city got suckered into over the TEE Center and Parking deck hoping that commissioners would “see the light,” and change course. But over the course of the 13 weeks since we broke the ParkingGate scandal, there’s been very little action from the commission. In fact, some of them have even tried to marginalize members of Augusta Today as just grumpy gadflies.
On December 20th, 2011 six commissioners did finally approve a forensic audit to examine any possible improprieties involved in land transactions involved in the TEE Center  Parking Deck, but since then there has been no further action on the audit and now at least a couple of commissioners are trying to torpedo it. But members of Augusta Today press on, believing that in the end they will be vindicated because the facts are on their side.
Legal counsel could be helpful to the group though, and it is an idea that has been discussed before.. even at the very beginning of its formation..which evolved out of ACAVE.  Citizen activists can make a lot of noise, get information out there before the public by getting the media involved; they can pack commission meetings, call commissioners, write letters and emails, send letters to the editors, request public records and even start their own political  news blog! But in the end the decisions are in the hands of the elected officials, and in the case of Augusta, the politicians have been in denial for so long that they often just ignore the public they are supposed to serve.. no matter how valid their arguments are or how loudly they make them.
Enter the lawyers. Legal counsel has the power of the courts at their disposal to force the commission’s hand, just like a court can order a repeat drug offender into rehab. It’s called a Writ of mandamus. It’s when a court forces a lower court or government officer to perform a duty. In the case of ParkingGate, it could be forcing the commission to move forward with the forensic audit……they did vote to approve it after all. A writ of mandamus could also possibly be used to force a public referendum on any new ballpark.. that some elected officials are doing their darndest to get around.
But some of you may say: “But Woody Merry and his group filed lawsuits against the city all of the time and that got no where.”
True. But Woody Merry would usually file a lawsuit about any and everything and he often didn’t have the evidence to back up his claims. That’s  counterproductive and in the end just costs the taxpayers more in legal fees.
Augusta Today is different; they do their homework. They’ve done exhaustive research on the parking deck and TEE Center, as well as the Laney-Walker/Bethlehem redevelopment overlay, submitting open records requests for hundreds of pages of public records. And that doesn’t come cheap. Individual members  have dug into their own pockets shelling out hundreds of dollars to get these records. Another appeal of retaining legal counsel would be that it would cover obtaining most of the necessary legal documents and public records to move forward on a particular project. It’s like killing two birds with one stone.
But lawyers don’t come cheap. And the one that Austin Rhodes is recommending, Robert Mullins, won’t likely work for peanuts. Mullins has a successful track record suing the city. In 2009 Mullins sued the city on behalf of the Association for Fair Government to force the city to release public records.  That suit involved the release of public records over construction bids that the city’s procurement department kept stonewalling  over. In the end, Mullins prevailed.
Mullins won a settlement from the city on behalf of Thomson Wrecking Company for a sum in excess of $200,000  in July of 2011 over claims that the city’s procurement department violated a 2007 order regarding the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Program.
The upper echelon of Augusta Today tell City Stink that they are taking a serious look at Robert Mullins and his track record. But first the group has to raise the money. Austin Rhodes quickly pledged $100 to the effort on the air yesterday. Then former Augusta Commissioner Andy Cheek called in and pledged $100 of his own. Members of Augusta Today are telling us that work is being done now to file the right paperwork so that they can form a legal fund and begin taking donations and start the process of retaining an attorney.
Once that happens the group will add a donation button to their Facebook page. We will also add it to CityStink.net as well. Stay tuned.***
UPDATE: We just learned that the city’s procurement department has begun the process of issuing requests for proposals from forensic auditing firms.

