Sunday, September 30, 2012

Hounded into Making a Splash

Al and Molly before a hunt

Being Molly

Sunday, September 30, 2012
By Al Gray

Rabbits probably laughed at Molly. A gray-headed, bow-legged old girl of a beagle just would not have filled their hearts with fear. Her voice at full cry was a moderate bawl. She didn't have a fantastic cold trail nose that would detect where they had exited the sorghum field and tipped to their warrens hours before at dawn. Her legs were bowed, so speed wasn't a threat.  Molly purely looked and sounded like what she was - a mostly worn out beagle bitch of about 7 years of age. She certainly wasn't the ideal image of a dog around whom one would build a rabbit hunting pack.

Molly would have to do, as it turned out. We managed to aggregate a pack of dissimilar beagles into a rag-tag gang of hare-harassing noise makers.  Molly became the constant.  Jack and Dolly had superior noses, but tended to get caught up in trying to slowly extract the last scent rising from the trail. Queenie was a briar-busting runt of a jump dog, who had no nose at all. Back-track sometimes ran the trail backwards. Mabel was an even more aged relic, albeit a wise dog with experience. Of necessity, we rarely hunted pine thickets or open terrain. When we did, there was Molly to keep the clan functional.

Over time, Jack and Dolly discovered that their master was full of praise when they lifted their noses from back down the trail and went to Molly in the lead. Queenie found it was fun to stay with the gang and lend her squeaky voice in pursuit of those cottontails. Mabel kept pace and often straightened the pack out where Molly sometimes hesitated.  Back Track got left home and became a shot-deer tracking hound, as he confused the heck out of all the others, Molly included. By the second season, the group was a functional pack, just one devoid of speed.

Cottontails and swampers who survived a Molly chase were the ones who didn't sit on their haunches laughing. Molly had grim determination. Molly purely LOVED to hunt rabbits. Had Br-er  Rabbit gotten close enough to see, he would have trembled with fear. The old gal had ears tattered and bleeding from dogged pursuit through blackberry briers. Sometimes one of those steel-tough green briers would have torn an ear. Her tail ended in a hairless tip, with only the peripheral hair left to offer when her tail was held high. The pads of her feet were like iron. Those bow legs might have lacked speed but made up with power to bulldoze through thickets.

In a hunt Molly was bold, audacious, relentless, and cunning. Without being encouraged or trained to do so, she took the initiative to find, defend, and retrieve a downed quarry. That the rabbit was a relatively huge burden for a 29 pound beagle carry never deterred our Molly. She had a heart seemingly as large as a whole rabbit.

Before the fourth season with Molly and company, life changes and the wear of time struck. Mabel passed away around Independence Day. Queenie had a severe back injury and had to be put to sleep by Dr. Garner. It was time to find replacements and to expand the pack with young blood.  Over in Grovetown, Mr. Stephenson found himself with his own health issues in the form of congestive heart failure which ended his beagling days just as his 8 month old litter of AKC-registered gun dog pups was ready to begin training. His five pups found a buyer eager to accommodate his wishes that the entire litter be kept intact to form a hunting pack.

Those pups were significantly faster than Jack, Dolly, Molly and Mr. Calvin Clem’s contributions to the pack, Lucy and Mack. Each sibling had a different temperament and style. Molly would bend them all to meet hers. She became their mentor. Sapphire, the only female, was the first to begin running rabbits and quickly became the leader of the pack, always adroitly and quickly handing the outs that the rabbits would throw at the pack. When she didn't,  Jack and Dolly had learned to release the scent trail and go to where the leaders were, so they were there to work out the challenges Sapphire found more difficult. Brothers Louie, Andy, and Pete were quick learners and became excellent rabbit beagles.  Molly was there with them all.

The last hold-out amongst the Stephenson pups was Amos. The poor boy seemed befuddled and perhaps even afraid at all of the racket that the others made in pursuit. Amos stayed at Master’s feet. I could not shoot for fear of causing gun-shyness in Amos. This finally ended in a planted pine grove down below Girard, when a fleet cottontail that had far outdistanced the noisy pack darted across the fire break in front of us. Amos took off after him, barking in a high chop voice on the hot trail. From then on, Amos was a key member of the team that we released in open terrain and pine plantations. Alas, even a hot scent could not entice Amos into a brier patch. He would pace outside, hoping that the rabbit would play HIS game, not the rabbit’s.

The constant in the pups’ education in the field was old Molly. It was about the time that the naughty pups came into her hunts that she ‘learned’ to retrieve rabbits. Jack already had picked up on that as a way to gain his master’s praise. Jack was a burly enforcer, broad chested and 17 inches at the shoulder, which is large for a beagle. Molly had a lot of trouble because of her short legs. One can see the difficulty she had in this picture of Molly retrieving a rabbit.

I don’t know about you, but our pets at times have taught such powerful human lessons that it becomes humbling, poignant, and powerful all at the same time. Molly rarely led the pack any more. Sapphire and Pete seemed to have jumped to the fore. From the outset, they had more speed.  It might have hurt the old girl’s feelings, but Molly was all heart, with a smidgeon of cunning.

Most of the pups early training was in open terrain and planted pine plantations, but by late in the season, the hunting party had to resort to unconventional habitat.  One of the toughest venues for rabbit hunts were the brier choked drainage ditches for fields with center pivot irrigation. Down by Highway 301, near Rubin Oliver’s place, there was such a place. At the rear was a water filled canal that was too wide for us to leap. The water was too deep to wade.

