Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Corporal Gripweed: Local Activist Challenges Operation Rolling Thunder

Tuesday, March 30, 2013
Augusta, GA
By Corporal Gripweed

Timid men prefer the calm of despotism to the boisterous sea of liberty.

Thomas Jefferson

Operation Rolling Thunder.

Three words that have been resonating loudly in the ears of CSRA residents for the last few weeks.While there have been many who have raised questions about the legality, constitutionality , and effectiveness of the roadblocks associated with this operation, so far the only measurable difference made, by the RCSO's own admission, is the number of citations written for child restraint violations.

No small matter to be sure, but hardly a great return on the massive investment in man hours and law enforcement resources that could be put to better use in other areas apprehending violent criminals.

While no fan of these roadblocks, I also understand their intent and purpose. The well worn phrase often used by our friends on the left is "if it saves one life it's worth it".To me, this is a monumental oversimplification of the core issue.

At what point do we freely give up liberty in order to protect us from ourselves?.

More than one founding father has been attributed as having said "Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither".

This past Thursday local activist and stalwart libertarian Rocky Eades was ensnared in this tricky argument.

Reports are, that upon seeing flashing lights and noticing stopped traffic, Mr. Eades decided to avoid the area and seek an alternative route. In doing so, he brought down the wrath of the Georgia State Patrol who pursued him, stopped his vehicle and asked why he avoided their roadblock. Rocky reportedly answered, that he saw the lights, thought it may be an accident and was merely trying to avoid being stuck in traffic. A plausible explanation to anyone with an ounce of common sense…But remember we are dealing with "Operation Rolling Thunder"...So his explanation was not good enough for the officers on duty that day. Further reports state that Mr. Eades and a passenger were "rousted" from the vehicle and treated as criminals from this point on. Guilty until proven innocent I suppose.

Mr. Eades was ultimately arrested for "obstruction of an officer" and his passenger was allowed to drive Mr. Eades vehicle home after passing a blood alcohol test.

From what I've heard Rocky is reasonable, intelligent and in this case may know the law better than those who were sworn to uphold it. I also believe he has retained counsel and should pursue the matter vigorously.

Of course, there are two sides to every story and the side of law enforcement should be heard before any judgements are made.

To be sure, the vast majority of law enforcement officers are hard working honest public servants who want to do just that; serve the public. And they may have acted within  the law in this case, but I wonder if this time they let their zeal to arrest someone they ASSUMED to be guilty of DUI, get the better of them.

While it is certainly true that it is the job of law enforcement to keep the roads safe, should law enforcement have the authority to arrest a citizen merely for the act of avoiding contact with them when they have done nothing illegal?

Safety vs. liberty……that is the question.

Stay Tuned.


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Six Reasons Why CADI Should NOT Be Brought Back

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013
Augusta, GA
By The Outsider

"It's a deja vu all over again." Or in this case, It's CADI all over again. It's the issue that just won't seem to go away, despite the efforts of many determined downtown business owners and commissioners, who rejected its renewal last December.

But that won't stop proponents of a special tax district for downtown Augusta that nets between $350,000 and $400,000 in additional taxes. They've gotten out the lipstick and have applied it generously to the pig called CADI, that has already gobbled up nearly $2 million over the past 5 years, in hopes that Augusta commissioners will reconsider and give them more. Critics charge that CADI amounts to nothing more than a $2 million slush fund confiscated through deceit and controlled by an unelected politburo of downtown cronies.

Both sides will supposedly be able to make their case at this afternoon's commission meeting as to why or why not CADI should get a second life, but in this article we give SIX reasons why commissioners should vote against CADI once again.

#1: A Majority of Downtown Business and Property Owners Do NOT Support Renewal of CADI

A myth that has been perpetuated by the pro CADI crowd and  parroted by some members of the local media, is that a majority of downtown property owners are in favor of extending the program. They gleefully point to a petition that was circulated in the waning days of last December with supposedly 116 signatures in favor of renewing the special downtown tax district that funds CADI, and that this represents slightly more than 50% of all property owners within the district. But this "will of the majority" is all an illusion and based upon a rigged petition process.

There are 373 parcels of property in the BID area.  We found 14 that do not pay taxes (County property, Church, and other non profits) leaving 359 parcels that  pay the BID tax. CADI turned in 116 petitions  with 116 signatures covering 165 properties. That leaves 194 parcels that did NOT sign for CADI.

Of the pro CADI petitions, there were only 78 total signatures, meaning some people signed more than once.  GA Law OCGA 36-43-3 states Taxpayer means any entity or person paying ad valor em taxes on real or personal property, whether on one or more businesses or one or more parcels within a district. So, basically you are supposed to get only one vote no mater how many pieces of property you own.  To get around this they have several  different entities owning property.  They change the names of the entities by adding an initial or changing the spelling.

