Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Garden City or "Weed" City? A Citizen's Presentation Concerning Augusta's Trashy Roads.

The following slideshow was presented by Augusta resident Lynn Reed back in 2007 concerning the trashy appearance of many of Augusta's roadways and rights of way. Ms Reed was cut off before she could finish her presentation before the commission, so we decided to post it here. As you can see many of the issues that Ms Reed was concerned about have still not been rectified.

slide show presentation courtesy of Lynn Reed

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Chairman Deke's $100,000 Ministry of Propaganda

Tuesday Nov. 29, 2011
Augusta, GA
By The Outsider

There will be a lot of belt tightening in Augusta for the coming year. Not because of over-indulging in a carb and fat heavy  Thanksgiving feast, but because the recently passed Augusta city budget requires over $6.3 million in cuts. To achieve that, virtually every city department will have to sacrifice and a tleast 34 positions are already on the chopping block and that number is only likely to rise. 

But not all are having to sacrifice in these hard times.  In fact, the Mayor's office will be expanded under this new budget, by $100,000. The mayor is calling it an "Economic Development Micro Department"  but let's call it what it really is: The Mayor's Ministry of Propaganda. 

Deke has asked for such a public relations department before, but each time commissioners scoffed at the cost and the necessity. Maybe that was because back then Deke made the mistake of calling it what it really was: A PR Department. But now after his political consultants tweaked the verbiage a bit by calling it an "economic development micro department" it was successfully included in this budget, despite just about every other department facing major cuts. I mean how can anyone be against "economic development". In marketing,  packaging is everything.

But what about basic city services like public safety? Well, the Sheriff's Office has 34 fewer deputies today than it did 10 years ago, and there is no money in the new budget to hire more. In fact, the Sheriff was lucky to not have to cut more from the payroll under this new budget.  The Sheriff is already having to cut $1.5 million from the jail, by incarcerating fewer criminals, to save money in these tight economic times. 

So just how did commissioners find $100,000 for a PR guy for Deke when they can't find any money in the budget to hire a few more deputies? And  by creating a new "micro" department that will need to be staffed, this is $100,000 that will need to be budgeted year after year. And didn't we have commissioners who were trying to save $150,000 by leasing out The Patch?  Well it looks like most of the savings realized from that will be going to pay for Deke's Ministry of Propaganda. Did the commissioners even read that part of the budget? Heck, Matt Aitken didn't even know it included 34 lay-offs after voting for it so it's quite plausible some commissioners didn't read about the $100,000 going to the Mayor's office.

In an economic climate where city budget deficits seem to becoming  yearly occurrences and are only expected to grow, is it fiscally responsible to be creating any "new" city departments at this time.. even if they are called "micro"? And just what is the purpose of this new department? Augusta already has The Richmond County Development Authority which is focused on recruiting new industry and business to the county. The Downtown Development Authority is supposed to help attract new business and development downtown. So what is holding Augusta back is that it lacks yet another bureaucratic office? 

What benchmarks have been set up to measure the success of this new department? The construction of a new baseball stadium downtown, perhaps? Because let's be serious, that's really what this is all about.

And  it's not like the mayor's job is really all that time-consuming. He basically has to show up at two commission meetings a month to act as parliamentarian, cut a few ribbons, send out a weekly propaganda email, give a few speeches, stage a few publicity stunts for  the next campaign, ride in a parade or two, meet with Ripken baseball officials... well actually mostly meet with Ripken Baseball officials. A look at the mayor's schedule from a couple of years ago showed that meeting with Ripken Baseball officials dominated his calendar. I mean that barely leaves enough time for the Mayor to stop at the 15th St Kroger to buy dog food on the way home.  

The mayor, unlike commissioners, makes a full time salary and has a full-time staff, so just what has been keeping him from being Augusta's chief PR guy for recruiting new economic development.?Isn't that what people thought they were voting for when they elected him thrice? And whatever you may think about Deke, he sure does seem to know PR and how to get the media to fawn over him. He's a master at garnering free positive publicity. So why the need for $100,000 to hire some outside PR guy? Can't Deke do the job on his own? Isn't that what he's supposed to be doing anyway? I guess his time is just too consumed with meeting with Ripken Baseball officials.

Perhaps it's that Deke is running out of Buzzwords.. maybe he just lost his mojo and needs some new ideas. Maybe what Deke needs is a propaganda blitz to sell some of his unpopular ideas like a taxpayer financed ballpark. Yeah the whole "Moving Augusta Forward" shtick is getting old. So are other buzzwords like "Building a consensus,"  "Uniting Augusta", and "Looking forward instead of backwards." And just maybe Deke's Ministry of Propaganda can come up with some new material for Matt Aitken, because, really, the " we need to grow the city" line is beginning to sound like a broken record. 

The great thing about propaganda is that you don't actually have to accomplish anything, just so long you can package it in such a way to make people believe that you have. It's like wrapping a cheap drugstore cologne in expensive gold foil. That way an $8 per hour call center job miraculously starts to look like a $25 per hour job at an Audi manufacturing plant. 

But  to the more than 34 city employees who will be out of a job soon, it still must seem like a slap in the face for Deke to be getting $100,000 for his new Ministry of Propaganda. And especially for The Sheriff's department which has had to make do with a personnel shortage for years. And the crime situation certainly doesn't seem to be getting any better. You have to wonder if having a fully staffed public safety department would be more attractive to new business, industry and residents then the mayor having a Ministry of Propaganda. And what about more money in the city budget for code enforcement to demolish blighted structures that plague many parts of the city and create a negative "first impression"?  But in the end The Boy King seems to get what he wants. Challenge:

Perhaps we can save Augusta $100,000 for the Mayor's Ministry of Propaganda by developing a new list of Buzzwords that Deke can use. In the comments section below this article list your new buzzwords or phrases for the Mayor.

