Monday, July 30, 2012

Peas Lost to T-SPLOST (video)

Monday, July 30, 2012
Augusta, GA
By Al Gray

In his latest anti T-SPLOST video, Al Gray, explains how our buying power will be pea'd away if T-SPLOST passes. Watch his video below.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Craig Spinks: Why Frazier Was Really Removed From Glenn Hills


Commentary
Sunday, July 29, 2012
Augusta, GA
By Dr. Craig Spinks, ED D

Wayne Frazier got fired from Glenn Hills High School? Even though they are calling it a "reassignment" to the Alternative School, let's call it what it is: Frazier was terminated as principal of Glenn Hills  in an act of political retribution. It's business as usual in the Richmond County School System.

Frazier is the principal who got a filthy building cleaned up, rousted wanderers from school hallways, removed athletics as the school's primary focus, took control of school finances, "lit up" indolent employees, motivated disheartened students and began a long march to academic quality on "The Hill.".

Why would the RCBOE "need to make a change" involving the "reassignment" of such a leader less than three weeks before the start of his fourth year at Glenn Hills? Wasn't Glenn Hills recently recognized for having the highest graduation rate among all the historically most underperforming public high schools in Georgia? Wasn't the Frazier-initiated mentorship program the subject of a local newspaper article which was recently selected by the Georgia Press Association for a first-place award for Education Reporting?

Why would Frazier be removed as principal of Glenn Hills? One board member cited "poor test scores."  Apparently the board member's making this claim didn't notice that the passing rates on 5 of the 8 End-of-Course-Tests given Glenn Hiills' students has increased since Dr. Frazier arrived on "The Hill" in the late Spring of 2009.

Another board official cited staff discontent as the reason for Doc's firing. What percentage of this discontented staff segment was composed of the incompetent, lax and/or uncaring hold-overs whom Dr. Frazier inherited from the notoriously ineffective principal which preceded Dr. Frazier? Did the poor-excuse-for-a-head-custodian whose reassignment Doctor Frazier requested in his first days on "The Hill" complain to board members and/or The Broad Street Temple about the filthy halls and bathrooms which Frazier found upon his initial inspection of the building? How about the member of the athletic staff too out-of-condition to walk from the GHHS gym to the office?   How he'd like Doctor Frazier's removing control of the athletic funds to the principal's office? How'd he like being relieved of coaching and administrative duties?

Like Columbia County Sheriff Clay Whittle, Doctor Frazier doesn't play. The two Glenn Hills High School staff members mentioned in the previous paragraph and many others "riding the system" there learned "the hard way" that there was "a new sheriff in town." Wayne Frazier isn't about shamming. He's about children, particularly poor children, and what's best for them.

Now Doc would be the first to admit that working successfully with children, particularly poor children and most particularly poor children without Fathers, is demanding work which takes a passion and an energy which most teachers don't have. Such work is not for the "eight hour per day, forty hour per week" type of teacher.  Frazier also realizes that all teachers can't be expected to have the energy and passion necessary for teaching effectively at "The Hill."

 Most teachers have family responsibilities which preclude the close mentorship required for "reaching" kids who lack money and both parents. Glenn Hills High is not the best place for folks whose parental responsibilities prevent the extra time and effort needed to "reach" the at-risk kids who constitute a  large part of the GHHS student body. Such teachers can be successful elsewhere. And Doctor Frazier wishes them well.

And Doctor Frazier wishes Mr. Givens, his close friend and right-hand man at both Tubman Middle and GHHS, Givens' staff and the GHHS student body success during the upcoming 2012-13 school year. Dr. Frazier looks forward to Graduation Day 2013. Frazier's will be the biggest smile in the James Brown Arena when the freshman who entered Glenn Hills High in August 2009 walk across the stage, receive their diplomas and enter the adult world to learn and lead.

Dr. Craig Spinks, ED. D
* Dr. Spinks is an educator with the Richmond County Public School System

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Neva Hex


Burke Hero Herman Lodge Debated the White Kid

Saturday, July 28, 2012
Augusta, GA
By Al Gray

The winter of 1977 was brutal on East Ninth Street in Waynesboro, Georgia.  The Georgia Department of Labor had become beneficiary to $millions in Federal funds under the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA), with a portion of them being released under CETA Title III. This program was administered locally by a consortium of 13 area counties. Nobody seemed to know what on earth to do with the Title III Migrant and Seasonal Farmworker program.  They did what came natural – they threw me into doing it – all the time muttering something about a need to “chill out.”  Those words were prophetic.

All of us have heard about bureaucrats being shuffled off to a desk in a closet with nothing to do, except being paid.  Sadly that wasn’t the case with this assignment. A nice closet would have been just fine. Instead the office to which your then-naïve apprentice bureaucrat was directed was “somewhere on East 9th Street, down yonder in Waynesboro. You will be fine. Just think, with this job out in the farms, you can probably line up new places to hunt and, if you start early in the morning, you can even catch some afternoon hunts!”  You did catch the descriptor “naïve,”  didn’t you?

Imagine my chagrin when the office building was in a rusting galvanized tin-roofed, wood frame, old school on a weathered paved street where it intersected with a dirt road. This picture tells it all.


When one rolled his office chair across the floor, the roof would rattle. Heat? That was swiftly gone with the wind roaring through the cracks.

One particularly cold day found James Williams, Alton Spells, and your humble scribe huddled around the gas heater in the office. Get the picture. One mustachioed black dude in a suit, another in jeans with an enormous Afro, and one very white, then-skinny white boy from Evans in Columbia, County, all hunkered down – arguing politics, as usual.

That old building was also the informal headquarters of the Burke County NAACP. President Herman Lodge, destined to be Burke County’s first black commissioner, was a frequent visitor.  Between doing program enrollments in the field, this, the only white fellow in 5 Waynesboro blocks would, at age 25, would do battle with his elders, generally combatting the notion that everything was a total conspiracy. Sometimes they would shoo me off. A disbeliever in Whitey-Is-Evil and a social program skeptic made them uncomfortable.

