Commissioners go to sheriff over bribe

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The warden threw a party in the county jail. The prison band was there and they began to wail. The band was jumpin' and the joint began to swing. You should've heard those knocked out jailbirds sing.

Let's rock everybody, let's rock.

Augusta was already rocking last week as news spread that someone had attempted to bribe Mayor Pro Tem Alvin Mason and Commissioner Corey Johnson and that an arrest could come as early as Tuesday.

Mr. Mason and Mr. Johnson were offered posts as part of the management team of a $16 million parking deck that would be built near the planned trade and exhibition center in exchange for their votes to start construction.

The two were said to be highly offended and paid a little visit to the sheriff, who started an investigation about 10 days ago. All 10 city commissioners have been questioned by sheriff's investigators and the FBI. Some showed up with lawyers. Sheriff Ronnie Strength will neither confirm nor deny that there is an investigation, but other city officials did.

The offer to share in parking concessions in exchange for their votes is in writing and is in investigators' hands. After Commissioners Don Grantham and Jerry Brigham learned of the bribe offer, they met with the other white commissioners to discuss the situation, but they took no action.

Mr. Grantham said that the five white commissioners often meet to discuss issues that are expected to come up in commission meetings but that they did not meet specifically to discuss the bribe offer.

"That was briefly mentioned, and everybody there was totally appalled," Mr. Grantham said. "I said it would be some source of extortion, and somebody could be going to jail. When it was first mentioned to me, I told them they were as crazy as hell."

ALL FOR SOME OR NOTHING AT ALL: Well, I suppose everything is anticlimactic after all that, but life goes on, along with talk about the TEE center.

Mayor Deke Copenhaver , the two Joes -- Commissioners Jackson and Bowles -- Mr. Johnson and Commissioner J.R. Hatney were supposed to meet this week to try to come up with a plan at least six commissioners can vote for to end the TEE center impasse.

The mayor first asked Mr. Mason to serve on the five-member panel, but he is said to have declined, citing work issues. Insiders contend he has his eye on a possible run for the state House seat now held by Rep. Hardie Davis, who plans to run for state Sen. Ed Tarver's seat if and when Mr. Tarver is appointed U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Georgia.

Mr. Mason doesn't want to be on the TEE center panel because he'd almost have to vote for any plan the committee came up with, which would alienate many potential voters who oppose the center.

So the mayor had to settle for Mr. Hatney, who is expected to make another push for $300,000-a-year more on top of $750,000-a-year already slated to go to Laney-Walker/Bethlehem redevelopment. The additional $300,000 would come from beer and wine taxes that now go to the Coliseum Authority and would be used to pay the interest on bonded projects. That proposal was floated several weeks ago, and many people, including white commissioners, called it "extortion."

Where have we heard that word before?

POLITICAL MANEUVERING: Subcommittee member Mr. Jackson said Friday he would not support funneling more money to Laney-Walker unless the $750,000 a year was spread throughout all eight commission districts.

"Just drive around Augusta and look at the roads," he said. "Calhoun Expressway looks like an abandoned runway."

Bitter feelings about the TEE center emerged from Commissioners Betty Beard , Mr. Hatney and others during Commissioner Calvin Holland's breakfast a week ago. In his remarks, state Rep. Quincy Murphy congratulated them for "standing firm against the powers to be."

The prevailing sentiment was that the TEE center would benefit the rich, white power structure.

Meanwhile, in his subcommittee choices, the mayor snubbed older, more experienced commissioners who might pretend publicly they don't give a rip. But don't believe it.

BIRTH OF A SUBCOMmItTEE: In case you don't know, the way the five-member committee came about was through a last-ditch effort by the mayor and a racially divided board to save the long-delayed TEE center.

As last week's commission meeting was about to end without a resolution on the stalled project, the mayor reminded commissioners that the city stands to lose a $25 million hotel/convention center and a $1-a-night bed tax.

Mr. Grantham said he was about ready to throw in the towel on the whole thing.

Then they all did what politicians do when they reach an impasse in public. They formed a committee. In this case, a subcommittee, led by the mayor, who was charged with appointing four commissioners, two from each super district, to work out a proposal to bring back to the full board for a vote.

Mr. Grantham wanted the mayor and Administrator Fred Russell to work with all 10 commissioners to try to find a plan to present to the full commission.