And for the artistes:
We also thought it would be fun to come up with some propaganda posters for Deke's new Ministry of Propaganda. We have included one at the top of this article. Using that as inspiration, we would like our readers to submit their own. We will post them here on for an upcoming article. Send your Ministry of Propaganda posters to

Be Sure to Take the Augusta Government Improvement Survey: Augusta Govt. Survey

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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Lori Davis: Options for Sibley Mill Redevelopment Discussed

By Lori Davis, chief Harrisburg correspondent for

"Notice is hereby given that the Augusta Canal Authority intends to apply to the EPA on November 28, 2011 for a Brownfield grant to be used for the environmental clean up of the former Sibley Mill property located at 1717 Goodrich Street, Augusta-Richmond County, Georgia.  A public information meeting and visioning for the future redevelopment of the site will be held November 21, 2011 at 6:00 p.m, Enterprise Mill Cotton Room, 1450 Greene Street, Augusta GA 30901."
For those of you who are not familiar, this is a public meeting notice which invites all interested parties to participate. The public has a right to know what is going to take place in a given area when federal grants are being applied for as with the Sibley Mill. The public also by law, has a right to know,  when substantial zoning changes to an area have been applied for. The Harrisburg Mill Village in which the Sibley Mill resides was recently declared an Opportunity Zone by the GA Department of Community Affairs without a public hearing.  This was a zoning change of broad proportions for the Harrisburg neighborhood. Are these two projects connected?  
This past Monday night several interested parties gathered for this public meeting to discuss the grant that was being applied for through the Environmental Protection Agency to aid in the clean up of the Sibley Mill.  The grant being applied for was in the ballpark of $200,000. Some clean up had already been done on the site and there will be even more to be done even after this grant is hopefully awarded to the Augusta Canal Authority which owns the mill at the present time.  
Sibley Cotton Mill during it's heyday
No one could disagree with environmental clean up of an area, so this part of the meeting flowed smoothly.  The second part of the meeting was to discuss future uses for the Sibley Mill. This is where the meeting became very interesting. I only recognized a few of the attendees as anyone who would have a true interest in the Harrisburg neighborhood along with the use of the Mill.  As a matter of fact, I don't remember hearing the neighborhood itself discussed too much. 

Ideas ranged from housing Veterans to providing a place for the docking of electric vehicles to a mixed use facility with shops, restaurants and condos. At this point, a very astute Harrisburg rental property owner joined the conversation and asked for the input of Clay Boardman who was also attending the meeting.  What a great move! 

This is where we would get to the meat of the matter and also what  was quite possibly going to happen with this mill.  The reason that this becomes important is that an article available on the Flywheel Website indicated that Sibly Mill, LLC bought the property from the Felker family, the primary owner's of the mill. It was later sold  to the Augusta Canal Authority for around $800,000. Good move to get the federal dollars to aid in the clean up of the property. 

The conversation then turned toward a use for the property that no one in the room had considered. With the canal and the power that is generated with the turbines belonging to the mill, something that would use a lot of electricity would be a good choice.  This is when the idea of a data center was brought forward by Mr. Boardman.  This data center would house computer servers which would use the available power. Now this is getting even more interesting when you look at the generated power and what it sells for.  The ACA sells the extra power generated there to Georgia Power for three cents per KWH. which brings in around $450,000 a year to the Canal Authority. Pretty good return since they paid $800,000 for the property. Looking a little further, once the clean up is complete, the Mill will be made available for sale to a developer. 

Best case scenario for a developer turned owner is to put a tenant in the building who has a use for this amount of power but can get the power cheaper than Georgia Power would sell it. Georgia Power sells power at 9 cents or so per KWH.  Hypothetically, the owner could sell the power to the tenant for six cents per KWH and make a grand profit especially from a tenant who is housing computer servers with a very small work force to keep everything operating optimally. 

Good deal for the developer turned owner, not so great for the revitalization of Harrisburg. To quote the developer associated with Sibley LLC who purchased the property from the Felkers,"They had other options that may have meant that they could have realized more economic gain, but chose me and my team to undertake this project. I give them credit for their concern for our community." Wonder if the Felkers were thinking about the future profitability of only one person when they decided to sell their beloeved mill property.  All hypothetical of course......**
Lori Davis

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Mike Sheil: The Truth About the Laney-Walker Overlay Zoning District

Michael D Sheil
The Laney-Walker Overlay: What is to Be Done?
-by Michael Sheil

What is the deal with the Laney-Walker overlay? We hear from all sides– it's a land-grab, it's a blessing, it's an imposition, it's a protection, a necessity even. What then is it exactly?
In trying to answer that, let me start with the zoning amendment that authorizes it. That amendment was voted on and approved by the Augusta Commission this past Summer as Section 25-E of the Richmond County Comprehensive Zoning Code.  It's a text rich in possibilities, and I will post the whole of it below, but for now I will extract only a few key points.

- "The purpose of overlay zoning is to provide additional protection and/or guidance for specific areas through regulation and/or incentives that are applied in addition to the base zoning requirements."
- "They could also be used to protect the character of neighborhoods, commercial districts, and corridors. They could guide development more carefully than base zoning by identifying future urban zones and mixed use areas…"

What it is important to note here in the very first paragraph of this section of the zoning code is that this new type of overlay district can not only make the underlying base zoning of the affected district more restrictive (as is the case generally with overlay zones), but it can also make the underlying zoning LESS restrictive. The Laney-Walker revitalization plan calls for mixed-use development. This is not a fact that is being hidden. It would be truer to say that it is a fact that is being shouted from the rooftops. Business and professional uses would be mingled with residential uses. There are no two ways about it, and this is what makes it all the more striking that the representative for the private developer proposing this overlay has been giving assurances both publicly and privately that the overlay would do nothing to affect the base zoning of the area. 