Then there were the program enrollees. There were more than a bushel basket of problems with folks down on the farm.  Then there were the self-inflicted problems. Take the Reverend Benny Lapp’s interview.

Me: Rev. Lapp, employers are fickle about job applicant’s employment histories. I notice a gap between 1969 and 1972. Can we explain that?
Rev. Lapp – I were in-car-cer-ated…….

Then there was Shirley McCorn, a poor white gal living in a single wide with 5 kids down in Midville.

Me:    Shirley, that looks like a DOG Collar around your calf….isn’t that a rabies tag dangling from it?
Shirley: It certainly is.
Me: You wouldn’t wear that to an interview would you?
Shirley: I would.
Me: Why? What does it mean?
Shirley: Everyone kept calling me a bitch, so I decided to be true-to-life.

James Williams and I rode all over those counties, trying to find jobs for migrants and seasonal workers. There were sad sacks and there were happy faces. There were farmers who told us to get off their property, but more who were happy to take federal funds bounty for doing what they were going to do anyway in terms of employment. James always dressed to the hilt and drove a new Audi, of which he was most proud.

We were the enforcers.

In that day, in Burke County, Georgia folks still practiced witchcraft. We enrolled a person like that, named Neva Doodis. Neva was short for Geneva and she came from Gough….or maybe Vidette……those two towns always get mixed up in the cobwebs of time and a 3-score-aged brain. At anyway Neva’s enrollment was, well different.

Me: You enroll this one, she is a rootworker.
James Williams: Say wha…..at?
Me: She is a witch, a root doctor.
James: Nobody believes in that these days. What can a root doctor do?
Me: I don’t believe in that stuff, either. Just don’t leave Neva around your open beverages.
James: Why not?
Me:  If you let somebody who says she is a root doctor feed or serve in a drink a root potion conjured up by a root talker, then what the root doctor can do to you is supposedly unlimited. She can have you by controlling your thoughts, even to the extent that you might bark like a dog or even jump in old Walter Wimberly’s hog parlor to slop with his hogs on your next visit to Shell Bluff. Besides that, she can put a hex on you so that physical things so bad on you at inopportune times, even if you don’t drink or eat anything she got hold to.
James: I can handle her.
Me: Ok

Neva got into our training program. She was civil enough, despite being a lover of the moonshine that flowed freely into Waynesboro.

However, Neva was getting paid to attend class. She was missing too many from being hung over or maybe it was from howling at the moon. I finally had enough and drove over to her house during class times. There Neva sat in a rocker, bleary eyed, with a milk jug on the screened porch.

Me: Neva, this is a class day and you have missed it. Didn’t James warn you twice already?
Neva: Dat Williams? Naw, he hain’t been heah tellin me nuttin.
Me: He gave you the notice required to terminate you the last time and you signed for it.
Neva: Missah Ah-el, you ain’t gonna cut mah check off, you can’t do that!
Me: Why not?
Neva: I gots de powah on you.
Me: I made sure not to drink anything. Sorry, Neva but we gave you 3 chances. Like baseball, you got called out on strikes –your sit-at-home strikes against training sessions.
Neva: You gonna be sorry.
Me: James Williams will drop by your last check.

The next week James went out and dropped off Neva’s last check. He came in laughing.

Me: How did it go?
James: Rough, Neva threw pine cones at me – after I handed her check – but she was so drunk she missed. Let’s me and you hope she misses with her hex.
Me: Checks? She won’t be getting any more of them.
James: Clean out your ears, I said “HEX”….H……E……X.
Me: Hex? What hex?
James: On mine, she mumbled something about “your ideas gone bad”…and one yours she got to cussin’ about “whitey wot goes huntin’ meetin’? up wid Mr. Rattlesnake up ‘round de ‘Geechee Rivah.”

That year passed pretty quickly. I hadn’t met “wid Mr. Rattlesnake” just yet and James was packing up his office stuff to leave. He rolled his chair across the floor, causing one last celebratory rattle of the tin roof, got up and shook my hand. “ It was a lot of fun working with you Al, but you didn’t do any hunting much after work!” The gang here – Miss Dorothy, Alton, and Miss Alicia – you all have been wonderful. Even the clients were OK.  Hey, what happened to Neva Doodis, I wonder? Remember that silly hex about my “idea?”

James,” slapping him on the shoulder, I exclaimed “You accused me of bad hearing. I figured out what Neva said was ‘your Audi going bad’!!!” Remember? It wasn’t 3 days after you took her that last check and got bombarded with pine burs when your Audi’s engine blew on the side of Highway 56 and I had to take you home.

James grew pale “Holy Moly, you are right!”

What happened to Neva, we will never know. What we do know is this piece of good advice. Don’t snicker at the root doctor. There are forces in the world that are dark. If you imbibe or eat of their concoctions, you might end up howling at the moon, crawling on your belly like a snake, or have your blinders ripped off and see the very real conspiracies that my old debating adversary, the late Herman Lodge, warned about..






I like to think that I influenced old Herman a little. After all, we are the sum total of the experiences and people that we meet.

Seeing is believing. James Williams knows.

The Audi blew up on the way to fabulous wealth and power. You cannot convince him otherwise.

I know.


You will read about them as they are revealed.

No imbibing or feasting on offerings of the rootsayer needed or allowed. The guardian angels don’t approve and I will need them again.***


A.G.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Government Watchdogs Meet with D.A. Over ParkingGate


Friday, July 27, 2012
Augusta, GA
From CityStink.net Reports


Government watchdogs and CityStink.net contributors Lori Davis and Al Gray will meet with District attorney Ashley Wright at 3:00pm today to discuss the evidence they have uncovered in the TEE Center Parking deck debacle. Davis spoke at the July 17 Augusta commission meeting and urged city leaders to halt a management contract with Augusta Riverfront LLC for the $12 million publicly financed parking deck at 9th and Reynolds Streets. The contract was tabled because there were not a sufficient number of votes for it to proceed.

