Saturday, December 31, 2011

Corporal Gripweed: "Divide and Conquer", The Tired Tactic of The Cabal

Saturday, Dec. 31, 2011
By Corporal Gripweed

"It is the rule in war ….if double the enemy's strength; be able to divide them……."
            Sun Tzu's "Art of War"

I had the pleasure recently of attending a meeting of like-minded individuals from the Augusta Today group: a collection  of people  known was the "inner circle". I was immediately struck by the amount of diversity I encountered….political and racial. Some were black, some where white. Some were conservative, some were liberal. And some were in between. There may have even been an anarchist or two in the bunch.

But we were united in our stated goal of holding ALL politicians in Augusta-Richmond County government accountable when doing the people's business. When it came my turn to speak I remarked that it was the diversity of our group that makes us strong. I was also impressed that our dissatisfaction with some city leaders' recent decisions went across racial and political lines.

Mainly I wanted to make the point that for too long, local politicians, their cronies in business, and in particular the local media, have for generations used the tactic of "divide and conquer". If they can make an issue black vs. white,  liberal vs. conservative or haves vs. have nots, they can divide our voices and win the day.

The strategy of "divide and conquer" as developed by the Chinese General Sun Tzu over 2,500 years ago, has been used successfully down through the centuries by evil empire builders as a means to subdue and subjugate nations and people, thus maintaining power more easily. I submitted to the group that the issues we face in this county aren't black or white, liberal or conservative. The issues we face are mostly right vs. wrong.

Was the land swap deal involving the parking deck legal? All indications are that it was. But as my momma used to say, "That doesn't make it right".  The budget deal recently passed by the Augusta Commission included $100,000. for another assistant to the Mayor, while the city is millions in the hole. Is this legal? Of course. BUT, "That doesn't make it right. " Remember…needs before wants.

Properties surrounding the proposed  mixed-use facility are owned by a handful of well connected people who hide this information  under a myriad of LLC's because they stand to profit from the deal. Is this legal? Yes.
BUT, that doesn't make it right.

Slavery was legal for over 200 years in America….BUT...That didn't make it right.
I told my friends that night, that I hoped our common interests would overcome our differences. I have the same hope for all Augustans.  That the "divide and conquer" tactics used by the elites in this city would be diluted by the fact that we have "right" on our side. Those in power may do things legally in most cases, but if we hold them to the standard of right vs. wrong, we'll win the argument every time. And they won't be able to "divide and conquer" any longer. ***

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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Augusta Commissioner Alvin Mason Arrested

Tuesday, Dec. 27th, 2011
Augusta, GA

It's the kind of photo opp no politician wants: a mugshot, but one of Commissioner Alvin Mason has been making the rounds of the local media since he was arrested earlier today. The domestic violence charge stems from an incident that occurred at the commissioner's Hephzibah home back on December 23rd. Mason turned himself in to Richmond County authorities today at 12:30 pm and was booked on charges of simple battery. He was released shortly thereafter on a $1,200 cash bond.

Commissioner mason's Mug Shot
The police report shows that officers were called to the Mason home at 10:00pm on Friday, December 23rd after there was a verbal altercation between Mason and his wife that escalated and allegedly resulted in Mason grabbing his wife by the throat and shoving her against a wall. The responding officer says that he observed red marks around Mrs. Mason's neck and a slight cut. Commissioner Mason told Chris Thomas of WRDW that  it is a "regrettable situation."

This news breaks in what is generally a slow local news week, especially in local politics, but there is little doubt that after the New Year, the Mason arrest will be the top local political story. Mason has emerged as the leading spokesman for the minority opposition on the Commission. Mr. Mason chaired the ad-hoc redistricting committee and has often butted heads with fellow commissioners over issues such as government re-organization. At just the last commission meeting Mason chastised commissioners Brigham and Smith for switching their votes on the redistricting map. At that same meeting he successfully won approval on  a substitute motion  that authorized a forensic audit over the questionable land and financial deals over the new $12 million TEE Center parking deck.

Mr Mason also lead the charge calling for city administrator Fred Russell's dismissal twice; however, both times the commission voted to keep Russell. It has been widely speculated that Mason will run for Mayor in 2014. Even though these charges are not political in nature, they will obviously have some political impact, how much at this point is not certain. More details will need to emerge to see how much political fall-out there will be and if this incident has the potential to derail a Mayoral campaign or even lead to a resignation from the commission. Some are already calling for a resignation, but that seems to be premature at this point until more  is known. 