A rabbit jumped up along one of the center ditches, exploited a gap in our containment to the sound of three desperate shots from Cousin Hugh, and dashed to the rear of the field and into the dense blackberry patch there. Pete and Sapphire led the pack in pursuit.  When the beagles reached the ditch, all noise stopped. The rabbit had swum the ditch. Five young beagle gun dogs were left clueless and whining at the edge of that canal. Suddenly, there was a graying blur as this bow legged doyenne of a wizened huntress barged through the youngsters and leapt into the water with no hesitation. The five whiners quickly followed her example and swam to the other side, where a furious pursuit of Mr. Rabbit resumed that lasted until dark.

The sight of Molly’s charge into the canal became more than a fixed memory; It became an inspiration for her masters. Molly took charge and plunged into what looked to her companions like a well of doom. Despite her age, aching bow legs, and the coldness of the water, Molly knew her duty and did not shrink from it. She inspired the youngsters around her and taught them with leadership in action.

We should all do the same in these times of encountering vast moats of troubles.

Be Molly.

Molly in Action

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Matt Aitken Insults Downtown Merchants Over Clock Issue

Wednesday, September 26, 2012
Augusta, GA
By The Outsider

One of the cardinal rules in a political campaign is to avoid saying or doing anything that might insult a key portion of your constituency. Think of the video where GOP Presidential candidate Mitt Romney essentially called nearly half of all American voters freeloaders. His campaign is still trying to climb out of that hole. Facebook and Twitter have also become minefields for politicians-- think Congressman Anthony Weiner' s semi nude pics he tweeted out for all the world to see that resulted in his resigning his seat in disgrace. Well, it appears that Matt Aitken, who is running for reelection in the district 1 commission seat, may have offended many downtown merchants with the following Facebook posting this past Monday night. There are  no Weineresque crotch shots -- just commissioner Aitken standing in front of a clock with the message "found another clock downtown."

On the surface the post seems innocuous, but for anyone who has been following the saga of the downtown clock over the past year will understand why the above Facebook posting could be taken as an insult by some downtown business owners and government watchdogs. They have been questioning the unusual circumstances of how the downtown clock was removed from the center of Broad street with no public input and then wound up in the terminal at Augusta Regional Airport. And now, here was the commissioner for the downtown business district where the clock once stood, turning it into a joke -- essentially telling concerned downtown merchants to just get over it. 

The clock seen behind Aitken in the above Facebook posting is located at 13th and Broad in front of an old bank building. The downtown clock that has been the center of controversy (not the one in the above photo behind Matt Aitken) was purchased with over $60,000 in special purpose local option sales tax funds (SPLOST) in 2003 for the specific purpose to give that area of downtown a focal point. It stood in the median of Broad Street between 10th and 9th streets across from The Whites Building for 8 years until last fall when it was removed in the cover of night by The Downtown Development Authority (DDA). It later made its way to the airport. Many downtown business owners were furious. Some of them had even used the clock in their advertising. 

Now it was gone and no one was giving them a satisfactory explanation. Margaret Woodard, director of the DDA, said that it was removed because it it did not function properly. She says there was a vote by the DDA board to do this. However, in an open records request by City Stink at the request of concerned downtown business owners, we found no vote or discussion of the removal of the clock in any of the DDA meeting minutes.

Here is what else we found out in our open records request:

The clock was insured, and a claim for it was made by the DDA. The insurance company later deemed the clock irreperable and payed off the claim to the DDA. 

The DDA's 2011 audit report still lists the clock as an asset worth approximately $35,000

The clock later ends up at Augusta Regional Airport and is miraculously repaired -- after the insurance company paid off the claim deeming the clock a loss. Records show the clock was repaired at a cost of between $8,000 and $9,000.

  • Why did the clock end up at the airport with no vote or discussion?
  • Where is the money that the insurance company payed off to the DDA on the clock?
  • How was a clock deemed "irreparable" later repaired?
  • If the clock was considered a loss by the insurance company, then why was it still listed as an asset worth $35,000 by the DDA on their books.?
If seeing an empty spot wasn't bad enough for downtown merchants and visitors who had grown accustomed to the large black Victorian style clock as a focal point, things were made even worse when the focal point was taken up by a hot dog trailer. Instead of the elegant clock-- this is what diners on the outside patio of The Casa Blanca Cafe located on the first floor of The Whites Building get to see directly across from them: 

Lovely, isn't it? But it gets worse. During the Arts in the Hearts Festival earlier this month this is what took the place of the clock:

Rather ironic when you think about it since the circumstances of how the clock was removed from downtown certainly do stink.

But to Commissioner Aitken all of this is just a big joke and to him, downtown merchants and concerned citizens are making much ado about nothing -- but they aren't laughing.For many of them, the clock had become a focal point to that part of downtown and they want it back -- and they want answers as to why it was removed -- not insults from the commissioner who is supposed to represent their interests.

Another bit of irony in all of this is that when Commissioner Aitken ran for election in 2009, where do you suppose he decided to give his speech officially kicking off his campaign? Yep.. the same downtown clock that he is now making fun of -- the clock that now resides at the airport. Below is a photo from Matt Aitken's media event in 2009 where he officially announced himself as a candidate for the District 1 seat.

Seems back then the clock was important to him -- now it has become a punchline. Of course if Aitken had decided to hold his reelection announcement at this same spot this year, he would have done so in front of a tacky aluminum trailer or a cadre of crappers -- the latter of which is where Aitken's reelection hopes are likely to end up.***


* Special thanks go to Taylor Bryant for providing the screenshot photo of Matt Aitken's Facebook posting

Related Stories:

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Special Report: A Commission Deceived

Charlie Brown Placekicking with a Luciferian Administrator?
Tuesday, September 25, 2012 Augusta, GA
Lori Davis

*Editor's Note: Click on blue underlined text to see the documents referenced in this report*

Most of us came up reading and watching Charlie Brown’s cartoon adventures with his pals. The most infuriating sequence of strips were when Lucy enticed poor Charlie Brown to kick a football while she acted as holder.  At the last instant, without fail, Lucy would snatch the ball up and away, leaving poor Charlie kicking nothing and ending up on his butt. Lucy had to invent more and more ways to get Charlie Brown to participate in her charade, generally involving ever-more grand enticements, promises, and fantasies.

