EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of this column incorrectly reported the year former State Rep. Robin Williams became involved with Community Mental Health Center of East Central Georgia. The activities that led to his federal prosecution began in 1999.
Roccontained The year The Augusta Commission’s Stupor Bowl II took place Monday during commission committee meetings. The venue was changed this year to the Marble Palace from the TEE Center because commissioners wanted to have home-field advantage. Besides, none of them wanted to be seen playing there because of the controversy surrounding the center’s management contract.
When the whistle blew, Commissioner Alvin Mason grabbed the ball and ran with it by making a case for seeking competitive bids for Augusta’s ambulance service. In the spirit of good sportsmanship, he said the current provider, Gold Cross EMS, should be given nine months’ notice to prevent the contract from automatically renewing.
Mason repeatedly said he didn’t want to address any Gold Cross shortcomings, only the ones that might be in the 8-year-old contract.
Controlling the offense for most of the quarter, he called Fire Chief Chris James from the sidelines to speak on what he saw as the contract’s shortcomings. Then Mason sent Sammy Sias into the game. Sias, representing the Richmond County Neighborhood Alliance, was obviously itching to pass on complaints about the ambulance service, but Commissioner Marion Williams intercepted and asked why they wanted to fix something that wasn’t broken.
“Somebody ought to be showing me where we got to this point,” he said.
The clock kept running the whole time, and the first quarter ended after what seemed like an hour when somebody called for a vote on the motion to send the matter to a subcommittee. It failed, and the score was 0-0.
In the second quarter, public services committee members Williams and Mayor Pro Tem Corey Johnson blocked a lease agreement with Virginia Beach Golf Management for Augusta Municipal Golf Course. Johnson first ran interference by recommending they postpone taking action until after the city hires a recreation director.
Williams said he’s opposed to giving the course to “somebody else.”
“They’re not going in there just to break even,” he said. “They’re going in business to make money, and I don’t blame them. But just like they’re doing it, we can do it if we put people in place and hold them accountable, and stop paying them for not doing their job.”
When the vote was called, the score was still 0-0.
The quarter ended with city Administrator Fred Russell’s update on plans for increasing government office space. Completely renovating the Marble Palace will cost about $31 million, $18 million of which is in the bank. The cost has risen because of fire code safety and elevator requirements. Russell proposed issuing bonds for the difference, plus another $7 million for a new stand-alone Information Technology building on a corner of the parking lot.
Russell carried the ball for most of the third quarter, discussing budget items that hadn’t been approved. On the revenue side, $1.25 million in increased property tax revenue is expected from property discovered through new technology and $130,000 more from newly discovered cell towers. (There are twice as many as they thought there were.)
The finance committee agreed to spend $115,000 on a cell tower valuation project; $11,500 for public defender office interpreters, court reporters and witness fees; $86,180 for a contract compliance officer; $165,530 for tax assessor’s personnel; $64,600 for a Probate Court associate judge; and $75,000 for an Accountability Court DUI case manager.
The committee nixed $780,560 for employee raises, ran with forfeiting $500,000 in excise taxes on energy produced by local industries and punted on six other requests.
By the fourth quarter of the Stupor Bowl, many of the people from the Lakemont Neighborhood Association who’d packed the stands had become stupefied and left. Those remaining pleaded with the city to modify an application with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers so that all of Lake Olmstead could be dredged instead of only a portion.
Property owner John Bailey went on the offensive and said that when he bought his property years ago, the tax bill was about $200 and is now more than $2,000. The lake is so silted up around his property that he can almost walk from one side to the other, he said.
The engineering services committee also punted.
Finally, Commissioner Bill Lockett called the game by deleting one item from his committee’s agenda, postponing one, consenting two and calling for a work session on three.
Afterward, some usually long-winded commissioners said the meetings were lasting too long.
Can you believe it? Williams is back, and the meetings are lasting too long.
As for Williams, he says, “If you don’t want to work this job, you might not ought to apply for this job.”
ANATOMY OF A CRIMINAL CONSPIRACY: A federal appeals court in Atlanta has denied former Georgia Rep. Robin Williams’ appeal of his federal fraud conviction.
Williams was convicted in 2005 and sentenced to a 10-year term for a scheme that bilked millions of dollars from the Community Mental Health Center of East Central Georgia.
It all started in 1999, when Williams asked the center’s executive director, John Warner, whether he would let Williams’ friend Mike Brockman, who had been fired from Gracewood, come to work in the business office if it didn’t cost him anything. Warner agreed, and Williams put $60,000 in the state budget as a line-item salary for “the business manager at CMHC,” according to then-deputy director Sharon Haire’s 2003 anonymous letter to the board.
Brockman gained control of the money by hiring Williams’ company, CHS, as consultants. Then he convinced the board they needed a business contract to handle the money and wrote the request for proposals to ensure CHS would get the contract. Brockman then manipulated the board into giving them the contract. It then became easy to funnel money to Williams and back into Brockman’s pocket, according to Haire.
Haire’s letter continues:
“Next, (spokesmen from a public relations firm hired by Mr. Williams) told the board the commissioner would pay for the center to get a (Certificate Of Need) for a children’s unit. That it would not cost the board anything. Later, after the board believed an application had been made, (they were told the Department of Human Resources commissioner had reneged on his offer and that the center had to pay $250,000), he then charged the money out to two different budgets and skimmed off $700,000 to Robin and himself.
“He did this with the help of Chad Long, a lobbyist he was paying along with Rick Camp, even though it is against the law for the CMHC to employ lobbyists. He also paid Pam Stephenson $20,000 for her role in this as a consultant. Next, Mike convinced the board that the commissioner was going to consolidate Community Service Boards and the only way to assure autonomy was to let Mike form a private company (Insight) and manage all of the contracts.”
Williams rewarded Brockman with cash and gifts, including a $7,200 Caribbean cruise. He also paid his girlfriend, Patricia Fink – a former Hooters girl – $10,000 a month to run errands and entertain, half of which she used to pay for a $1.1 million condo in Hilton Head they were buying. She said Brockman hired her to work at the mental health center, but she couldn’t remember her job title or what she did there, according to her trial testimony.
The Augusta Chronicle investigated the center’s payments and contracts, wrote stories and pressed state officials for answers throughout 2003. The publicity helped trigger investigations that led to the conviction of Williams, Brockman, Camp, Long and Augusta pharmacist Duncan Fordham.
WOULD THIS BE EARNED RAISE CREDIT? You know, kind of like earned income credit? You get the credit. But you didn’t earn it.
WGAC radio talk show host Austin Rhodes reported that Augusta commissioners discussed raise requests for Sheriff Richard Roundtree and State Court Solicitor Kellie McIntyre in a legal meeting. The requests were for $140,000 a year. Sheriff Ronnie Strength made $126,000 a year.
To paraphrase a local philosopher of things political, if you don’t want the pay these jobs offer, you might not ought to apply for these jobs.