 But there will likely be immediate political ramifications. This incident will most likely temper Mason's bark, if not temporarily silence it. That may mean that a new spokesman for the opposition may need to emerge in the next week, and all eyes will be turning now to Commissioner Bill Lockett. ***
*More to come

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Sunday, December 25, 2011

Laney-Walker Overlay Do-Over

Dec. 26, 2011

The following documents were sent to us by Dee Mathis and Michael Sheil concerning the re-application process for the W-4 Overlay Zoning District in Laney-Walker. Not much has changed from the last time and it appears as though they will not be notifying residents of the wider Laney-Walker area about future plans for the entire neighborhood. The W-4 node is just one small portion of a much larger area that will include several overlay zones. For now it appears the project developer, APD Urban Planning and Management LLC, is focusing their efforts on just the W-4 node. But as we have told you in previous stories, the master plan call for a much larger area to be affected by new zoning regulations. We do hope that the city and the developer will begin notifying the residents of the wider Laney-Walker/Bethelehem area to include them in the process for their future plans.


Friday, December 23, 2011

Al Gray: Fraudits with Less Than a Full Deck

Fraudits with Less Than a Full Deck
By Al Gray

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. Examples of his work are to be found at

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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Corporal Gripweed: Augusta Politicians About to Awaken a Sleeping Giant

By Corporal Gripweed

" I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve"
                 Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto, Dec. 7, 1941

These words were reportedly spoken by Admiral Yamamoto after the attack on Pearl Harbor.Being a military genius, the Admiral understood there are three facets to success in war. Operations. Tactics. And Strategy.  First, the attack was an overwhelming  operational success: A complete surprise, with very few losses on their part.  Second, it was a moderate tactical success. A number of battleships and other vessels were sunk or damaged, but the U.S. carriers escaped unscathed and the largest fuel depot in the Pacific theater, which was  located on the other side of Oahu, was untouched.  Third and more importantly, the attack was a strategic failure. Why? The American public was so incensed that it came together in such an unprecedented fashion that ultimately Japan lost the war. The Admiral grasped this final point too late.

How does this relate to local politics you ask?
I see parallels in the current state of affairs in Augusta today. It seems we have too many people in positions of power who forget that it is we, the average citizens, who are the sleeping giant. And with the advent of social media and blogs such as CityStink and it's sister page Augusta Today, it will become harder and harder for them to run their fiefdoms as they see fit, all the while thinking we are dozing in blissful ignorance.  The truth be told, I'd love for every elected and appointed official to have the Admiral's words run through their brains every night before they fall asleep.

You see, they are very adept at operational success. The "old timers" have been running things behind the scenes in Augusta for generations. From the Cracker Party to the Southside Mafia to the current crop of pseudo-crony-capitalists. Point of disclosure: I'm a conservative, so I have no problem with capitalism nor the profits made by capitalists. I just have problems with whispered "tips" about  upcoming government projects or a certain right-of-way about to be needed. Provable? No. Probable? Little doubt. 
There's your operational success.

Recently there have been missteps when it comes to tactical success. Among other things, recent deals concerning various downtown projects have been sidetracked by "nosy" citizens who just won't leave well enough alone. Mixed use stadiums, parking decks, etc. , causing various members of Augusta's "ruling class" to have to reverse engineer explanations for what REALLY happened. Hmmm….Okay…. All the while acting as if we, as average citizens were "idiot's" to even question their motives, accompanied by a compliant local 'large media conglomerate" on board as well.
There is your moderate tactical success.

This brings me  to the final point, their strategic failure. I believe the greatest mistake our elected and appointed officials make is to use the word "divisive" when being questioned by a citizen, ANY citizen. Is it divisive to expect a commissioner to account for how he arrived at a decision? Of course not.  Is it divisive that protocols and procedures aren't followed, causing us to distrust the very body that makes laws that we as citizens have to follow?  Of course not.  And will we as citizen activists continue to watch the votes they make, the rules they break and who they give the breaks to? You bet…….And ideally the citizenry will eventually become motivated to the point that no elected official in his right mind would dare break his solemn oath. One can only hope.

