Citizens Urged to Pack Tomorrow’s Commission Meeting

Originally posted by CityStink
Monday, Feb. 6, 2012
Augusta, GA
By Al Gray

The author, Al M. Gray, was 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.

UPDATE: Exclusive video from the Feb 7 Augusta Commission Meeting.

All concerned citizens of Augusta and surrounding counties are urged to pack tomorrow’s Augusta commission meeting at 5pm. On the agenda is a motion to approve a 15 year management contract with Augusta Riverfront, LLC for the controversial TEE Center parking deck. We urge citizens to call or write their commissioners and ask them to vote NO! And we urge citizens to be present at tomorrow’s commission meeting to show commissioners that you demand accountability. Over the past 4 months we have revealed evidence showing that commissioners were mislead by City Administrator Fred Russell. When the TEE Center and parking deck were approved back on Dec. 9, 2009, Russell explicitly told them not once, but several times that the land for the parking deck would be donated by 933 Broad Investment, LLC, a subsidiary of Augusta Riverfront, LLC, which has connections to William S Morris III, publisher of The Augusta Chronicle. It never was, and commissioners were never told until after they built a $12 million parking deck on land they did not even own.

But making matters worse, we discovered that the property has liens on it as collateral for over $7,000,000 in debt! That includes the city’s air rights! The city administrator knew this all along as well as the real estate attorney hired by the city to facilitate the deals involved in the deck, but they never bothered to tell the commissioners! Now commissioners are being told that they must approve a very lop-sided deal to have the air rights released by the bank. They have been put in a box. It is clearly evident that there was gross malfeasance and downright deceit involved in this parking deck deal. Will commissioners just try and sweep it under the rug tomorrow by approving this very bad deal? That’s up to you. Don’t let them get away with it. This is your money and they have proven that they cannot be trusted with it.  That’s why your presence at tomorrow’s meeting is so important. The other side will try and spin this with more propaganda and more deceit (We have seen that today). Do not be fooled! Tell commissioners that they work for you, not the crony robber barons who have swindled and deceived them and the taxpayers. It is time once and for all to put an end to this madness!

Lori Davis and Al Gray are on the agenda to speak at tomorrow’s commission meeting, representing the citizens activist group Augusta Today. They will make the case on behalf of the citizens as to why this bad deal should be defeated. But they need your support and your presence at the meeting will speak loud and clear. And even if you are not a resident of the city of Augusta, this still affects you. The TEE Center and parking deck were partially paid for through sales taxes, so you helped pay for this mess! So even if you live in Evans, North Augusta, Lincolnton, or Wrens, but spend money in Augusta… you are also urged to attend.

The meeting gets promptly under way at 5:00 pm tomorrow (Tuesday), February 7th at the Municipal Building (Marble Palace) at 530 Greene St, Augusta GA 30901 in the Commission chambers on the 8th floor. You are encouraged to arrive early if you want a seat inside the chambers. will be releasing more information regarding the TEE Center and Parking Deck Today at 2:30pm, so stay tuned.

Please see new information we uncovered here—-> Parking Gate: A Grand Deception?

In addition to your attendance, please call or write the following Augusta Commissioners to vote NO to this bad deal and stand on the side of the people.

Commissioner Jerry Brigham
District 7
Ph: (706) 863-1698 (home)
Ph: (706) 650-1700 (work)
Fx: (706) 650-1141

Commissioner Joe Jackson
District 6
Ph: (706) 533-7839 (home)
Fx: (706) 821-1838

Commissioner Matt Aitken
District 1
Ph: (706) 724-4377 (home)
Ph: (706) 564-6281 (cell)
Fx: (706) 821-1838

Commissioner Joe Bowles
District 3
Ph: (706) 733-9074 (home)
Ph: (706) 825-6894 (work)
Fx: (706) 210-1871

Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle
District 8
Ph: (706) 592-2385 (home)
Ph: (706) 796-3444 (work)
Fx: (706) 821-1838

Commissioner Grady Smith
Super District 10
Ph: (706) 825-9473 (cell)
Ph: (706) 733-9473 (work)
Fx: (706) 821-1838
No email available

Commissioner Alvin Mason
Dist 4
Ph: (706) 955-6130
Fx: (706) 821-1838

Commissioner J.R. Hatney
Super District. 9
Ph: (706) 722-5035 (home)
Ph: (706) 726-8186 (cell)
Fx: (706) 821-1838

Commissioner Corey Johnson
Dist. 2
Ph: (706) 736-4435 (home)
Ph: (706) 993-0224 (cell)
Fx: (706) 821-1838

Commissioner Bill Lockett
Dist. 5
Ph: (706) 798-7175 (home)
Ph: (706) 825-1847 (cell)
Fx: (706) 821-1838

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.

Related Story

Breaking News!: Committee Fails to Pass Parking Deck Agreement

Originally posted on CityStink
Mon. Jan. 30, 2012
Augusta, GA

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.

!Breaking News!

This just in. The revised management agreement for the new $12 million Reynolds Street Parking Deck has failed to win approval in committee. In a 2-2 tie vote, the motion to send the deck agreement to the full commission with committee recommendation failed by default. Committee members Jerry Brigham and Wayne Guilfoyle voted in favor of sending the deck management agreement forward without a recommendation. Commissioners Alvin Mason and William Lockett were opposed. It takes at least 3 votes to pass a motion. Ties cannot be broken in committee and thus the motion fails by default.

This vote comes amid a new controversy that City Stink broke last week revealing that there are liens on the property under the deck held by Wells Fargo Bank (formerly Wachovia) as collateral for a loan to prospective deck operator Augusta Riverfront, LLC for more than $7,000,000.