For example, Natalie B McLeod, who is the president of the CADI Board of Directors, signed two petitions listing the parcel property owner on one as 1106 Broad St. LLC and on the other listing the parcel owner as 1106 Broad Street  LLC. So by spelling street on one petition and by using an abbreviation  on another  she gets TWO votes.

Then we have Lynwood Smith listed as the parcel owner on one petition  and Lynwood C. Smith listed as the parcel owner on the second petition thus he gets two votes.  We have Fred Daitch signing two petitions with L. Daitch Properties LLC as the owner on one and F. Daitch Properties LLC on the other. Alonzo  P Boardman , Jr.  signed 5 petitions with the parcel owners as follows: Elizabeth F. Boardman Trust, Elizabeth Boardman Trust,  Elizabeth F. Boardman, Elizabeth F. Boardman ETA and finally Elizabeth Browning.  Bryan Halterman signed 12 petitions using different entities or businesses that he controls as the owner.  They are 1151 Broad St. LLC, 1126-30 Broad Street, Bentley Warehouse LLC, Bentley Building LLC,  Halterman Partners Inc, Castle Hall LLC, 1006-1008 Broad Street LLC,  Claussen Building LLC,  Rexall Drugstore LLC, Elliott Building LLC,  The Sylvester Building LLC, and finally Bryan M. Haltermann .  Georgia Bank and Trust CO and Georgia Railroad Bank and Trust Company had two petitions signed by R. Daniel Blanton, President.  Georgia Bank and Trust also services the CADI loan debt.

But even with this rigged process, all of these signatures that supposedly represent a majority of downtown property owners only account  for about $100,000 out of approximately $350,000 collected from the tax district. That comes to only about 30% who signed the petition in favor of extending CADI. That means that downtown property owners who pay 70% of the CADI taxes did not sign the petition in favor of renewing the program.

#2 There Is No Compelling Need for CADI

To listen to the pro CADI crowd, you would think that downtown was buried under a mountain of trash since the program was discontinued on January 1st. In an Augusta Chronicle article,  the CADI Board president Natalie McCleod was quoted as saying: "When you go downtown now that CADI is absent, you can tell in the dirtiness,.....The city doesn’t have the money or manpower to do it.

But on a recent survey of downtown, it appeared that the city was doing a great job keeping the streets and sidewalks clean. We just didn't find the heaps of trash strewn all over that pro CADI alarmists keep hyping.

We tagged along with a couple of the members of a new downtown volunteer initiative called AVID (Augusta Volunteer Initiative for Downtown) this past weekend to see what the situation was with trash downtown . We walked Broad Street  from 13th Street to 5th Street and from Reynolds Street to Greene St. (all of downtown not just the BID area) picking up litter along the way. In that entire area, we only filled ONE trash bag that weighed 28 pounds.

This is after 3 months WITHOUT CADI. So, either  the city is doing its job or there isn't all that much trash. We covered the sidewalks, gutters, and medians. The main streets and the side streets.  It took us 3 hours. Community service workers and volunteers from groups like AVID can do this every Saturday morning and eliminate the need for a $400,000.00 a year extra tax.

And public sentiment seems to be on the side of the volunteer initiative. The AVID Facebook page has already garnered 208 "likes", whereas a pro CADI Facebook page created just a few days later has only managed to get 32 "likes" as of publishing this article.

#3 There Have Been NO Significant Changes to CADI Management Plan

One of the major reasons why the Augusta Commission voted not to renew The BID this past December was because of complaints that it never delivered on its initial promises. The chief selling point for the BID more than 5 years ago was that it would provide enhanced public safety, but that was never a component of CADI. For all intents and purposes, it has been nothing more than a very expensive trash removal service.

The only difference that we can find in this current proposal is that the BID millage rate will be uniform for all property owners in the district. Beyond that, nothing much has changed. There is no mention of enhanced security, business recruitment and retention, or promotion of downtown.

But of course any changes in the management plan, including the now uniform millage rate would mean that the petition from December of last year is moot and cannot be used to renew a modified CADI now.   The petition from last December states “We hereby petition you to initiate proceedings to renew the Downtown Augusta Business  Improvement District known as the Clean Augusta Downtown Initiative in accordance with the State of Georgia, City Business Improvement District Act for the purpose of executing the management district plan included with and made a part of this petition”

So if CADI changes the plan then the petition is no longer valid. Their plan is to ask the Commission to change the management plan for them. In other words, they want the Commission to change the plan CADI says the majority of the property owners voted for. Talk about disregarding the wishes of the voters.  How about CADI changing the plan and then putting it back in front of the PEOPLE to either vote it up or down?

