Taxpayers get lunch bill for commissioners' earlier private talks

One thing I’ve noticed during years of observing local politics is that public officials hate doing the public’s business in public.


State elected officials hate it even worse – so bad, they exempted themselves from the open meetings law.

So it comes as no surprise that the current batch of Augusta Commission members want to spend more time behind closed doors. A subcommittee decided last week that they need to start their closed-door legal meetings an hour earlier, at 11 a.m. Of course, it will cost you more money because they’ll have to have a catered lunch. But at least they’re not going to start at 10 a.m., as was proposed. That would mean breakfast.


“WHEN THEY TALK, IT MAKES THE MEETINGS LONGER.”: That’s what Au­gus­ta general counsel Andrew MacKenzie told The Augusta Chronicle’s Su­san McCord last week after the subcommittee’s long discussion on starting earlier.

MacKenzie said commission work is “like an ocean” that comes in waves.

Yeah, it’s all wet. And so are some of the topics.

Matt Kwatinetz. Remem­ber him? He’s the Au­gus­­ta Regional Colla­borative director and good friend of former Mayor Deke Co­penhaver who collaborated to get $100,000 of taxpayer money to renovate the 600 Broad St. building and $300,000 in 2014 for the creation of a Mills District around Augusta’s historic textile mills and a Cultural District downtown.

Well, Kwatinetz was back last week behind closed doors (“legal meeting”) with commissioners pitching a development in the Laney-Walker district.

The only legitimate reasons for “executive sessions” – commission-speak for “let’s not talk in front of the public whose business we’re supposed to be doing” – are pending litigation, personnel issues or the sale or purchase of property. But I’m convinced they skirt the law many times under the umbrella of “potential litigation” when there’s no real potential threat or anything else except their desire to talk freely about how to waste more of your money.

So what do you think Kwatinetz was doing in there for 20 minutes?

Tel­ling them he’s going to sue the city?

Listening to them tell him they’re going to sue him?

He’s been a secret employee of the city for years, and there’s a personnel issue they were dealing with.

He’s buying property from the city. (Probably with city money.)

The city’s buying property and turning it over to Matt to turn over to a developer.

Matt’s got a deal for us.

Answer: Only time will tell, but it’s a sure bet it will cost taxpayers money.


TARVER VS. ISAKSON? Accor­ding to a political blog on The Atlanta Journal-Consti­tution’s site, U.S. Attorney Ed Tarver is eyeing a challenge to Republican U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson.

Tarver told the AJC that he’d been contacted by Dem­ocratic Party officials but hasn’t done anything about it. Tarver stepped down from the state Senate in 2009 when President Obama appointed him U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Georgia.

As a political appointee of Obama’s, it’s time for Tarver to look for a job.


A GOOD RECORD IS A GOOD THING TO HAVE: Gov. Nathan Deal has appointed Rich­mond County Marshal Steve Smith to the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council, the regulatory agency for Georgia peace officers.

Smith will be the first Augusta official appointed to the council in more than 20 years.

Smith, who has served as marshal for 28 years and a Richmond County sheriff’s deputy for 10 years before that, faces opposition for the marshal’s post this year from Richmond County sheriff’s Lt. Ramone Lamkin, the head of the traffic division. Smith said he looks forward to running on his record.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the marshal’s office added security at the Municipal Building to its duties and later the judicial center, after which the commission asked the agency to take over security at Augusta Regional Airport.

“We’re a specialized law-enforcement agency, and it’s taken a long time to get it situated the way it is,” Smith said. “The duties that we have, you really need somebody with experience to know what we do.”


A SPECIAL DAY FOR LOGGINS: Augusta attorney Omeeka Loggins will announce her candidacy for Richmond County State Court solicitor at 10 a.m. Thursday at the Au­gusta Judicial Center. La­ter that day, she will be installed as the president of the Augusta Bar Asso­cia­tion.

“This is a historic event for Augusta, as I will be the first African-American president ever selected,” she said. “The late Honorable Judge Ruffin was the first African-American to join the Augusta Bar Associa­tion. I now have the opportunity to serve as a leader of this organization, and I am honored.”

Loggins received a law degree from the University of South Carolina and began practicing law in Augusta in 2009.


STANDING ON THE ROCKS: For­mer state Senate Ma­jor­ity Leader Charles Wal­ker will speak at the Mar­­tin Luther King Jr. Free­­dom Dinner at 6 p.m. Fri­day at Tabernacle Bap­tist Church’s Family Life Cen­ter.

The title of his speech, “Standing on the Rocks,” was inspired by an account in Exodus of Moses leading the Israelites across the Red Sea.

“When Moses was leading the children of Israel across the Red Sea, he became distraught, and Moses’ brother Aaron told him ‘Moses, go over there and stand on the rocks so that people can see you and have hope.’” Walker said.


ONE SMALL MISSTEP AFTER ANOTHER FOR THE MAYOR. MANY GIANT PITFALLS FOR THE CITY: Mayor Hardie Davis blames his turbulent first year on “missteps” and “pitfalls,” which sent me scurrying to the dictionary.

It said a misstep is a “clum­sy or badly judged step.” The example sentence was, “For a mountain goat, one misstep could be fatal.”

Davis ran a whole marathon of missteps last year.

A “pitfall” was defined as “a pit flimsily covered or camouflaged and used to capture and hold animals and men.” That doesn’t cover Hardie because it doesn’t mention anything about digging the pits yourself and jumping right in.

In a state of the city address last week, Davis said he commonly refers to his first year as the first quarter of the first game. So he’s taking for granted there’s a second game on the horizon.

Among his “successes” he listed job growth, which would have happened no matter who was mayor. He also listed his efforts to launch the My Brother’s Kee­per initiative and a Cy­ber Inno­vation Center. His plans for this year include continuing to work for “smart neighborhoods,” announcing a prisoner release program intended to offer a hand-up instead of a handout and revitalizing Gordon Highway with tax-break incentives to bring in those amorphous “strategic partners” politicians are always talking about. And last but not least, applying for HUD Promise Zone money, which promises one thing: to take more money from hard-working taxpayers and redistribute it where it will buy the most votes.

Augusta mayor admits mistakes, discusses initiatives for coming year
Augusta commissioners take no action on travel policy
Augusta Commission members push for more time behind closed doors