An Augusta subcommittee charged with narrowing the focus of a forensic audit into dealmaking connected to two downtown convention center parking garages agreed Monday on four issues that private firms seeking the job should consider.
The Augusta Commission voted in December to investigate the parking deals after commissioners learned that the city built a $12 million parking deck on land it didn’t own. In an effort to contain the cost associated with a massive, open-ended probe, the subcommittee was formed to tell the auditors where and how hard to look.
The questions surround construction and management of the new parking garage built to serve the Augusta Convention Center, also known as the Trade, Exhibit and Event, or TEE, Center, and an existing Reynolds Street parking facility, connected to the downtown Marriott, that was modified during construction of the adjacent convention center.
The four areas of inquiry, read into the record Monday by subcommittee chairman Commissioner Bill Lockett, went as follows:
1. Whether the Reynolds Street Parking Deck was constructed without executed agreements between parties and, if so, was such allowance legal and in violation of Augusta, Ga., codes and procurement procedures and was such done with or without Commission awareness and approval.
2. Obtain and evaluate parking deck management requests for quotations covering subject parking decks, if any exist, to determine whether bids were properly solicited, processed and evaluated.
3. If there were alternative bids taken, determine whether combined Reynolds Street Parking Deck and TEE Center Parking Deck agreements allow costs materially in excess of those bids, with or without the approval of the commission and any other legally necessary parties.
4. Whether any illegal, fraudulent and/or improper acts occurred in any transaction involving the acquisition, trade, transfer and/or encumbrance of any parcel, tract or remnant of land or air property involved in or related to the Reynolds Street Parking Deck or TEE Center Parking Deck.
At the subcommittee meeting, Lockett credited an online blog, whose members include candidates for public office, with researching public records and raising questions about the deal. One of its members, Harrisburg activist Lori Davis, is running for the District 1 commission seat this year and attended Monday’s meeting.
Andrew MacKenzie, general counsel for the city, said the four areas are a great place to start and would help the commission set a budget for the audit to give to firms bidding on the work, to be done in two phases.
Commissioner Alvin Mason, who is serving with Lockett, Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle and four city department heads on the subcommittee, said as the audit process moves along the commission should back off.
“If this is going to be done, we keep the integrity of this process as best we can (and) we keep our little stinking hands out of it,” Mason said.
He added that the forensic auditor will not determine whether the deals struck weren’t the most profitable to the city.
“If it’s not the best deal, that doesn’t make it illegal,” Mason said.
Several of the agreements likely to be scrutinized are with Augusta Riverfront LLC, the firm that manages the downtown Marriott and both parking facilities. Augusta Riverfront has ties to the management of Morris Communications Co., owner of The Augusta Chronicle.