After Ms Davis' presentation before commissioners, Mayor Deke Copenhaver sarcastically suggested that she needed to take this matter to the District Attorney and it was time for her to "put up or shut up." Cost Recovery Specialist Al Gray, who has done much of the analysis on the transactions and deals concerning the parking deck for Augusta Today and CityStink.net, said the mayor's statements were strange considering  all of the reports they have released concerning the parking deck have been backed up by the city's own documents. At this same July 27th commission meeting a forensic audit looking into the parking deck deals was voted down and a substitute motion by Joe Jackson to forward the matter the the District Attorney and GBI passed.

Gray says that government watchdogs have had to go through an unwieldy, expensive and time consuming process to obtain public records to uncover the truth, and they have encountered stonewalling from some government officials in this process. Gray says "I would hope that between the Mayor and DA, we gain access to all information to answer our issues or that the DA takes action to investigate with a promise to address them with supporting documents."

Lori Davis says that she is confident that the evidence and truth is on their side and they already have hundreds of pages of documents to prove it. Al Gray says that a comparison matrix  he was asked to put together shows that the management contract under consideration with Augusta Riverfront LLC amounted to a "blank check" and did not meet the city's own RFP guidelines. In fact, he says that Augusta Riverfront LLC never even submitted a bid, whereas other companies did, like Aampco Parking Systems, that met the city's RFP guidelines. But city administrator Fred Russell ignored the RFP guidelines and ignored the bids from the companies who  had agreed to the city's terms  in favor of the "blank check" contract with Augusta Riverfront LLC. This shows a wanton disregard for the interests of the taxpayers.

But some political observers believe that the DA is a dead end and point to the handling of the David Fry case as an example, citing that the District Attorney was too eager to accept an Alford Plea by Fry's defense attorney to keep the matter from going to trial. They also question whether she can remain unbiased on the matter since she is running for re-election this year, and her boyfriend, Donnie Smith is running for the District 7 commission seat being vacated by Jerry Brigham. Donnie Smith was the first to suggest the matter be forwarded to the D.A. he has also stated on the record that he doesn't believe there is any "smoking gun" in the case to warrant further investigation.

Lori Davis says she is not quite sure what will come out of the meeting today but says, "I hope that the DA will provide citizen support  that we have not been getting from our Mayor and some of the commissioners. I also hope she can remain unbiased because I am sure that she will be getting a lot of pressure from outside sources."

**We will have an update after their meeting with the Distrtict Attorney.***
CS

Related:




Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Special Report: No R.W. Allen GuaranTEE?


July 25, 2012
Augusta, GA

**Editor's Note: Orange Text Links to supporting documents referenced in this article**

Augusta Today member Dean Klopotic submitted a Georgia Open Records Request seeking the R.W. Allen LLC (RWA) billings for the Tee Center related contracts they are performing. The Law Department of the city of Augusta issued a response which included RWA invoice number 24 representing costs through March 31, 2012. Our investigating team has since obtained RWA invoice number 26 from other sources in city government and turned the documents over to cost recovery accounting specialist Al Gray for analysis and review.

RWA boasts of having an “Open Books Policy” but their Tee Center project manager Jim Cely declined to allow us to visit their offices to view supporting documents to the billings obtained through the Georgia Open Records Request.  RWA CEO Rick W. Allen, currently a candidate for Georgia's 12th Congressional District, had previously pledged to allow Mr. Gray access to the billing detail records. Despite being assured they would cooperate we were not allowed to see the documents and instead, Cely gave instructions to direct inquiries to Augusta Administrator Fred Russell....the same Fred Russell who has displayed a pattern of withholding VITAL information from Augusta Commissioners on the TEE Center and its companion parking deck across the street.

The Tee Center Contract with R.W. Allen LLC is a Construction Manager at Risk guaranteed maximum price (GMP) contract. Under a fast track, a cost plus contract with a GMP, the Construction Manager sets its fee, general conditions (overhead) expenses, and other costs necessary to construct a total facility.  These contracts are or can be comprised of multiple subcontracts and work with the CM (RWA in this case) self-performing portions as if they had been subcontracted. In other words, they can hire themselves to do certain parts of the job as the Construction Manager. 

Once the drawings and design work is 75% complete the GMP was officially set at a price of $29,700,000 and accepted by the Augusta Commission. There have been two change orders (“change orders” are contract modifications which usually are increases in the cost of the fixed price cap due to unforeseen “changes” that affect the construction itself) executed which bring the total price to $30,113,215.  So as you can see, the agreed upon price of the TEE Center construction was $29,700,000.00 but due to the two “change orders” the final projected price tag (there could be more change orders before it is completed so I say “projected”) is now a cool $30,113,215.

Since the more detailed supporting documents for RWA’s invoices (which are pretty vague) are not likely to be in the possession of the Augusta government and therefore open records accessible and the honcho over at RWA, 12th District candidate R.W. Allen, has already broken his pledge to allow us access to the documents (a politician breaking a pledge to the tax payer? SAY IT ISN’T SO!); here are the questions we would pose to Mr. Russell and to Program Manager Heery International to find out the details of these invoices for us, the lowly tax payer footing the entire bill of $30mil and change.

Has there been Double Billing of General Conditions Costs?
Let’s be clear here, these are complicated contracts but the billing is not if you are willing to bear with me and see the questions we are asking.