The Department of Planning & Zoning gave the same assurances, so did the senior staff attorney for Richmond County. This is true enough in itself–last week's proposal would not have changed the current zoning of the neighborhood–but it would be disingenuous of them to maintain that the ultimate aim of the overlay is to leave the current zoning untouched. Mixed-use means mixed-use. The proposal last week called for limiting the allowed uses in one area of the Laney-Walker neighborhood to certain enumerated types.  "No liquor stores and pawnshops," is how they were selling it. The proponents of the overlay say that this restriction is necessary to "protect the community."

What is harmful in that? The harm (if it can be called that, "red flag" may be nearer the mark) is that the area on which the overlay was to be imposed is currently zoned almost entirely single-family residential. There is no need to protect the area from "harmful" business uses–the current zoning already absolutely forbids them. Restrictions on the business uses only makes sense if the area is to be opened up for commercial development. That is, the "mixed-use" development that the city has been so busy denying and affirming at one and the same time. Lately though, this affirmation has been wrung from Planning & Zoning–

"There is an area on Railroad Ave which I believe is the old foundry and zoned B-2 [business] which they are concerned about. Also, if their efforts are successful and the area takes off, there is the possibility that properties on Wrightsboro Rd could be rezoned."
It's not much of an admission, but after all the previous denials, it's a start. Re-zonings are, of a necessity, part of the plan. There are some who would refer to (and condemn) this sort of re-zoning as "spot zoning."

The overlay issue does not involve only businesses moving into the area, but also certain changes in the residential zoning, too. The overlay would authorize what it calls "low-density multi-family" zoning in the area. This would constitute a change as the area is, I repeat, almost entirely single-family now. The "low-density" part is there to soften the blow, I think. Again and again, city leaders have said that this overlay is to protect the neighborhood form "unwelcome" development,  yet the restrictions against unwelcome development are already there, and in fact are stronger now (the current zoning) than they would be under the proposed overlay. You simply are not allowed to put businesses and multi-family housing in a single-family residential area. Attempts to re-zone in that way (or even disagreements about permitted uses in a residential area) are usually met with vociferous denunciations:

Summerville Daycare Approved

"A daycare in a residential zoning violates county and state zoning requirements. You all need to get the facts before judging. We will lose this one the first day in court……" [huh?] (Comm. Joe Bowles)

"Austin, I guess your okay with your double standard of when the law is good and when its not?
As for a parochial school getting special treatment, that because it's a school, not a 14 hour a day business. Also last I checked parochial schools free up $$$$$ for our public schools.
If we want to talk about why Summerville has high property values it's because of planning not BS friendship zoning exemptions!" (Comm. Joe Bowles)
Augusta Commissioner Joe Bowles

"Chris, you completely are missing the basis of Summervilles case. The reason we have taken a decent area and made it better is through our master plan and adhering to it since 1977. That's why we have the property values we have, and now we have another area that is considered commercial. THIS IS KNOWN AS SPOT ZONING AND DETRIMENTAL FOR ALL NEIGHBORHOODS, NOT JUST SUMMERVILLE [emphasis added]. It sets a dangerous precedent that could spread and erode what Summerville residents have built!" (Comm. Joe Bowles)

All these quotations are from one of the Augusta commissioners who voted in favor of the overlay proposal last week, by the way. It would be a good idea, apparently, just so long as no one is proposing it in his neighborhood. There are some other aspects of the proposal that make this something I'm sure he would want to see implemented in some other neighborhood than his own. For one, the bulk of the new housing being built by the private developer (that is, the private developer who was hired by the city to redevelop the Laney-Walker area for the city), as I was saying, the bulk of the new housing is low-income government-subsidized housing. The agreements the city has entered into with the developer for building all this low-income housing can be found in the online records of the Augusta Commission, so I won't dwell on that too long. I will say, though, that revitalizing an area by moving low-income housing into it (and then restricting the surrounding homeowners' rights based on that low-income housing) seems a little counter-intuitive to me, but I'm no expert.

There is good reason to be suspicious of the Laney-Walker overlay plan. Maybe the fact that the zoning code's overlay amendment was drafted specifically to fit the Laney-Walker overlay proposal (a fact admitted by Planning and Zoning), maybe that fact made the developer (and the city) a little lazy regarding fitting the proposal to the law (and that's the oversight that has sent the proposal back to the drawing board). Whatever the case, the developer and the city government have been intentionally misleading regarding the clear implications of mixed-use development, when that is where the conversation with homeowners should have started. Until the city/developer can honestly approach it that way, I'm against this plan. As for their often stated concerns about "protecting the community", the best way to do that now is to respect the current zoning.**

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Monday, November 21, 2011

Overlay Zone: Deke Plays Favorites and Who Really Represents Laney-Walker? (videos)

Mayor Deke Copenhaver  Nov. 21, 2011
November 21, 2011
Augusta, GA
By The Outsider  
As we told you last week in City Stink: Dee Mathis Wins Battle over Overlay Zoning District, the Augusta commission decided in a 4-6 Vote to table the Overlay Zoning District until the first commission meeting of 2012.

We thought it might also be informative to give you some of the dynamics at that Nov 15th commission meeting involving the Overlay District vote and how the mayor showed blatant favoritism to one side and pushed the envelope of parliamentary procedure and protocol.

