Raising the property tax rate last week was a cakewalk for the Augusta Commission.
Commissioner Joe Jackson’s abrupt resignation a few days earlier put him in position to apply for a vacant maintenance job at Augusta Regional Airport. It also put his District 6 successor, Commissioner-elect Ben Hasan, in position to join four other pro-tax commissioners salivating over what they think are their just desserts.
It also allowed the four remaining supposed fiscal conservatives to have their cake and eat it too by voting no, although all but Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle, who’d already left the building, had voted yes a few short weeks earlier.
That earlier vote caused folks who foot the cake bills to whip up crowds that came close to threatening to lick the board, causing the supposed fiscal conservatives to step back into a conservative spot. Some say they were cheating, though, because if they’d really wanted the tax increase to fail they’d have abstained and kept Mayor Deke Copenhaver out of the game.
Jackson’s resignation also put Commissioner Alvin Mason in a spot from which to launch his next campaign by voting no, not once but twice.
So the motion to raise the tax rate 1.75 mills tied 5-5, and the mayor put the icing on the cake by voting yes. So what do they say to taxpayers?
Let them eat cake!
ONLY ONE BOUGHT SNAKE OIL: Although they’d been dillydallying for months on proceeding with plans to refinance $160 million of utility bonds while they listened to the siren’s song of millions in savings from a race-baiting minority firm, commissioners wasted no time Monday in voting 9-1 to pursue the original plan.
Commissioner Marion Williams cast the lone no vote on the refinancing recommended by the city’s financial adviser, Diane McNabb. Afterward, he said he hadn’t changed his mind about the firm, IFS Securities, despite learning about Vice President Craig Walker’s 1996 conviction for conspiracy to commit mail fraud, mail fraud, conspiracy to obstruct justice and subornation of perjury, which led to a federal prison sentence.
IT’S NEWS; I DON’T CARE WHEN THEY SEND IT: After 5 p.m. Friday, the Georgia State Patrol public information officer e-mailed Augusta media about Commissioner Donnie Smith, a lieutenant with the agency who’s been on administrative leave since June during an investigation of a possible policy violation. The e-mail states:
“The Department of Public Safety was notified, via e-mail, at 12:30 p.m. today by Georgia’s Employee Retirement System of their decision to retire Lt. Donnie Smith, effective Sept. 1, 2014.
“The investigation remains open and is ongoing.”
So if he’s retired, he can’t be fired. But we need to hear the rest of the story. It can’t be as bad as the speculation. Can it?
DRAWING TO A FLUSH: Critics who said the mayor’s Augusta Regional Collaboration Project to renovate the old Metro Augusta Chamber of Commerce building on Broad Street into a jazz café and coffee bar didn’t pass the smell test were wrong. It was a city inspector’s test it didn’t pass, because it has no first-floor restroom.
All that coffee and nowhere to go.
IT WILL SOON COST YOU MORE TO DRINK AT RESTAURANTS AND BARS IN AUGUSTA: Perhaps the public services committee was doing penance for Monday’s property-tax vote when it spent what seemed like half a day voicing concerns that bar and restaurant owners hadn’t been properly notified that their alcohol licenses would increase 10 percent under a revised alcohol ordinance.
Rob Sherman, the city’s Planning and Development Department deputy director, told them that three public hearings were advertised in the newspaper and posted on the city’s Web site. One hearing was held July 23 and two July 24.
“About how many people showed up to the meetings?” Guilfoyle asked.
“No one showed up except a couple of people from the media,” Sherman replied.
“All right, so the process we implemented didn’t work,” Guilfoyle said before asking Sherman whether he’d used the city’s database to reach out to bar and restaurant owners, which he hadn’t.
After more conversation, Guilfoyle returned to his original premise that something was wrong with the notification process. Williams weighed in on the matter before launching into his usual speech about there not being anything to do in Augusta but go to Waffle House after 10 p.m.
Next came Donnie Smith saying he didn’t want to belabor what had already been said, and did just that, as did Commissioner Bill Fennoy.
Sherman told them there’s no requirement for holding public hearings on the alcohol ordinance and repeated what he’d said earlier, but Fennoy wasn’t satisfied and proposed putting notices in water bills. Utilities Director Tom Wiedmeier said he wasn’t sure they could pick out the bars and restaurants from the database of thousands of water customers.
Fennoy and Guilfoyle insisted that Sherman should try to notify bar and restaurant owners personally. Guilfoyle even proposed a town hall meeting.
Then Commissioner Corey Johnson repeated everything that had already been said – twice. It might have been thrice, but I lost count.
Finally, Williams said he didn’t understand what was going on, which is what I’d been thinking.
“What we’ve done done was not required by law,” he said. “And nobody showed up. Are you trying to get somebody to show up? … The bottom line is we’re acting like we don’t get it. I don’t get it.”
Johnson insisted they send notices of the proposed changes.
“We’ll notify them, but it will cost approximately $4,000 for the mailing and the information going out,” Sherman said.
“I don’t see $4,000 at 35 cents a stamp,” said Guilfoyle, until someone corrected him and he said, “45 cents.”
“We’re not just talking about 45-cent stamps,” said the planning department’s licensing manager, Larry Harris. “We’re talking about man hours. … It’s going to cost at least that much.”
Guilfoyle made a motion to send the issue to the full commission without a recommendation.
“Hopefully, the news media will post on the newspaper, as well as other media,” he said.
OK. Just don’t talk about it anymore.
I WANT TO BE AN ENGINEER ’CAUSE I LIKE TRAINS: Commissioners set the date for adopting a property tax rate for 11:30 a.m. Monday so they could hold a legal meeting at noon before committee meetings, whereupon Williams said they need to hold the legal meetings after the commission meetings so people wouldn’t have to wait for hours when such meetings drag on.
“The lawyer works for us,” he said, apparently thinking it was Chief Counsel Andrew MacKenzie’s decision when legal meetings are held because he calls for them at the proper time. “We don’t work for him. We need to tell him when we will have legal meetings. He don’t tell us.”
“The legal meetings time was adopted by ordinance by this commission, so you need to repeal that ordinance, and you will repeal holding your legal meetings at 12 o’clock,” Commission Clerk Lena Bonner told him.
“Put that on the committee agenda, so we can start driving this train ourselves. It’s been running loose,” snorted Williams, the attorney’s harshest critic.