Commissioner Bill Lockett wanted to hold off on the vote altogether to proceed with the management agreement until after a forensic audit of the land transactions and financing of the parking deck is completed. Brigham asked if the forensic audit was germane to the discussion over the management agreement. General counsel Andrew McKenzie said that it was.

Lockett’s motion to delay the agreement pending the outcome of the forensic audit failed 2-2 with Guilfoyle and Brigham opposed.

The attorney who handled most of the legal transactions for the city over the parking deck, Jim Plunkett, was in the hot seat at today’s committee meeting. As we told you last Friday, commissioners were never told about the liens by Plunkett or city administrator Fred Russell, nor were they told that a parcel under the TEE Center itself was never deeded over to the city by Augusta Riverfront, LLC as it was promised on multiple occasions. That took most commissioners by complete surprise. Some commissioners were calling for Plunkett to be removed as the attorney overseeing the project on behalf of the city. That sparked Fred Russell to jump to Plunkett’s defense. Committee chairman Jerry Brigham shouted over everyone that he had heard enough.

Attorney Jim Plunkett told commissioners that he had an agreement from Wachovia (now Wells Fargo) for release from the liens prior to construction of the deck. Plunkett also told commissioners that easements could not be established until after construction of the deck was completed. From the expressions on the faces of commissioners and others in the chambers, it was obvious not many people were buying that line. Bill Lockett asked about the timing and the release of information and why commissioners were consistently left out of the loop.

Commissioner Lockett told Plunkett, “This body has been misled over and over…”

Commissioner Aitken, who is not on the committee but was present in the chambers for other business, urged committee members to forward the parking deck on to the full commission for approval saying that he was proud that Augusta Riverfront, LLC gave things up in the new agreement. But the revised agreement only had minor tweaks and did not address deeding the land to the city as commissioners were originally told it would be at the Dec. 9th, 2009 commission meeting where the TEE Center and deck were approved.

Aitken said, “Sometimes when votes are cast we have to deal with it and move forward.

But for now, the management agreement is stalled until commissioners get more information. But the city finds itself in a real pickle. According to Jim Plunkett, an agreement between the city and Augusta Riverfront, LLC must occur before the air rights will be released.

Now the big question is: What happens next?

Bowles was absent from the committee meetings today. His position on the matter is crucial. Now the agreement moves on to the full commission next week without any action or recommendation from the committee. All eyes will be watching Bowles. He could be the wild card in all of this.
Stay tuned, we will bring you more updates.***

Deeds and Misdeeds: A “Chronicle” of Promises to Donate Land for TEE Center/Parking Deck

“Donate the land? We were only joking!”

Originally posted on CityStink
Monday, Jan. 30, 2012
Augusta, GA
By Al Gray

The Author, Al M. Gray, was 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.

As the Augusta Commission wrangles over terms for the management contract  with Augusta Riverfront, LLC over the new $12 million Reynolds Street Parking Deck and the TEE Center still under construction, we must be reminded that this is not the first time this massive project has hit roadblocks and been mired in controversy. In fact, this has been an ongoing saga for more than six years, since voters approved $20,000,000 in SPLOST funds for a Trade and Exhibit Center on the Fall General Election ballot in 2005.

Dirty Deeds Not Done Cheap: A Time Line

As we told you in our breaking news story last Thursday: TEE Center Parking Deck Air Rights Gone With The Wind, not only was the land under the parking deck never deeded over to the city by 933 Broad Investment, LLC (as commissioners were told it would be), but we also discovered liens on the property held by Wells Fargo Bank (formerly Wachovia) as collateral for a loan to Augusta Riverfront, LLC, totaling over $7,000,000! But we also found out that Augusta Riverfront, LLC also still retains ownership of a parcel under the TEE Center itself across the street that was supposed to be deeded to the city.

Since Augusta Riverfront, LLC  is ultimately headed by Augusta Chronicle publisher William (Billy) S. Morris III, it seems only fitting to turn to his paper to help fill in the paper trail on the true story behind the land deeds.

We found a Chronicle story from January 13, 2007 by staff writer Laura Youngs (Editor’s Note: the article is no longer available online.) At that time, a TEE Center task force had just finished negotiating a revised operating agreement with Augusta Riverfront, LLC for the TEE Center and recommended the facility be built on land adjacent to the Augusta Marriot Hotel and Suites owned by Augusta Riverfront, LLC. Under the agreement then, Augusta Riverfront, LLC had, AGREED TO DEED THEIR LAND over to the city for the TEE Center.”

Deeding the land was viewed by some commissioners at the time as a quid pro quo for the generous operating agreement that had the city paying Augusta Riverfront, LLC $350,000 a year for operating expenses and capital improvement costs for running the center, in addition to it being connected to their hotel. The TEE Center was being built entirely with public money.

But commissioners continued to balk at the operating agreement as being too lopsided in favor of the interests of Augusta Riverfront, LLC, with taxpayers assuming most of the financial risk. So it stalled again.

Fast forward to July of that same year. Now we find  a July 8th, 2007 guest column in The Chronicle penned by Augusta Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) Barry White and CVB President and CEO Phil Wahl. They both sing the praises of Augusta Riverfront, LLC and their generous offer to donate their riverfront land for the facility, writing, “Not only does Augusta Riverfront, LLC bring proven expertise, it has offered to donate to the city downtown real estate valued at an estimated $1 million. The LLC also will pay annual center operating expenses over $250,000 and capital improvements over $100,000 a year.”

Donation of the land was one of the major selling points to commissioners for locating the TEE Center next to the Augusta Riverfront, LLC owned Augusta Marriot Hotel & Suites and awarding them the operations contract.