Underestimating the will of the people would be a major strategic failure on their part.
One must understand that my commentary isn't meant to be an indictment of individual members of city government. I'm not in the "naming names" business, however, this is a stern reminder to these same officials. Remember who you serve. And it isn't the guy who helped you get a membership at the country club, or the businessman who made sure you had tickets to "the tunamint"

Sadly, the ruling class in Augusta has a long history of operational success. They have a recent history of moderate tactical success as well. But their strategic plan is fatally flawed. They see the paradigms of the past. Where everything flies "under the radar". Where "you scratch my back and I'll scratch your's " is accepted, even encouraged. With any luck, those days will be numbered.  With forums such as these, we will do our best to hold them accountable.  A word of advice to those in power… may win the battle, as Yamamoto did….. but with history as a guide, we'll win the war.
You may just awaken that sleeping giant after all..***
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Mason Gets Partial Victory on Redistricting; Forensic Audit of Parking Deck Passes

Commissioner Alvin Mason
Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2011
Augusta, GA

We were all prepared for an eventful commission meeting yesterday, and we certainly got one. As we told you on Monday: Mason Makes a Stand, Commissioner Al Mason had placed himself on the meeting's agenda reserved for citizens comments and presentations in order  to revisit the issue of redistricting. Mason was frustrated with a redistricting process that seemed to end up being a big charade. He  chaired the ad-hoc committee responsible for coming up with a compromise redistricting map for commission and school board districts. That committee was made up of  select commissioners, school board members, and members of the local state delegation.

On Nov. 29th the committee voted unanimously to approve the compromise map 3-R. Redistricting consultant Linda Meggars had gone through several revisions of various maps  (Ms Meggars' consultation services and expenses were paid for by the city government and the school board.).  In the end it was the revised map 3-R that everyone agreed on.

In his speech before the commission yesterday Al Mason said "We achieved what no one thought was possible... we achieved a 12-0 vote," over the unanimous decision of the ad-hoc committee to accept the compromise 3-R redistricting map. Mason went on to say, "No one held a gun to anyone's head... we had a feeling of 'Esprit de Corps', " and "there was a positive feeling in the room, a lot of back-slapping and handy shakes... we were proud of what we had accomplished."

But that "esprit de corps" did not last for long. Just a week later, at the December 6th commission meeting, Commissioners Grady Smith and Jerry Brigham, who served on the ad-hoc committee and had voted in favor of map 3-R, jumped ship and voted against it, resulting in a 5-5 tie that fell along racial lines. Since the mayor was absent, no one could break the stale-mate and so the map failed to win commission approval. This stunned Mason and many others, who considered commission approval of the map a mere formality after the unanimous vote from the ad-hoc committee. But something had obviously transpired within that week and it didn't smell right. Some speculated that the Mayor's absence was pre-arranged to set up the tie vote that would fail by default, and allowed Matt Aitken to vote yes knowing that the vote would be moot anyway. The Mayor quickly dismissed such talk as "conspiracy theory." Over the weekend, the mayor went on record stating that he favored the redistricting map and would have voted in favor of it if he was at the December 6th meeting. Critics question why the Mayor didn't make his position on the matter known earlier, before the December 6th vote.

Now knowing that the Mayor would have broken the tie in favor of the redistricting map, Commissioner Mason wanted a do-over of the December 6th vote to give the Mayor an opportunity to make good on his words. A motion to re-vote the matter was seconded, but the Mayor was denied an opportunity to cast a tie breaking vote. Once again the motion received 5 votes in favor with Mason, Johnson, Hatney, Lockett, and Aitken all voting yes. Commissioners Bowles, Guilfoyle, and Jackson once again voted in the negative, but instead of a 5-5 repeat tie, Commissioners Brigham and Smith (who previously voted in favor of the map while serving on the ad-hoc committee) abstained to avoid a tie which once again meant the motion to accept the map failed by default.

Mason said that he would not re-convene the ad-hoc committee. It had done its job and came to a unanimous compromise. But Mason was not willing to give up on the redistricting map. One of the options that we suggested for Mason in our Monday article was for him to ask for the Mayor and the 5 commissioners who voted in favor of Map 3-R to sign a letter endorsing it that would then be forwarded in a packet to the state legislature and the US Justice Department (which has final approval of redistricting). Mayor Copenhaver said that he would agree to this but wanted to make sure proper procedures were followed and wanted an opinion from the city legal department first, and if they agreed that such action was  legal, then he would sign an letter of endorsement.

We have to applaud the Mayor for this action. It demonstrated that he was willing to make good on his statements of endorsing the plan. Rather than just saying he would have done something, here the mayor would be going on record, signing his signature in support of it. It also served to debunk any ideas that the Mayor was collaborating with others to defeat the map without having to officially take a position either way.  Also, with the Mayor's support, it paints the 3 commissioners who voted no and the two who abstained as looking like the obstructionists who are unwilling to compromise on the issue.