Article 7.4.1 sets out the components of the contract price and these are repeated in Exhibit A in the contract. to be paid by Augusta, so a cost has to fall into one of those two categories and be authorized by the terms of the contract to be billed. To cover the contractor’s overhead costs, called “General Conditions” in construction language, RWA put in a General Conditions Guaranteed Maximum cost of $1,082,670 in the contract and in Exhibit G.


we find an amount listed for General Conditions costs of $1,082,475, which is only $195 less than the stated limit in the contract. Augusta is making progress payments, which total $697,917 (less 5% retained by Augusta) through this invoice, based upon component invoicing and RWA labor charges. In addition to the GC costs, we found $167,585 charged on page 2, line 19 of the G703 schedule for P&P Bonds


Based upon the contract having capped GC costs to INCLUDE the P&P bonds, separate invoicing in this manner appears to be a duplicate charge, especially since the contract also says this: “The overhead and profit component for any change includes the cost of bonds and insurance"which seems to preclude the additional billing of P&P bonds separately in this manner. The P&P bonds for the subcontractors are in their OWN costs.

Besides the P&P bond issue, there is the same issue with the $48,961 of permit costs on line 18 of the payment request.

These two issues relating to costs billed separately that appear to be already covered by capped General Conditions total $216,546. It is recommended that these costs be reallocated against the capped GC costs of $1,082,670, or line 2 on the G703 billing schedule of values. 

Extension of General Conditions without Required Change Order?

Accompanying payment request number 24 was a document entitled “Augusta TEE Center Contingency Log” which includes a $16,393 item labeled “extended builders risk cost due to delays. There was an invoice supplied showing the builder's risk policy was being extended to October 2012.  ”The contract says this - All adjustments in compensation or extensions of time shall be by change order (page 38)"
No change order was found to extend the duration of the project, so shouldn't this charge be covered by the capped General Conditions that includes builder's risk insurance?

A much more important and broader issue, is whether RWA intends to collect extended general conditions for the approximately 6 months greater time until completion of the project to include the more costly GC costs, like supervision. The project duration in the contract was set at 24 months, yet the project is on the 26th monthly billing.

Does the charging of builder's risk premiums for project delays mean that there will be a costly claim for extended General Conditions at the end of the project? Will extension costs be continued to be charged against the contract contingency, instead of being authorized by change order, as the contract apparently requires?

Lack of Pricing Details limits Change Order Price Analysis?

Augusta Today and City Stink contributor Lori Davis submitted a Georgia Open Records Request on another matter concerning the TEE center kitchen equipment that was added to the RWA contract as Change Order 1 to increase the Contract Price to a total of $29,276,987. Included in the information provided  was the pricing from the subcontractor, itemized by equipment price, but unsupported by cost versus overhead and profit analysis of the pricing.

Unless there is additional analysis not presented with the City's response to the GORA request, how can RWA tell whether the 15% limitation on overhead and profit has been met with respect to Change Order 1? Is sufficient cost information being obtained on other project changes to meet the contract limitations on combined overhead and profit?

Construction Equipment Rentals in Steel Costs?

Within the supporting backup for Payment Application 24 for the steel cost category was an invoice to RWA for construction equipment rental.  The contract has this inclusion within the definition of General Conditions costs: "xviii Rental charges for temporary facilities and for machinery equipment and tools not customarily owned by construction workers"

Since the equipment rentals seem to be within General Conditions (Overhead), wouldn't such costs be covered by the allowed 15% overhead and profit markup allowed on work self-performed by the Contractor?
Summary

1.      Aren't $216,546 of bond and permit costs separately billed also within the capped General Conditions expense in this contract?

2.      Did the billing of $16,393 for extending insurance coverage to October 2012 presage a claim for an additional number of months of general conditions expense, including Contractor Supervisory labor, and unforeseen costs.? Without a change order, should this item have been charged to contingency?

3.      Is there sufficient cost detail provided by subcontractors to assure that contract limitations on maximum, combined overhead and profit can be verified?

4.      Are construction equipment rentals separately billable from overhead and profit markups?

5.      Will Augusta review the contract to assure that all contingency and allowances are recaptured by the city at project completion on this major contract? Others?

We expect that the Mayor and the City Commission will assure that these questions are answered.***
B.O.


**Augusta Today members Al Gray, Lori Davis, and Dean Klopnik also contributed to this report**

**Below is the GMP Construction Contract between RW Allen Construction on the city of Augusta for the TEE Center:
RWA GMP Contract

Monday, July 23, 2012

T-SPLOST Report: Don & Ron's $87 Million Tax Give-Away


Just Dandy or Downright Irresponsible?

Monday, July 23, 2012
Augusta, GA
By IndyInjun

A loose coalition of anti-tax and community activists has arisen locally to oppose T-Splost, which is the chosen acronym for a proposed new 1% sales tax dedicated to transportation. This measure is Referendum Item 1 on the July 31 Georgia primary election ballot. If passed, the sales tax rate in most counties in the Central Savannah River Area (CSRA) increase from 7% to 8%, for a whopping 14.3% sales tax increase.

The funds collected from the new 1% T-Splost in all of the 13 counties in the CSRA  region would be dispensed in two pots. 75% of the money goes into a designated, preapproved investment list projects, called the “Constrained Investment List.” Many, if not most, of these projects in the CSRA have long been on the Georgia Department of Transportation’s planned projects list to be built with motor fuel tax funds. For example, the extension of Riverwatch Parkway to Washington Road in Evans has been on the DOT planned list for a decade or more. Columbia and Richmond Counties are MPO’s (Metropolitan Planning Organizations) under the authorizing bill, the Transportation Investment Act of 2010, and will be empowered to use the new T-Splost funds largely without DOT involvement.

The horse trading with the other 11 counties was thorny. As best can be told, the trade-off was to build the large investment list projects in Augusta and Columbia County early in the 10 years of the T-Splost, while the Investment list projects for the rural counties are delayed largely to the last 3 years, carrying the risk that the funds will run out. The bill says that these projects are guaranteed to be built but provides no funds.
Dandy Don Loves Taxes


The other 11 counties are willing to be in this arrangement only by virtue of the 25% “Discretionary” Funds or Cash Pot. This 25% is set based upon a combination of road miles and population which vastly favors the rural counties.