Now fast forward to 2009. The TEE Center project is still stalled because now it is learned that the facility will cost nearly double the $20,000,000 voters had approved in the 2005 SPLOST. That news had many people rethinking the whole deal altogether and even suggesting alternatives, such as renovating existing facilities to use  with the initial amount from the SPLOST. Former Augusta Mayor Bob Young penned a guest column that appeared in The Chronicle on September 27, 2009 (Editor’s Note: article is no longer available online) that suggested the James Brown Arena could be expanded and essentially function as a TEE Center at a significantly lower cost than building a new facility. Also, the city already had a management contract with Global Spectrum to operate the arena and this could cover the TEE functions as well, instead of entering into a separate contract with Augusta Riverfront, LLC for a new facility on the riverfront.

A rebuttal to the former Mayor’s column appeared a week later in The Chronicle from former Augusta CVB treasurer and chairman Abram Serotta, telling us that the “TEE project MUST be ok’d. Mr Serotta once again brings up the issue of land ownership at the Reynolds Street site, writing, “Land purchases have been negotiated and, in total, the city has invested more than half-a-million dollars in the project to date.

Bad Investment

But some critics were trying to tell us that spending  money on a TEE Center was just simply a bad investment, period. Commissioner Betty Beard had made a motion in September 2009 to see what it would cost to bring Dr Heywood Sanders, a professor in the College of Public Policy at the University of Texas-San Antonio to Augusta to rebut claims being made by Barry White of The CVB and others that a TEE Center would be an economic boon. Dr. Sanders authored the 2005 Brookings Institution study: Space Available: The Realities of Convention Centers as Economic Development Strategy, which debunks many of the myths about convention centers being significant economic stimulators.

In a Sept. 16, 2009 Augusta Chronicle article by Johnny Edwards, it is stated that, “Dr. Sanders said cities throughout the country are losing money on trade centers and, desperate to book events, are offering discounts and incentives that make competition even stiffer.”

In the end, Dr. Sanders was never consulted by the Commission and the TEE Center and a new parking deck were approved on Dec. 9, 2009.

In a Dec. 10, 2011 Chronicle article by La Tina Emerson we learned that the CVB is having difficulties with booking conventions for the facility still under construction.

Commissioners Ask Questions About Land Ownership

Commissioners were told repeatedly by Fred Russell at that Dec. 9th 2009 commission meeting that land parcels for the parking deck and for the TEE Center itself owned by Augusta Riverfront, LLC would be donated to the city. Commissioner JR Hatney brought the issue up and asked for clarification from Fred Russell. Below are excerpts from the minutes of that meeting.

Hatney: The other question I would ask to our Administrator I remember when we talked about the parking deck before. We were not so warm on that issue and the volume was $500,000 and you’ve come back and you said you were going come back with a lower scale because it would be more cost effective to go ahead and do that then to I believe pay a $1.1 million or something like that on I guess the lease or rent or whatever you do and still that eventually buy the property. You said this property’s going to be given? Talk to me.”


Russell: I need the map. There we go.  If you look at the round area up there, there if you look at that brown area would be the area that we’re looking at for the building the parking deck. And then if you look at the two areas that are not being donated, one of which belongs to the radio station which is a, sorry about that. That’s where the hotdog stand is. That’s owned by a private individual. The other part of the place is owned by WAGT Television. The balance of that is owned by Riverfront Development and that’s the property that’s going to be donated.”


and later on in the minutes….

Hatney: “About donating the site, about donating? Did we check with them yet on the possibilities?”

 Russell:   “They’ve agreed to donate the property.

Commissioner Betty Beard had earlier raised questions about land ownership at a July 7th, 2009 commission meeting with Fred Russell.

At this meeting Fred Russell was referencing a map outlining the various land parcels that the city would need to acquire or would be donated for the parking deck and TEE Center:

Russell: “I haven’t finalized anything waiting for your approval but I’m getting very close to giving you the final documents on all three if not the schematic designs, the land acquisition and the operating agreements. Land acquisition, the green part is the park for the TEE Center. The area in black is owned by the Riverfront Development Corporation or some subsidy there is, there are. They will be donating that property towards the completion of the TEE Center. The other two pieces of property in negotiation are the Lock Shop and the warehouse building on the corner.

The green part that Russell is referring to on the map is a parcel under where the TEE Center would be built that Augusta Riverfront, LLC had agreed to deed over to the city, as we told you earlier in the Chronicle paper trail. And as we told you last week, Augusta Riverfront, LLC still owns that parcel. It was never deeded to the city as promised.

Betty Beard asks for clarification about this parcel at the July 7, 2009 meeting:

Ms. Beard: — what are they donating again?

Mr. Russell: The area in the black is the property that they own.

Ms. Beard: In the black?

Mr. Russell: The little black square up there, green, I’m sorry.

Mr. Mayor: Outlined in black.

Ms. Beard: Oh across the street.

Mr. Russell: That’s the location of the TEE Center itself.


And later in the minutes Betty Beard had the foresight to bring up the issue of  the significance of Air Rights regarding the parking deck:

Ms. Beard: In one part of the information it said air rights would be donated.

Mr. Russell: I’d like to talk about that a little bit later. That gets into the parking issue and there’s a couple items we’ve got there that we need to talk about if you don’t mind.

Ms. Beard: Well, what about the Trade Center itself?

Mr. Russell: That’s the green property.

Ms. Beard: I mean the air rights.

Mr. Russell: We build a building there. The air rights would not be significant. It would be part of the building itself.

Ms. Beard: I don’t know why people say they are not significant. Okay. 

Betty Beard was right. The issue of air rights are extremely significant, as we now know  that is all the city ended up with for the parking deck as the land was never donated by Augusta Riverfront, LLC. And the green parcel across the street under the TEE Center that Beard references was also never deeded to the city. So what about the air rights over there for the TEE Center?