And speaking of obstructionism, what about the two abstentions? In the past, the use of the abstention loophole has been much maligned by commissioners and  the media as a tricky way of defeating a motion by denying the Mayor a tie breaking vote. For there to be a tie, the vote has to fall 5-5, but an abstention keeps that from happening, so the measure fails by default. Some commissioners have called for an end of abstentions all together or for them to be considered "no" votes. There have been countless editorials in the Augusta Chronicle criticizing the practice and the commissioners who use it. But some people see a racial double standard when it comes to outrage over playing the "abstention card." And we have to wonder if we will see a forthcoming editorial in the Augusta Chronicle chastising Commissioners Brigham and Smith for abstaining yesterday to deny the Mayor an opportunity to break the tie over redistricting

The Third Time is a Charm When it Comes to Forensic Audits
Commissioner Bill Lockett
Perhaps the biggest surprise from yesterday's commission meeting was that Commissioner Bill Lockett finally won approval for a forensic audit to investigate city financial deals. But instead of a wide-ranging audit of all city finances which Lockett had previously asked for, this time it was limited  to focusing on just the land acquisitions and financial arrangements involved with the TEE Center parking decks. Not that Lockett did not try again for an omnibus forensic audit.. he went in that direction yet again but was pulled back to focus on the TEE parking deck saying :"It depends on how you want to tweak it.." and then he referenced a 0.07 acre land swap transaction that the city engaged in with State Sen. William S Jackson, that "increased  value of all property" where the deck now sits.

New $12 Million TEE Center Parking Deck
Commissioner Joe Bowles, who previously had been outraged upon learning that the city had built a $12 million parking deck on land the city didn't own, came out against the audit. Bowles was now even defending the financial arrangement that had the city only owning air-rights instead of the land that Fred Russell said would be donated to the city at a Dec. 9, 2009 commission meeting. Bowles said that not owning the land saved the city $1.7 million on construction of the deck, "we didn't have to acquire the land," Bowles said. Though so far Bowles has been unable to verify those figures. And if not owning the land where the deck sits actually saved the city money, then it makes the land swap transaction for the city to acquire the 0.07 acre corner parcel for the deck even more strange. Why did the city go to so much trouble to acquire a small parcel of land for the deck and not acquire the rest? If keeping the land under private ownership saved the city money, then why didn't 933 Broad Investment LLC (the entity the owns the rest of the land) not acquire that parcel from State Sen Jackson instead of the city? Perhaps those are some of the questions a forensic audit will answer.

Commissioner Mason took exception with Commissioner Bowles' statements, especially about air-rights versus owning the land, "No one got back to you (Bowles) and I" about changes in the deal. At that point Mason made a substitute motion to begin a forensic audit on the TEE deck land acquisition and financing."

Commissioners Grady Smith and Wayne Guilfoyle Cross Over

Commissioners Grady Smith  and Wayne Guilfoyle (right)
Mason's substitute motion for a forensic audit focusing on the TEE Center parking decks passed because Commissioners Wayne Guilfoyle and Grady Smith crossed racial lines to vote in favor of it with Commissioners, Lockett, Mason, Hatney, and Johnson. It is also important to note that Guilfoyle and Smith also crossed racial lines to vote against the incomplete Overlay application for Laney-Walker back in early November. This is significant also because the TEE Center and parking deck bond financing is inextricably tied to the Laney-Walker redevelopment plan of which the overlay district is an element.

We applaud Commissioners Smith and Guilfoyle for  looking at this as not a black vs white issue but a right vs wrong issue. There are indeed many unanswered questions regarding the TEE Center and its parking decks. Let's also not forget that David Fry will soon be on trial for allegedly bribing two commissioners over this very same parking deck. Critics of a forensic audit say it is too costly, but Lockett maintains that it will cost no more than a regular internal audit and depending on what it uncovers, it could end up saving the city much more than it costs.