The Augusta Commission is Charlie Brown and Fred Russell is Richmond County’s Lucy.  By now there are 10 bruised and broken tailbones showing up in Commission Chambers. By now it hurts so bad, none of them can stand to laugh. 

Monday, the proposed contracts for the infamous TEE Center come to the Commission for consideration and approval. If they try to kick those footballs through the uprights immediately, they will find all of the incompetence, yes even deception, which Fred Russell has been up to. The damage will be that Richmond County will lose $tens of millions over time on this boondoggle, with $millions added  that were hidden in one-sided contracts that Lucy Fred “negotiated.”

Why do I write so bluntly? Is it that I think that Fred Russell intentionally misled the entire commission?
Yes and here is why.

These contracts were promised to be nearly complete THREE YEARS ago! Here are Russell’s exact words from the July 7, 2009 commission meeting. “Land acquisition is almost finalized.  The operating contract is almost finalized……I’m getting very close to giving you the final documents on all three if not the schematic  designs  the land acquisition and the operating agreements” Three years and two months later the final agreements are just coming  before the commission.

What did Fred Russell do with these agreements in all of this time? He allowed $50 million of Tee Center and Parking decks to be erected on land the city didn’t own. This was unbelievable incompetence and it may have been worse. It put the city in a difficult and now perhaps impossible negotiating position.
I submitted several Georgia Open Records Act Requests trying to get to the bottom of the Tee Center kitchen kettle of waste, including one dated July 2, 2012 and another dated August 3, 2012. A stunning string of misstatements by the administrator and irregularities surround the $1.4 million that Augusta paid for kitchen equipment.

When asked for the action of the commission that changed the PARTNERSHIP AGREEMENT with Augusta Riverfront LLC, all the city could show was approval of the change order  with RW Allen LLC to purchase the equipment.

When the draft Tee Center agreements were obtained in March by Commissioner Guilfoyle, there were references to the kitchen space in the building, but not the equipment. The existing Conference Center agreements, recorded in the clerk of court office and the August 7, 2007 preliminary agreement approved by the commission, both say Riverfront LLC pays for the equipment. WHERE IS OUR MONEY?

The motion to approve purchase of the kitchen equipment presented by the Administrator stated  “There is no financial impact to the overall project cost. “ Beyond whether these costs belong to Riverfront LLC, not Augusta, which would make Fred’s claim ridiculous, there was only $700,000 in the project estimate for food service equipment, not $1.4 million.

Project contracts require the architect to review and approve all change orders, but the architect, TVS Design pointedly noted that it was cut out of its required approval of the change order, writing: “We understand that Change Order Number 01 was reviewed and executed on a process solely between the Owner and Contractor.”

The RW Allen contract requires that combined overhead and profit of the general contractor and the subcontractor on a change order not exceed a combined 22%. The pricing available to Augusta doesn’t permit verification that this maximum hasn’t been exceeded.

Commissioners need to be wary of the Russell move that now looms. These partners under the original Tee Center Deal of August 2007 are getting a $2 million annual subsidy courtesy of the Augusta taxpayer.  There is the matter of depreciation on $50 million of new buildings. There is the matter of the Augusta Convention And Visitor’s Bureau budget of millions of dollars largely dedicated to promoting their hotels. There is the $350,000 cash outlay every year from the Hotel bed/transportation tax. There is relief from property taxes. Rival hoteliers must pay these costs and get none of the benefit. All of this isn’t enough?

Summary for Commissioners
Did Fred tell you that Riverfront was obligated to pay for kitchen equipment ?  Did he tell you he was giving away $1.4 million of Augusta’s money if Riverfront didn’t pay its share?

Why did Fred tell you that the kitchen equipment did not raise the overall project costs when Riverfront was responsible and the cost was double the amount in the April estimate? (I got that included in the response to my first GORA.)

Why was the architect cut out of the approval process for the kitchen equipment change order? Did Fred tell you about that?

How can Augusta verify that it didn’t pay more than the RW Allen contract allows for the kitchen equipment when the details to do so are missing?

I note that these things are on top of Fred telling the Commission that the land under the Reynolds Street Parking deck was going to be purchased.
Why is Fred Russell bound and determined to snatch away the last pig’s skin of real value to Augusta and convey it to Riverfront LLC?  Is this why $50 million in buildings have been completed with no contracts between the partners in place?

Fred has been up to no good. He has either deceived or misled 10 commissioners throughout the Tee Center ordeal .It is a debacle for Augusta that he will leave as his legacy. Unless something changes, Augustans can spend the next decades shunning and lampooning these commissioners for letting an Administrator run amok, squandering millions of dollars.

Someday soon, accountability must return to Augusta and to America.  We citizens must force the issue!***


*Cost Recovery specialist Al Gray provided assistance with this report

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Bounty Trace to Magnolia Trace

Friday, September 21, 2012
Evans, GA
By Al Gray

The fury in and surrounding the Columbia County Commission Chambers on December 6, 2011 sizzled and seethed. Citizens packed the room and the overflow could have surrounded the building. An incongruous and unwelcome subsidized housing development, to be known as Magnolia Trace, was coming to their midst. The county commission had invited the intruder in. The Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA)was funding it. The only notice had been the real estate closing and starting of the building permit process. Revelations that the project's limited partner, Affordable Equity Partners (AEP) of Columbia, Missouri, had – through subsidiaries, related entities, and PAC’s - liberally provided campaign donations to Georgia’s governor, lieutenant governor, speaker of the house and local state legislators added to the combustible mix. Capping it off later was the discovery that the county attorney also had worn the hat of closing attorney for the developers.

