UPDATED: TEE Center vote fails; commissioners divided on plan

Tuesday, May 5, 2009 4:29 PM
Last updated Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2010 10:46 PM
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A deal brokered in 2007 to build the downtown trade, exhibit and event center appears to be unraveling, and with it, the goodwill between some Augusta commissioners.

In a vote today that split along racial lines, the commission rejected a financing plan proposed by City Administrator Fred Russell to float $35 million in bonds to build the TEE center on Reynolds Street while jump-starting revitalization of the Laney Walker and Bethlehem neighborhoods.

What started as commissioners airing concerns about details of the plan became a tense debate, with Mayor Deke Copenhaver finally having to break up a verbal melee between commissioners Betty Beard and Don Grantham. Mr. Grantham said afterward that Ms. Beard isn’t holding up her end of a bargain, and it will have repercussions.

“How can we have the confidence to go in and do an agreement again?” he said.

Ms. Beard said she’s not backing out of building the TEE center. Now just isn’t the time, she said, considering Tax Commissioner Steven Kendrick told the board earlier in the meeting that people are having trouble paying their taxes because of the recession.

“When things improve, then we can do it,” she said.

The history between the two commissioners on the issue dates back to 2007, when a compromise with Ms. Beard garnered the sixth vote needed to approve the TEE center and operating agreement with Augusta Riverfront LLC. Under the deal, the city would set aside $750,000 per year from a $1 hotel fee for inner city revitalization, and it could finally move forward with the exposition center which voters approved in 2005’s special-purpose sales tax package for $20 million.

But building the facility and its accompanying parking deck will take nearly three times that, which has complicated matters .

Mr. Russell and his staff, working with bond counsel and financial advisors, developed a plan involving a new 5-member Urban Redevelopment Authority issuing bonds and overseeing construction of the $38 million TEE center and its $17 million parking deck, as well as using $37.5 million – $750,000 collected annually over 50 years – to rehab the historic communities.

Mr. Russell made an impassioned plea to the board to allow him to move forward today, telling commissioners they had an opportunity to transform dilapidated, drug-infested neighborhoods while bringing commerce to the central city.

But Commissioner J.R. Hatney disputed Mr. Russell’s assertion that “there’s no TEE center without Laney Walker, and there’s no Laney Walker without the TEE center.” The $37.5 million has been approved for the inner city, so Mr. Russell can move forward with that part, Mr. Hatney said.

The vote on Mr. Russell’s plan failed 5-4-1, Mr. Hatney, Mr. Johnson, Mr. Mason and Calvin Holland opposed and Ms. Beard abstaining.

Mr. Grantham brought up the 2007 agreement. Ms. Beard shot back that she wasn’t involved in formulating Mr. Russell’s plan.

“Did we have any black commissioners included?” she said.

She also said Mr. Grantham told her that if she didn’t vote to fund the TEE center, he’d retaliate. Mr. Grantham said after the meeting that he did tell her in a private conversation that if she didn’t support it, he would move to redistribute the hotel fees to neighborhoods throughout the city, which he proposed after the vote Tuesday. Commissioner Joe Bowles proposed terminating collection of the fee.

Mr. Bowles said after the meeting that today's vote jeopardizes the next SPLOST package going before voters in June, since the commission has shown that it can’t be trusted to follow through with projects voters approve. He said he won’t vote for it himself.

“It’s not irresponsibility on the part of the government,” Mr. Bowles said. “It’s irresponsibility on the part of the commission.”

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pointstoponder
161
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pointstoponder 05/05/09 - 06:07 pm
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This afternoon, our

This afternoon, our Commissioners took a giant step backwards.

triscuit
3085
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triscuit 05/05/09 - 06:32 pm
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The voters approved it, the

The voters approved it, the commissioners denied it...WHAT?

paco2005
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paco2005 05/05/09 - 06:32 pm
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As normal its the August

As normal its the August Commision at its raceist games again No wonder Augusta is a back woods kind of city. I bet they dont vote no on their going out of Augusta to a fabulios vacation spot and clam it to be city bussiness and working hard for the city. I say pay them nothing and stop all their perks and see if they want the job then.

paco2005
0
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paco2005 05/05/09 - 06:35 pm
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I say we approve building a

I say we approve building a statue of all our commissioners and putting them on the River Walk so people have somthing to throw things at and [filtered word] on

triscuit
3085
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triscuit 05/05/09 - 07:34 pm
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Why did the black

Why did the black commissioners vote against it? They have something against bringing out of town convention business here to Augusta? This thing is in Betty Beard's backyard...didnt't she get some money for one of her other areas with the promise to support this? Take that money back, but oh no...that would be racial! An absention is a no vote...we all know it, Betty.

mad_max
0
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mad_max 05/05/09 - 07:57 pm
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Holland, Mason, Johnson, and

Holland, Mason, Johnson, and Hatney ain't going to vote for it because you didn't pay them off like you did Beard. And now she pulled a fast one and abstained. Tell her you are not going to give her the annual $750K payoff she demanded. No, none of you would do that because it takes too much guts to stand up to her. Or take the normal Augusta approach and payoff one of the others. They are all like hookers, the only question is price. The only difference between Beard and the other four is that she is like one of them lying hookers that takes your money and then runs off without doing the deed. How's that new spirit of racial harmony and cooperation working out down there for you Deke? And they call the Republican party the party of "No". They should get a load of our black commissioners. Don't worry folks. The TEE center will get built and the taxpayer's money wasted. But first we have to waste some more money paying off another commissioner or two. Watch the money trail for the next few weeks.

humbleopinion
0
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humbleopinion 05/05/09 - 09:14 pm
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It's Obamas fault.

It's Obamas fault.

HillGuy
7
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HillGuy 05/05/09 - 09:41 pm
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This is why Augusta is so far

This is why Augusta is so far behind its peers like Greenville.

GnipGnop1
2
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GnipGnop1 05/05/09 - 10:25 pm
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0
Different commissioners same

Different commissioners same result.

ColCo
780
Points
ColCo 05/05/09 - 11:10 pm
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Now that she has shown her

Now that she has shown her concern for the overburdened tax payers of Richmond County, I would assume that Betty Beard will exert super-human efforts to root out and eliminate waste, excess and duplication throughout the city's budget and employment roles.

pointstoponder
161
Points
pointstoponder 05/05/09 - 11:32 pm
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Not likely ColCo. She was

Not likely ColCo. She was complaining at the meeting about not paying custodial workers as much as they used to even when they used to be paid for hours they didn't work.

business owner again
0
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business owner again 05/06/09 - 12:42 am
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Why the hell does that woman

Why the hell does that woman keep injecting race into everything. Why does it matter what color the commissioners are? Who gives a crap, except the black commissioners? A wise businessman (black by the way) once told me that the big problem with our commissioners is that they don't understand that the only color they should be concerned with is green. Let's get rid of the racist old blacks and replace them with some green thinkers.

justus4
101
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justus4 05/06/09 - 04:30 am
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Mrs. Beard smelled the coffee
Unpublished

Mrs. Beard smelled the coffee and didn't like it. The non-minority trick is falling apart and watch whom will be blamed: U guessed it. "They" appear to be using the Laney development as leverage to get the minority side to vote for the TEE. They saw right through that though, so now comes the bickering and the Non-Minority Media (NMM) will print opinions of: U guessed it. And Russell wants to create a new bunch to handle the funds. Wow! This guy must really think poorly of minorities, because his disrepect is completely obvious.

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