What Will a Forensic Audit Do?
A forensic audit differs greatly from a regular internal audit in that it searches for criminal wrong doing. Commissioner Lockett told WRDW News that "if something is prosecutable or someone can go to jail... so be it." You can see more of WRDWs' report below: But some people caution that it is important which firm is selected to perform the audit and that a thorough audit is performed with citizens oversight. Also, tasking Fred Russell with choosing an auditing firm would undermine the process as many of the missteps over the parking deck involve the city administrator. So Fred Russell should be taken out of that process.
The timing of the audit could get very interesting with David Fry's bribery trial getting under way sometime after the new year. Depending on what the audit finds or what is uncovered in the Fry trial, this could open up a whole can of worms, bringing other city financial deals into doubt and begging more scrutiny. Commissioner Bill Lockett may just get his omnibus forensic audit after all.***
--more to come
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Monday, December 19, 2011

Mason Makes a Stand

Monday, Dec. 19, 2011
Augusta, GA
Dustin Goads

To say that Commissioner Alvin Mason is "fed-up" would be an understatement. Frustration over how the Augusta Commission has been conducting business over the past year has been building and the latest controversy over redistricting has reached the boiling point for Mason. So at tomorrow's commission meeting Mason will step from behind the dais and address his colleagues as a citizen, placing himself on the meeting's agenda reserved for citizens' remarks and presentation.

Like any other citizen, Commissioner Mason will be allowed  5 minutes to address his colleagues. He has stated that he wants to discuss the issue of redistricting and specifically what went wrong at the last commission meeting when five white commissioners voted against the compromise redistricting Map 3-R resulting in a 5-5 tie. Since the Mayor was on vacation and unable to cast a rare tie-breaking vote, the motion to endorse the map failed by default.

The Political Theater of Redistricting
What has particularly irritated Mason, who chaired the ad-hoc redistricting committee responsible for coming up with the map, is that two of the commissioners who served with him on the ad-hoc committee, (Jerry Brigham and Grady Smith) had voted to endorse the map along with every other member of the committee on Nov. 29. But when it came to the commission vote on Dec 6 , they had changed their tune and voted against it.

Mason was stunned and he saw it as a slap in the face and an effort to embarrass him as the chairman of the redistricting committee. What happened? Why did they change their minds? Some observers believe it was all a set-up from the beginning, that Brigham and Smith only pretended to support the map at the committee vote with the intention of voting against it at the commission in an effort to snatch a victory away from Mason.

After the ad-hoc committee voted unanimously to approve the 3-R map, Mason heralded it as a great moment of compromise for a local government that has had great difficulty in agreeing on much of anything. Some people credited Mason's leadership on the committee for this. And perhaps it was the view that redistricting would be seen as a major victory for Mason, who many observers speculate will run for Mayor, was why Brigham and Smith switched their votes at the commission meeting so that Mason, who was beaming a week earlier over the unanimous vote, would be left with egg all over his face with  yet again a major defeat.

Brigham has stated the reason that he voted against the map at the commission meeting is because he did not like that a portion of District 7 was moved into District 1. Commission districts must be of approximately the same size when it comes to population, and so after every census, redistricting must occur to account for population shifts. District 1 had lost population and District 7 gained people over the past decade. So in order to bring District 1's population in line,  a precinct from District 7 was moved into District 1. At the time of the ad-hoc committee vote, that did not keep Brigham from voting with his colleagues to endorse the map. But at the commission meeting, he voted against it.

Mason contends if this was such a big issue for Brigham, then why did he vote to approve the same map a week earlier and why didn't he bring up the issue before the vote at the commission meeting?

Commissioner Joe Jackson (who did not serve on the ad-hoc committee) was very vocal in his opposition. He did not like that the new District 6 map increased the black population to just over 60%, believing that this would shift the balance of power on the commission. This sentiment was echoed by District 8 commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle, stating that the consolidation charter institutionalized a 5-5 racial balance on the commission, and if District 6 swung to becoming a black district then that balance of power would be upset. (however that was disrupted with the election of Matt Aitken in 2009 to Dist 1 creating a 6- 4 white majority on the commission).

This is interesting because when Matt Aitken was elected to District 1, which is over 60% black, some people in the black community cried foul saying that was a black district and must be represented by a black candidate. They were heavily admonished for those statements as being racist. Commissioner Alvin Mason even labelled such rhetoric as "divisive." But here we have Commissioners Jackson and Guilfoyle essentially saying the same thing.. that certain districts must remain "white." Will their rhetoric similarly be derided as "divisive" by their colleagues and the media?

Where Was Deke?
As we told you previously, the reason the motion to endorse Map 3-R failed at the last commission meeting was because there was a 5-5 tie vote but no Mayor on hand to break the tie. He was on vacation. Deke says the vacation was planned months in advance of the vote, but some view the mayor's absence as too much of a coincidence and convenient, especially for a Mayor who likes to avoid controversy as much as possible. There is speculation that the Mayor purposefully skipped the meeting knowing what the outcome would be, and that this created a scenario that allowed Matt Aitken to vote along with black commissioners to endorse the map, thus giving him street cred in his district for reelection.