Double Standard
At the beginning of the meeting, Dee Mathis, a homeowner in The Laney-Walker neighborhood, and Al Gray, a property rights advocate, each gave  5 minute presentations before the commission urging them to deny approval of what they said was a flawed and incomplete application for the Overlay Zoning District. It would be the only time they were allowed to speak. Following the proper protocol for citizens speaking before the commission, both Mathis and Gray went through the proper process with the clerk of the commission to be on that day's meeting agenda.

The problem is that the overlay district vote was not on the regular agenda until an hour later into the commission meeting well after Ms Mathis and Mr Gray gave their presentations. When the item finally did come back up on the agenda for a discussion and a vote, Mayor Deke had a little surprise for everybody.

Out of the blue, the mayor says that he has received a letter from Pastor Aline Scott of the Laney-Walker Neighborhood Association in support of passing the  overlay application. Though Ms Scott was not on the agenda to speak, Deke calls her forward to give a presentation nonetheless. After Ms Scott's "impromptu" presentation, the Mayor gives some commentary about those in opposition being "resistant to change". (See video below: click play button for excerpt):

Later on, in the following video, Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle (Dist 8) raises some concerns over the proposal because of conflicting information. Dir of Planning and Zoning, George Patty, then attempts to answer some of his questions. Then, once again, the Mayor gives "surprise guest" Pastor Aline Scott a second opportunity to speak. Pastor Scott makes an incorrect statement that the current zoning laws in Laney-Walker don't restrict "anything". That is not true. Most of Laney-Walker is currently zoned single family residential, so in those areas it is prohibited for someone to put in commercial or industrial uses. But notice how the mayor continually vocalizes his agreement with Pastor Scott. After she concludes speaking for the second time, Commissioner Alvin Mason rebuts the mayor's earlier remarks about opponents just being "resistant to change". (See video below: click play button for excerpt)

No Rebuttals for the Opponents
It is important to note that the Mayor never allowed Ms Mathis nor Mr Gray a second opportunity to speak before the commission to rebut the points made by Pastor Scott and George Patty, a privilege afforded Pastor Scott, who was not even on the meeting's agenda to speak. Also, the Mayor never asked if there were other residents in the commission chambers who were in opposition to the overlay vote. In a preceding non-related zoning matter, the mayor asked for a show of hands of who was there in opposition and support. But the Mayor conducted no such informal poll when it came to the vote for the overlay district for Laney-Walker. Considering that Ms Mathis and Mr Gray made their presentations more than an hour earlier at the beginning of the meeting, the arguments they raised seemed like a distant memory; whereas George Patty and Pastor Scott were able to make their arguments right before the vote was taken. But in the end a majority of  commissioners did have  long  memories and sided with Ms Mathis' and Mr Gray's arguments.

Who Really Speaks for the Laney-Walker Neighborhood?
The mayor brought Pastor Scott forward as the representative of the Laney-Walker Neighborhood Association. It is important to note that a neighborhood association is not the same as a home-owners association. The Mayor also failed to mention that there is more than one Laney-Walker Neighborhood Association.  The association Pastor Scott represents meets at Dyess Park. A different association meets Antioch Baptist church. Was this other Laney-Walker neighborhood association solicited for their opinion on The Overlay Zoning application? Also, emails forwarded to show that Commissioner Matt Aitken was aware that there is more than one Laney-Walker neighborhodd association prior to the Nov. 15th commission meeting. In Dee Mathis' presentation, she begins to talk about this email from Matt Aitken and that is when the Mayor hushes her up saying that her time to speak was over.

Was Pastor Scott giving the official decision of the neighborhood association she is affiliated with or just her own personal opinion? There is no mention of any other members of this neighborhood association signing the letter of support for the overlay that pastor Scott had sent to commissioners. Also no one else from this neighborhood association spoke before the commission, only Pastor Scott. Was there an official vote by the board of directors of this neighborhood association to support the overlay vote? If so, when did this occur and do meeting minutes exist documenting such?

"Won't You Be My Neighbor?"
After Pastor Scott makes her first presentation before the commission Mayor Deke then prompts her to "state for the record" her home address, ostensibly to show that she indeed represents and speaks for the Laney-Walker neighborhood. But listen to her answer. It is very revealing. (See video below:click play button for excerpt):

Where is 28 Park Place Cir. Augusta, GA 30909?  It turns out that Pastor Scott isn't neighbors with Ms Mathis or anyone else who actually resides in  the Laney-Walker district. When we pulled up the address she gave the commission on Google Maps, this is what we found (see map below). Coincidentally, Pastor Scott is actually neighbors with Mayor Deke Copenhaver, who lives just across Skinner's Mill Rd at 75 Conifer Cir. Well it's a small world after all.

More to come.

View Larger Map

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Taylor Bryant: Why I Fight. We All Want to Make Augusta Better

Why I fight
By Taylor Bryant

There is nothing more detrimental to collective society than conflict without meaningful purpose or objective. To simply throw stones or cause strife to be provocative is not constructive and should be frowned upon, even in the grisly realm of politics and issue activism. Movements without direction are quickly divided and conquered by their respective opposition. Wars fought with no obtainable goals lack support from citizens and soldiers alike. Missions fail. Movements die. Teams lose. Causes are lost. 

With that being said, I am a firm believer in the City of Augusta. I absolutely love this place. This is where I choose to raise my children. I met my wife here, and was married in beautiful Pendelton King park amongst my friends and family that live here as well. I love my neighbors, the schools my children attend, and the experiences that only a town like Augusta can provide. I was not born here, but I am here to stay. 

The people I associate with politically all want to see Augusta thrive, but not at the expense of her citizens. Many of us have differing views or methods, but we have a common goal. We want to make our metro area a better place. We need the help of Augusta's leaders and citizens to add to the perpetual mission of making our home a better place.

