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. Cost Recovery Works is no longer in business, as of December 31, 2020.

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.” (Editor’s Note: Full article no longer available online.)

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 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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