Details emerge on TEE center 'millionaire' threat

A threat from a "local millionaire" read aloud by Mayor Pro Tem Alvin Mason at his monthly constituent meeting Saturday came from real estate broker Joe Edge, whose office is handling a land sale involving the proposed Hyatt hotel on Reynolds Street.

But Mr. Edge says that's not why he sent the e-mail in May, and he doesn't see what was so threatening about it.

"A local millionaire, huh?" Mr. Edge said Monday. "I wish. Not even close."

According to a report by WRDW-TV (Channel 12), Mr. Mason told a group at Gracewood Community Center that no one will influence his position on the proposed trade, exhibit and event center through "bribery, through threats, or fear."

Attorney David W. Fry faces two counts of bribery for allegedly offering Mr. Mason and Commissioner Corey Johnson posts in a parking deck management company if they changed their votes on the $38 million TEE center.

Mr. Mason told the group he started getting threats two days after the five black commissioners sat out of a special called meeting to vote on the project -- which was May 26, the same day they held a joint news conference outside the Municipal Building.

He then read from an e-mail he said was sent by a "local millionaire," according to WRDW.

"I own real estate in your district," Mr. Mason read. "And I will do everything I can to ensure you don't get re-elected if the commission does not change their mind."

The Augusta Chronicle obtained the e-mail Monday through an open records request.

The message from Mr. Edge, the president of Sherman & Hemstreet Real Estate Co., was sent to Mr. Mason and Commissioner Betty Beard and copied to Mayor Deke Copenhaver.

In it, Mr. Edge said he is "extremely disgusted" by how the commission is acting and that the five commissioners who are "halting progress should seriously reconsider their position."

"I own real estate in both of your districts," the actual e-mail reads, "and I will do everything I can to ensure you don't get re-elected if the commission does not change their mind."

The e-mail says the TEE center would spur new development downtown, including "a large Hyatt Hotel."

Asked how he knew about a possible Hyatt at that time, since it wasn't made public until mid-August, Mr. Edge said one of his agents represents businessman Julian Osbon in the transaction he's trying to complete with the developer.

Mr. Osbon, the owner of one of four properties that would make up the Hyatt site, has urged commissioners to approve the TEE center before his contract expires and the hotel falls through.

Mr. Edge said the hotel deal wasn't what led him to write the e-mail, though. He said he was speaking out as an outraged taxpayer.

"I might have been pretty pointed and direct, but it's the truth," Mr. Edge said Monday in a telephone interview. "I'm not going to retract anything that I wrote in this e-mail."

He said what Mr. Mason is construing as a threat is something he has a legal right to do.

"Whoever runs against him will get a donation from me," he said.

What Mr. Mason seems to have most taken exception to came in a follow-up e-mail from Mr. Edge.

According to the e-mail chain provided by the city, 10 minutes after Mr. Edge sent the first e-mail, Mr. Mason responded, "Do whatever you feel you need to do! But I will not react to threats!"

"It is not a threat," Mr. Edge replied three minutes later. "It is a comment and concern from a tax paying constituent in your district. You should not take it lightheartedly. You should really consider the consequences of how this will affect the city of Augusta and your re-election chances (if either even matter to you)."

Mr. Mason read part of that passage Saturday, and cited such language as "lightheartedly" and "consequences" when asked about it by The Chronicle on Monday.

"I perceived it as a threat," Mr. Mason said. "I'm through with it. You all can do what you want with it."

Reach Johnny Edwards at (706) 823-3225 or johnny.edwards@augustachronicle.com.

ONLINE EXTRA

Read the series of emails between Alvin Mason and Joe Edge (.pdf)