Fred Russell is Running Out of Excuses

Originally posted by CityStink
Friday, Jan. 27, 2012
Augusta, GA
Commentary
By The Outsider
Contributions were made to this article by Al M. Gray, 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.
Just how many more major screw-ups from Fred Russell will Augusta Commissioners tolerate?  Well it doesn’t get much bigger than the total clustermuck over the TEE Center Parking Deck. As we told you with our breaking news story yesterday: TEE Center Parking Deck Air Rights Gone With The Wind!, not only does the city not own the land under the deck, but that land has liens on it held by Wells Fargo Bank (formerly Wachovia) for use as collateral on a loan for over $ 7 million to Augusta Riverfront LLC, the same entity seeking the management contract for the deck and the TEE Center.  That not only puts the city at a huge disadvantage in the negotiations over the management contract, but it also appears to leave taxpayers at risk of losing their $12 million dollar asset if Augusta Riverfront LLC defaults on their loan. That’s a position the city should have never been put in.
But that’s exactly where we are. And what’s Fred’s response? Well this is what he told George Eskola of WJBF yesterday:
“We’ve got lawyers, we got bond attorneys, we’ve got everybody who’s charted around, thinking this is safely where we need to be. at the end of the day and people on the sidelines are having issues,”
Oh really? I suppose the “people on the sidelines” Russell is referring to are the citizen activists like Lori Davis, members of Augusta Today and City Stink who exposed this new bombshell. And we have to wonder if this news would have ever come out if not for the tenacity of  these citizen activists. It appears that commissioners were completely surprised by these revelations. Mayor Pro-tem Joe Bowles said in George Eskola’s report:
“We didn’t know that, of course, and that’s something we just got information on. I’m waiting for clarification from our attorneys. If we built a building on property that, you know, secured debt for somebody, I do have a serious issue with that.”
We are glad that the Mayor Pro-tem is taking this issue seriously, but he and other commissioners and the Mayor should be more than just concerned, they should be downright outraged. It seems that the more layers of the TEE Center/Parking deck onion you peel away the more rotten it gets. And it appears that commissioners have been left in the dark through the entire process. And who’s job is it to keep commissioners in the loop? City administrator Fred Russell.
Russell knew about the liens, but neglected to tell commissioners. But Russell also told commissioners the land would be donated for the deck, but neglected to inform them again when that changed to only “air rights.” How can commissioners continue to have confidence in a city administrator who consistently leaves them in the dark on some of the most important and expensive issues facing the city?
And it’s not like this is the first time. Russell cost the taxpayers hundreds of thousands more than it should have cost to terminate incompetent employees because he did not keep accurate records of their true job performance and then he negotiated their very generous golden parachutes. When commissioners gave Russell more authority over personnel matters, he took that as an opportunity to award generous raises to over 40 select employees, when commissioners were looking for more cuts to balance the budget. We could take up an entire column on previous Russell screw-ups, but we will leave that for another time.
Now Russell is saying that the issue of the bank liens on the property where the $12 million parking deck sits is just a matter of some “loose ends” that need to be tied up by “the lawyers.” Oh really? Well shouldn’t all of these “loose ends” had been taken care of before the city built a $12 million parking deck with taxpayer’s money on land it doesn’t even own that has liens against it? Who would build a house on someone else’s property that had bank liens against it? You don’t need a degree in finance to understand the stupidity of these actions. And Russell’s excuses just aren’t adding up.
And what about those lawyers? Russell is not the only one to blame here. Commissioners should also have some serious questions for attorney Jim Plunkett, who handled most of the legal transactions and bond financing for the city over the TEE Center, the parking deck, and the Laney-Walker/Bethlehem Redevelopment. Surely Plunkett knew about the liens, so  why did he not take care of clearing up those “loose ends”  before the city started up the bulldozers on the construction of  the $12 million parking deck? Why were the bonds issued before the liens and other ownership issues were taken care of? And should we expect any similar surprises over the transactions involving the Laney-Walker/Bethlehem redevelopment with its bond financing inextricably tied to the TEE Center/parking deck?
Plunkett has a long relationship with the city in handling legal matters involving these public-private partnership real-estate ventures. Records show that the city paid the Sherman, Plunkett and Hamilton firm $577,538 for outside legal work last year. According to a Jan. 8, 2012 Augusta Chronicle article by Susan McCord, “Jim Plunkett specializes in economic development legal work, such as the public-private partnerships between Augusta and operators of the Trade, Exhibit and Event Center and the Laney-Walker and Bethlehem redevelopment project.”
But in this case it appears it was the private interests being protected and the public’s interest was being put at great financial risk. We have to wonder if this is the first time something like this has happened regarding one of these Public-Private Partnership real-estate developments, or is it just the first time it has been exposed? Perhaps that’s something for investigative journalists to look into.
But now the ball is in the commissioners’ court. How will they proceed  over the management agreement with Augusta Riverfront LLC with these  revelations? And how will they deal with this latest Fred Russell screw-up? And what about that forensic audit that commissioners approved back in December to look into irregularities over the land deals involved in the TEE Center Parking deck? Should that not be expanded to included the entire TEE Center and the Laney-Walker redevelopment? And why would commissioners trust Fred Russell to help choose the auditing firm to essentially investigate him? And can commissioners now truly trust Russell to negotiate a deal over a proposed downtown ballpark with Ripken Baseball in the best interest of the taxpayers? Maybe it’s time for commissioners to rescind that vote on tasking Fred Russell to develop a creative financing package for that ballpark. Can they really trust Russell with handling another multi-million dollar development after this?
Ok, commissioners, it’s up to you now. It’s time to stop dragging your feet on the forensic audit. And it’s time for you to honestly reevaluate the confidence you have placed in city administrator Fred Russell. Oh and we’re still waiting to see some leadership from Mayor Deke Copenhaver on this issue. Time is running out and the public is watching.***

Stay Tuned. More is to come on this issue.