Inside, the commission chairman, three commissioners, and that county attorney were stoic, but their white faces and knuckles spoke fear.  Their position was one of relative comfort juxtaposed to the District Three commissioner, a man inopportunely appointed to the offending Department of Community Affairs board (albeit after DCA had approved the tax credit funding to AEP) and who had voted for the county’s resolution to endorse the project. His business had been picketed, his phone ceaselessly chattered, a local talk radio show with 60,000 listeners was hostile, and real pressure was on. He was beet red and seemed to be near break down.

An epic meeting ensued that concluded an hour and a half later with the commission engaging an outside attorney charged with seeing whether there were avenues to void the deal.  It was a fig leaf and seen that way. The project was too carefully planned and orchestrated for citizens to have a realistic chance of canceling it. After all, Affordable Equity Partners boasts of its long history of doing tax credit projects in multiple states and its role in encouraging states to provide the tax credits.  From the company website: "By forging strong relationships with key government entities, AEP ensures a secure and favorable investment environment for our investor partners."

Who Done It?
The first stage in the development and investment process for a Low Income Housing Tax Credit project is said by AEP to be this: “A developer of an affordable property will admit AEP as its limited partner.." This portrays the circumstance of a group of local property developers gaining control of land, then engaging the AEP companies to structure the deal as a LIHTC financing. Who are the principals behind Magnolia Trace? They are hidden by the LLP structure, so that remains a mystery.

The birth pangs for this project came when an AEP entity named Peach Way Holdings LLC obtained an option on March 24, 2010 to purchase the land. Later the option would be exercised by Magnolia Trace LLP. Immediately the process began to submit an application to DCA for tax credits used to finance the project. Peach Way Holdings was the first entity publicly involved out of an AEP interconnected stable of companies who are very adept at carving out a lucrative niche.

Extraordinarily High Costs Meet a Stunning Reversal
The Magnolia Trace project was so astonishingly lucrative that the DCA staff initially refused to approve the application on December 14, 2010 (click link to view document) based on that fact and a host of other financial criteria. “Total development costs for this project are over $10 million dollars which translates into almost $141.24 (author used round numbers) per square foot. A similar project had total development costs of only $7,561,982. This translates to almost $2.5 million more of total development costs.”, DCA wrote. Despite having slammed the numbers as entirely too high and the applicant being barred from updating or modifying anything upon appeal, DCA  approved the credits for MagnoliaTrace in a letter dated March 14, 2011 (click link to view approval document) .Incredibly the approval notification letter has a DCA documents date stamp of January 7, 2011, 66 days before the document was dated!

A need to call upon AEP's “strong relationships” within government to gain approval before December 31, 2010 lay in the expiration of a key contract with Peach Way Financial Services. The vaunted "genuine advocacy for both developers and investors" worked wonders to speed approval, evidenced by what looks like an obvious post dating episode, over a period interrupted by Christmas and New Years.

Who might Magnolia Trace LLP/Affordable Equity Partners have called upon for help in this time of emergency? Lt. Governor Casey Cagle's campaign got $882.50 from AEP going back to 2008. Sister company Capital Health Management Inc. gave Cagle another $10, 453.50.Capital Health Management in October 2006 had given $40,000 out of the $40,500 total of The Fund for Georgia's Future (Filer # NC2006000414 ) who gave Cagle another $10,000 that same month. Capital Health Management in 2008 gave a whopping $100,000 to The Fund for Georgia's Future, who dispersed it to a raft of legislators. and the Republican Party.  

Capital Health had also given the campaigns of Speaker David Ralston $5,000, Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers $5,500 and Nathan Deal $6,300. Another PAC that AEP contributes to, albeit not as the dominant contributor, is the Committee for Affordable Workforce Housing (GAHC-PAC – Filer NC2008000070). This PAC gave another $6,100 to the Deal campaign in September 2010, $1000 to Ralston in December 2010, $5,973 for Deal in December 2011,  and $3,000 for Cagle in March, 2012.
Nearly $200,000 in campaign funds wins friends. In this case did it reverse a project rejection and move a date?
Magnolia Trace under construction

A Masked Partner?
The DCA application process requires disclosure of all related and controlled entities. Peach Way Financial Services, LLC , the Development Consultant, seems to fall within this category, as William A. Markel, Executive Vice President of AEP, is listed as Peach Way's Agent for its business registration with the Georgia Secretary of State with the listed mailing address in Missouri coinciding with AEP’s office address. However, in the tax credit application filed with DCA, Peach Way Financial, the project Developer Consultant, was listed with an Atlanta address and was reported to  “not have an identity of interest with any other entity in this chart.”  *(Click here to view Magnolia Trace parties document). It is noted that the “identity of interest” question applied to each and every entity in the chart.

A side note is that Peach Way Financial Services, LLC  is shown to have filed its business registration with the Secretary of State for 2011, when the application process remained in play, but is reported to be in a state of noncompliance for 2012. According to its contract, Peach Way Financial Services gets fee payments in 2012 from Magnolia Trace.

“Inefficient financial structure”
Before Magnolia Trace LLP's sudden change in fortune, DCA had written this about the project: “.... the financial structure is not an effective or efficient use of DCA resources.” What might be the reason that the “financial structure is not an effective use…?” Could it be that multiple layers of AEP affiliated companies produced the $2.5 million more in costs cited by DCA?