How much money is Augusta and Columbia County giving up into the Cash Pot for the rural counties? An astounding $87.6 million!  Augusta gives up $63 million and Columbia County gives up $23 million in cash! Proof of this is found in the spreadsheet that the CSRA Regional Commission provided, although it required extending some of the data and calculations to divulge the truth of the matter.


Don Grantham, Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Transportation Board for the Augusta Region, and CSRA Regional Transportation Roundtable Chairman Ron Cross were extremely generous with the “cash pot” funds to be doled out from their counties!
Why aren’t these figures being publicized? ***


IJ

CSRA TSplost Revenue Gains and Losses by County

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Trucking Broncos and Sour Mash Victims


Old Bronco Bit Hard

By Al Gray


 English Setter "Jake" circa 1978

Calla Jean produced one fine litter of pups in the spring of 1960. In dog breeder parlance, Calla was the dam and Pal was the sire.  When the pups arrived, Stevens Creek Road had been paved a scant 4 years. Eisenhower was still President. Folks in Augusta knew the Old Fruitland Nursery. The Masters was dispensing tickets to all. Down the hill there was Bowen Pond, but no West Lake, only about 850 acres of Rhodes family and friends’ land which would become the pups training ground.

Nell, Bullet, Rock, Sand, Penny, King, and Bronco were lemon and white English pointers from a long line of the breed that had served the Rhodes family for decades. They came up during what was perhaps the heyday of quail hunting in East Central Georgia.

Penny turned out to be ours; or rather we were hers, especially my father. She was the first respectable quail dog he had owned, despite having a father, Allie Gray, who loved quail hunting about as much as he did gospel quartet music.  I would never say this to my father, but Penny had a couple of faults. First, she fancied herself a rabbit dog and you never wanted to encourage her by shooting a cottontail, because that would mean getting rabbit points the rest of the day. You could usually tell when she was pointing a rabbit, because her tail would have a crook in it. If it really was pronouncedly crooked, that probably meant a snake. If you didn’t encourage Penny to snake and rabbit hunt, she was a very good quail dog, too.

Her brother, Bronco, would turn out to be the stalwart bird dog of the litter. He belonged to my great uncle Land Rhodes, who did more quail hunting than anyone else in the family and even most anyone in the state. He took Bronco all around, starting with the usual trek from the gate into Bowen Pond, up to Mr. Skinner’s old hog farm, over to Baston and Furey’s Ferry Road, where his cousin Sterling Rhodes ran a small store. (This is the corner where the First Citizen’s Bank now sits.) There Bronco and the other bird dogs could be watered while the hunters took their own refreshments while gossiping with Sterling.  The return trip carried the party back through what is now Watervale subdivision and on home on Stevens Creek Road. It was a half-day hunt. In that day, the hunters could bag a couple of dozen on that hunting trek.

Other hunts took our family of hunters to McBean, Girard, Stoney Bluff, Millen, Hephzibah, Vidette and Sylvania. Mostly we hunted out of my father’s mechanical Broncos from the Ford factory.



Land Rhodes with Junior Gray (looking back from Bronco window)

Bronco, the English Pointer, purely loved to hunt. He was also a wizened master of the hunt and nonverbal communication. Many were the times that we made a turn, missed seeing Bronco, then found him standing expectantly at the corner of an adjacent field on the other side. He would be ‘saying’ “I got ‘em down here in the lespedeza patch, fellas, where did y’all go?” After he knew we had seen him he would dutifully trot back and remake the point that we had missed. Sometimes we would not even have to turn around, because Bronco would stand unmovable at an intersection of a field with his head high, until we noticed his resolute beckoning style and hunted his way.

Those were the days. Moonshining was not remotely dead in rural Georgia in the early 60’s and thrived until growing marijuana displaced it. Liquor stills were in the middle of the densest parts of the woods along branches and creeks. It was not uncommon to encounter one quail hunting. Old Bronco was part of one visitation. He had pointed a single bird on the edge of a corn field in sparse blackberry briars. Uncle Land was up to shoot with this writer as back up. The bird erupted from the broom straw and sailed into a high, twisting flight over the top of the more towering blackberries close to the creek. BAM! The quail tumbled out of sight. We gingerly walked around the briar patch until we found a path – a recently used path – that led to the fallen bird. After stooping under vines and briars for about 20 yards, we came to a clearing, in the midst of which stood an operating still. Not wanting to tarry, the search for the downed quail resumed in earnest. Turning to leave empty-handed, Land spied the quail – belly up in a vat of sour mash!

The years passed and Bronco began to lose a step. His range, never great, diminished. Along came the trio of Go Boy, Rusty, and Freedom, all of whom had greater range and complimenting abilities. The day came in which there were hard decisions on which dogs to carry in the aqua Bronco, with Bronco the Hunting Fiend increasingly relegated to the half-day hunts. The old warrior became a yard dog, an old, decrepit relic of glory days past.

He didn’t like that one bit. He did not hide it well either.

He liked it less when he was left behind even on those short hunts. He was left pacing the yard twice, I think, before The Day. It was early one morning, shortly after daybreak, when we pulled into Uncle Land’s yard. We began to load Go Boy, a young pup and Rusty into the bog box with Freedom and another dog of mine, who had already settled in for the next leg of the ride. I left the passenger side door of the aqua wagon open to load coolers, guns, and ammunition.

The implausible happened. There was the sound of loose gravel. I turned to see a lemon and  white blur LEAPING through the air and through the open truck door! Old Bronco had had enough. He was going today, thank you very much. The old boy clambered atop the dog box from the inside, laid down, and had his graying head facing the front. I made a motion to grab him by the collar.

He growled.

It was a very serious growl in Bronco’s life-long history of nonverbal communication. It said “Sonny-boy, we go way back. I remember when you got on the school bus every day. You didn’t want to make that trip. This trip is different. I am going hunting today…..or do you want to lose your face?” Yep, all that came out – loud and clear – in that growl.

