From the notebook of business editor Tim Rausch

Politics, not economics, killed TEE center

Here’s an ethics question: Would you rather A) make a bad decision in order to look cool to a small group of friends, or B) make a wise decision and look cool to everyone but your small group of friends?

If you chose option A, congratulations! You might have a future on the Augusta Commission.

Some of the city’s leaders last week chose to ignore the facts – or, at the very least, did a convincing job of pretending they didn’t understand the facts – and voted against the latest in a string of proposals to build a $20 million trade, exhibition and event center on Reynolds Street.

The TEE center, as the project is known, would have allowed Augusta’s tourism officials to book conferences and conventions the city is missing out on because it lacks large, flat-floor exhibit space. Voters apparently thought the TEE center was a good deal, because they approved funding it through special purpose local option sales tax money two years ago.

The stars appeared to be aligned Tuesday when the proposal went before the commission:

l Money to build the center is already in hand.

l The best possible real estate in town had been secured (at no cost to taxpayers) next to the existing city-owned convention center.

l The annual cost to run the 40,000-square-foot building – $350,000 – would had been covered through a slight increase in lodging and car rental taxes (both of which are largely paid by nonresidents).

In short, the project made economic sense.

So why would two commissioners vote against it, two abstain from voting and another not even bother to be in the room? Well, the answer to that is obvious – to ensure the proposal would not get the six votes needed for approval while avoiding a tie that would have allowed the mayor to cast the deciding vote. That song’s been played before.

I suppose the better question is this: What do these commissioners, all of whom happen to be black and represent primarily lower-income, mostly black districts, have against a TEE center? Do they believe the city does not need one? Do they believe it’s too big, too small or the wrong architectural style?

No, the answer is pretty simple, and really quite petty: They do not like William S. Morris III.

The Augusta businessman, whose family holdings include the parent company of this newspaper and the company that operates the Augusta Marriott Hotel & Suites (which houses the city’s convention center), is the walking, talking embodiment of the white power structure that is hell-bent on oppressing lower-income black residents. At least, that’s what black leaders (mostly of the self-serving variety) have led their constituents (mostly of the ill-informed variety) to believe is the source of most, if not all, of the woes they face.

Never mind that the public-private venture between the Morris family hotel venture and the city convention center has, according to city tourism officials, pumped more than $13.3 million into city coffers. Never mind that his company has offered to donate $1 million worth of real estate to the city on which to build the facility.

Never mind that the TEE center, if it were built, would bring thousands more visitors and pump millions more into the city’s pocketbook. Never mind that the facility would have created service jobs in inner-city districts.

Never mind all of that, and you’ll see that the vote against the TEE center last week was nothing more than a vote against one man.

Had the $350,000 operating agreement been with ABM (Anybody But Morris) Corp., the measure would have passed without discussion.

In the grand scheme of things, the commissioners who orchestrated the proposal’s failure made a monumentally bad decision for the city. At least they looked cool to their friends.

MOVING ON: Expect to hear an announcement this summer about a new medical device company featuring some familiar faces around Augusta.

Marketing wunderkind Joe Testino, who this month sold his stake in eAuction Depot, the successful Augusta-based eBay store franchise, is starting a company called Life Coach Medical with several key players from Osbon Medical Systems, the company whose vacuum-therapy products for erectile dysfunction gave , ahem, rise to an entire industry. It’s not much of a surprise that Mr. Testino would get back into the medical-device business, seeing as how he used to work for Osbon Medical before linking up with the fledgling eAuction Depot two years ago.

Whether lighting strikes twice remains to be seen, but we’ll be watching.

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armenb
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armenb 07/15/07 - 06:39 pm
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Have to agree with Damon's

Have to agree with Damon's assessment of the recent TEE shoot-down. Hate to say this, but that situation is pretty typical of how the Augusta Commission works, and it's sad. Frankly, that's why, only five years away from having paid off a house in Berckman Hills, we opted out for Columbia County - and haven't regretted it one bit! Unfortunately, this type of situation hurts all CSRA residents, regardless of where you live...

business owner again
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business owner again 07/16/07 - 12:00 am
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A successful black friend of

A successful black friend of mine once said the black members of the commission are all caught up in being bigshots and making more money as commissioners than they ever made in their lives to understand there is only one color that matters when making decisions about our city ... green. Not black, not white, green. Wake up guys and smell the real dollar bills.

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07/16/07 - 05:54 am
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Your view of the proposed

Your view of the proposed Tee Ctr is flawed like much of the people in the CSRA. A question: appy your logic to the proposed race track and what do you get? The white commissioners did not enjoy the idea coming from a black man. And they voted accordingly, then employed law enforcement. That was a great idea that could've improved the entire community. However, historically whites have always found error in black ideas, then use their resources to taint the brotha. A Tee Ctr is for whom? Who benefits? Not blacks...why can't black decisions be respected and honored....I think I know.