Arguably the largest money tree in the AEP stable is that the tax credit financing process allows “AEP’s ability to insert an experienced affiliate into every step of the tax credit process provides added security to AEP’s investors." With Magnolia Trace, Peach Way Holdings secured the land option. Magnolia Trace LLP became the owner.  MACO Development Company, LLC is the Developer. AEP itself is the State and Federal Limited Partner. MACO Properties, LLC is the Managing Partner. Peach Way Financial Services LLC is the Development consultant. Fairway Construction Co. Inc. is the General Contractor. Fairway Management is the management company. All are related and most stood to gain fees, directly or indirectly.

How much  of the $2.5 million excess cost that DCA objected to might be found in having so many AEP companies involved? The land acquisition and construction 'costs' totaled $6,986,826, or a whopping $100 per square foot. The total development  'costs' of $10,152,634 were $145.45 per square foot. Of the roughly $3.2 million difference, fees, overhead, and profit of the AEP stable of companies were about $2.1 million, or 66%.

A Lot More than A Trace of Money
Once a subdivision is complete, the AEP companies begin to draw management fees from leasing operations. Magnolia Trace will join 17 previous AEP company developments in Georgia. Projected management fees to be generated from the Martinez complex are estimated at $1,160,885.
The approved tax credits were $1,065,849. If the DCA's figures and objections ifrom December 2010 are correct, the excess of tax credits over the norms would be about 25% or more than $250,000.

Magical Words to an Auditor's Ears
The application contained the language “Certification of Actual Cost” and the authorizing provisions in Chapter 42 of the tax code preserve the rights and capabilities of audit before the tax credits are issued. This could prove providential in protecting state and federal tax revenues, as there are new homes for sale in similar neighborhoods for sales prices in the low $70's per square foot. Upon audit can the $145 per square foot price supplied by the AEP companies be sustained?
The larger question is whether anyone will ever be allowed to audit this transaction.

Citizens of suburban, Republican Martinez, Georgia got an unwelcome subsidized housing project courtesy of unknown developers. If there is solace in this story it is that Martinez county commissioner Trey Allen got the Department of Community Affairs to reform its policy so that future locales will be notified beforehand of low income projects. The politicians got nearly $200,000 of campaign donations. The AEP stable of companies look to have secured a backdated approval of a project that DCA deemed excessive on the way to winning more than $1.5 million in development fees, $1.1 million in tax credits, and $1.1 million in management fees. Along the way, one entity looks to have been undisclosed as a related party and has fallen into noncompliance with Georgia's business registration unit.

The identities of the parties who launched this controversial project will be hidden behind opaque partnership structures, while a cash-strapped state government sees its revenues drained, not only by very lucrative tax give-aways, but also by layered on costs that the state agency found to be excessive.
Can this really be government by and for the people?***

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

West Augusta Candidates Forum Provides More Questions than Answers

Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Augusta, GA
By The Westsider

These are our Commission and School Board Candidates?  Really?

In a candidates forum held last evening by the West Augusta Alliance, we were privileged to hear from the best and the brightest running for positions in commission Districts 1,3, and 7, and school board district 1. In an election that is quite possibly one of the most important  we will see in the past twenty years, we would like to start off by giving you some of the most quotable quotes of the evening.  Laughing and crying are both permissible.

By the way, candidates Matt Aitken; Disrtict 1, and Candidate Donnie Smith: District 7 both declined our invitation. Aitken said something about needing more unity in his district and Donnie said something about having another event to attend (another labor union) that his handlers had just alerted him to. Might be news to Mr Aitken that his neighborhood Association is a member of the West Augusta Alliance, and might be news to Mr. Smith that this alliance is one that a candidate does not need to overlook, especially since many of the member neighborhoods fall within the commission district he is running for. Now on with the good stuff.

Most Quotable Quotes of the evening: (I'll let you guess who said them.. or you can skip down to the videos after the article and see for yourself)

"I have seen our government transition from a bad state to a good state"
-Where has this guy been in the past twenty years?

" I know I can work on the issues.I have the background to work on the issues.  Elect me and I will work on those issues."
-What are the issues? 

"We needed a new elementary school in Harrisburg because is is so crime ridden."
-Great neighborhood to walk to school.

" Forget the seniors. If we haven't taught what needs to be taught by second grade, we can forget it."
-That's quite a jump.

"With all due respect, Mr. Moderator, you are wrong with your facts again."
-Never pick a fight with the moderator if you are running as a candidate in his district.

"I promise to do the best I can."
-I guess anyone could have said this.

" We need to be bringing in businesses like Urban Outfitter and other nationally recognized companies."
-What about all of the local small businesses? I'm sure downtown independent retailers will love this approach

"Got to be able to spend time reading documents. Reading is the most important thing."
-How about understanding them

"I've spent a lot of time going downtown in my life.  It takes going downtown to get things done."
-What is he going downtown for? And will Petula Clark be singing his campaign theme song?

"Because of my upbringing, I can reach across the aisle,  I know I have what it takes to reach across the aisle."
-Candidates don't declare parties, so what is he getting at? I never knew commissioners sat on aisle seats anyway

"The District One seat is a seat for a black person, not a white person."
-Oops….That was at another forum, however, voters need to know that there is a candidate who has said this in a different setting. I think you can probably guess who said this.

"We don't lag behind in education in Richmond County, they just keep raising the bar"
-Really? Sounds like he's played too much limbo... which is exactly where the state of our public schools are.

Now I would like to give our readers a few lucid comments from our 10 candidates.  Keep in mind, only two or three candidates seemed to fit this description……..