"We've had so many doggone subcommittees we can't even remember who's on them," he said.

DIFFERENT FIGHTERS, SAME FIGHT: Qualifying for five Augusta Commission seats, the District 5 seat on the Richmond County School Board and marshal of civil court ended Friday with only a few surprises, one of them being that District 3 Commissioner Joe Bowles drew two challengers, Cleveland O'Steen , a teacher, and Joy B. Mitchell-Booker , a banker.

In District 1, Matt Aitken , James "Butch" Palmer , Anthony Jones , JoRae Jenkins and William Fennoy are running for the seat Ms. Beard decided to relinquish when her current term ends.

Mr. Aitken, who is white, said his biggest challenge will be to create a trust factor in the campaign in the district that is 65 percent black and 31 percent white.

However, his past won't be overlooked. Mr. Aitken was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 1989 for dealing drugs, became a Christian, was paroled in 1990 and pardoned by the state in 1997.

Since his release from prison he has started a prison ministry, directed the local urban ministry AGAPE and graduated from Leadership Augusta.

Mr. Fennoy, who is black, said he doesn't see any challenges, only opportunities. That might be because he was a member of the Coliseum Authority. While on that board, he got into a shoving match with citizen activist Woody Merry after Mr. Merry got in his face, chastising him for not attending a meeting.

Mr. Palmer, also white, is an advocate of getting the riffraff out of Harrisburg, where he lives.

POWELL VS. JOHNSON, ET AL.: At last week's hearing of Mescherie Powell vs. Chiquita Johnson and Richmond County in Richmond County Civil and Magistrate Court, Ms. Powell represented herself. Ms. Johnson, the city's general counsel, had Quinton Seay , a Cornell University-trained lawyer arguing her case and a staff attorney as a witness.

Not that she really needed them that much. She could have represented herself because she had her ducks in a row and went into such detail under questioning that Judge William D. Jennings III finally said, "Ladies, so that we can get out of here before snow is on the ground, please answer the questions with a yes or no."

Ms. Powell did as well as a lay person could do, going up against a $225-an-hour attorney and his inch-thick briefs, attorney Johnson and her staff attorney Andrew Mackenzie, who testified against Ms. Powell. She was just no match for the pros.

Ms. Powell claims Ms. Johnson tried to fire her after she went out on family medical leave. She was transferred to the transit department with longer hours but was not paid for them. She is seeking $13,555 in back wages, insurance premiums, attorney fees and punitive and defamation of character damages.

The U.S. Labor Department investigated the case and ruled in Ms. Powell's favor, but Mr. Seay responded by saying the city would not pay the back wages.

Judge Jennings delayed ruling on the case until he has had a chance to review the hefty stack of briefs and other evidence in the case.

ANCHOR, ACTOR, AUTHOR, EMCEE: BY ANY OTHER NAME: Former Augusta Mayor Bob Young emceed the Stop Obama Care rally at the Jessye Norman Amphitheater on the Riverwalk last week.

He is also writing a book about the Confederate gold that disappeared at the end of the Civil War. He has already completed the first draft of The Treasure Train , a historical novel based on real people, places and events.

Asked about his political future, Mr. Young asked, "Do I have a political future?"

I don't know, but I hear he wants one and could run for mayor again or for Mr. Grantham's Super District 10 seat, which will become vacant after 2010.

Mr. Young keeps saying he's flying under the radar, but that couldn't happen unless the radar was in outer space.

BY ANY OTHER NAME: Did I tell you that our darling Molly died? Well, she did. In February. And we almost did too when we and our wonderful neighbor Sammy McCorkle buried her in the hard, hard ground in the back pasture.

But it wasn't long before we decided to get another border collie. So we drove to Cleveland, Ga., and got a brown and cream colored puppy with green eyes we later named Juleighanne Renee in honor of the sweet ladies at McDuffie Animal Hospital, Julie Fulmer , Leighanne Davis and Renee May .

Well, so far Juleighanne Renee has chewed up $400 worth of shoes, two rugs, the corner of a sofa and a $650 pair of eyeglasses. And she's not ashamed of it either.

Now I know why they call female dogs bitches.

Lets rock, everybody, lets rock. Everybody in the whole cell block Was dancin' to the jailhouse rock.

Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228.