Captain Awesome
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Captain Awesome 07/16/07 - 07:31 am
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I thought the residents of

I thought the residents of South Augusta really were the ones trying to kill the race track? I would be against it too if they were putting it in my neighborhood, mostly because of the noise, fumes and drop in property value. An Expo center would have benefited everybody really. There would be more jobs and more people coming into the CSRA. The expo center could have hosted all sorts of things.

pja5529
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pja5529 07/17/07 - 08:08 am
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Dwise the citizens of

Dwise the citizens of Augusta have already voted for the tee center so apparently we think it is beneificial and I'm black. However I do think it goes both ways at least with a few commissioners. There are some of both races who always seem to be against anything proposed by a commissioner of the opposite race.

sjgraci
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sjgraci 07/16/07 - 10:44 am
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Truth.

Truth.

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07/17/07 - 11:46 am
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Why is race always an issue?

Why is race always an issue? Why is it that we can not do what is right before the eyes of God?

mamosner
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mamosner 07/18/07 - 09:47 am
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ITS ALL BLACK VS WHITE: I

ITS ALL BLACK VS WHITE: I recently had the opportunity of viewing the local commissioners meeting dealing with the building of the proposed "T" (trade center) in downtown Augusta. I am embarrassed for the entire community, black and white. Our commissioners have done nothing for the past several years but talk, talk and more talk about how necessary a trade center is, but then when it comes down to a vote it was all black vs white. The black commissioner all voted "No" and we all lose. The proposal put forth by Mr. Russell included monies to be set aside for the transit system. Who uses the transit system? I would suggest that most users of the transit system are voters of the black commissioners. I hope they take that in to consideration at election time. YOUR commissioners crippled the transit system by voting "NO" on the trade center. I think this has been overlooked and needs to be brought to the attention of all the voters in Richmond County.

azzedine
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azzedine 07/18/07 - 10:14 am
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So true. Since moving back

So true. Since moving back to Augusta a couple of years ago, I find that not much has changed. It's a sad state of affairs.As a (black) constiuent of these very people-- I am absolutely ashamed. I cringe EVERYTIME Marion Williams opens his mouth. Everything is not black and white. PLEASE somebody, anybody else run for office. It's time for these CLOWNS to go! They are a detriment to the futue progress of Augusta--the lot of them. Poor Deke always comes off looking like a lost little boy... All the prayer meetings and diversity seminars in the world can't help this bunch. We need NEW, YOUNG, ENTREPRENURIAL leaders.

bigalsc
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bigalsc 07/18/07 - 05:04 pm
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Let's review: The TEE Center

Let's review: The TEE Center will be located adjacent to poor neighborhoods with high unemployment. It will bring conventioneers seeking food entertainment and purchases. Event planners, tour companies, restaurants, entertainment venues and gift shops will flourish. This will mean a flood of tourism related jobs that don't need college degrees. How does this not benefit the constituents of Districts 1 and 2? Please, Betty Beard, explain this to me.

SugarFoot
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SugarFoot 07/20/07 - 04:05 pm
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Get serious folks.. this is

Get serious folks.. this is yet another way Billy Morris is trying to use the taxpayers to enrich himself. You know why his paper is so in favor of the Reynold's Street site? Because it would be right next to his hotel. Remember that's the hotel he built using $7.5 million in HUD tax loan that he never repaid the taxpayers. He had the city forgive the loan. In typical Morris fashion, he wanted his group to run The TEE center in a sweetheart arrangement that would allow his company to reap the financial rewards whereas passing any finincial liabilities or losses on to the taxpayers. Sound familiar? He tried to do the same thing with his arena proposal that voters rejected twice. The Exhibit and Trade Center will be built.. and will be built downtown.. but it just may not be built where Mr Morris wants to to be. So now he is saying that commissioners are "killing" the project. That is untrue and he knows it. There are other sites for the Center.

Normal in CSRA
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Normal in CSRA 12/26/07 - 11:31 pm
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Damon: Great article on Jim

Damon: Great article on Jim Felton. He has paid back to the community in many ways with his true commitment to helping others. In regards to Joe Testino, I am concerned when someone positions themselves behind a facade of ethical behavior and conducts themselves otherwise. Joe will quickly acknowledge his past misdeeds and problems with substance abuse and criminal activity and talk about his current involvement in AA and commitment to living a Christian life. However, the way Joe conducts his business affairs is based on how far he can push the envelope and how close he can get to the line without crossing it. His current attempt to use his and others involvement with Osbon Medical Systems to build a business is at best irresponsible and at worst another attempt to use others for personal gain. Joe became a sales rep for OMS prior to my sale of the company at the end of 1995 and I don't remember meeting him at the time--- the company had a little under 200 employees and he would have been managed by the then VP of sales Paul Petersen. In 2003 Joe was hired by Robert White, the Augusta Medical Systems VP of Sales and worked with AMS until 2005. He would not be rehired by AMS. Joe is a very dynamic and charismatic person with a lot of energy. I wish him well in any endeavor he undertakes but I am uncomfortable when he references Osbon Medical Systems as it was perceived while in Augusta. The company was moved out of Augusta in 1997, went into bankruptcy and has been sold three times since then. It has attempted to live off the reputation developed when in Augusta while conducting itself otherwise. Julian Osbon 706-284-3620 julian@osbongroup.com

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