Today the Augusta Commission meets in committee to decide whether to approve a revised management contract with Augusta Riverfront, LLC for the parking deck and TEE Center. It would be wise for them to hold off on that until this matter can be investigated further. Rushing into things without having all of the pertinent information is what initially put them into this mess and rushing now into another bad contract is certainly not the way out of it. We will have an update on this story as it becomes available. Stay tuned.***

Fred Russell is Running Out of Excuses

Originally posted by CityStink
Friday, Jan. 27, 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.

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 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 endsbefore 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. Susan McCord documented the particulars in a series of articles. She wrote, “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.” (Editor’s Note: January 8, 2012 article by Susan McCord no longer available online.)

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.

Breaking News! TEE Center Parking Deck Air Rights Gone With The Wind!

!!CityStink Exclusive!!

No Police Protection, Just a Liened Deck?

Originally posted on CityStink
January 26, 2012
Posted at 1:37pm
Augusta, GA

By Lori Davis

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.

Let me say right now I am not a real estate expert. I can only speak from years of owning, buying and selling homes. Every time I bought a house and financed it, there was a security deed recorded by the bank that had to be satisfied before I could sell it or at the time of the sale. My lawyers would get a cancellation of the security deed recorded so that the property liens would be ended. We all know and have been through this.I first raised my concerns about irregularities with the ownership of the land under the TEE Center and companion parking deck in an article that appeared in City Stink on January 11, 2012. See: TEE Center LLC Trap. At the time the local media paid little attention to my findings. Well, I think this new information may change that.

Why didn’t Augusta Richmond County worry about cancellation of a series of security deeds, security deed modifications, and financing statements filed against the land 933 Broad, LLC owns under the TEE Center deck? Why wasn’t this done before Augusta built a $12 million structure on top of this land it doesn’t own? (please see documents at the bottom of this story)

The very simple real estate indexes at the clerk of court’s office show no cancellation of these security deed filings. Where are the cancellations?

IF there were no cancellations, and all of this paperwork is still good, hasn’t our city-county government made one of the biggest errors any of us has ever seen? Whose parking deck is it now, anyway? If the TEE Center and deck management deal is for 15 years, is the deck that landowner’s at the end of just 15 years?

IF the landowner defaults on the loans, won’t Augusta lose its prized $12 million facility to the bank? There are no filings establishing any rights whatsoever of Augusta to this land, as far as I know and what previous media reports have told us.

IF the loans are still in place, how is the interest on the loans going to count against the Tee Center profit and losses that Augusta shares in?

IF the city had not established a value of more than $2.1 million an acre (based on land swap and hot dog operator buy-out costs) for Senator Jackson’s .07 acre corner, what would have claimed as the land value? The tax assessor’s value? If Augusta has to buy the land after the fact, what will it cost after this charade?

IF all the liens are there, why on earth would the commission want to rush approval of the TEE Center and deck deal before Bill Lockett and the 5 other commissioners’ forensic audit is done? Why the rush? I think we know now.

Can the other LLC, Augusta Riverfront, borrow against the parcel that it owns under the Tee Center itself? It doesn’t look like there are security deeds on it, but that side of the street is a huge complicated blizzard of paperwork. I get a headache looking at this stuff.

How did Fred Russell expect to get any rights at all without running into the deeds? I got it – we got air rights!

The people got air rights while somebody got a free $50 million facility? Over in Harrisburg bullets fill our air because Ronnie Strength’s budgets get slashed. If you think I am angry over this, you are right!

I am not a lawyer, but these are questions that demand answers and accountability.

Does anybody in Augusta’s administration have a clue? As of the writing of this story, City Administrator Fred Russell has confirmed that liens still do exist on the property where the deck is located. Wonder why he never informed the commissioners about this?

Fred has to go.***Stay Tuned to WJBF News 6 tonight for George Eskola’s report on this story

Below are some of the documents supporting this article (3 separate .pdfs total)
There are more documents that will be released in due time, so stay tuned.

933 Broad Plat

933 1st UCC

2010 933 UCC

CityStink Exclusive: The TEE Center LLC Trap

TEE Center under construction on Reynolds Street
**CityStink Exclusive!**

Originally posted on CityStink
Jan. 11, 2012
Augusta, GA
By Lori Davis

Al M. Gray, President of Cost Recovery Works, Inc., contributed multidisciplinary review techniques in support of this article. Cost Recovery Works is no longer in business, as of December 31, 2020.

On December 1, 2011, several weeks prior to the Augusta Commission’s vote to engage a forensic auditor to investigate the TEE Center Deck ownership fiasco, I submitted an Open Records request to the Augusta Law Department in an attempt to get to the bottom of  the confusing procession of statements coming from Administrator Fred Russell, Mayor Pro Tem Joe Bowles, and others. I received a response to this request from Staff Attorney Kenneth Bray on December 15, 2011.

Most of the information provided dealt with the Laney Walker Overlay. Most of the rest was missing any dates, including the negotiation term sheet and a schedule which was labeled as a modification. The total packet was about an inch and a half thick. After skimming the documents, I called upon Augusta Today and contributor and cost recovery analyst Al Gray to assist in completing my review.

What we found was stunning new information buried in the document pile. I will get to that later.

The first item requested was information relating to the land under the TEE Center Deck being security for any loans or bonds. Since the bonds were known to be general obligation bonds and were tied to the Laney Walker project funding, this was precautionary, with no documents necessarily expected to come back from the Law Department. They provided the bond package for the combined Laney Walker and TEE Center funding.