Comments (42) Add comment
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HillGuy
8
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HillGuy 09/06/09 - 12:58 am
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0
"Mr. Grantham said that the

"Mr. Grantham said that the five white commissioners often meet to discuss issues that are expected to come up in commission meetings but that they did not meet specifically to discuss the bribe offer."
And we wonder why we have a race problem in Augusta. How about stop these backroom boys clubs and have things out in the open.
www.butchforaugusta.org

HillGuy
8
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HillGuy 09/06/09 - 01:09 am
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Sylvia, had you bothered to

Sylvia, had you bothered to talk to Butch Palmer, instead of giving us the bio verbatim from Matt Aitken's campaign literature, I'm sure he would have directed you to his platform which has very specific proposals on how to make Augusta better. Not once is the word "riffraff" mentioned and his platform encompasses all of Augusta, not just Harrisburg. I know the Chronicle will always pick its favorites and spin things the way it wants, but this is just ridiculous. It would have been nice if you had asked each of the candidates what some of their ideas are for Augusta. Aitken may have an interesting life history, but I have seen no specific ideas on what he would actually do as a commissioner. If you are going to report on the candidates, it might be helpful to do a little research on all of them.

justus4
113
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justus4 09/06/09 - 05:32 am
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Ol Grantham stated that the
Unpublished

Ol Grantham stated that the non-minority commissioners, "often meet" to talk, well, theres your problem. Why isn't that a violation of some "Open Meeting" clause which refers to what is allowed in government? U guessed it! The guy just said that "they" are plotting and no questions are even raised. Wow! Can't really say anyone is surprised because this was always suspected based on their actions. Nothing new here....

concernednative
28
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concernednative 09/06/09 - 06:02 am
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0
Gratham has no shame. He

Gratham has no shame. He lets you know he is a backroom crooked pol.

fred1217
4
Points
fred1217 09/06/09 - 07:34 am
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Come on Sylvia...tell them

Come on Sylvia...tell them about the furniture. If they were willing to give the Black Commissioners jobs as part of the management team of the parking deck, what were the White Commissioners getting? They are the ones that I've heard really pushing the Tee Center. Several white commissioners have been calling into local radio programs and advocating the Tee Center like it was the next best thing since Viagra. This type of palm greasing is normal policy in politics and usually only comes to light to prosecute minorities. That's why people spend 5 million dollars to get a 100,000 dollar job.

HillGuy
8
Points
HillGuy 09/06/09 - 09:13 am
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It sounds like these

It sounds like these commissioners have these regular meetings to discuss "commission business" atleast that's what The Don clearly says in this article. Is this not some violation of open meetings law?
www.butchforaugusta.org

eachoneteachone
0
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eachoneteachone 09/06/09 - 09:44 am
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Mr. Palmer wants Augusta to

Mr. Palmer wants Augusta to be a good place to live for everyone and I believe that he has what it takes to make this happen. In fact we are looking to buy in Harrisburg because of Mr. Palmers' community efforts to improve Harrisburg.Everyone who lives in district one please meet Mr. Palmer. He has solid values. He is the best qualified candidate for district one: www.butchforaugusta.org

Brad Owens
5068
Points
Brad Owens 09/06/09 - 11:05 am
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Look at the DDA Mrs. Cooper.

Look at the DDA Mrs. Cooper. The parking deck is their business and everyone wanted them to have it remember? I bet Fry has business dealings with members of the DDA somewhere. Start with Paul Kings past lands deals with Jay Simon.

HillGuy
8
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HillGuy 09/06/09 - 11:10 am
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I'd also like a $50,000

I'd also like a $50,000 sidewalk infront of my home, suppose I could get the DDA working on that too for me? Dear God though why can't the media in this town do its durn job and actually do some investigative reporting.. I Know sylvia's column isn't really hard news, but maybe they could atleast turn Johnny Edwards loose on this one.

ColdBeerBoiledPeanuts
12232
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ColdBeerBoiledPeanuts 09/06/09 - 11:13 am
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Like the Minority

Like the Minority Commissioners don't have meetings outside the chambers, exclusive of the Non Minority Commissioners. Justus get head out of your anal orifice.

HillGuy
8
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HillGuy 09/06/09 - 11:16 am
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coldbeer, if they do, they're

coldbeer, if they do, they're not stupid enough to admit it.

