City Ink: Commission still dealing with landfill’s dirt

At a landfill it’s common practice to cover the garbage with dirt. At the Richmond County landfill, there seems to be enough dirt to cover lots of garbage, but you might have to bring your own excavator because they don’t always know where theirs is.

 

At least they didn’t until Al Gray found it in Lincoln County and reported it to the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office.

Investigators questioned landfill director Mark Johnson, who said that in order to get landfill employee McKinley Williams out of his hair for the day, he’d told him to take the excavator at the top of the hill and not come back tillquitting time.

So Williams, who’d only worked at the landfill for 23 years, didn’t recognize the excavator as belonging to the city when he loaded it up and took it to Lincoln County to work on private property belonging to a landfill subcontractor. What threw him off was a “bucket” that Richmond County Deputy Rusty Eskew, for some unknown reason, had taken off his personal excavator and put on the city’s excavator.

The sheriff’s investigators questioned several other folks, including a former employee who’d told Gray the excavator Williams took to Lincoln County belonged to the city.

And he should know because he’d been fired from the landfill the past year for using the same excavator on private property.

The sheriff’s office found no wrongdoing by the sheriff’s office, which came as no big surprise.

Meanwhile, City Administrator Janice Allen Jackson and then-Deputy Administrator Ted Rhinehart did their own investigation and, since Williams was about to retire, decided it was an administrative matter.

That changed, however, when Jackson heard about the sheriff’s investigation and asked for a copy, after which Johnson’s future with the city dimmed. He was asked to resign or be fired. He chose to resign and, as you probably know, requested six months’ severance pay.

The commission approved three months, but that now seems to be in jeopardy.

Johnson is on administrative leave with pay until the terms of his separation are finalized. But Augusta Commission member Sammie Sias has placed an item on Tuesday’s meeting agenda calling for changing his administrative leave with pay to administrative leave without pay.

And Commissioner Marion Williams wants the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to look into the use of “city equipment and city employees working on private property in Lincoln County owned by former and/or current city contractors.”

“There are too many unanswered questions,” he said. “Too many people involved. This could have happened hundreds of times. There’s too many people connected. I can’t see any commissioner not wanting to find out what happened. We need to get to the bottom of this.”

Williams is a strong proponent of GBI investigations into any suspected wrongdoing, especially since he was investigated over a proposed dragstrip in south Augusta in 2007.

A Good Deal of Questions: When is a good deal a good deal? And for whom? The public-private Foundry Place project continues to raise questions, a main one being, “How come the public’s paying 82 percent of the bills?”

It doesn’t sound much like a partnership to some folks, but more like a gift or pile of money wrapped up in a bow and given to the private sector, so they can get rich.

Last week, the Augusta Commission held a strategic work session on the Foundry Place project in conjunction with the city’s Urban Redevelopment Agency that would issue up to $28 million in bonds to finance a 221-unit apartment complex on city land at Wrightsboro Road and R.A. Dent Boulevard.

All relevant parties were there for the presentation, including Noel Khalil, founder of Columbia Ventures, the project developer; URA board members; bond attorneys; finance officials; city officials; Housing and Community Development Advisory Panel members; and a handful of commissioners.

The presentation was impressive, but after awhile ordinary folks like me got bored amid talk of bond rates, amortization and other financial details.

Everybody seemed to be on board except Commissioner Ben Hasan, who said he expected affordable housing instead of apartments that would rent from $950 to $1,000 a month in that area.

Hasan also said the city would be increasing its long-term debt by $28 million on top of the $12 million Georgia cyber center parking deck and possible development of the depot property at Fifth and Reynolds. So if some other more profitable project came along, they wouldn’t be able to afford it.

He contended the city will be putting too much money in Foundry Place, compared with Columbia Ventures’ contribution.

“We need something to bring money in,” he said. “We’re not a bank.”

Really?

Hasan, it seems, must have come to that conclusion since 2015, when he and other commissioners voted to give four Augusta nonprofit agencies $20,000 apiece. And the nonprofits didn’t even ask for it. Oh well.

Former Mayor Bob Young, the chairman of the URA board, said his group had vetted the project, voted to approve issuing the bonds and were ready to pull the trigger when the commission approved it.

Doing His Gazintas: Michael Thurman, a member of the HCD Advisory Panel and rental property owner, questioned Columbia Ventures’ numbers.

Thurman said there have been a lot of questions by a lot of people that haven’t been brought out in public meetings.

“So that’s what I’m trying to do now,” he said. “Basic math is $32 million divided by 221 units is $146,000 per unit. That (chart) up there says $109,000 (per unit).”

“It’s complex,” Kahlil said. “So I’d be happy to open the book up and show you the financial model and how it works. You know, we wouldn’t be investing five and a half million dollars in this project if we thought we were going have to come out of pocket and invest more money, and then lose our five-and-a-half million.

“We do this every day. We have a portfolio of 8,000 units in the Southeast. … We incentivize the delivery of quality at the lowest cost the city expects.”

“It’s just basic math,” Thurman said. “The city is wanting to loan between $26 and $28 million, and the rest is going to be paid for by your company. I know from talking to several contractors, they feel the average cost of building would be closer to $100,000 per unit – not just building but acquisition of land. So that would be about $22 million. You’re at $32 million. So that’s a $10 million discrepancy, or advancement.

“If you can build this project for $100,000 with all the costs, bring me the people that can do it because I’d like to talk to them,” Kahlil said.

He Had His Cake and Ate it Too – But Not Much: When I was about 10, I decided to make Daddy a cake for Father’s Day, much to the dismay of the cooks at Home Restaurant who didn’t want me in their way as they worked in that little hot kitchen on that big gas stove.

I wanted this cake to be special, so I decided to put some food color in it. I started to make it blue but finally decided on green – green batter and green icing that slid down and puddled on the plate and table.

Daddy acted like he was pleased when I brought it out, but he sure didn’t eat much. Neither did anybody else. Finally, I asked Mama why, and Mama, who would always tell you the truth, said, “Nobody wants to eat a green cake.”

So, whatever you get for Father’s Day this year, be grateful and remember you could have gotten a green cake.

 

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