The Mayor dismisses this as "conspiracy theory."  It should be noted that even with the mayor's presence one of the opposing commissioners could have simply abstained to defeat the motion by denying a tie vote. This is a tactic that Jerry Brigham has used before and could have used again. It is worth noting that when black commissioners would abstain from votes to defeat a motion by default, they were heavily criticized by their white colleagues and certain members of the media.

One  question remains, why was the vote on the redistricting map placed on the agenda knowing that the mayor would be absent? Would it not have been wise to wait a couple of weeks when the Mayor was at the meeting to break a tie if necessary?

A Day Late and a Dollar Short
Now Mayor Deke is saying that he would have voted in favor of the map if he had been in town for the vote. How convenient. For some it's a little too little  too late and question why the Mayor didn't make his position on redistricting public BEFORE the vote. Now it doesn't really matter because the vote is over and likely will not be taken up by the commission again. So Deke can say he is for it now, which helps him politically with black voters, like Matt Aitken's vote was viewed as an effort to gain him brownie points in the black community.

 But when taking a position actually mattered, Deke was missing in action and no one knew where he stood because he didn't make a public statement to the media before the vote. Perhaps the Mayor's endorsement of the map could have persuaded a majority of commissioners to endorse it at the Dec. 6 commission meeting instead of it dead-locking at 5-5. Perhaps the Mayor's endorsement could have persuaded Joe Bowles to vote in favor, since he tends to be in line with the mayor's thinking. But we may never  know what could have been.

What Mason Should Do on Tuesday
It would be tempting for commissioner Mason to go on a 5 minute tirade at tomorrow's commission meeting, but that would obviously be counterproductive. There is a lot of frustration over the political theater surrounding the redistricting  vote,  not to mention the controversies over the Tee Center parking deck, the  budget vote, and  Mason's failed efforts to terminate Fred Russell. But the wise course would be to stay focused on the issue of  redistricting, and Mason has stated that's what he intends to address.

 Mason can do two things on Tuesday. First, he can call for a re-vote on the 3-R redistricting map. But he would need at least 6 votes to achieve that and seeing as 5 commissioners voted against it last time that seems unlikely to happen. However, now he can point to the statement made by Mayor Copenhaver in an email:
"If I was to vote on it, I would vote in favor of it, as it received unanimous approval by the redistricting committee."

 Mason could make the argument that since the vote previously ended in a tie that the mayor should now be given the opportunity to break the tie. That would put the opposing commissioners on the spot to then deny the mayor the opportunity to weigh in and break the tie. Or if they do agree to a re-vote, would one of the opposing commissioners then play the abstention card to deny the mayor the opportunity to break the tie? Then that commissioner would have to carry the "obstructionist" label.

 The other option would be for Mason to ask all of the commissioners who voted in favor of the redistricting map previously and the Mayor to sign a  letter of endorsement that would be forwarded to the state delegation and the US Department of Justice. It would not mean that the commission as a body officially voted to endorse the map, but rather that the 5 commissioners and the mayor would be personally endorsing it. That may have the same effect as if the the commission officially voted to endorse it. It would show that a majority on the commission (including the mayor) endorsed the map. The school board has already voted to endorse the map. This would put the 5 opposing commissioners in the position of being  the odd men out who are unwilling to compromise.

Likely Conclusion
In all likelihood the redistricting map will be approved regardless of whether it is endorsed by the commission. The state legislature ultimately has the final say with the approval  of the US Department of Justice, since Georgia is still under mandates from the 1964 Voting Rights Act. But the spectacle at the local level does some damage.

From what appeared at the beginning to be a great compromise that transcended racial lines ended up once again in a racial stalemate.This may signal to the state and DOJ that Augusta is just incapable of drawing their own redistricting maps. It also reinforces the notion that racial politics are just so ingrained here  with compromise seemingly impossible that it is necessary to keep Augusta under judicial review for many, many years to come when it comes to matters of elections and redistricting. The antics and political theater over this latest redistricting controversy does Augusta no favors.

