Thursday, September 6, 2012
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 Stink.net 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.***