Emails and any other correspondence relating to the deck between any and all Augusta government parties were requested. None were returned. The Law Department cited pretty wide attorney-client privilege. I was very disappointed by that, given publicized remarks attributed to outside counsel Jim Plunkett about events surrounding the failure to have the various parcels under the parking deck donated by Augusta Riverfront, LLC. Much has been said of discussions of air rights. I hoped to get clarification of that. It looks like the forensic auditor might run into immediate stone walling, based upon the response to my inquiry.

Since Mayor Pro Tem Bowles has spoken on The Austin Rhodes Show and elsewhere of having saved the city $1.5 million due to the ownership and financing, I thought that the request would have at least produced the analysis upon which he was basing his claimed savings. I guessed wrong. Do you suppose the savings are the same place as Augusta taxpayers’ property rights with the deck, which is “up in the air?”

A really obscure document I requested was an insurance certificate from TEE Center and Deck contractor R.W. Allen to Augusta Riverfront, LLC, as an additional insured during construction. While this document is not one that Augusta would have in its possession, Augusta’s program manager Heery International probably should have it and it should have been accessible. Not having this insurance document suggests that R.W. Allen thought it was working on land owned by the Augusta government, not owned by Augusta Riverfront, LLC. It also suggests that program manager Heery was caught off guard, too.

I couldn’t form any conclusions as to whether the land under the decks owned by Augusta Riverfront, LLC was to be donated or not because the documents provided conflicted on this point and had no dates to tell me what the final word was. The dating is critical. There was an undated “modification” to the Augusta Riverfront Term Sheet in the package. It might have been created last week, for all the public knows.

The undated, unsigned “Management Agreement Term Sheet” between the City of Augusta and Augusta Riverfront, LLC in paragraph 6 states, “LLC will transfer to Augusta that portion of its property needed to develop the Trade Center and parking, adjacent to the Convention Center. This land transfer, which will not include air rights, will be at no cost to Augusta.” This term sheet seems to have been modified to reverse this part of the transaction. With no dates, it isn’t possible to tell the sequence of events.

What is clear is that Commissioner Johnny Hatney was told several times by Administrator Fred Russell that the land under the deck owned by the LLC was going to be donated at the December 7, 2009 meeting at which the TEE Center was approved by the Augusta Richmond County Commission. Russell did not clarify that only limited air rights were donated. I think most of the public thinks his talk of, “property that’s going to be donated,” means just that, not “air rights.” Besides, there are schedules that were presented to the commission that show the value of the “Donated Property,” $464,353, as being the assessed value, not plus or minus the “air rights.”

Amazingly, Parcel 037-3-047-00-0, land under the $38 million TEE Center itself, remains owned by Augusta Riverfront, LLC. There have been no recordings with the Clerk of Court Office documenting any changes in the ownership rights with this piece of land, including air rights. As precise as the legal documentation of land ownership and rights is, isn’t it wild that this could happen?

Augusta built $50 million of buildings, some costing nearly $200 per square foot, on land it only partially owns. The taxpayers might get the “air rights” to a parking deck they paid $12 million for. The LLC’s get guaranteed fees and to keep the property, which gives them dominance over the entire complex forever. (A)

“Donation” now means having your cake and getting paid to eat it, too.

Fred thinks this was a bargain.

A forensic audit cannot happen soon enough, and trust me, we will be watching every step of the way.

A. According to the detailed term sheet, the public was guaranteed not much more than that the LLC bears losses after the operations loses $250,000 of the public’s money, and that figure excludes depreciation and interest. The public would bear those in addition to the losses. According to the modification provided, this was changed to the LLC’s getting fees and the public taking the gains and losses from operations.

Augusta Tee Deck Open Record Request Response
Tee Land Acquisition Documents
TEE Center Term Sheet Document
Term Sheet Modifications Undated Current Tasks Including Deck Info

Al Gray: Fraudits with Less Than a Full Deck

Fraudits with Less Than a Full Deck

Originally posted on CityStink
December 23, 2011
Augusta, GA
By Al Gray

The author, Al M. Gray, was 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.

OK, “Fraudits” isn’t really a word, but it is what one gets if he starts out with Augusta City Administrator FRed (Russell) leading AUDITS  which might find FRAUDS in Augusta-Richmond County’s ill-fated TEE Center and, specifically, the $12 million parking deck built by that government on land it mostly doesn’t own. Dispensing for a moment with this non-word that, in this case, makes sense with nearly perfect symmetry, Augusta’s commissioners should focus on the one word that really matters – Independence.

This is written by an author from some knowledge on the subject, having served within the internal audit departments of two Fortune 500 companies for a decade. A significant number of our cost recovery consulting operations since those years have been responsive to initiatives by corporate directors of internal audit. An even more pertinent factor is that this writer once recused himself from an audit being performed by subordinates. Forensic audits are tasked with such weighty matters, including amassing evidence for criminal prosecution, that failure to achieve total independence taints and ruins the findings.

The 6-4 vote this past Tuesday by the Augusta Richmond County Commission, on a substitute motion brought by Commissioner Alvin Mason, to engage a forensic auditing firm to investigate and report on the progression of events leading to construction of the TEE center parking deck was commendable. After all, meeting minutes from December 9, 2009 show Commissioner Johnny Hatney was told very clearly by Mr. Russell that the land under the deck was to be donated to the city. Yes, there were minutes from an earlier meeting in which there was discussion of the city gaining “air rights” above the ground floor while 933 Broad Street, LLC, the land owner, retained ownership of the land under it. There might be justification for such hybrid ownership by bond financing requirements of a certain percentage of private partner ownership. It might have saved financing cost at the same time it obligated taxpayers. Much has been said in the media about these things, but most information is conflicting, changing, and biased as to sourcing.

Mr. Russell is at the epicenter of the confusion. Mr. Russell is tasked with selecting the forensic auditor to investigate the confusion. The process is circuitous – it leads nowhere and no one will believe the results if the investigation proceeds on this basis.