" I believe I can be a good steward of other people's money." 
  --- Mary Davis (Dist 3)

"We need oversight on million dollar projects." 
 ---Denice Traina (Dist 1)

"Dilapidated houses are a cancer in this city" 
 --- Willam Fennoy (Dist 1)

"I will never vote to raise taxes," 
--- Kenneth Echols (Dist 7)

"Being A Commissioner is a natural extension of what I do now. I read contracts everyday"
--- Ed Enoch (Dist 3)

So there you have it folks.  Our candidates for Commission and School Board. who participated in this lively discussion last evening.  If you would like to try to pair the name with the comment, see the list of candidates below:

Distrct 1 Commission: Denice Traina, Stanley Hawes. Bill Fennoy, Theloniuos Jones(Dropped out of the race as of last night).

Distrct 3 Commission: Ed Enoch, Mary Davis, Clevelend Osteen

District 7 Commission: Kenny Echols

District 1 School Board: Marion Barnes, Lucien Williams


*Below are videos from last night's forum (turn volume up)*

Lori Davis, president of the West Augusta Alliance, opens the forum

Kenneth Echols, candidate for District 7 commission speaks

Ed Enoch, candidate for Dist 3 commission speaks

Mary Fair Davis, candidate for Dist 3 commission speaks

Cleveland O'steen, candidate for Dist 3 commission speaks

Stanley Hawes, candidate for Dist 1 commission speaks

William Fennoy, candidate for Dist 1 commission speaks

Denice Traina, candidate for dist 1 commission speaks

Lucien Williams, candidate for dist 1 school board speaks

Marion Barnes, incumbent for Dist 1 school board speaks

Monday, September 10, 2012

Stop the Insanity!

Monday, September 10, 2012
Augusta, GA
By Lori Davis

Looks like Mr. J's Famous Door Supper Club is going to see some new business. The dilapidated former night club located on Laney Walker Blvd. has sold to the city's Land Bank for $332,840, when the property is only valued at $83,000. The plan is to tear it down and build a new office to house the Department of Housing and Community Development, just one block from the old office. That would be Chester Wheeler and Company; the same Chester Wheeler who has continued to be in hot water for apparently mismanaging Federal Funds overthe years.

Now there is going to be another pot of money to dive into? Red Flag Number One.  On the surface, most of us would say that there is just no way to justify this and we would be correct. Why would the city agree to do this? Well according to Fred Russell,"It's a small part of a very complex puzzle." To translate, we are just too dumb to understand everything that is involved in this deal." Red Flag Number Two….. Augusta citizens are beginning to understand a lot, and are not looking so dumb these days. Look at the players.  Follow the money. Same cast of characters.  Same CRAP! has been alerted that Donna Murray, who is a deputy chief appraiser for the City, spent a lot of time at this club and was very good friends with the owner. Red Flag Number Three. I believe she said something to the effect that the property had not been appraised since 2005 because of a lack of help in the appraisers office…convenient in my opinion, Red Flag Number Four.

When we received this next comment at from a concerned citizen, we decided to pass it along to our readers as well. We need to know the truth about these deals and put a stop to this insanity!

"Have you ever seen this place - go look at it. It's a run-down dump that could have easily been condemned if they really 'needed' it. And that excuse that property values have risen...and there have been staffing shortages!

"WHAT??....and it was a thriving business at the time it sold.
The tax on my property  has certainly gone up since 2005 while my sales have gone down to almost nothing. They didn't have any staff 'shortages' then."

"And Fred Russell - he's either the most incompetent city administrator or he's on the "take" or most likely BOTH.
There is NO way the city needed this piece of crap land at this hugely inflated price especially with all of the empty space in the Municipal Building." (Augusta Citizen).

Where are our city commissioners on this deal?  In a conversation I had this a.m. with my commissioner, he was not even aware that this deal had taken place. Not surprising!  Business as usual in Augusta, Georgia…… And lastly from our angry citizen……."Just like the technique used by the master greed mongers at the Marriott - how can you blame the 'poor' blacks for just trying to even up the score."

"I just can't stand much more of this corrupt b.s.
If I could sell my property I'd be gone today -  it just continues to get worse.
Billy and Paul soak up all of the big dollars and the rest of the worker termites finish the job.....
But there is no money to even clean the parking wells on Broad Street.
This is beyond disgusting."  (Augusta Citizen)

I would say that we at would have to agree. It is amazing to me as a citizen of Augusta since 1991 that this keeps going on and  on while the downtown area and South Augusta continue to disintegrate. Seems to me to be a tit for tat between the white power brokers and the black power brokers and the rest of us can just suck it up and live in our our nasty drug ridden neighborhoods and the like. When the tax base is totally gone, then what?  I guess daily greed is what wins out.  As long as the greedy are getting their money, who cares what happens to the rest of the city?

We can see this reflected in the Downtown Development Authority, as well  $Millions in SPLOST dollars have rolled through this authority and where does it go?  To the crony capitalists who own the properties while the  downtown business owner who is renting the space is  suffering. Keep it up dear leaders and we will keep it up on our side. There might just be a day of reckoning really soon for all of you. One major suggestion from to get this city on the right track. Get rid of  Fred Russell, Chester Wheeler "Dealer" , and Queen Madge Woodard. That would be a good start. It's time to stop the insanity!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

A Bad Hare Day?

The Jaws of Penny

By Al Gray

Red and Georgette were the plug-eared rabbit’s nemeses out on Owens Road in Evans. It was an age in which there was no Rhineharts on one end of the road and an Academy Sports on the other. Only 5 years separated those days from the time Owens road was dirt. Beyond  the by-then-abandoned old Owens Place, the families along that stretch were folks named  Strickland, Fleming, Thompson,  and Cone.  The term “Brandon Wild(e)” might have been figured as some punk rich kid from the Augusta hill throwing a drunken party brawl at the American Legion lodge over by Reed Creek.  There were plenty of those.

