Augusta commissioners, poised to vote Tuesday on extending Heery International’s contract, deny the company’s campaign contributions and gifts are “pay to play” handouts, but Heery’s conduct in other cities and states suggests otherwise.
Augusta has paid Heery and two subconsultants $9.5 million in fees since late 2003 to manage the city’s construction projects funded by sales taxes, such as the $62 million Augusta Judicial Center or $38 million Augusta Convention Center.
Over the years, Heery has made cash contributions to political campaign and community projects supported by city politicians, such as $1,500 sponsorship of the CSRA Classic in 2008. According to Heery internal documents obtained by The Augusta Chronicle, the sponsorship was tied to the firm’s desire to continue its work on sales tax projects:
“We are currently working on the A-R County SPLOST program. They are in the process of developing a project list for the 2009 SPLOST that exceeds $160M,” the memo said.
In 2009, Heery made $1,500 contributions to Augusta Commissioners Corey Johnson and Alvin Mason, who were not up for re-election that year. In 2010, Heery gave $900 to Johnson and Mason again, and $1,000 to unopposed Commissioner Joe Jackson. Heery’s subconsultant Dukes, Edwards and Dukes gave Mason a $500 donation. None of the three candidates reported raising more than $20,000.
Commissioner Bill Lockett, who recently claimed that a lone $1,000 donation from Heery in 2012 helped him retire campaign debt from 2009, reported a $1,000 contribution from “Meery” in April 2010 at Heery’s same 999 Peachtree St. NE address in Atlanta.
Heery has never reported anything to city or state officials about its donations, despite a local requirement that vendors report lobbying and state laws that require reporting of such gifts and donations as lobbying expenses.
Heery spokesman David Rubinger claimed all the group’s activities are within exemptions for reporting. Current state law doesn’t require vendors to report gifts to local officials, while the city’s ethics ordinance exempts campaign contributions and sports tickets from disclosure, he said.
“Courtesy” tickets to Heery’s skybox at the Georgia Dome were a favorite gift Heery provided commissioners. A game schedule obtained by The Chronicle showed Johnson and Mason attended at least three football games in 2009 and 2010, while Jackson and former Commissioners Calvin Holland and Joe Bowles attended one. Jackson said he had also attended an Atlanta Braves game using a Heery ticket.
State law, however, did snare Heery’s subconsutant Gallop and Associates principal Wilbert “Butch” Gallop in 2005. Gallop agreed to pay a $1,500 fine for failing to report lobbying activities, failing to file as a lobbyist even after being warned twice to do so, and for failing to respond to a subpoena to appear at a state ethics commission meeting, according to a consent order. Gallop stated on his lobbying registration, which was withdrawn the following year, that he was working on behalf of Gallop and Associates.
Rubinger said “at no time was Mr. Gallop lobbying for Heery under our current contract.”
Heery, meanwhile, argued in court filings that its refusal to engage in “pay-to-play” activities – which it defined as “using gifts, gratuities, tickets and payments to curry favor with public officials and gain construction projects” – cost the company a contract in 2007 with the DeKalb County school district.
“Heery calling itself an obstacle to pay-to-play is hypocrisy of the highest order,” because pay-to-play has been a driving force behind Heery’s success, responded a member of the DeKalb school system’s legal team, which cited numerous instances in court filings:
• “Heery contributed $10,000 in 2006 to the (Townson, Md.,) Sheppard Pratt Hospital Charity … (which was) on the verge of approving our latest change order for $227,000.”
• In response to a request from a Duval County, Fla., board member who solicited a campaign contribution in 2006, a Heery employee was instructed to respond: “Heery tend(s) to support people who support us.”
• In 2004, “Heery agreed to donate $5,000 to the Anne Arundel Community College Foundation ‘as long as we see very soon tangible results from the commitment.’ ”
Evidence of Heery’s pay-to-play behavior also was evident in criminal prosecutions of public officials throughout the country, the DeKalb school system alleged.
In Broward County, Fla., Heery worked from 2004 to 2007 for the school district, sheriff and county commission. There, a school board president who was also a county commissioner received a campaign contribution from Heery. She was later prosecuted for unlawful compensation. Heery also gave to the Broward sheriff, who was prosecuted and convicted of public corruption in 2008.
“In 2005, (Commissioner Diana) Wasserman voted to award Heery and its joint venture partners a $670,000 contract for ‘pre-design’ services for the judicial complex project … Heery’s contract on (the complex) has been amended six times to increase the contract to over $17 million as of February 2011.”
In the town of Southwest Rances, Fla., where Wasserman was arrested in 2010 for receiving improper compensation through her husband’s work on city projects funded through grants she approved, Heery had a contract to develop the projects. In 2009, Heery employee Celestine Aniekwu was charged with bribery of Broward County officials.