The final solution may be for the redistricting process to be completely taken over by the state and the Feds with little or no local input. For those who were in opposition to the compromise 3-R map, a redistricting map drawn by the feds would most certainly be even less palatable, and they may be wishing they could go back and change their votes.***
If you go:
Where: Augusta-Richmond County Municipal Building, 530 Greene St, Room #803
Time:    Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2011 at 5:00pm
*Public comments generally occur at the beginning of commission meetings

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Friday, December 16, 2011

Scott Dean's Witless Witness

                                       Dean's Witless Witness
                                                    By Hwy221
Convicted child molester Scott Dean
Dec. 16, 2011
Evans, GA

Two witnesses called by the defense in Scott Dean's trial for child molestation were like the hideous torpedoes launched by the US Navy in the earliest days of World War II – upon deployment they immediately went full circle and destroyed the mother ship. The Sarah Harper Scott torpedo blew away the rudders with a hit to the stern, something we fear Dean will soon grow accustomed to in prison, and the Ben Harbin destructor crushed the hull.

At this juncture, the full story of Sarah Harper Scott's role in the Scott Dean denouement is a mite hazy. The Columbia County reporter covering the case, Valerie Rowell, tweeted “Scott Dean's adopted daughter Marlin lives with Sarah Harper Scott, who refused to help police talk to her & sent her money in Mexico.”  If this is true, Ms Scott may have more direct questions coming her way as to the origins of this money and the purpose of expending it, but the immediate impact of this revelation on the Dean jurors had to have been immense, as it looked like the elder daughter recanted her story upon returning from her Mexican refuge under coaching and maybe even monetary coaxing.

At the end, the defense called Georgia state representative Ben Harbin as a character witness. What was that all about? WSB radio talker, CNN contributor and CEO Erick Erickson once penned this summation about Harbin: “Then there is the Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Ben Harbin of Augusta. Representative Harbin was arrested a while back, charged with DUI, and found to be in the company of a certain young lady who is not his wife. ..The House GOP has been perfectly willing to keep Harbin in his Chairmanship.... In fact, pretty much every philanderer, tax cheat, con artist, and crook has remained undisciplined by both the House and Senate Republicans.” Ouch.

We hope Ben did not show up for his Dean testimony looking like this:

Harbin's stature (there is a pun there) has not been enhanced lately by revelations of getting PAC money directly, or indirectly through PACs, from companies controlled by Magnolia Trace Developer Jeffery Smith's stable of companies and his introduction of a new bill for tax credits to spawn even more Magnolia Trace outrages.

His witless witnesses did nothing to buoy Scott Dean's case. They sent it to the bottom streaming bubbles of stagnant air. Nothing was going Scott free.***

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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Scott Dean: GUILTY!

Thur. Dec. 15, 2011
Evans, GA

Well the pretty boy probably wasn't smiling either  this afternoon when the jury finally reached a verdict on both counts on child molestation charges against former Columbia County Commissioner Scott Dean.  

We sort of figured things might not go Dean's way when the jury announced they had reached a verdict on the first charge (of exposing himself to his adopted daughter) but were still at an impasse on the charge of whether Dean sexually touched her. It would seem logical that if the jury didn't believe Dean exposed himself then  they would have quickly reached a verdict on the 2nd charge as well, so it appeared that the jury did believe there was sexual misconduct involved. But as the hours passed there was speculation that there could be a hung jury on the second more serious count. But that was not to be. The jury reached a decision and found Dean guilty on both charges.

Now all eyes will turn to sentencing. 

Based on the charges Dean was convicted on, he will likely spend some serious time in jail. And we understand that pretty boys, especially those convicted for child molestation, don't fare too well in the Big House. So instead of shampoo ads in his future, he may want to worry about not dropping the soap.

In the closing arguments the prosecution summed it up for the jury with the following statement: "Sometimes demons have the face of an angel." That apparently made  quite an impact.
More to come.

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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Voice Cried Out From The Wilderness

A Voice Cried Out from the Wilderness
A CityStink Editorial

When and Augusta Today contributor Al Gray put up (this warning shot of a youtube video, few paid attention. (see video below)


When CityStink replayed this short presentation two thoughts about current events  leap to mind.

Nathan Deal's Columbia County Chairman, Trey Allen, whom Al Gray directly warns in this video, is now in dire straits politically, economically and professionally because Deal “rewarded” him by appointing him to the board of the Department of Community Affairs (DCA). DCA is financing the hated Magnolia Trace subsidized housing development in the heart of Allen's Martinez District of the Columbia County Commission. The citizens furor is stoked by Allen's DCA post and his early meeting with the developer in the county attorney's office.