Sometime in mid-1968 a red and white rag top Ford Bronco pulled down the drive to a new home for the beagles and their aging mentor, Penny. One can sense the wonderment of those three, because the trip was not in hunting season and the beagles never went hunting with Penny, as much as she might have fancied herself a rabbit huntress. Moist noses would have been held high, trying to get a olfactory clue of where they were. Maybe they detected fresh asphalt, a smell alien to their former abode down on Stevens Creek Road. Perhaps it was the fragrance from all of the broomstraw and blackberry vines across the road. Whatever it was, it spoke of a new life in a new place.

As happy-go-lucky and adventuresome as beagles are, Red and Georgette were soon poking noses in brush piles, trying to roust out a cottontail for a chase. Old Penny was another case. Penny was a lemon and white English pointer who had roamed free alongside her siblings for nearly a decade. The move was traumatic. Penny slept every night for two months under her reliable companion, the Bronco. It was her security blanket – one supposes she figured that when that wagon left, she was going with it.

Eventually she decided to get as close to the family as possible which meant a position in the garage near the kitchen door. That garage opened to the rear of the house onto a large parking area which also served as the neighborhood basketball court. Alongside the home were the obligatory shrubs of hated holly (trimming was torture), pittosporum,  ligustrum,  sasanqua, azalea, gardenia, and boxwood. In places they were several tiers deep. Snakes, lizards, and birds loved the habitat.

The first time the plug eared rabbit was seen he was tipping around a pile of freshly-cut saplings from clearing the yard. Later it would be found that the brush pile was one of his hide-outs. Curiously, that particular brush pile was closest to the dog pens. It was almost like Plug Ear had his very own sense of daring. Most of the time the beagles ran free, but that rabbit did not know when those times were.

There is no substitute for experience and those beagles got plenty of it chasing Plug Ear and his relatives.  The next winter Red and Georgette would team up with Jinks and Blue for some sizzling races down below Girard, Georgia. Practice on their home boy rabbit might not have made perfect, but it made for very fast beagles.  The poor rabbits down there in Burke County paid dearly for trying to escape over some hill. Unlike Plug Ear back home, they didn’t have ponds to swim or culverts to run into when the chase found the bugling beagle foursome nipping at their heels.  The teamwork between the hounds in pursuit of an open field quarry was stunning in speed and effectiveness.

At heart, old Penny was a rabbit dog, too.  Our family of quail hunters had to be greatly disciplined with her rabbit pointing.  One could tell when it was a rabbit that she had pointed, for her tail would have a pronounced crook in it. If it was really, really twisted, that meant “snake,” not “rabbit.” One didn’t dare reward Penny by shooting a rabbit she had pointed, especially early in the day, for if you did, she would spend most of the day pointing rabbits instead of quail.

Back home, Plug Ear was getting more inventive with his escapes. Red and Georgette had started strategies to cut off his pond swims, runs on smelly asphalt to hide his scent and bolts through Mr. Cartledge’s hog wire fencing.  He came to run up to the house, slip and weave among the shrubs, and hug the foundation. He got by with that one day.

The next day he didn’t.

The hounds struck Plug’s trail down where he got a sip of water coming out of the Cartledges’ pond overflow. He shook them for a moment at the fence, allowing time to scoot into our pond’s far side. From there he jumped in, swam to the dam, crossed over, and ran a flanking trail down the cane break. Plug doubled back on his trail and leaped over the creek. After crossing the dam again on the near side, he made a run up to the house and tipped along the base of the wall. Then he stopped in an opening to listen for Red and Georgette.

It was in front of the garage.

A lemon and white energized bundle named Penny lunged at Plug Ear from his blind side, but the combination of pointer toenails on asphalt and one intact bunny ear provided salvation.  The gaping maw of Penny’s mouth snapped at Plug’s head, but caught his fleeing tail instead.

It was a shame that Red and Georgette were still down by the pond when Penny made her charging lunge. They would have screamed approval. Plug Ear survived.  If he were seen after that day, one would have branded such a species as a Plug  Earred Nothingtail.

There is a human moral to this tail.

 Sitting on your haunches gloating is not Penny wise.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Who is Donnie Smith and Why Do We Need to Know?

Thursday, September 6, 2012
Augusta, GA
By Lori Davis

Just who is Donnie Smith, and why is it important that we know about him?  The answer to that question is that he is a candidate for the District 7 commission seat for Augusta Richmond County.  It is extremely important in this particular election cycle that the right new commissioners are chosen to change the direction and the tone of this government.Ssince Augusta Today and City Stink have come on the scene, we have shown how some commissioners work for the special interest groups and the political elites, rather than the average citizens -- we need commissioners who will change that.

We know that most Commissioners and candidates follow our Facebook group Augusta Today and regularly read our blog,City Not much gets past us because we make it our mission to do the hard research and give the facts to the public. And we will continue to fulfill our roles as government watchdogs and we will continue to hold commissioners and other government officials accountable for their actions. And as this election cycle fires up, we also intend to examine closely those who are seeking office. Will they be agents of change or more of the status quo? So how does Donnie Smith measure up based on this criteria?