We have many features and resources that more successful cities are lacking. It is my firm belief that Augusta's full potential has not been tapped in the least, and will take a change of mindset before we will reach the peak. Many people have already thrown in the towel and left the area, leaving a void that will be difficult to fill. That is a shame, but understandable. 

I'm not done yet. I will keep fighting for the town I love. We will stay here and work as hard as we can to make the change we want to see. We are not fighting for only ourselves, we will also defend those that cannot defend themselves. I don't want recognition or accolades. If someone wants to take the credit, that is fine with me. We will not run from conflict, or cause problems for the sake of ruffling feathers. I am no provocateur, and will not be treated as so.

Augusta is a great city, and she deserves much more than she has. I will make my stand in South Augusta, come Hell or high water. Join me in making this a greater place to live. We are more than a motto, a golf tournament, or even a soul singer. There are positive things in this city that are ignored through the focus on the detrimental aspects, and the overshadowing is unfortunate.  It is what it is, and we are who we are, and we have a long way to go. I hope to be there, helping along the way. 

Taylor Bryant

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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Where Does Your A.R.C. Commissioner Stand on Property Rights and Due Process?

The Sensible Six
The following six commissioners stood on the side of individual property rights and the rule of law by voting against an incomplete Overlay Zoning District application for Laney-Walker/Bethlehem at the Nov 15th Augusta Commission meeting that could have impacted individual property rights throughout the county. They wanted more caution and a more thorough and complete process that included homeowners. 
Corey Johnson (D2)                 Grady Smith (D10)                        J.R.  Hatney (D9)

Wayne Guilfoyle (D8)                      Al Mason (D4)                            Bill Lockett (D5)

The Foolish Four
The following four commissioners voted in favor of the incomplete overlay zoning application. They sided with the private out of town developer and against long time homeowners in the Laney-Walker area and property rights advocates. These four wanted to rush through an application that was incomplete and would likely not withstand a court challenge. These four commissioners voted against property rights, due process and the rule of law.
Matt Aitken (D1)                   Joe Bowles (D3)                         Jerry Brigham (D7)                   Joe Jackson (D6)

And Deke
Though the Mayor didn't get to cast a vote on the overlay zoning district proposal, he lobbied very hard for its passage. He even brought in a  Pastor Aline Scott to speak as a resident of Laney-Walker in favor of it. But Pastor Scott was not even on the agenda to speak before the commission. And pastor Scott does not reside in Laney-Walker. In fact, Deke allowed Pastor Scott and the developer rep. seeking the OZD to speak more than once, a privilege he did not afford the opponents of the OZD who actually bothered to go through the process to get themselves on the agenda for that day's meeting.
Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver
Contact your Commissioners and the Mayor and tell them how you feel about their position on property rights and upholding due process and the rule of law: Contact Augusta Commissioners and Mayor

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Matt Aitken: Like a Deer Caught in the Headlights.

Matt Aitken (Dist 1 Comm.) Commentary
Augusta, GA
By: The Outsider

Seriously, where did this guy come from? Matt Aitken has been District One Commissioner for two years now and it just gets worse and worse.  Too many brain cell killers in the early years? Is there a better excuse for just not knowing what is going on? I'd plead the brain cell killers.  In An Augusta Commission meeting yesterday, Aitken found himself so totally out of touch with the 2012 budget proposal that he did not even know that there were employee layoffs associated with it. When Chris Thomas from WRDW asked Mr Aitken about his yes vote on the budget, he was completely oblivious: Watch the video here: 

Had he read the proposal? My bet is,"No," yet he voted to pass it. Does he prepare for Commission meetings or just votes accordingly? Might as well not waste the government paper on printing out his agenda book. If I were to vote,"Accordingly," I would be smart enough to make my handlers look good. Wonder how," They," are feeling today? Reckon they got the right boy elected to do their dirty work?

Prior to the budget vote, Commissioners heard both sides of the of the Laney Walker District Overlay Zone argument. I watched Mr. Aitken as he rocked in his leather rocking chair and seemed disinterested.... By the way, I'll give him best dressed Commissioner and First Place for rocking.... I think he was still reeling from an earlier interview request from a reporter from who asked him if he minded answering a few questions.  He replied,"You must be from that City Stank." Perfect answer, cause his handling of his constituents really, "Stanks." 

As Commissioners continued to heatedly discuss the Laney Walker matter, Aitken was totally disengaged until Commissioner Mason asked him to speak on the subject. Mason said," We have yet to hear from their Commissioner." 

Aitken stammered around as he always does and then in his best deep intellectually sounding voice, he began to talk about,"Moving Forward and Growing the city."  If I have to hear the words,"Growing the City,"one more time, I will have to run against him for District One. Seems like that was all he knew to say in his campaign three years ago, and here it was again today. 

"Growing the city," means get out of the way and let certain Cabal-connected "developers" make some money here! In all seriousness, Matt Aitken, Commissioner for the Laney Walker District proceeded to vote to allow an Overlay Zone for the Laney Walker area without attending ONE public hearing, finding out what it was about, making sure that his constituents were well informed, and assuring that all documents for the application were in order. 

Matt Aitken: "No Comment!"
He knew that this Zoning change was causing unrest in his district yet he chose to ignore it. Cha-Ching for the developers! As it turned out, other Commissioners listened carefully to arguments from both sides and made the right decision to hold off on the Overlay until all residents understood the ramifications and the proper documents were filed in the proper manner. One has to wonder if Mr. Aitken receives text messages during Commission meetings from Mayor Deke that say,"Dont Cave or we'll rescind your pardon." One has to wonder what pressure this must put on this man so that he continues to make decisions for his constituents that are so unpopular...And if this weren't enough....