#4: CADI Amounts to Taxation Without Representation

As we already told you, the rigged petition process was designed to allow only 30% of downtown property owners to impose a new tax on the other 70%. To make matters worse, an unelected  CADI Board of Directors oversees the more than $350,000 collected annually in the tax district. The Augusta Commission had concerns about the make up of the CADI Board back in December. This new Board is supposed to include pro and anti CADI people. The current Board is the same pro CADI people that have governed it for the past 5 years.

Natalie McLeod, who serves on the CADI board of directors is also a member of The DDA. Sanford Lloyd also serves on both the DDA and the CADI board of directors. Paul King and Bryan Halterman, who both have long associations with the DDA, also both serve on the CADI board of directors.

The board of directors of the BID should represent all of the business and property owners in the tax district. There have so far been no open elections to assemble such a board. Who chose Natalie Mcleod to be serve as Board chairperson?  For that matter, when was there ever an open election to choose any of these current  board members? Whose interests do they really represent if they most downtown property owners have had no say so in their selection? How can this unelected board rightfully have the authority to decide how nearly $2 million in taxes are spent?

CADI proponents also claim they will change  the way the Board is selected in December. Well, how about we wait to consider authorizing a new BID until the NEW Board is elected in an open and fair election?

#5: No Accountability

Why should Commissioners even consider re instituting a program that cannot account for nearly $2 million in taxes that were collected and spent over the previous 5 years? No one has been able to adequately explain how  8 CADI workers making just barely above minimum wage has managed to cost downtown property owners nearly $2 million over 5 years. There has to date been no audit of the program. There is no oversight from city administrator Fred Russell and no one can explain how the current or the previous CADI board was chosen.

We have also heard reports of the CADI board holding secret meetings leading up to today's Commission meeting and purposefully excluding downtown property owners who have been critical of the program. So much for outreach. And this should concern commissioners greatly: that the bulk of downtown business owners continue to be excluded by this  pro CADI politburo.

#6: The Commission Has Already Settled This Issue

At the last scheduled Commission meeting of  2012, extension of the Business Improvement District and CADI for another 5 years was voted down. That should have settled the issue, but here we are again. According to the city charter, an agenda item must muster SIX votes in order to pass. CADI proponents failed to assemble these six votes, so The BID and CADI expired at the stroke of midnight on January 1st, 2013.

Per the CADI Board minutes on 1-25-2013 Fred Russell advised that the BID ceased to exist as of January 1, 2013. How can you renew something that no longer exists?  Are we now rewriting the rules of how the commission passes an agenda item? Shouldn't "No" mean "No" the first time? The same reasons why The Augusta Commission rejected renewal of CADI back in December still exist today.

Very little has changed to the program and the same people are trying to circumvent the rules to sneak it back in against the will of the majority those paying the tax. Perhaps District 7 Commissioner Donnie Smith put it best when he was quoted by the Augusta Chronicle saying "They’re repacking and rehashing the same stuff.......It’s still the same old small group trying to control the thing.” Indeed.

There is a legal progress to re institute a new BID downtown sometime in the future, but the pro CADI group is doing everything they can to circumvent that process. Before any new BID is entertained, all affected property owners downtown must be included in the process. It must be more than just an expensive sidewalk sweeping service but should also include enhanced security, business recruitment and retention, and promotion of downtown. There first needs to be an open and fair election to for choosing a board of directors rather that installing a politburo of cronies. There must be a new petition process that is not rigged to favor one side over the other. That means no duplicate votes for favored individuals. Also the tax district should encompass what is generally considered to be the entire downtown central business district and not gerrymandered in such a way to yield a predetermined result and exclude property that might be critical of the program. All sectors of the downtown community should have adequate representation on the board of directors. And lastly, the requisite waiting period under Georgia law should pass before this issue should even be brought up again. That should give people plenty of time to get this right and demonstrate if there is truly a need for it in the first place.

But why not try the Volunteer Initiative (AVID) first? If the same services can be achieved with community volunteers organized by downtown block captains for free instead of costing downtown property owners nearly $2 million over a 5 year period, shouldn't that be given a chance? You have to ask yourself why this same small pro CADI clique is so determined to get their hands on this tax tax money. Is it really to benefit downtown or is it to benefit them?

It's frankly an insult to commissioners and the downtown business owners who have tirelessly fought against CADI to have this issue continuously brought back up week after week after week. With these six reasons explaining why CADI should not be resurrected, let's hope there are at least six commissioners who will do the right thing today and vote to finally put this issue to rest..***

Related Articles: