Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Short Sheeted via Term Sheet

Public Thrown for Loss in (nearly)Free Falcons Stadium?

By Al Gray

Georgia Dome to be Torn Down for new Falcons Stadium

About two months ago, a “term sheet” was signed by the Georgia World Congress Center and the Atlanta Falcons to build a new retractable-roofed stadium for their pro football team. After the travails that followed the notorious Augusta Tee Center Term Sheet, the mere mention of that phrase was enough to raise eyebrows.

The thought came to mind “What if……?” What if it was a one-sided deal against the public? What if the consultants’ reports were not analyzed? What if the cost to the taxpayer was a whole lot greater than advertised? What if the legalese meant huge opportunities for cost-shifts to the public? What if media was silent because of the team owner’s position on the board of the Atlanta newspaper’s parent company?

The deal was too huge and the possibilities too big to ignore, so this author performed a month long investigation on the reported stadium costs versus what the documents showed. The report that came from this effort is the inaugural article in, the multimedia blog born out of the Augusta Project, that work being a year-long series of investigations and articles that appeared in City Stink and the Augusta reform Facebook pages. 

The Falcons say they are paying $700 million of the $1.2 billion cost.

Are they really? Or is this another prank of being short sheeted via term sheet? Will the weary public think it is turning in to a warm comfy bed, only to find all openings denied?

Most of the cost is all ours.

There is a big rush to get this deal approved ASAP.

Stay tuned.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Corporal Gripweed: Sometimes Gridlock is Good

Monday, February 11, 2013
Augusta, GA
By Corporal Gripweed
"That which is right will become popular,and that which is wrong will soon lose its temporary popularity, and sink into disgrace".
                Thomas Paine.

There are certain words and phrases that have become popular in recent political discourse. Words like; moderate and bipartisanship . Phrases such as "reaching across the aisle", and "avoiding gridlock."
   Gridlock…I've always loved that word…Thomas Jefferson wrote  that "Government which governs least, governs best".

I submit that in some cases, gridlock is a good thing. The recent vote on the TEE Center skywalk which would connect the parking deck to the TEE Center across Reynolds Street, is a perfect example.The Commission voted 4-4 to deny funding for the project. 

In this case, the so-called "boogeyman" of gridlock worked as it should have. It is no secret that I, and many of my compatriots here at have never thought this project to be a wise use of taxpayer monies, especially given the fact that we were to absorb all of the expenditures but reap virtually none of the profit, if any. Under the current contract with Augusta Riverfront LLC, the owners of the Marriott and the contracted manager of the TEE Center, the taxpayers are guaranteed only a measly 5% of the catering receipts after a $400,000 threshold is reached. 

This last point is a slap in the face to taxpayers as we have already spent $1.4 million on the kitchen that will do the catering. My guess is, this threshold will not be met regularly, meaning that the city (the taxpayers) receives 0%. But what is more distressing is the fact that two of Augusta's "freshman" Commissioners, Mary Davis, and Donnie Smith voted, "No," on the motion to deny the expenditure for the skywalk , which means they are in favor of spending more money we don't have for something we don't need.

So much for the Augusta Chronicle's glowing assessment that Mrs. Davis and Mr. Smith would quote,"shake up the Commission". Already they have shown who they are working for. And in this case it does not seem to be the taxpayers.

On the other side of the equation we have the other two newly elected Commissioners, Marion Williams and Bill Fennoy. Because I'm a conservative, I'm guessing that my political ideas on a national level are very much different than theirs, but on this one they got it right. In particular, Mr. Williams who rightfully pointed out that we should not spend money we don't have on something that hasn't yet shown itself to be worthy of that expenditure. Sounds prudent to me. In this case Mr Williams sounds like the fiscal conservative.

On top of all of this we are supposed to believe that well educated executives and those bright enough to be conventioneers can't cross a semi-busy street in a modest sized city where there are two crosswalks with signals?…Indeed.