Just recently as noted in, Commissioner Aitken was responsible for putting an item on the Augusta Commission Agenda over a year ago that eventually made all of Harrisburg an Opportunity Zone.  All of this was done without a public hearing as required by law. If this was such a great thing for Harrisburg, why was it carefully hidden until it was done? Mr Aitken, this is where I draw the line. Are you that afraid or your puppeteers that you will not do what is  right and follow the correct procedures under the letter of the law? Poor Matt Aitken was on the road to personal recovery and now obviously has gotten side tracked by the Augusta Cabal.  What a shame this is for a man who was doing so well.

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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Dee Mathis Wins Battle Over Overlay Zone at The Marble Palace...For Now (Videos)

Dee Mathis Claims Victory at The Marble Palace

Augusta, GA
Dee Mathis and her allies reigned victorious after the Nov 15th Augusta commission meeting in halting approval of a proposed overlay zoning district for the Laney-Walker/Bethlehem neighborhood. You can read more about the background over this here: CityStink: Commission Set to Vote Today on Overlat Zone.

Bringing a flock of supporters, Dee Mathis was joined by veteran property rights advocate, Al Gray, in making oral presentations before the commissioners as to why they should deny approving the application for the overlay zone as submitted by the developer.

In the end a majority of commissioners, in a 4-6 vote, sided with Ms Mathis and Mr Gray and denied the application. A second motion was approved that would have the commission revisit the overlay proposal at the first scheduled commission meeting in January 2012. You can watch videos of the proceedings at the commission meeting below.

Al Gray's Presentation :

video courtesy of Kurt Huttar

Dee Mathis' Presentation:

video courtesy of Kurt Huttar

More Video from Later in the Meeting when the Vote was Taken:

video courtesy of Kurt Huttar

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Commissioners Set to Vote on Overlay Zoning District Today for Laney-Walker/Bethlehem

 Will Dee Mathis and her allies be able to stop the Overlay Zoning District?
Augusta, GA
Today is the day when Augusta commissioners will vote to either approve or halt a controversial proposed overlay zoning district for the Laney-Walker/Bethlehem neighborhoods in inner city Augusta. was the first in the media to tell you about the concerns over the overlay zoning proposal on October 6th in Urban Redevelopment or Land Grab?

Laney-Walker homeowner Dee Mathis got wind that the Augusta Planning and Zoning Department was planning to quietly approve an Overlay Zoning District for her neighborhood on October 3rd. Ms Mathis nor any of her neighbors had previously heard about this proposal and none of them were notified prior to the Oct 3rd meeting. Ms Mathis and property rights activist Mike Sheil, showed up at the meeting and challenged the legitimacy of the proposal moving forward because property owners had not been properly notified. Ms Mathis and many of her neighbors wanted more specifics about how the zoning changes would affect them and the use of their property. There were also concerns that the overlay zoning district would introduce commercial zoning into areas that are now zoned residential and impose architectural review guidelines on existing property owners. Because of the challenge by Ms Mathis and Mr Sheil, the vote by Planning and Zoning was postponed until Nov 7th.
Dee Mathis, Laney-Walker Homeowner
The Dog and Pony Shows
In the mean time, Planning and Zoning began to notify the affected property owners by mail and a series of informational seminars were scheduled to supposedly give residents more specifics. Dee Mathis kept requesting  all of the details of the proposal that would actually be voted on, but instead got mostly "vague" concepts and pretty water color sketches.... but not a lot of specifics. As you are probably aware, when dealing with Augusta government it's always important to get the specifics in writing.

The seminars were not much more informative. Critics referred to them as being more "Dog and Pony Shows" than being informative and offering  specifics. It became obvious to homeowners like Dee Mathis, that the seminars, conducted by the private developer requesting the overlay zone and The Augusta Housing Authority, were mostly propaganda sessions designed to mislead residents with pretty water color sketches that had little to do with what would actually be voted on in the application.

In fact, Dee Mathis and a group of allies found glaring inconsistencies, vague language, and an application that was essentially incomplete. How could an incomplete application be approved? Well, according to the law, it shouldn't. But that didn't stop the Planning and Zoning Department from giving their seal of approval to the Overlay Zoning District on  November 7th, despite the objections raised by Ms Mathis and her allies. However, for the overlay zone to go into effect, it would need approval  from Augusta Commissioners. And that is where we are today.

What Will Commissioners Do?
Commissioners will take up the Overlay Zoning District at today's 5pm BOC meeting at The Marble Palace. Inside sources are telling that Dist 1 Commissioner Matt Aitken (who represents the bulk of the proposed Overlay Zoning District) plans to vote in favor of the OZ. Commissioner Jerry Brigham (Dist 7) has  made public statements indicating that he would likely support it as well. So will this vote fall along mostly racial lines with white commissioners voting in favor of imposing  an overlay zoning district in a mostly poor , and black inner-city neighborhood at the behest of a private out-of town developer? What about the "cafeteria" sometimes-leaning-libertarian Mayor Pro-tem Joe Bowles? Will he side with the property rights activists and the rule of law? Or will he fall in line and side with the private developer and approve restricting property rights and approve an incomplete application with inconsistent and vague information that would likely not withstand a legal challenge? Where do minority Commissioners Mason, Lockett, Hatney, and Johnson all stand on the Overlay Zoning District?

