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

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