I backed out and called for help. Uncle Land, Bronco’s master, was ready to go and wasn’t going to tolerate nonsense from a canine retiree occupying the space where the cooler was supposed to go. He reached up a grabbed Bronco’s collar. Well, it is a good thing the dog was dull and gapped toothed because Bronco was in no mood to be trifled with. He bit Land hard.

Old Bronco went hunting that day. The cooler got strapped onto the tailgate.

After then, it got to be a game. We knew to avoid leaving the door open and we knew to block the doors into the dog box, but yet again, Bronco managed to leap through. We learned that you could not let him even get onto the tailgate, for if you did, you had a snarling fiend on your hands.

After the season, we redesigned and rebuilt the dog box to prevent a dog from wriggling to the top of the dog box from the outside.

Bronco the English Pointer, who morphed into one very mad dog when it became necessary, set the example for the other dogs and was indispensable in training them. Eventually even the headstrong Go Boy and Freedom learned the trick of coming back for misdirected hunters. None other ever went to such lengths to go hunting as old Bronco.

We should all be like that, never giving up the hunt, leaping at opportunity, and hanging on for all the glory we can embrace.

Sometimes this old scribe has occasion to journey to some of those hunting haunts of so long ago. In places, the fields are much as they were 40 years ago. The last time I was down below Girard, upon turning down the River Road, a glance out of imagination saw a statuesque lemon and white pointer, head erect, saying in his old style “Sonny-boy, there are quail down in the broom straw field………”

The next time I will make sure I am driving this vehicle of mine.

The 1969 Ford Bronco in July 2012

One day maybe Bronco will bring along these two fellows in my vision.

Land Rhodes & Junior Gray approach a pointing bird dog circa 1978

That will be one fine day, even if Bronco bites me.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Fox 54 Swallows Deke Bait


Friday, July 20, 2012
Augusta, GA
By Al Gray

George Eskola should be proud. In the run-up to the Augusta Commission meeting this Tuesday, there was a last-minute interjection of an accounting analysis by a party in the midst of the Tee Center Parking Decks controversy. George knew about it early. His wise years of experience said take the new gambit with a grain or two of salt.


But this comparison is coming from Paul Simon of Augusta Riverfront LLC the company that owns the Marriott not the city's attorney who worked on the deal. ”

Precisely.

+100 for George.


Wallace seemed impressed by Mayor Deke Copenhaver's cheap trick of having the city's external auditor from the firm of Maulden Jenkins put on the agenda to give a positive report on the annual city FINANCIAL AUDIT soon after Augusta Today activist and City Stink contributor Lori Davis' presentation in favor of a forensic audit of the Tee Center Parking Decks agreements and against approval the proposed parking deck management agreement that would have been the subject of the forensic audit. Wallace wrote -

“Mayor Deke Copenhaver agrees, saying the finance team received high praise at tonight's meeting by an auditor for the 2011 audit, is the same team who worked the finances of the TEE Center deal.

"They applauded our finance folks for doing such a great job with fiscal management," Copenhaver says. "That's the same team that put this deal together. Why would they do something different on the parking deck and the TEE Center than they did with the city finances?"

Wallace totally blew it.

A city financial audit only attests that generally accepted accounting principles have been met with respect to the city's transactions. It does not extend to the point of questioning HOW the transactions come about or whether a contract is totally stacked against the city's interests. That is the role of a forensic audit. After a flawed deck deal is executed, a financial audit will find everything to be just wonderful versus the standard of the flawed contract. A forensic audit would derive the answers of whether there are material controls deficiencies in contract administration and would seek to identify fraud in the execution and application of the management agreement.

Deke trotted out a financial auditor and Fox obliged his clever subterfuge by equating the annual city auditor's report about finances with one about a much more in-depth audit of only a couple of complex transactions.

For another thing, the city's finance team has had practically nothing to do with the deck agreements, as Augusta is using outside legal counsel, bond counsel,and even has gone to the extent of excluding the Convention and Visitor's Bureau chief, Barry White, a figure who was integral to the early Tee Center presentations to the city commission and the city executive most attuned to the contract needs to be negotiated.

Wallace did not know that, or at least, did not report it.

Fox 54 came up short and looked amateurish in rising to the bait.

We are sure that they will get better, given a few more years around Augusta politics. It truly is a world all to its own.

This writer remembers George when he was an amateur, too.***

Cutting Through the Spin Over ParkingGate

Friday July 20, 2012
Augusta, GA
By The Outsider


Despite how some government officials and members of the local media have been trying to spin the events from this past Tuesday's Augusta commission meeting, the citizen watchdogs who have been leading the charge for more transparency and accountability in the ParkingGate debacle won two significant victories.

Lori Davis went before the commission to appeal to the conscience of city leaders to "park" a very lop-sided management contract for the $12 million publicly financed Reynolds Street Parking deck with Augusta Riverfront LLC. As we detailed in a previous report, the lop-sided contract, that was drawn up by ARLLCs own attorneys (not those hired by the city) was riddled with loop holes and amounted to a blank check. To put it in simple terms, it was a bad deal for the taxpayers.

Earlier in the day on Tuesday we got word that there was some political maneuvering by Commissioner Jerry Brigham and Augusta Riverfront LLC President Paul S Simon, to try and ram through the contract at the last minute. This followed a finance committee workshop the previous Friday where a majority of commissioners said they were not prepared to vote in favor of the contract as it stood and wanted a thorough comparison of the deal with ARLLC and others that had been rejected by city administrator Fred Russell. City hired outside counsel Jim Plunkett was tasked by commissioners to provide that analysis. Many commissioners expected the parking deck management contract to be removed from the agenda for the July 17th commission meeting.