The Dee and Al Show
Dee Mathis will be joined by ally and property rights advocate Al Gray at today's commission meeting. Both are on the agenda to speak before the commissioners in opposing approval of the ordinance. Ms Mathis has also been organizing her neighbors and supporters on Facebook to pack the commission chambers today at 5pm to stop the overlay zone. Al Gray is scheduled to speak first.
Property Rights Advocate, Al Gray
Mr. Gray is no stranger to these sorts of battles. He successfully challenged a similar overlay zoning district in Columbia County for the Evans Town Center area. Though not a resident of Richmond County, Mr Gray is coming out to lend his support and knowledge to Ms Mathis and the residents of Laney-Walker/Bethlehem in fighting against this proposal. For Mr Gray it boils down to the simple issue of protecting individual property rights and following the rule of law. received the following press release from Al Gray regarding today's vote:


Property rights activist and overlay zoning district veteran Al Gray has the following comment on the overlay motion coming before the Augusta Richmond County Commission Tuesday night.


The Augusta Richmond County government has been caught with its pants down so often Sheriff Strength could arrest them all for indecent exposure, yet it is poised to execute a plan initiated by a private entity that fails its own ordinance in uniformity, required notices, and completeness. This malignant plan as it is being executed is a dagger to the private property rights of every Richmond County landowner from McBean to Warren Road. Richmond County citizens are being told "trust us" yet again. They say this...."Trust our plan. We don't know the details, but we MUST pass it to before you find out what is in it."

When these overlays came to Columbia and Lincoln Counties, they were met with public hostility to the point that there was nearly a riot at the Columbia County Planning Commission in 2000. (Reporters at the Columbia News-Times of that day can attest to this as can Columbia County Commission Chairman Ron Cross who was seen on the front row waving his fist and being decidedly loud in defense of property rights.) The overlay ordinances had to be scaled back to meet public acceptance. The Evans Town Center Overlay was thrown out in Superior Court for lack of notification, yet many Laney Walker residents had not been notified as recently as October 25. In Lincoln County, negating a corridor overlay was a key campaign issue in Chairman Wade Johnson's victory in 2008 and the proximate cause of the firing of his Planning and Zoning Director.

We trust that residents throughout Richmond County are acutely aware of the many recent failings of its government and have ample reason to be terrified at what lies in store for their most precious property rights at the hands of these failed "leaders."

I suggest you all wake up. Now.

Al Gray

What Will Happen Next?
Inside sources are telling that the commission will likely approve the overlay zoning district proposal at today's meeting. However, commissioners could be swayed by a large turnout of residents in opposition at today's meeting. Dee Mathis has been making the rounds of local talk radio and has been busy getting the word out. Also, the property rights and rule of law arguments made by Mathis and Gray may also have an impact on some commissioners. 

However even if the proposal does pass today, Al Gray doesn't see it as a defeat but rather just the beginning: "The vote is (really) meaningless as the matter violates notification, common purpose, and completeness requirements of the application." 

Most opponents believe that the ordinance, if passed in its current form, could not pass a legal challenge in the courts. Coverage video correspondent, Mary Dits, will be covering today's commission meeting and will have a full update on The Mary Dits Report, So stay tuned to and we will have Mary's video coverage online as soon as it is available.
Mary Dits, video correspondent
What to Know if You Plan to Attend:
  • What: Augusta Commission Meeting 
  • Where: Augusta-Richmond County Municipal Building, 530 Greene St, Room #803
  • When: Today (Tuesday Nov. 15th) at 5:00pm
**Advisory** You are encouraged to arrive early if you want a seat in the chambers. Protest signs are not permitted inside commission chambers. Opponents of the Overlay Zoning District proposal are planning to wear GREEN to show solidarity.

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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Lori Davis: What Does the Opportunity Zone Really Mean for Harrisburg?

By Lori Davis, chief Harrisburg correspondent for

Yes, I am, "That Harrisburg Lady," the name that Brad Means of WJBF gave me when I was running for Mayor of Augusta last year. Somehow I don't think this was a term of endearment and that's OK. No hard feelings. I'll wear it with pride.

The Augusta media sure has had no problem showing their bias. I think a lot of people were unhappy with me for running against the Beloved Mayor Deke Copenhaver. Well, someone needed to bring the true issues of this city to the forefront. I tried, but the local media would not engage in it. On the other hand, I know a lot of people who were very proud that I gave them a voice. The kind of people who truly matter in Augusta but who are often ignored: like the decent, hardworking people of Harrisburg. By the way, I am the President of the Harrisburg West-end Neighborhood Association, so you see I am a little more than just,"That Harrisburg Lady."

In recent months, I have uncovered the fact that the Harrisburg neighborhood has been designated an Opportunity Zone by the State of Georgia Department of Community Affairs. This state designation on the surface looks all fine and good, but when you dig into the details of how all of this happened without any involvement from the leaders of Harrisburg it becomes a whole other matter. How did this happen without us knowing about it? Very carefully. Is it good? is it bad? We don't know. We do know that the process was carefully hidden. It seems that in March of 2010 the Augusta Commission voted to declare Harrisburg an Enterprise Zone. Our District 1 Commissioner Matt Aitken put it on the agenda and George Patty and Fred Russell rammed it through.

Dist 1 Commissioner Matt Aitken by "The Shadow"
Matt Aitken didn't even know what it was all about, and has yet to answer any of my questions regarding it, claiming that he would have to get someone who knows more about it to explain it. Jeez!!!!! Just like what occured with the proposed Overlay Zoning District for the Laney-Walker/Bethlehem neighborhoods, this all happened without any public notice or hearing. This designation actually encourages big business to come into the area via tax breaks. This came as a surprise to me because Harrisburg leaders have been engaging in a five year battle to take back this crime ridden neighborhood and have been quite vocal about how we have wanted to do it. So why were we left out of the process?

We wanted our neighborhood to be restored to it's former greatness as an Historic Mill Village, and bring in Urban Pioneers to help reclaim one of the best downtown Augusta neighborhoods. You can't tell me that physicians who drive through here everyday don't wish that they could live this close to their work? All of this caused me to dig deeper into what was really happening with the area. I started looking at just how we had gotten the Opportunity Zone designation from the State. I asked for documents from the Department of Community Affairs which they quickly provided.