What has been revealed also points to issues within Augusta’s Law Department and special counsel it engaged for the TEE Center, associated deck construction, and financing. Answers from that quarter should have been immediately forthcoming, not three months of confused dawdling.

Forensic audits are serious business. When this writer worked for SLKP as its capital projects auditing manager within the internal audit department, our audit director and senior management without fail moved quickly to engage very tough outside forensics auditors and fraud examiners to achieve ultimate independence in every case where fraud appeared likely to have occurred. The forensics auditors quickly fire-walled off the investigations to the point that even we internal auditors who discovered the fraud were excluded. Why? Independence! This needs to be job #1 with the deck audit, as well.

One contractor payroll audit our capital projects audit unit performed at another company indicated a chance that the paymaster, a friend, had committed fraud in the form of forgery and issuing bogus paychecks. When this unhappy situation came to light, the staff auditor in charge was directed to exclude this writer who was his manager, and conduct the investigation directly with the contractor’s fraud investigators and the company Director of Internal Audit. Their investigation led to an admission of guilt, dismissal,  and full restitution of the funds stolen. In that instance those directing the investigation chose not to prosecute. In other cases involving commodity procurement, accounts payable, data processing, engineering, and construction fraud, the perpetrators were prosecuted, tried, and convicted. The bare-knuckles forensic auditors handled every one of those. What looked to be overkill never failed.

That parking deck fiasco on Reynolds Street is tremendously complicated. The Limited Liability Corporations owning land under the deck and in an ongoing joint venture with Augusta’s Convention and Visitor’s Bureau apparently enjoy common ownership with Augusta’s daily newspaper, which has understandably been almost totally silent on this matter. A state senator got caught up in this controversy inadvertently with a generous land swap. The TEE Center contract has the contractor working on cost-plus (albeit limited by a Guaranteed Maximum Price) basis on new construction, a historic building to be preserved, coordination with ongoing operations, a brown field site, and on land that the owner doesn’t own. A further complication is that the contractor’s CEO is running for Congress. A final consideration is that the Tee Center itself seems to have been sold on faulty premises on a foundation of years of controversial situations arising from the city’s public private partnership with the LLC’s, most of which were resolved at considerable expense to Augusta Richmond county taxpayers.

No forensics audit is going to clear the air from all these things. The smoke is welling up from too many places, some of them decades old.

What the immediate forensics audit can do is to report the sequence of events leading to the deck being built on mostly private land, whether that outcome was legitimately directed by financing requirements, and whether reports to the commissioners were consistent with the facts known by the city law department and the county administrator at the time of the reporting. The final product is more likely to deal with competence than fraud and whether answers to commissioners’ questions by the administration have credibility. If the forensics team finds evidence of fraud, they will pursue it.

Commissioner Grady Smith’s suggestion that an Augusta Richmond County grand jury investigate the situation before engaging a forensic auditor has no small degree of merit. A grand jury has subpoena power and if it strikes a brick wall of, say, the city attorneys and their outside counsel claiming attorney-client privilege with respect to the LLC’s what is the point of a forensics audit? A grand jury is a least independent of Fred Russell.

Furthermore, to this observer the forensics audit should definitely extend to the TEE Center planning, design, contracting, and change orders. Since this enormous project features the same project management, construction management, and administration as much of the city’s overall capital improvements program, issues that are identified, reported, and recommended upon will likely have precursors in prior projects and commonalities with current ones.

It is far from a stretch to assert, that this audit, properly done, should pay for itself.

This author has always been guided by the principle that once it is determined that someone is too crooked or too incompetent to be handling his money, it really matters not the intent, but the result. Then one removes the threat while recouping his money.

The people are watching this situation intensely as it calls into question not just governmental integrity, but that of the media, as well. Handle it will independence, diligence, and completeness Augusta Commissioners. You only have one shot at it. Don’t let it be deflected by Fred Russell. That is a habit that must end. You have to be INDEPENDENT, not purveyors of a smokescreen-spewing FRaudit.

Good luck.***

City Stink contributor Al Gray is President of Cost Recovery Works, a Lincoln County-based firm providing cost recovery and cost avoidance services focused on large construction projects, contracts administration, local taxation, land use planning, public policy, manufacturing plants and incentives. Cost Recovery Works was closed down in December, 202. Examples of his work are to be found at

ParkingGate: Lockett Denied Forensic Audit Again

Augusta Commissioner Bill Lockett

Originally posted by CityStink
Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2011
Augusta, GA
By Jill Peterson

Al M. Gray, President of Cost Recovery Works, Inc. contributed multidisciplinary review techniques in support of this article. Cost Recovery Works is no longer in business, as of December 31, 2020.

Commissioner Bill Lockett brought up again at Monday’s committee meetings his desire to have forensic audits conducted in the Augusta-Richmond County government. The wording on the agenda was as follows:

Task the Administrator with utilizing the procurement process to solicit the services of an outside forensic auditing firm to perform an audit of the city’s finances and contractual obligations. The audit must include but not be limited to the following: (a) TEE Center Parking Garage/ Land Acquisition/ Associated Leases/ Financing, (b) Utility Department Water Rates for Golf Courses/ Other Special Agreements, (c) Environmental Services  Division, (d) Augusta Transit Department Privatization, (e) Augusta Municipal Golf Course Privatization, (f) Retroactive Pay Increases, (g) SPLOST Fund Projects, and (h) Land Bank. 

