Tuesday, June 19, 2012
By Lori Davis
The Forensic Audit Sub Committee chaired by Commissioner Bill Lockett met today for the second time, to discuss the scope of work necessary for launching a Forensic Audit concerning the Tee Center Parking Deck. As previously discussed in this committee, the first RFP (Request for Proposals), was released for bid with a scope of work that was far too broad. Firms who showed an interest in bidding on the audit were asking for more clarification and direction.
It seems that forensic audits can become quite pricey when looking for criminal wrong doing. As I left this meeting today, I knew I had to tell what took place. The only media present were two regular writers for the Augusta Chronicle; Susan McCord and Sylvia Cooper. As I rode down the elevator with Mrs. Cooper, we exchanged pleasantries and talked about what had taken place in the meeting. I said to her,” I have got to get an article out for City Stink on this… You do know that we named our blog in your honor.” She acknowledged that she knew that, and said to me,”Your job will be easy.” I said, “I know it will, because I will be able to write exactly what happened in that room.” We left it at that. Here is what happened:
Commissioner Lockett called the meeting to order and began to lay out his reasoning, a second time, for the need of a forensic audit. As he began his remarks, he talked about the fact that a good portion of the scope of the work in question had already been done by a group called, Augusta Today, and through a blog called, CityStink.net. He went on to say that this citizen’s group had given of their own time, and spent their own money to ask for documents in open records requests, to uncover the truth associated with the Tee Center parking deck. He revealed that the articles published by City Stink were all well researched and had supporting documents to accompany them. He presented to the group four such articles in the form of,”links,” for review. The CityStink.net articles he referenced were the following:
- TEE Center and Parking Deck: A Grand Deception?
- Liening on a Stacked Deck
- Exclusive: Fred Wrestles, Augusta Gets Decked
- Exclusive: Augusta’s $714,357 “Incidental” Cost
Committee members agreed to look at the articles researched and written by the,” citizen’s group“, without discussion…. The first shocking moment of the meeting!! I expected there to be some objection from General Counsel…. “Can’t believe those citizens“….. Maybe just the name,”City Stink,” was beginning to get some respect. I began to listen closer.
Commissioner Lockett brought back up the fact that they had been told that all of the land under the parking deck would be donated. He questioned the way in which property was acquired under the parking deck, with some being purchased by the city and other parcels remaining with Augusta Riverfront LLC. Seems that a parcel owned by State Senator Bill Jackson (The old gas station at 9th and Reynolds) had been traded for property at 13th and Reynolds adjoining Mr. Jackson’s tile business. Why was it important to make this deal, but not with any of the rest of the parcels? Another good question that brought Commissioner Guilfoyle, a new committee member, out of hibernation. He couldn’t understand why we all just didn’t believe Senator Jackson’s son, as he explained on the Austin Rhode’s Show, exactly what the truth was concerning this property trade, when it was uncovered by members of Augusta Today.
Commissioner Lockett was quick to respond that all associated property could have been condemned and taken for city use. Commissioner Guilfoyle responded,”I believe this would have been a tough process.” Touche….. In any event, the land under the tax payer funded parking deck still has a 6 million dollar lien on it. There is no disputing that fact. Also, the plan on the table is to turn the land under the deck, over to the land bank, let Augusta Riverfront LLC (Billy Morris and Paul Simon) own the bottom floor parking spaces and the tax payers get the air rights. General Counsel Andrew MacKenzieresponded with a blank stare. Not one comment from committee members either. I believe Jim Plunkett, outside Counsel for the city called this,”Complicated.“
Finally, After much discussion, Commissioner Lockett revealed the following items that he believed would be a narrow enough scope to put in an RFP to get to the bottom of all of this . They are as follows:
*Obtain and review the CORE and management agreements for the Reynolds Street Parking Deck RSPD and the Tee Center Parking decks. Identify controls deficiencies, if any, that might arise by having different agreements with potential cost-shifting exposures.
*Obtain and review lien documents filed against ARLLC or 933 Broad LLC properties situate under the RSPD and ascertain that the parcels can be transferred free of said liens to the City.
*Evaluate and determine whether City management and contracted legal counsel acted properly in allowing the RSPD to be constructed without executed agreements between the parties.
*Obtain and evaluate parking deck management Requests for Quotation covering subject parking decks, if any exist, to determine whether ARLLC or 933 Broad LLC ownership of underlying properties and subsequent ownership of ground floor parking spaces were disclosed to bidders and whether bids were properly solicited, received, and evaluated.
*If there were alternative bids taken, determine whether the combined RSPD and Tee Center deck agreements allow costs materially in excess of those bids.
*Evaluate whether contracting out the operation of the RSPD to an operator not related to ARLLC or 933 Broad LLC would have been practical or will be be practical in the future given the relationships between the parties.
*Obtain CORE and management agreements to evaluate whether there are adequate controls in place to protect the City’s interests and finances from waste, abuse, fraud, or mismanagement by the Manager, including extensive rights of audit allowing continuous capabilities to audit these agreements.
As committee members began to cast their votes in approval of the new scope, Commissioner Guilfoyle took exception with the way the consolidated government has operated, revisiting the Grand Jury investigation of 1996 into city government. Recommendations were made to the Commissioners of what needed to be done to rectify the problems that were uncovered.
Guilfoyle commented that nothing ever happened. Commissioner Lockett countered,”Someone has put us in this predicament right now that we are in, and it is up to us to make the necessary changes when we know what is required. This is what our citizens expect, and this is what we will have to do.”
We at Augusta Today and City Stink will continue to pay attention to all that goes on with this forensic audit and all that will go uncovered by the local media. We are getting somewhere, and it feels good!***
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