What was gained by the Augusta Commission’s censure of Commissioners Wayne Guilfoyle, Joe Jackson and Grady Smith for violating the city code, I couldn’t say. I could say it went on way too long.
Censure was the only punishment the code authorized commissioners to give – censure or reprimand, censure being “a more formal action of a reprimand,” according to the city’s General Counsel Andrew MacKenzie. He came in for some reprimanding himself at the almost two-hour trial, during which the accused trio confessed and apologized for doing business with the city.
As you probably know, but I have to tell you anyway because it’s good journalism, Smith’s plumbing and air-conditioning business has been paid for subcontract work on a city utilities project at Fort Gordon. Guilfoyle’s tile business was paid for subcontracting for a general contractor at Augusta Regional Airport. And Jackson’s company, Kirby Locksmith, did work for an undercover sheriff’s operation and on the sheriff’s training range from 2008-10.
During their 15 minutes of infamy, Commissioner Bill Lockett asked each one to say on the record that they had no other business with the city that hadn’t come to light.
“Please let us know today, because if you don’t we’ll be right back here again,” he said.
Commissioner Alvin Mason asked the guilty parties to agree not to do business with the city for two years after leaving office. Guilfoyle and Jackson agreed, but Smith had no intention of promising that.
Smith also rejected Mason’s request that he get out of the current subcontract at Fort Gordon. Mayor Deke Copenhaver suggested Smith take three days to come into compliance with city code, then come back to be censured.
“I’m not going to walk off the job,” Smith said later.
COMING DOWN HARD ABOUT A HARD DRIVE: The first 30 minutes were spent in part with commissioners Marion Williams and Lockett badgering MacKenzie about why he chose the section of the code that dealt with censuring or reprimanding for ethics violations rather that a section dealing with procurement.
Williams told MacKenzie he couldn’t trust what he was saying.
“The code you cited to me is really nothing. … Had it been me and the history of this city … You act like this is nothing,” Williams said. “Calvin Holland got censured because he asked for Fred Russell’s hard drive. He didn’t get it. I think this is a serious offense.”
“If you’re going to censure somebody for asking for a hard drive, do you think that’s the same thing as being elected and doing business in the city you’re elected?” Williams later asked. “Anybody think that’s the same thing? I’m in the wrong world. I’m not in the wrong room.”
THE BITTER AFTERMATH: Afterward, Jackson said he thought the commission censured them because of Holland’s censure.
“I think it’s retaliation,” Jackson said. “From what I hear, the black commissioners were catching hell from their black ministers association. Several commissioners were doing theatrics.
“I really don’t care about the censure. I don’t plan to run for office in this county anymore. They don’t know how to raise money. All they know how to do is raise taxes. On Broad Street, all it takes is another liquor-license tax, a rain tax on top of their property taxes, and they’ll go out of business. And everybody’s screaming for a raise.”
Smith said the censures were racially motivated and that he regrets ever asking MacKenzie to draft a proposed code change.
“I went to talk to the attorney about doing what the state does on contracts,” he said. “I wish I’d never brought anything up. It’s racial. I found out reaching across the aisle doesn’t work, and it’s turned my attitude about how this county is run. I don’t know anything about Calvin Holland. I feel my reputation has been damaged. People say, ‘Grady, what are you trying to do?’ I’m disappointed I’m being branded as some kind of thief.”
Smith referred bitterly to the city having to reimburse $292,128 to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development last year because East Augusta Community Development Corp., a charity closely associated with then-Commissioner J.R. Hatney, did not build the houses it received the money for.
“I’m mad because I tried to do what’s right,” Smith said. “Where did $300,000 go for the Sand Bar Ferry project? All the money got spent, and none of the buildings got put up. Did you see Alvin or Lockett say anything? Did you hear Corey Johnson ask anything about where the money went? “
CHASING DOWN RUMORS: I called former Commissioner Joe Bowles to ask whether he’s going to run for mayor next year, and the conversation turned to the censure hearing. He said he watched every minute on video and thought the commissioners did what was necessary, though Williams and Lockett were “out for blood.”
“I feel sorry for Wayne and Joe because Wayne had been on a subcontract before he went on the commission and Joe had ceased doing business with the city two years ago,” he said. “Grady. I just don’t think he gets it. He’s so honest, but it’s not about him. It’s about other contractors and the appearance.”
As for whether he plans to run for mayor, Bowles said if the two who have announced so far – state Sen. Hardie Davis and Johnson – are the only ones in the race, he’d have to run.
“But I have a feeling Alvin Mason is going to run, and I would hope that he does. I might not always agree with him, but he’s always been 100 percent honest with me.”
THE TEACHER’S LEARNED A LESSON: Linda Schrenko, the former state school superintendent and Columbia County teacher who was sentenced to prison in 2006 for embezzling federal money from the state Department of Education while in office, was released from federal prison to a halfway house last week.
I didn’t know Schrenko that well, but I liked her because she was an animal lover and supported the effort to get rid of the gas chamber as a way of killing unwanted animals at Richmond County Animal Control. She also rescued and fostered hounds, which might be the reason she had an affair with her deputy superintendent, Merle Temple, who also went to prison but is out now.
Temple was supposed to receive a break on his sentence by cooperating with the government, but the deal fell through after Schrenko gave prosecutors taped phone conversations in which he said he’d lie to protect her.
Temple has written a book, A Ghostly Shade of Pale, which is probably the shade he turned when he heard Schrenko had ratted him out.