In Lockett’s explanation of his request, he explains that he’s uncomfortable with the way the Commission was told land would be donated for the parking deck and how the contract for operating the deck is being awarded. The land in fact was not donated leaving the city’s deck to sit on land owned by a private entity headed by the same individual who heads the entity in line for a no-bid operating contract of the deck. He also mentions the strange deals in obtaining other bits of land to do with the deck which seem to have cost the city more than they should, especially strange in light of the fact that the city did not obtain the majority of the land.

Lockett: There are so many unanswered questions with the TEE Center parking deck that it  calls out for an investigation. I’m not suggesting that any illegal actions occurred, but I do  know for a fact that lots of citizens of Augusta-Richmond County to include others from  outside the county are concerned about what has gone on utilizing the taxpayers’ money. I’m concerned when we have outside attorneys doing real estate transactions and at the  same time representing parties from both sides. Now how can you get a good deal out of  that? It doesn’t make  sense. I’m not a lawyer, but I did teach business law. There are  just too many things. I’m concerned when this body is informed about the possible  transfer of property and given a reason that a resolution wasn’t necessary because the Attorney General or someone had indicated that there was a  new law that you didn’t have to do that, but nothing was provided to this body showing that that was indeed the case.

I’m also concerned when outside counsel representing this government was asked for a document and indicated he knew he had it but could not find it because it  was in a stack of papers. And I do believe this document does not exist.

This is part of what I feel that a forensic audit should do. Sure, we have internal audits  every year, but the internal audits don’t look for this sort of thing. We need to look and  see, and I would hope that if this body allows this government to employ a forensic auditing firm, I would hope that nothing is found, but I have seen so many things that I  feel that would not be the case.

The land bank I also questioned. We need information on the past five years. How much land has been purchased by the city and at what cost?  What is the process used by the city used to transfer land to the land bank and why? When city property is transferred to the land bank, is verification of sale required?

(He goes on with more questions about the land bank and with his questions for the other issues he wants looked into. Video of the entire speech will be available here in the next day or so.)

For this to get to the full Commission meeting, three of the four members of this, the Administrative Services Committee, would have to vote yes. Bill Lockett voted yes, Alvin Mason voted yes, Matt Aitken was absent (and has not returned our call as of this writing), and Jerry Brigham voted no.

Commissioner Jerry Brigham

City Stink called Jerry Brigham to ask him why he voted against this measure. Commissioner Brigham says a forensic audit would cost too much, it would be truth seeking and implies a criminal violation, and that the proper channel for Lockett to take would be to go to the District Attorney if he thinks there’s something criminal. He also said that, “In reality Lockett wants to put somebody in jail. I’m not paying someone to investigate me.”

Mayor Deke Copenhaver was quoted in the Urban Pro Weekly this week on the same topic and takes the same stance as Brigham. Copenhaver: “A forensic audit implies that there’s been a crime committed and it is something that would cost a tremendous amount of money and take a tremendous amount of time. I’m not in support of that.”

City Stink then called Commissioner Lockett for his response.  Lockett says that a forensic audit costs no more than an internal audit and that the D.A. or GBI would expect a forensic audit before getting involved. He also said someone going to jail is the last thing he wants; he wants a government that complies with the law.

So we seem to have differences of opinion as to whether looking for something criminal is desirable or not and how much a forensic audit would cost and whether or not it would be worth it. Calls to the accounting firm Cherry, Bekaert & Holland for cost comparisons between internal and forensic audits have not yet been returned, but price comparisons are definitely in order and will be followed up on by City Stink.


The Ghost of David Fry

The ghost of David Fry spotted near the new parking deck

Originally posted on CityStink
November 3, 2011
Augusta, GA
The Outsider

Al M. Gray, President of Cost Recovery Works, Inc. contributed multidisciplinary review techniques in support of this article. Cost Recovery Works is no longer in business, as of December 31, 2020.

Well, Halloween may be officially over, but the ghost of David Fry is still lurking the streets of downtown Augusta. No, not down at 5th and Broad streets by the Haunted Pillar, but instead his specter has been seen haunting another cursed Augusta landmark: the new TEE Center parking deck by 9th and Reynolds Streets.

It seems that the recent revelation that the city of Augusta doesn’t actually own the land where the new $12 million city owned deck sits, and an impending trial over the attempted bribery of two Augusta commissioners involving this same parking deck, has resurrected the restless spirit of David Fry.

Some of you may remember the name “David Fry” from two years ago. In August of 2009, the TEE Center and parking deck were in limbo because the commission had split along racial lines over whether to issue more revenue bonds because it was learned that the convention center was actually going to cost nearly double than the $20 million voters had  approved in a 2005 SPLOST referendum. Also, the addition of a parking deck across the street had some commissioners also crying foul, saying that the project had become too bloated and no longer resembled what voters approved and suggestions were floated to put in back on a ballot or redirect the SPLOST funds entirely. But that presented problems, because the TEE Center was inextricably tied to a $37 million redevelopment project for Laney-Walker/Bethlehem. So if the TEE Center didn’t get approved with the extra money needed to build it, some white commissioners were threatening to pull the plug on the $1 per night hotel/motel surcharge and pull the plug on redevelopment of Laney-Walker/Bethlehem. The situation was at a stalemate, and no one seemed eager to give up ground.

Now enter David Fry. He was an Augusta attorney and former nightclub owner. In late August 2009, commissioners Alvin Mason and Corey Johnson contact Augusta law enforcement that David Fry approached them with an offer of a bribe “if” they changed their votes on the TEE Center deal. Both Mason and Johnson had been voting consistently against increased funding for the TEE Center. The story didn’t hit the news until early September 2009. What was particularly interesting is what Fry was offering the commissioners. According to Mason and Johnson, Fry told them that he could land them lucrative concessions in the new parking deck that would be built along with the TEE Center (This is the same parking deck involved in the current “ParkingGate” saga).