Little Lamb
50461
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Little Lamb 09/06/09 - 11:56 am
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Thank you, Brad. I did not

Thank you, Brad. I did not realize that the parking deck was going to be a DDA project. Now the parking deck smells worse than the actual TEE center. I wonder if city taxpayers are going to cut a monthly check to the DDA to "run" the parking deck when there are no conventions going on and nobody wants to pay to park there? Then how much of that monthly check will be siphoned off as graft?

CorporalGripweed
0
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CorporalGripweed 09/06/09 - 11:57 am
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Hill guy, I agree with you

Hill guy, I agree with you wholeheartedly. I've known Butch now for a long time, and his commitment to his neighborhood and community is unparalleled. What have any of the other candidates done thus far for their neighborhoods? Where are their neighborhoods? I have never heard of Matt Aitkin, but you hear of Butch Palmer all the time. He does have solid ideas for making the daily lives of Augustans better. We need more of this. After all, it's our day to day quality of life that truly matters.

HillGuy
8
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HillGuy 09/06/09 - 12:01 pm
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0
I'd just like to see some ppl

I'd just like to see some ppl in there with some specific ideas and proposals on how they would change things in Augusta. Butch strikes me as a no nonsense action sort of guy who will get things done.
This DDA connection with the parking deck makes the whole thing even stinkier. I think Brad is on the right path here.

Brad Owens
5068
Points
Brad Owens 09/06/09 - 12:03 pm
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0
I can promise you one thing,

I can promise you one thing, if a bribe was offered concerning the parking deck, it HAD to have DDA involvment beacuse it is THEY who will be the actual agent issuing the bonds. I encourage folks to get busy on the city website looking up past land deals concerning DDA members and the law firms that closed them. I bet you will find someone's path has crossed Attorney Fry's on some deal somewhere. This has Paul King's land deal business ethics written all over it. I always say, follow the money. If you follow the money here it leads back to only a few folks on the Riverfront, the DDA, and Commission. Good Ol' Don is at it again. Well, Thanksgiving is coming up, maybe he can have another get together at his office to cut a deal for TEE like he did for consolodation. Where is Jow Bowels? This seems like something he would be raising hell about.

HillGuy
8
Points
HillGuy 09/06/09 - 12:10 pm
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0
Brad, Joe Bowles is nothing

Brad, Joe Bowles is nothing but a little brownnoser who's just happy he gets invited to Grantham's secret good-ole-boy meetings. Glad to see he has some competition. Hopefully this female banker running against him can mount a strong campaign. Don's mafia empire on the commission needs to be broken up.

HillGuy
8
Points
HillGuy 09/06/09 - 01:58 pm
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0
CSRAresident.. I can assure

CSRAresident.. I can assure you I am not Mr Palmer. I am sure he does post on these forums from time to time but I imagine he is busier with other things right now like campaigning. As for support, I can assure you that he has support in more than just Harrisburg. There are a lot of people in Augusta fed up with the good-ole-boy system.

Jim-bob
1
Points
Jim-bob 09/06/09 - 02:11 pm
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Butch Palmer = male

Butch Palmer = male hairdresser.

HillGuy
8
Points
HillGuy 09/06/09 - 02:18 pm
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what does one's former

what does one's former profession have to do with anything as long as it was legal and ethical? Is that how desperate the good ole boys are? Butch Palmer was a small business owner, like many others in Augusta. How is it any different from owning any other small business in the city? The fact of the matter is that now Mr Palmer makes his living by refurbishing mill houses and renting them out. Salon 606 has not been in business since the mid 90s. Butch Palmer has saved and restored many beautiful old historic homes. he rents at fair market value, unlike some others who charge a kings ransom for something that should be demolished because of building code violations.

HillGuy
8
Points
HillGuy 09/06/09 - 02:31 pm
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0
Mr Palmer's current

Mr Palmer's current profession is realestate and property management, not cosmetology. It would be nice if the Chronicle would bother to print CURRENT information, not information that was relevant 15 years ago.

