Morris Communications has a new online venture it has branded as ROAR.us, but its three year case of lockjaw over the scandal-wracked TEE Center and Parking Decks doesn’t show any sign of soon loosening into ear shattering howls.
Morris wasn’t so quiet in the run up to approval of the $50 million boondoggle. In fact, it published a piece stating that the land its affiliate owned was to be deeded over to the city. It published guest columns from Convention and Bureau Chairman Barry White, saying that the Morris affiliate would donate $1 million of land and cover costs over the $350,000 funded by the hotel/motel tax, and another from the CVB’s Abram Serotta promising that the funding would be covered by the hotel/motel tax.
The noisy cheerleading promising no cost to the taxpayer over the $350,000 motel tax support is one bookend. The other bookend came in late 2012, when the Augusta Commission admitted that the operating costs could drain nearly $900,000 from the property tax supported general fund. The losses narrowed to $535,000 after the books for 2013 were closed, but did not receive rigorous questioning from a pliant Augusta Commission.
Between the bookends came a bribery trial arising from the Convention Center parking deck agreement, revelations that the land promised for donation for the parking deck by the Morris affiliate had $7 million in liens on it, the shocker that Augusta had bought $2 million of kitchen equipment that was the Morris affiliate’s responsibility, the stalemate of the management agreement that provided no accounting control over commingled food and beverages, commingled electrical costs that were supposed to be separately metered, and other snafus got virtually no attention from the Augusta Chronicle. (Dare we now call it the Augusta Scamical?) other than meek postscripts noting that there are “ties” between the Morris affiliate Augusta Riverfront, LLC and the Chronicle.
The Basenji breed of dog is bark-less because its voice box is muted. The Morris’ Augusta Chronicle and sister publications have been reported to be muted by senior management by the best of all sources – their ex-employees.
The attention given to Augusta’s General Fund during the month of August revived attention to the Morris caper and the surprise reversal of assurances that no general funds would be touched by the Convention Center Operations. The public was roaring its anger in the Commission Chamber on August 28, but the sound from Morris Communications sounded more like a basenji’s muffled, whiny grunt from a corner of that empty taxpayer-money-hemorrhaging parking deck on Reynolds Street.