Comments of Al M. Gray to the Augusta Commission
Equal Protection, Equal Accountability
March 1, 2016
Mayor Davis, lady and gentlemen of the commission, thank you for the opportunity to speak today.
The baseball great Yogi Berra once said, “If you come to a fork in the road, take it,” but after its last two meetings perhaps this body should stop, back up and try another fork before the wheels come off of Augusta’s government like one of those KME firetrucks. Citizens, officials, and observers far and wide have been taken aback by votes to remedy a pay-increase scandal which represents a horrendous breach of Constitutional equal protection for the one employee, and the simultaneous dismissal of equal accountability for three others, who arguably had more responsibility.
The vote, and particularly the commentary during the last commission meeting, filled me and most observers with dismay, not just because of the ugly tone, but because the transparency so loudly promised during the SPLOST campaign is obviously dead. A citizenry who saw its garbage collection service cut in half now sees, yet again, tomfoolery to shift money between accounts to cover benefits to the downtown. They see the time-consuming machinations this administration has undertaken to do it during a time in which new SPLOST controls were supposedly a priority.
The biggest scandal in Augusta history – the financially ruinous TEE Center/Laney Walker Development deal – wasted more $tens of millions than a convention of con artists could dream up. The principle TEE contract required extensive records to be kept until the year 2020, yet neither side of the ugliness of the last 2 weeks wants to empower Augusta by learning from its mistakes there. One faction wouldn’t want it out during the state Republican Party Convention at the Convention Center out of fear of embarrassing party officials and the city. The other seems to want to maintain the sloppiness to get tens of millions more in loot with assertions of, “it’s our turn, now”, or, “we are getting our share.”
Politicians like to create a façade of controls to hide the looting, but not controls to stop the looting. With the TEE Center, Augusta wound up with the daisy chain of “expert” controllers, costing a combined $1250 per hour, who controlled almost nothing and rubberstamped nearly everything. The powerfully-written construction management contract that Augusta won was turned into mush at their hands. Why?
Another Yogism by Berra– “It is Déjà vu all over again” – fits my 40 year odyssey out of Augusta, back, and now into this chamber. The mid 1970’s found me at the Labor Department in Augusta working to administer the old 13 county CETA employment programs. Fury erupted among the mostly black program management in Augusta that Columbia County had preselected an overwhelmingly white contingent of ineligible folks, but then came the embarrassing find that Augusta’s enrollees were mostly black ineligible folks.
A poor, blind, black woman with a young lad in tow came into the Program Director’s office to see the Reverend F. Francis Cook. “This is my grandson, Jonathan, who sees about me, the best he can, but he needs one of those CETA jobs you all are handing out,” she said. Deputy Director Cook was in tears. There were no jobs left for the eligible and deserving grandson. He got crowded out by black politics. F. Francis Cook made sure we quit running a program for cronies, to make room for his people and for ALL people.
Yes, you can use the system perfected by the last administration to loot the people and discriminatingly spread $millions, but, “They did it, and we are, too!” makes a twisted concept of equal protection, while hurting the wrong people -people in your community.
What happened over the last two weeks destroyed confidence that this commission desires the promised transparency and reform. Choose another fork, one of real reform; this one is a dead end for Augusta.
Here is the video