But surprisingly, early on Tuesday, a comparison  magically appeared just in time for the commission meeting that supposedly said the ARLLC deal was $14,000 cheaper than one Aampco Parking systems had submitted in an earlier bid. The only problem is, this comparison was drawn up by Paul S Simon and Augusta Riverfront LLC... the same folks who have been trying to get the lucrative parking deck management contract... hardly an unbiased source. Why didn't Augusta's hired outside counsel Jim Plunkett put together the comparison as he was tasked to do by commissioners at the Finance Committee work session the previous Friday? Paul Simon and Jerry Brigham probably thought they could catch commissioners off-guard like they did on February 7th, when a tentative management agreement was passed with similar last-minute political maneuvering. George Eskola, senior government reporter for WJBF news pointed out the obvious conflict of interest in Augusta Riverfront LLC providing their own comparison in his 5pm report on July 27th,  "But this comparison is coming from Paul Simon of Augusta Riverfront LLC the company that owns the Marriott not the city's attorney who worked on the deal ”


But this time things would not go in Paul Simon's favor. The contract was tabled for the second time in a month after Commissioner Jerry Brigham announced that he did not have the votes lined up to pass it. So now it will go back to the drawing board... where hopefully the taxpayers can finally get a more favorable deal, one with caps on what ARLLC can bill the city  and minus all of the loopholes that gave Paul Simon practically a blank check courtesy of the city of Augusta. This is what we have been asking for months.... to halt this hideously bad contract from being approved, and  to get a better deal for the taxpayers. The results from Tuesdays commission meeting now provide that opportunity.

But to listen to some in the local media, particularly a struggling weekly print tabloid, the results from Tuesday were somehow a rebuke of Lori Davis and a defeat for the citizen watchdogs at Augusta Today and CityStink.net. We have to wonder... what meeting did they attend? As we said, Paul S Simon and Augusta Riverfront LLC were unsuccessful in their last minute efforts to ram through a lop-sided management contract for the parking deck. Lori Davis, the citizen watchdogs, and the taxpayers of Augusta won that day.

Some in the media wanted to focus all of their attention on the vote to halt progress on the forensic audit looking into the questionable deals associated with the parking deck. Though certainly the circumstances and  the evidence uncovered thus far warrant a full forensic audit, it has hardly been the primary goal for the citizen watchdogs like Lori Davis who have been investigating this matter since October of last year. The main goal has always  been to make sure that the taxpayers get a better deal and a better return for its $12 million investment in the deck. This also means assuring that the city gets control of the land free and clear of all bank liens. The results from Tuesday's meeting were a step in that direction.

The story that some in the media have been completely missing over the forensic audit is the hypocrisy of its most vocal opponents on the commission who have been complaining it is just a waste of taxpayer money, all the while these same people are more than eager to sign over a blank check to Paul Simon and Augusta Riverfront LLC in a series of bad deals that would pay for many forensic audits.

However, something rather stunning happened at Tuesday's meeting that also seemed to go unnoticed by some in the Augusta media, particularly the folks at that struggling weekly print tabloid. In lieu of proceeding with the forensic audit, commissioner Joe Jackson made a substitute motion to forward this whole debacle over to the District Attorney and the GBI. That motion passed with an overwhelming majority. Wow. Whatever Jackson's motivation, he is on to something here.  We have been having to go through a cumbersome and expensive process of initiating numerous government open records requests to uncover the evidence in ParkingGate.  Jackson's move could now give government watchdogs and investigators unfettered access to the volumes of government documents that exist on these deals. Again, this is yet another win for the citizen watchdogs and taxpayers.

Commissioner Jackson also suggested that perhaps we should "open Pandora's box" and look into the deals associated with the Laney-Walker redevelopment project. We could not agree more, and we have also been at the forefront of that investigation, initiating numerous open records requests that have revealed more waste of tax-payer dollars and possible fraud in that massive project.

These are all quite major revelations in this story, and a bit of a vindication for government watchdogs like Davis, but the narrative the folks over at that struggling weekly print tabloid have been attempting to pursue is one of ridiculing Davis over the childish behavior and disrespect shown by some  government officialsl. In particular, the writer at the tabloid mentions an incident at the Finance committee work session last Friday where Paul S Simon tried to belittle Lori Davis and us here at CityStink.net for our investigative reports into the parking deck debacle.  Simon called us the "bad press." Well, we will gladly wear that title as a badge of honor coming from Simon.

We of course wouldn't expect him to rave about our reporting, as we have pretty much thrown a wrench into his grand plans to get a lop-sided management contract for not just the parking deck but also the even more lucrative TEE Center. Mr Simon probably never expected anyone to question these deals, better yet dig deep into them with open records requests.They have become accustomed to a largely complacent local media, like the folks at the struggling weekly print tabloid, who find these matters just "too complex" to pursue. This has allowed Simon and the folks at Augusta Riverfront LLC near free reign in Augusta to get pretty much whatever they want courtesy of the taxpayers. This lead to them becoming complacent and feeling emboldened, and always looking for more. They never saw us coming.

The folks over at that struggling weekly print tabloid thought it was funny that some Augusta commissioners snickered when Paul S Simon admonished Lori Davis and us here at CityStink.net for an article we did a couple of weeks ago that showed how the management contract under consideration with Simon's company was riddled with loopholes that had Augusta on the hook for maintenence and equipment costs  for the entire 640 space parking deck, when Simon's company would still own and control the entire ground floor.We rightly pointed out this did not appear to be a fair deal for the city. But Simon took to the podium last Friday to complain,
"You see all this stuff on these blogs that’s just wrong...they had me on a little street sweeper." This prompted giggles from some commissioners in a scene that the weekly tabloid described as a "bunch of fraternity brothers" and according to the tabloid, this surely must have been embarrassing for that pesky Davis woman.