Asitisinaug
4
Points
Asitisinaug 09/06/09 - 03:24 pm
0
0
Justus4, for once, you are

Justus4, for once, you are partially right - it is certainly wrong for just the white commissioners to be meeting because is keeps us all divided - only problem is that the black commissoners do the exact same thing. When either group wants to pass something through the commission they then go after 1 member from the other race and have to make concessions and give something to the other side, even when not needed, in order to get what they want - same thing with the democrats and republicans in congress - in the end, the tax payers are screwed. The TEE center is a prime example, in oder to get a vot passed on the tee center by the white commissoners, the black commissoners want over a million $ per year committed to making the Laney Walker area better although we have already poured millions into the area to no avail. The white and black commissoners are BOTH absolutely wrong but this is the way politics works and again, we all get screwed. All of the commissoners should list ALL items that will benefit our community, help bring in taxes from business and visitors and from there prioritize the list and go for it vs. one for the white and one for the blacks, etc. Ridiculous

BAMABOY
20
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BAMABOY 09/06/09 - 04:18 pm
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0
The DDA owns two parking

The DDA owns two parking decks and manages a third. Everyone one forgets the deck at Fort Discovery is the DDA's and they collect no money from the home owners and Fort Discovery charges a fee to visitors and keeps that money that is not theirs. There is not a true journalist in this town because if there was, they would discover the truth about those parking facilities.

HillGuy
8
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HillGuy 09/06/09 - 04:40 pm
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BAMABOY.. you know that's

BAMABOY.. you know that's right.

Brad Owens
5068
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Brad Owens 09/06/09 - 05:43 pm
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Thank you BAMABOY. I knew

Thank you BAMABOY. I knew that and assumed everyone else did too. The Sheriff needs to take a look at Maggie Woodards emails and see what is there. Also, I would bet that if they take a look at Fry's phone log, texts messages, and emails it will be easy to find out who is behind this. The DDA is rotten and needs to be disbanded.

LCC0256
802
Points
LCC0256 09/06/09 - 07:12 pm
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Item 1. Butch Palmer is a

Item 1. Butch Palmer is a good man MAKING EARNEST EFFORTS & TAKING LARGE LARGE RISKS TO CLEAN UP HIS NEIGHBORHOOD..which is far more than you can say for nearly EVERY OTHER WANNA BE POLITICIAN OR CURRENT POLITICO SYCOPHANT in this town...Item 2 i am so thankful Mr Mason did not take the attempted SET UP "bribe" it would have set back race relations another 30 years the way the set up with EM did...he was another VERY GOOD & DECENT man who in a weak moment accepted a SET UP bribe...that cost this city dearly & anyone who has average or above intelligence, honesty about their character & is not a flaming racist will admit that..that act set this town back at least 30 years with respect to harmony, trust & brotherly love (as we are commanded to have for each other)..Alvin Mason is an honorable man as evidenced by his actions thus far...This TEE center is going to get built & it is the height of hypocrisy for those who claim to be conservatives to support it..but with that i most likely stand alone in my opinions GLADLY alienated BOTH FROM the quasi marxist/fascists running this country today along with the COUNTRY CLUB CONSERVATIVES...

Dixieman
18547
Points
Dixieman 09/06/09 - 07:35 pm
0
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Why is the comment section on

Why is the comment section on the Weinberger death completely deleted and closed?????

dont live there anymore
2
Points
dont live there anymore 09/06/09 - 08:58 pm
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Dixieman: Probably because

Dixieman: Probably because some of the people on here would be nasty as usual. Leave it alone. It is what it is. He is gone.

eachoneteachone
0
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eachoneteachone 09/06/09 - 09:23 pm
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Mrs. Woodard earns 80

Mrs. Woodard earns 80 thousand dollars a year. Who set her salary?

disssman
6
Points
disssman 09/06/09 - 09:38 pm
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I really wish a reporter

I really wish a reporter would look at our city code (last revised in 2007) for the DDA, specifically at page T1:84, Sec 1-4-14 and do an investigation as to how they get away with hiring Ms Woodard. The code specifically states the number of members (7) and they have 8. It also says no funded positions are to be used. Further any funding is to be on an reimburseable basis only. I find it very disturbing that the code used to run the city is out of date. Further, I have read the code many times and find no mention of the gas credit cards for commissioners anywhere. You would think that if it was legal, the procedures and accountability for the program would be in the Code?

GnipGnop1
2
Points
GnipGnop1 09/06/09 - 10:45 pm
0
0
When had Augusta ever worried

When had Augusta ever worried about laws and accountability? Do the words "open records" laws ring any bells?

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