When Donnie Smith first came on the scene as a potential District 7 Commissioner, I heard him speak on the Austin Rhodes radio show.  He seemed confident and assured of the issues facing the Augusta, and presented himself as someone who could make much needed change on the commission. My first thoughts were…Well, he just might give Kenny Echols a run for his money. Kenny Echols is also a candidate running for District 7.  Echols is well known and Smith is  an unknown.  Echols  is retired from MCG with loads of experience in management. Smith is a State Patrolman.  Echols spent 12 years on the Richmond County School Board, Smith dates the Richmond County DA, Ashley Wright.  I tried to put that aside as I began to judge him as a candidate. After all, I had not personally met him nor had a conversation with him. That would come later.

The next time I remember forming an opinion about Donnie Smith was when he made a statement at the Committee for Good Government forum that went something like this," I love Augusta, I love everything about it, even the things that make us bad." (Augusta Chronicle; Wednesday March 14, 2012). 

Something about that last line really bothered me. My thought was,"Who can LOVE what is bad about Augusta?"  I just thought it was a weird statement. I am really bothered about the things that make Augusta bad because they never seem to get any better, at least not since I have been living here. I associate,"Bad," with elected leaders who refuse to see just how bad it is, by bending to special interest groups instead of looking out for their constituents.…..Anyway….. just my own observation -- the comment came off as rather odd.

As the months progressed, I met Donnie Smith at various campaign events and began to see him at the commission meetings.  That was a good sign.  I can't imagine someone running for a commission seat and not attending the meetings. If nothing else, one needs to learn the procedure of a meeting like this.  I tell Augustans all of the time,"If you truly want to know what goes on in this city, attend Commission meetings.  You will gain a whole new perspective."  

As is the custom of those of us who attend these meetings, when all is said and done, we usually end up out front of the Municipal building discussing the votes of the day…what we agreed with and what we didn't agree with. Donnie joined in with these discussions. To me he sounded like a candidate who in my opinion was making the right  mental decisions. A breath of fresh air for the District 7 seat. So where did everything go wrong in my opinions of this candidate?

Beginning in February of 2012, members of City Stink began to really look into the Tee Center Parking Deck contract between the city of Augusta and Augusta Riverfront LLC.  This came about after we uncovered the fact that the city did not own the property under the city built parking deck and that there were  7 million dollars worth of  liens on this property. We went before the Commission and asked them to hold off on voting on the lease agreement with ARLLC. This agreement was not in the best interest of the tax payers. 

As our Cost Analysis research analyst Al Gray began to look into the contract more deeply, he found many more things that were wrong with it. There began to be a discussion with the commissioners of a Forensic Audit being done on the dealings with this parking deck.  A Forensic Audit Sub Committee was set up to look into the scope that would be necessary to put out an RFP to qualified firms. As this was going on, commissioners were having their own workshops to try and iron out the difficulties with Augusta Riverfront LLC. It looked as if the idea of a forensic audit was making progress, at least in committee. When all was said and done through workshops and committee, the full commission was scheduled to vote on whether or not to proceed with the forensic audit. A big day for the progress of City Stink and all of Augusta.

Strangely enough, the week prior to the vote the Augusta Chronicle wrote an article on the upcoming Commission vote and even stranger, asked Donnie Smith, a candidate, for a comment. He basically stated that there was no need for a forensic audit and that this problem needed to be sent to the DA (Ashley Wright; the girlfriend) or to the GBI to handle. Another big HMMMM. The Commission met as scheduled on the following Tuesday with a plea from a City Stink member to move forward with the forensic audit an to do what was right for the tax payers and citizens of Augusta. It was time to get to the bottom of this whole parking deck issue. The Commission chambers were full and Donnie Smith had positioned himself on the front row. 

When this particular agenda item came up for vote, Commissioner Joe Jackson made a motion that the problem be sent to the DA, if we thought there was wrong doing and that a forensic audit was unnecessary; a waste of tax payer money. From my vantage point I could see Donnie Smith nodding his head in huge agreement. He could barely contain himself. My thought was,"This guy could be our next District 7 Commissioner?" My next thought was that he was already being manipulated as a candidate for the good of special interest. That made me feel nauseous. All of the work we had put in as members of City Stink was being railroaded with the help of Donnie Smith.  This is when I decided without doubt that he should not be the next District 7 Commissioner.

Other issues relating to the integrity of Donnie Smith have come to the forefront in recent days. Recently, he was allegedly involved in an incident at a local restaurant that is still being investigated.  The story is that Donnie Smith was called by a friend of his to help out with another friend who had been arrested for disorderly conduct in the bar, and who was wrestled to the ground and handcuffed by Richmond County deputies. 

Donnie Smith allegedly showed up and began to throw his weight around trying to get the officers to let his drunken handcuffed friend go. He also allegedly threatened the job of the bartender who just happened to be the son of the owner of the restaurant. It was also reported that there were many witnesses,  and one thing we do know is that someone filed a complaint against him with the Ga. State Patrol. 

Donnie did agreed to go on the Austin Rhodes radio show to tell his side of the story. A once confident District 7 candidate talking about his candidacy months earlier on the same show, sounded shaky and careful of the words he spoke --words that did not add up to me. The question I asked myself  is " How could so many witnesses to this incident have seen and heard something totally different from what Candidate Smith was now telling us?" Words from witnesses that were written in quotes in a local news publication?Feel free to answer this one on your own. This one just might not be over.

Why do we need to know more about who Donnie Smith is and rather he is the right choice for District 7 Commissioner? Well,  it is too important for the future of Augusta and that one seat on the commission. One seat  can make all of the difference. Do we want to elect someone who seems to be already in the palm of special interest?  Do we want to elect someone who appears to throw his weight around because of who he is? Haven't we had enough of this in Augusta? Do we want change on the commission or more of the status quo?  Is this what is right and good for Augusta? I have made the right decision and I hope that you will as well. Support Kenny Echols for District 7 Commissioner. Let's get it right this time.***