Notwithstanding the not-so-subtle undertones of sexism in all of this, the point that was also completely missed by the weekly tabloid is that amid all of these snickers from the good-ole-boys club, no statesman emerged to call Mr. Simon out, instead they fell over themselves to kiss his ring. Here was a man coming before them acting as though his company was doing Augusta a huge favor by allowing the city to use the Marriott brand on the $12 million parking deck the taxpayers had paid to build on his land. Simon's company not only got a wonderful $12 million new parking deck courtesy of the taxpayers, but also a $38 million gift in a brand new convention center attached to his hotel, giving his company exclusive use of the facility. And we pay him hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for this honor. And now he was coming before the commissioners pretty much demanding that they sign off on a hideously lop-sided management contract that added more insult to injury. Talk about looking a gift horse in the mouth!

And Lori Davis should be made to feel humiliated in all of this? If anyone should feel humiliated, it's the city leaders who have allowed themselves to be taken for such a ride. You build a $12 million parking deck on land you don't even own, and even worse it has over $7 million worth of bank liens on it. You build a $38 million convention center without an executed CORE agreement and also on a parcel of land still owned by Paul Simon's company. Maybe the snickers should have been directed at themselves. Surely, Paul Simon was probably saying "you suckers" under his breath.

But at the end of the week a majority of commissioners saw the bad deal for what it was and put a halt to it. Good for them. Commissioners Wayne Guilfoyle, Bill Lockett and Mayor pro-tem Joe Bowles have shown particularly outstanding leadership on this matter and should be applauded by the taxpayers. Sure, the buildings cannot be unbuilt now, but commissioners can now see to it that the taxpayers get the best return on their investment, and that has always been our primary goal from the beginning. People like Lori Davis should feel proud and the taxpayers of Augusta should thank her for her courage and perseverance in this ordeal.

And despite the ridicule from the folks at that struggling weekly print tabloid, there have been others in the local Augusta media who have provided commendable coverage of this story. Particular accolades go out to George Eskola of WJBF, Chris Thomas of WRDW, Renee DeMedicis and Doug at WNRR 1380 AM, Ben Hasan's Urban Pro Weekly, The Metro Courier, Austin Rhodes and Scott Hudson at WGAC.

A free press is an integral part of any democracy, holding our government accountable to the people. The role of a free press is to cut past the spin and propaganda to get at the truth. This is a duty that some in the Augusta media obviously still believe in. Some though, like the folks at that struggling weekly print tabloid, seem to think it is more important to ridicule those of us who still believe in that principle. As they belittle the government watchdogs who have been breaking the big news stories over the past 8 months, perhaps it is out of frustration, as they see the writing on the wall and their role in Augusta's media world slipping rapidly into irrelevancy. Oh and by the way, we can handle the ridicule. If we are making this many people angry in Augusta's establishment, then we must be doing something right.***

OS

Related Stories:

Simon Says He is Cheaper; Watchdogs Say "CAP It!"


Friday, July 20, 2012
Augusta, GA
By Bradley Owens

Elections have had October surprises but lately anytime the Augusta Richmond County meets with a parking deck agreement on the agenda, watch for the wild, woolly, and unexpected.

The February meeting saw a last minute compromise whereby proposed parking deck manager Augusta Riverfront LLC (ARLLC) was conditionally awarded a management agreement with the condition that the land they own under the Reynolds Street Parking Deck (all but a small parcel) being transferred free of the almost $7,000,000.00 in liens that bedeck the title to the land bank

The Augusta-Richmond County commission meeting on Tuesday, July 17, 2012, saw a morning pre-meeting surprise, when ARLLC's Paul Simon offered a cost comparison between numbers he suddenly provided and those submitted by Ampco Parking, who had been recommended for award of the management contract for the parking deck based upon its competitive low bid. (It is noted that Administrator Fred Russell directed the award to ARLLC, who was not part of the bid process, after notifying Ampco that its bid was rejected.)

There is no surprise that Simon says his numbers were $14,000 lower, I mean what did you expect him to say, “We are bilking you?”

The surprise was that he took the risk of putting numbers to a combination of two dissimilar deck agreements, one cost-reimbursable and the other a net lease deal, with the gamble that the commission would take his last-minute, arguably improperly-disseminated (through Fred Russell) gambit at face value and approve the management agreement.  All of this happened despite ARLLC’s failure to get the liens released hence clearing the title for the land bank and doing as they promised.

The public needs to take his bet and counter with one of its own.

Open Challenge to Paul Simon

Dear Paul,

Since you are pleased to present such a reasonable budget, let's cap it at the numbers shown. We agree that you really don't need the following to make this a profitable deal, so let’s drop these items from your earlier proposal;

·        $250,000 referenced in the capital budget section,
·        The liability insurance cost reimbursement that would have been covered by the Ampco fee
·        Overarching power to expend Augusta's money as you see fit
·        The ability to define “costs” in whatever manner you deem expedient
·        Latitude to assign high-priced employees to the deck deal
·        Two fees totaling $50,000 (Ampco's was less than $18,000)
·        The ability to exceed the budget with impunity (Ampco was prohibited from doing that, weren't they?)

Those of us in the community have read repeatedly in ARLLC partner Billy Morris' newspaper for the need to have sound financial policies in government operations.  That being the stated position of the “Big Boss” we are quite sure you will see the need for a procedures manual by which Augusta's auditors can judge compliance with some contract mandated standards, won't you? Such a manual was going to be required of Ampco so certainly you are prepared to give us one, right?

Yes, Paul, we are pleased that you have put forth these solid numbers and are sure that you would be willing to share those for the Conference Center Deck, so we can see about how the second $25,000 fee is accounted for. We are also interested to know about how the costs relating to the 150 ground level spaces in the Reynolds Street Deck that you own, subject to liens, are treated. Our “back-of-the envelope” calculations brought that cost, based upon your numbers, to about $47,000 or so a year.

Mr. Simon, if you are willing to cap the costs at the numbers shown, eliminate all of the provisions in the management deal that make it a blank check to your LLC and dispense with those pesky liens, I think we can make a deal.

Because then, and only then, you just might be on the same footing as Ampco.***
B.O.


**View Paul Simon's "comparison" below**

ARLLC - Budget Comparison