As I studied the documents I zeroed in on one interesting sentence. Mr. Patty of Planning and Zoning had written that the statistics recorded in the application had been derived from a,"Privately Funded Study." Another intersting thing for sure. Who provided the money for a study of Harrisburg, and why? Why were we not privy that this study was going on, and it's all important results? I decided to meet with Mr. Patty whom I have always said that I respected more than anyone else in Augusta Government. We might need to start calling him David Fry... Mr. Patty admitted to me that there was no study and no funding and that he did all of this on his own and that no one put him up to it. He just wanted to help Harrisburg. Oh really?? Let's go back a few years to understand where we are today in Harrisburg, and why this new information becomes so important.

George Patty, Dir. Planning & Zoning
Back around 2005-06 several of us in Harrisburg got together to begin the plans to take back this neighborhood from the drug dealers, the addicts, prostitutes and pimps. Shouldn't be that hard with good leadership and the law on our side. Boy were we wrong. We began to make all of the appropriate contacts, set up all of the appropriate meetings and make it known that we were true leaders and could turn around a sinking ship. All we needed was a little cooperation from law enfocement. Up until now, no real movement had taken place in Harrisburg.

I credit Butch Palmer with bringing us all together. Butch was born and raised in Harrisburg and has watched her decline over the years with no way to stop it. We began writing letters to landlords asking for their help with the tenants they were putting into their properties; The types that were drug dealers and hell raisers. We even protested one landlord in particular and took him to court over the drug dealing of his tenants. We got no response. We began making numerous calls to RCSO, set up our own neighborhood watch and patrol and began the hard work to rid this area of the troublemakers. We ultimately stumbled across an ordinance called," The Chronic Nuisance Property Ordiance," that was being used effectively all over the United States and even raised the money to bring a nationally known expert of this ordinance to Augusta to have a two day meeting with city leaders to explain how great this ordinance has worked around the country.

Butch Palmer: Harrisburg neighborhood leader and civic activist
We really thought we were getting somewhere except that the push back from a well known and well connected slumlord stopped us in our tracks. You see, a CNPO holds landlords accountable for the behavior of their tenants after so many calls to the authorities. The ordinance was never meant to criminalize the landlord in any way but to solicit his/her help in problem solving. The city was even gracious enough to set up a CNPO committee to draw up the ordinance.

For once it looked like we were getting somewhere. Mr. Patty served along side me on this committee while he continued to work on his application for Opportunty Zone designation for Harrisburg. The key point here is that an OZ cannot be awarded unless the area has certain horrible and provable statistics such as high crime, blight, and unemployment. While we were working to change these dynamics, a behind the scenes plan was obviously being executed by Mr. Patty and his cohorts. Harrisburg could not look good to get this OZ designation. The CNPO was further derailed by a city attorney who drew up the ordinace and then declared it federally unconstitutional. That was the end of the committee and the end of all of our hard work to draft a Chronic Nuisance Property Ordinance.

Commissioner Joe Bowles even appeared to be working hard on our behalf. What a ruse!! I remember my meeting with Sheriff Strength prior to bringing the CNPO consultant to Augusta. He said that he would support this ordinance 100%. If this had been the truth, we would have this ordniance today. It was all a smokescreen. My question was,"Why?" Who was behind the destruction of Harrisburg? During all of this, Butch Palmer ran for District One Commissioner and was defeated by Matt Aitken,  a Cabal backed and funded candidate.

We kept working in Harrisburg and kept getting a push back. We were not getting the help we thought we deserved out of all of our effort. To this day, Matt Aitken has not done one thing to help Harrisburg. It was beginning to become evident that someone did not want Harrisburg to prosper. Crime reports were worse and worse each month even with our dogged determination, letters to the editor and continued calls to code enforcement, the Marshall's Department and the media for coverage. Because of this, I decided to run for Mayor to hopefully expose what was going on behind the scenes in Augusta's government that was holding neighborhoods like Harrisburg back.

 I decided to run a clean campaign and did not alert the media when I found out that a former employee of Deke's family lived in Harrisburg next to one of the worst drug houses in our neighborhood. I chose to alert Deke for help after the lady came to me and explained how she had taken care of Deke's dying father. I got no response from Deke and still have not to this very day. The media never even wanted to discuss the issue of crime in the county even though this was a huge part of my campaign and a huge issue for the city and county with one of the highest crime rates in decades. It was conveniently ignored. Deke won. So after a five year battle, what is the state of Harrisburg today?

Typical blighted property found in Harrisburg (one of the better ones)
Two nights ago a person was shot in the chest in front of my house on Crawford Ave. Property is being silently bought up in certain areas of the neighboirhood by numerous LLC's connected with a major member of The Cabal as they hide behind philanthropic projects, all the while ignoring the major issue called,"Crime." The neighborhood over the past three years has had extensive studies performed by the Georgia Conservancy, Historic Augusta, and some other group that represented,"Lifelong Communities."

Crime is still not being addressed at least not to the level that it should be. Ten year old drug houses still abound, while prostitutes are being picked up in broad daylight. Harrisburg has been designated as an Opportunity Zone with a bogus study, no public hearing as required by law, and property values have plummeted even more. The Kroc Center has been completed, however, Harrisburg does not have a sitting member on the BOD of the Kroc Center, nor is there any community outreach as promised. I guess all of this is going according to someone's master plan. Nothing else makes sense. We believe that Harrisburg is being allowed to decline and at some point a land grab will be the reality when no one is looking. I can assure you,"That Harrisburg Lady" will not let this happen.

Lori Davis,
President of the Harrisburg West-end Neighborhood Association
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