Trey Allen could have heeded the warning and resigned from Deal's campaign. Voters in the Georgia CSRA rejected Deal 2:1 and 60% to 40% in Columbia County, despite the entire political power structure standing behind Deal, including Rep. Barbara Sims, in whose district Magnolia Trace is to be built.

Then yesterday's national news struck like a thunderclap. The U.S. Senate questioned MF Global CEO Jon Corzine about billions of dollars that were transferred out of customer CASH accounts and into his company's accounts when the later came up short. Market Tickerguy   and CPAC 2009 honoree Karl Denninger wrote this in an article yesterday - "Prior to the CFMA of 2000 customer funds could not be invested in other than municipal or US Government debt fully guaranteed by the US Government.....As it stands right now any account you hold at any brokerage can be effectively stolen through being lost via the same mechanism.  Got that?  Good.  Your 401k, IRA, anything -- all at risk."

Mention of the CFMA of 2000 sent us back to Al Gray's July 2010 video of warning. Yes, CityStink knows Gray's economic and financial alarms seem incomprehensible to the layman, but this video is worthy of a careful and complete hearing. Why? It lays the responsibility for this devious act of Congress at the feet of Nathan Deal and tells of the consequences if the Dealer became governor. It tells of what lies ahead from Deal and company's ruinous votes in Congress.

Now the ruin that lies in the wake of everything Nathan Deal touches is being visited on us. Ask the folks of Magnolia Trace. Ask 'cash' account holders at MF Global. Ask, the dismissed and forced-out staff of the Georgia Ethics Commission shortly after they received a complaint against – Nathan Deal.***

The voice crying from the wilderness was right.

Heck, ask Trey Allen. He looks to be the ultimate bad Deal victim.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

ParkingGate: Lockett Denied Forensic Audit Again.

Augusta Commissioner Bill Lockett

Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2011
Augusta, GA
By Jill Peterson

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 questionswith 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 Committe, 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 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. 


Comic Relief Tuesday

We thought it was time for a little humor here at to lighten things up. The following comedy memes come to us courtesy of Taylor Bryant from over at Augusta Today on Facebook.

Are You the Most Censored Person on The Augusta Chronicle?
Courtesy of Taylor Bryant

Courtesy of Taylor Bryant

The Kroc Center Gets a Political Robo-call
Courtesy of Taylor Bryant

Butch Don't Play When it Comes to Riff-Raff, Especially Cat Burglars. 
Good Luck for the Cat that it wasn't Judge Carlisle Overstreet's House.

Courtesy of Taylor Bryant

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Breck Boy's Trial Begins.....Finally!

Monday, Dec.12, 2011
Columbia County, GA
Dustin Goads

Well after multiple delays it appears that the child molestation trial  of former Columbia County Commissioner Scott Dean will finally get under way.

Dean was indicted back in February on two counts of child molestation against an adopted daughter from Guatemala. Judge James G Blanchard will preside over the trial after numerous continuances and delays. 

Dean's defense attorney is Pete Theodocion, who also happens to be representing David Fry in the alleged attempted bribery of two Augusta commissioners over the TEE Center in 2009.

Some are saying that Dean cannot possibly get a fair trial in Columbia County, while others contend that finding a jury not biased toward Dean will be a major challenge.

This will be by far one of the most watched trials in local history with all of the tabloid sensationalism one would expect from Hollywood.  And Dean looks the part, often arriving to court with a sun-kissed  Bieberesque quaff, Italian designer sunglasses, and donning dapper suits. 

Perhaps his attorney should tell him to downplay the "pretty boy" image a bit. This is a "child molestation" trial after all and maybe the "Tiger Beat" Cover boy look won't go over so well with jurists.. but then neither would a pencil thin pervy mustache and coke bottle glasses.. but then there should be a happy medium somewhere.  

If there is any winner in all of this mess it's the polticos in Augusta-Richmond County. Coming off a week of a public relations nightmare over Magnolia Trace and now a former commissioner (who was one who voted to endorse the project last year) on trial for child molestation, Columbia County politics are starting to look more dysfunctional than those of Augusta-Richmond County. Also, it's likely that the sensationalism of The Dean trial will take center stage in the local media over things like redistricting and parking deck management contracts in Richmond County that might excite only the most ardent local political junkies. Of course, we here at won't let that happen. We will continue to report the stench of Augusta politics and the news that the local mainstream media ignores.

But as they say "If you don't look good, we don't look good." However the trial turns out we somehow see shampoo ads in Deans future. ***

Scott Dean: GUILTY!

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