My suggestion is, if Billy Morris, Paul Simon and Augusta Riverfront LLC truly appreciate the incredible $65 million gift given to them by ARC taxpayers and facilitated by city administrator Fred Russell with the help of outside counsel Jim Plunkett ,then they should be willing to pay for their own skywalk. After all, they are already advertising the facility as the "Marriott Convention Center".

Moreover, we the taxpayers, could very well be on the hook for the yearly management plan of the TEE Center, soon to be voted on by the new Augusta Commission. A worrisome prospect given the recent exuberance by some commissioners to hand over the keys to the public treasury to the detriment of the citizens of Augusta.

My advice to newly elected Commissioners, who recently voted for re- opening the city's purse, yet again,would be; To rethink your stance…And do what's right…not what you think might be popular among the "ruling elite" .***

Friday, February 8, 2013

Escalating School Board Legal Fees Raise Questions

Friday, February 8, 2013
Augusta, GA
By Thomas Easton

Yes, the good people at CityStink.Net and Augusta Watchdogs have been somewhat dormant recently but we felt with the New Year after a nice holiday break we would continue our investigations into what is ‘right versus wrong’ in Augusta and its surrounding areas and ask all those questions some say local media won't or can’t ask.
After reading the recent article in the Augusta Chronicle article from January 19th of this year, “City Continues To Use CostlyOutside Counsel Despite Staff Attorneys” article about all the money being paid by  Augusta Richmond County for its legal services.  It started our collective investigative juices flowing.  We definitely could argue about the amounts paid out by the Augusta Richmond County for some of these services seem to be rather high especially when taking into account the actual service rendered, but this article is not about that.  

It is about good management of a vendor.  It is the requirement of any good client to manage its vendors for a profitable relationship by both parties.  In this case, the client: The Richmond County Board of Education (RCBoE) does not ‘manage’ its client-vendor relationship with Fletcher, Harley & Fletcher LLP.  The information we received was from records requests as well as the external study Performance Review of the Richmond County School System, March 12th 2008.   
Our various records request dealt specifically to the fees paid to Augusta based Fletcher, Harley & Fletcher LLP.  You ask why we just chose Fletcher, Harley & Fletcher LLP? Well, they are the only legal firm providing services to the RCBoE and now the Columbia County Board of Education (CCBoE).  The amounts paid out for legal services by the RCBoE are high, and it is believed this is because RCBoE is not managing  its business relationship with Fletcher, Harley & Fletcher LLP as efficiently as it could and their is a lack of oversight and protocol.

Fletcher, Harley & Fletcher LLP has been providing legal services to the Richmond County Board of Education for over forty years (this is proudly displayed on the firm’s web site) and started representing CCBoE as counsel in 2007.  They are an established Augusta based legal firm specializing in Banking and Investment, Bankruptcy, Corporate Business, Education, and Environmental & Natural Resources.

Since this article is about the management of the client-vendor relationship, it does in the end come back to the effective use of the taxpayer’s dollars.  The taxpayer has demonstrated a ‘blind’ trust in that the elected and appointed officials of the RCBoE to judiciously carry out policy and supposedly ensure our children are getting every advantage for every dollar spent  However, the question is exactly how good is this stewardship  when it comes to effectively managing the public’s trust, the interest of the children as well as tax dollars?  

The information regarding the spending of tax dollars for legal services surprised us.  We were amazed over paying so much money for legal services when actual student populations are decreasing.
Here are the RCBoE legal costs from 2000 through 2011:

The legal cost for this twelve year period totals out to be $5,842,460.02 for a twelve year annual average of $486,871.67.  Unfortunately we were unable at this time to receive the actual invoices for billed services from RCBoE to show the actual services rendered, actual hours, how they were billed or guidelines for use.
Since this is will be an ongoing investigation of the RCBoE very similar to our investigative work into TEE Center and TEE Center Parking Deck fiascos perpetrated by the bad management practices of City County Manager, be prepared for more revelations in the weeks to come.

In closing, based on our work so far on the RCBoE, we ask this one question that individual citizens of Augusta Richmond County may want to ask the RCBoE as well as individual elected officials, Does RCBoE have a procurement process for legal services or any services and if so is it documented where all individuals are trained on it?***

Stay Tuned..More to Come