WRDW’s Chris Thomas reported on the bribe scandal. (Editor’s note: article is no longer available online).

Chris Thomas also reports that Fry contacted commissioners Jerry Brigham and Don Grantham about a week after commissioners Mason and Johnson came forward to law enforcement about Fry’s attempted bribe. Don Grantham says that he remembers being contacted by Fry on August 31st, one day before a vote on the TEE Center. Both Grantham and Brigham said they didn’t report the incident because they thought the whole thing was “ridiculous.” And it would have been ridiculous to try and get Grantham  and Brigham to switch their votes. Grantham had been the biggest proponent of the TEE Center on the commission and  Brigham had voted in support of it as well. WJBF also covered the breaking story of the bribery attempt here: Attorney arrested for trying to bribe 2 Augusta commissioners. (Editor’s note: Augusta Chronicle coverage available here).

The fact that Fry was offering concessions in the parking deck was quite interesting. What authority did he have to make such a deal? And why the parking deck? It seemed very odd because in all of the TEE Center drama that was taking place, the parking deck was not mentioned very much.

A local afternoon radio talk-show personality tried to quickly explain it all away as much ado about nothing. He said that Fry was just an overly zealous lone gunman type who was extremely enthusiastic about the TEE Center and was upset with commissioners Mason and Johnson for holding it up. According to the talk-show host, Fry was particularly livid at Mason, whom he had donated money to in his campaign against Bernard Harper. According to this same talk-show host, many wealthy West Augusta types supported Mason in his first campaign, and that Fry felt “betrayed” by Mason. Don’t forget that Mason also received what he called a “threat” from a West Augusta “millionaire” over his votes on the TEE Center.

The radio talk-show host explains the bribe as a way for Fry to get back at Mason and Johnson. He would offer them something he knew he could not deliver, get them to change their votes, get the TEE Center passed, and then leave them high and dry when it came time to collect on the bribe. Well that’s the theory of the talk-show host.

The problem was that the bribery attempt backfired and nearly sank the TEE Center.

But let’s really think about this. If David Fry knew that he was throwing out a canard for the commissioners, then why not offer something more grandiose and more sexy than a parking deck contract? I mean why not offer a lucrative concession in the TEE Center itself or in one of the hotels? Why not throw in a condo in Palm Beach, Florida and lifetime badges to The Masters? I mean if he had no ability to deliver on any of this, then why not promise the moon? Why did he choose to offer a deal in this parking deck? And why was an attorney willing to commit a felony to get the TEE Center and parking deck passed if he had absolutely no connection to it or anything to gain from it? Many people didn’t buy the story that David Fry was just some lone-gunman type and questions still linger if  perhaps more were involved and whether Fry was just a fixer for much bigger fish.

After Matt Aitken defeated Bill Fennoy in a run-off election for the District 1 commission seat, the approval of the TEE Center was a forgone conclusion. His campaign had almost been entirely predicated on approving the TEE Center. So on December 7th, 2009, the commission quickly agreed to approve the TEE Center and parking deck along with the Laney-Walker/Bethlehem redevelopment. This also happens to be the same meeting when Fred Russell told commissioners that Augusta Riverfront, LLC (or its subsidiary) had AGREED to donate the land for the parking deck.

The David Fry story disappeared about as fast as a sitcom on The CW network. The parking deck is finished and open and the TEE Center is under construction. David Fry was indicted by a grand jury in June of 2010. An almost forgettable snippet of a story brought that news in the Augusta Chronicle: Fry indicted over bribe. And not much has been heard since then of David Fry. But now it is  being reported  that David Fry will now stand trial for the bribery attempt, more than a YEAR AFTER he was indicted. Apparently a plea-deal fell through at the last minute. Fry case to go to trial. We have to wonder if the same attorneys involved in the Fry case are also the ones involved in the chronically postponed Scott Dean child molestation trial. But with the new information swirling around ParkingGate, the timing of the trial of David Fry couldn’t be any better, or worse (if you are Augusta Riverfront, LLC).

So now it has become known that 933 Broad Investment Co, LLC (a shell company of Augusta Riverfront, LLC) has owned the land where the new parking deck sits since 2003. That means they essentially own the ground floor of the parking deck. Augusta Riverfront, LLC owns the Marriott hotel and will manage the new TEE Center. They want the management contract to run the new Reynolds Street Parking Deck for a fee of $25,000 a year and they want to lease hundreds of city owned spaces at another deck adjacent to the Marriott for $50,000, which could net Augusta Riverfront, LLC ten times what they would pay the city for the lease. But either way, since Augusta Riverfront, LLC owns the land where the new deck sits, they have control over those ground floor spaces… and the ground floor of any parking deck is the most lucrative.

All of this new information prompts more questions. Did David Fry know that Augusta Riverfront, LLC would have a lock on the ground floor of the new parking deck and was that the concession he was offering in his bribe? And is there a connection between David Fry and Augusta Riverfront, LLC or one of their subsidiaries such as 933 Broad Investment Co, LLC? Fry so far has has not been talking. Will he be willing to take the fall in exchange for something far more lucrative than a small “slice” of the parking deck? Or will Fry start to sing like a canary in his upcoming trial? And in light of the new turn of events and information learned over the past couple of weeks perhaps the FBI should take a second look at this case to see if Fry was merely an agent for someone else who could have delivered on the parking deck management contract concession. Would it be prudent to postpone Fry’s trial so that this case can be investigated further?

The TEE Center and parking deck has involved some of the most powerful players in Augusta, and the attempted bribery of two sitting commissioners of Georgia’s second largest city.  Perhaps the upcoming bribery trial will  finally put the ghost of David Fry to rest once and for all, or it might expose a whole lot more skeletons in Augusta’s closet.