Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Case Of The Disappearing Downtown Clock

Margaret Woodard decided to give the clock to the airport
Wednesday, March 21, 2012
Augusta, GA
By The Downtowner

A clock that stood in the middle of Broad Street for over 8 years mysteriously vanished one day and later reappeared at the airport. The clock was purchased with $40,000 of SPLOST money as a replica to replace the landmark clock that stood downtown for decades before being moved to the newly completed Augusta Mall in the late 1970s. Even though the clock had issues with telling the correct time, downtown business owners and visitors had grown fond of it and considered it a downtown symbol and landmark.

But one day, in August 2011 the clock simply vanished and business owners were left scratching their heads. "What happened to the clock?".... "Was it stolen?" Now there was an empty void in the median of Broad street across from The White's building where the clock once stood.

Downtown business owners were eventually told that a decision was made to give the clock to the airport because it was irreparable. The airport authority paid for the clock to be moved but  not for the cost of the clock itself. Downtown business owners were asking why they were never consulted for their opinion. Margaret Woodard, head of the Downtown Development Authority says there was a "consensus" to move the clock. A consensus from whom? Because the downtown business and property owners we talked to were completely unaware of any decision to remove the clock.

So we decided to do an open records request (ORR) to get some answers, and the following is what we received:
"The decision to move the clock to the airport was a consensus following numerous discussions among Board members and the executive director, that the clock needed to be in an indoor environment and the airport expressed an interest. There are no Board minutes reflecting this decision."

The statement above was drafted by WBW:jma by the Law firm of Warlick, Tritt, Stebbins, and Murray, LLP, and signed by Wm. Byrd Warlick concerning the removal of the long standing downtown clock.

Question: Why were there closed door meetings to determine the fate of the clock when the clock was paid for by tax payer dollars?

Downtown business owners in and Open Records Request asked for,"All supporting documentation which authorized the DDA to transfer the downtown clock to Augusta Regional Airport….."

We also asked for, "documentation provided to the DDA by said insurance company deeming the clock irreparable." The answer to this question was submitted in an email on October 11, 2010, by the Traveler's Insurance Company, and states, "The costs to repair the clock have risen to the point that they exceed it's current value making the unit a total loss. In this scenario the policy will provide coverage for the actual cash value of the clock less the claim deductible and prior payments. The supplemental claim payment has been issued and is in route to MS. Woodard's attention." Signed, John Tomme, Property Claims Representative.

Question: Who examined the inner workings of the clock and declared it irreparable?

Here are a few things that the public needs to know. In earlier conversations with a past DDA board member, we learned that the clock was purchased with $40,000 in SPLOST funds provided through the DDA. A maintenance package was supposedly purchased as well.The clock arrived and was beautifully placed in the median directly in front of the White's building. After placement of the clock, the DDA had a ceremonial ribbon cutting event attended by 4 former Mayors of Augusta, and all four addressed the crowd in 2003.

In mid August, 20122 the clock disappeared. Downtown merchants began to question the disappearance of the clock and this was when they were told that the insurance company had deemed it a total loss and irreparable. Sources tell us that the airport hired a crane company to remove the clock and relocate it in the airport. The cost from removal and placement is not known, but the repair supposedly cost $8000, all without anyone knowing about this or seeing it take place. Looks like the DDA carefully planned its exit.

Question: Did this happen in the wee hours of the morning, perhaps between a Sunday and Monday when very few people or business owners would be downtown?

We have in our possession the minutes of all DDA Board meetings from February 10, 2010- January 12, 2012. A couple of interesting things to note. The DDA received an email from the Travelers Insurance Company on October the 11,2010 stating that the clock could not be repaired, and that a claim payment would be issued.

A regularly scheduled Board meeting took place on October 14, 2010…No mention of this email or the fact that a claim payment had been issued to Ms. Woodard. There was no BOD meeting held in November 2010. In subsequent minutes of the DDA BOD through January 2012, there is no mention of that payment from the Travelers Insurance Company, however there is a statement from the Treasurer's Report given by Cameron Nixon stating as dictated by the secretary: "The DDA no longer has ownership of the clock. The contribution expense line item in the amount of $13,266.00 is not a cash item but a journal entry to reflect the DDA donation of the clock to the Augusta Regional Airport. That amount is the difference between the clock capital asset value as listed on the DDA books and depreciation."

Question: What happened to the insurance payment on the clock, and who's clock is it anyway; Woodard and her cronies, or the tax payers of Augusta?

A broader question is why downtown business and property owners were left out of the loop during the entire process? Even though the clock often did not tell correct time, that was not really the point. It had become a downtown landmark and a frequent photo spot. It had become a symbol of downtown; and then suddenly it just vanished... with no input from downtown business and property owners. This once again illustrates how business is conducted in Augusta.. in secret..with little or no accountability, and with sloppy record-keeping.

If the clock absolutely had to be moved indoors, then why not move it inside the public concourse on the ground floor of The White's Building or into the Augusta Museum of history.. anywhere downtown? Why were downtown business owners never consulted about the future of the clock.. perhaps they would have been interested in repairing it and keeping it downtown. It was purchased by the taxpayers for downtown. Now it looks like downtown has had yet another landmark clock taken away. More to come.***

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