Augusta commissioners hoping for a final vote Tuesday on Mayor Hardie Davis’ proposal to rebuild James Brown Arena at Regency Mall could find the proposal invalidated due to a possibly illegal meeting held last week.
But at least one commissioner, Grady Smith, said he expects the commission to put an end to Davis’ plan Tuesday.
“I’m with Mary Davis, Sean Frantom, Wayne Guilfoyle, Ben Hasan and Sammie Sias,” Smith said of the six “no” votes he thinks the plan now has. “I don’t want it down there and neither does half the county.”
David Dunagan, who said he is running for the seat held by Smith, who is term-limited, filed a formal complaint Monday against the Augusta-Richmond Coliseum Authority and its attorney, Ed Enoch, with the office of Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr. The complaint alleges the authority’s meeting violated the Georgia Open Meetings Act, and included a request for copies of minutes from the closed session and for Enoch to be sanctioned for allowing the meeting to take place.
The Regency plan has remained controversial since the mayor introduced it in August, but last week, the coliseum authority voted 4-2 to accept terms offered by mall owner Cardinal Management, which include the city building an arena, and making extensive parking and lighting improvements at the site, which Cardinal reserves the right to redevelop.
The approval, opposed by the authority’s chairman and vice chairman, met a Nov. 30 deadline the commission set for negotiations to end. Cardinal’s term sheet goes before the commission Tuesday in a vote requested by Sias.
“This process has been a very long process and I’m hopeful that, by tomorrow, we can end the discussion about putting the James Brown Arena out at Regency Mall,” said Frantom, who opposed moving the arena out of downtown Augusta since the plan was introduced. “I hope it doesn’t end discussion about bringing development out to that corridor.”
While he wasn’t on Smith’s list, Commissioner Dennis Williams said he also opposes the proposal.
“I don’t agree with the deal; I’ve been saying that all along,” Williams said. “I don’t believe the deal is good for the community. When I say the community, I mean Augusta.”
The authority vote took place after a closed meeting Georgia Press Association attorney David Hudson said likely violated the state open meetings law because authority members allowed four commissioners – Hasan, Sias, Williams and Andrew Jefferson – to participate while otherwise excluding the public.
Hudson said doing so amounted to giving “selective attendance rights” to the public in a matter of critical interest to the public.
Dunagan said he hoped to block the commission vote by invalidating the authority’s vote last week, but an assistant state attorney general, Jennifer Colangelo, said the process was unlikely to be that far along today.
Colangelo said the open government mediation program typically reviews complaints then and seeks a response from the government’s attorney – Enoch – prior to taking further action. Colangelo said she typically gives the government’s attorney several days to respond.
Dunagan said he filed the complaint after commissioners were unwilling to state their preference on the Regency proposal.
Enoch said last week he stands behind the legality of the closed session, saying the authority routinely allows relevant outside parties to sit in on closed-door real estate discussions.
While some commissioners believe the proposal will be voted down, Dunagan said he wanted to be certain.
“I would like for that to happen, but what if it doesn’t?” he said.