Sylvia Cooper

City Ink columnist and correspondent for The Augusta Chronicle.

Accusations spill out in water treatment plant case

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The scandal at Augusta's Highland Avenue Water Treatment Plant is not going to evaporate as quickly as some members of the city's personnel board had expected when they voted to reinstate two employees caught on tape stealing taxpayers' money through a time-card scheme.

Augusta commissioners will talk about appealing the board's decision to reinstate John Allen III and Santonia Dennis at Tuesday's meeting -- behind closed doors, most likely -- but any vote will be taken in public.

The mayor and commissioners have received an unsigned e-mail from a Michael Burgess -- or someone purporting to be Burgess -- alleging other serious lapses at the plant by employees that threatened the city's water supply and put the public at risk.

While time-stealing has been going on for years, it was the flooding of the hypochlorite room in March that went undetected through three shifts of employees over a 24-hour period that triggered the investigation, the e-mail states.

Other allegations include: falsified lab documents, supervisors leaving uncertified trainees alone at the plant, workers sleeping six hours on a shift and overflowing the fluoride into Turknett Springs to an EPD secondary maximum containment level.

Water treatment plant operator B.B. Langham said he's never heard of Burgess but that he himself brought the time thefts to interim Utilities Director Drew Goins' attention, but nothing was done. Langham then went to Commissioner Joe Bowles and told him about the thefts. Bowles said he'd do something about them, and he did. An investigation was launched by new Utilities Director Tom Wiedmeier, Langham said Friday.

Langham said he did not write or disseminate the e-mail sent to commissioners but verified that most of it was true, disputing only events causing the flooding of the hypochlorite room and another mechanical failure that led to millions of gallons of bad water having to go down the drain. Human Resources Director Rod Powell said no one by the name of Michael Burgess was employed by the city.

I e-mailed Burgess at the address on his e-mail Friday and told him I had a copy of the e-mail, but he has not responded.

Dennis and Allen are still on paid leave. Employees John Tucker and Cliff Pittman were not fired because their offenses were not as extensive and they did not lie when questioned. A position was created for supervisor Michael Hopkins, who claimed he didn't know what was going on.

Except for member Chip Barbee, the personnel board and at least three commissioners agree that because all five were guilty, all should be fired or none should be.

AND THE CLOUDS PARTED: Too bad such a controversial subject follows last week's commission retreat, where everyone was mainly of one accord about issues commissioners have haggled over since consolidation 14 years ago -- things such as giving the administrator more power and tinkering with the so-called "charter." Only when commissioners actually vote to do some of the things they talked about will anything really happen. Still, it was nice seeing everybody in such good humor.

NOW READ THIS: Augusta's new public library opens June 25 with a fun-filled week of activities for all ages, which could include a ceremony naming it in your honor, if you have a million dollars you can donate. But hurry. Somebody else might beat you to it, to your eternal regret.

Those who have already donated to have various parts of the library named for them are: the Meybohm family, $50,000, first-floor computer area; $25,000 each from the Barry L. Storeys, teen area; R.W. Allen and Associates Inc., writing center; the Howington family, Children's Center; Richard Strother Carter and Josephine Odell Carter, $20,000, Georgia Heritage Conference Room; The Dorothy Mustin Butolph Talking Books Center, $20,000; Jacquelyn Murray Blanchard, $15,000, Reference Help Area; Georgia Bank and Trust, $15,000 for the Circulation Area; and First Bank of Georgia, $10,000, Puppet Theater/Imagination Station.

Other naming options are available, including the Georgia Heritage Room, the Children's Library and the Augusta Legacy for Literacy Stairwell.

SAVING GRACE: Staff Writer Johnny Edwards' 9-year-old daughter, Grace, began her education at a Richmond County public school all bright-eyed and hopeful -- eager to learn, happy and optimistic.

Pre-K was a joy. Kindergarten went smoothly. First grade was just fine. Then things went sour in second grade. Unruly classmates made learning difficult, and Grace became discouraged. She and Johnny looked forward to third grade, but the year was once again wrecked by discipline issues in the classroom, along with the school system's relentless obsession with the CRCTs. Four years in a row, Johnny tried to get Grace into a magnet school, but each time she failed to win a slot through the system's race-based lottery system.

Grace was so frustrated and unhappy in the public school that Johnny contemplated the unthinkable -- moving to the suburbs. He tried to sell his house in Augusta and move to Columbia County, but the value has decreased so much since he bought it, he couldn't sell it without taking a huge loss. Nevertheless, the tax assessor's office raised the value last year, the Board of Equalization upheld the increase, and he had to pay more taxes. So he started exploring the private school option, finally found one he could afford and enrolled Grace there for next year.

Needless to say, during all this, there have been many discussions about public schools, all of which Grace absorbed to such an extent that now the word "public" to her is a bad word. She will not go to a "public" restroom, and she scoffs at the "public" school her friend goes to in Columbia County.

The moral of this story is be careful where you buy a house because you might get stuck there and have to pay private school tuition and taxes for schools with no saving graces.

WHAT'S IN A NAME? In the words of Don Leeburn , member of the Georgia Board of Regents, as reported by Morris News Service's Walter Jones , the Medical College of Georgia is going "from a two-boss or three-boss system to a one-boss system" with the approval of contracts that will reorganize the governance of MCG's hospital and clinics by creating the MCG Health Systems board to oversee them.

MCG's incoming president, Ricardo Azziz, will become the chairman and CEO of MCG Health System and oversee the college, its hospital and the faculty's physicians group.

For the first time in 10 years, the MCG operation will be one big happy family, except for one member in exile, the old MCG Foundation. Former President Dan Rahn fired the foundation and appointed his own in 2008 after it wouldn't give him $5 million. The old foundation didn't go away, though, and the regents want the new foundation to be called the MCG Foundation and have sued to get the name because they want the money that is willed to the MCG Foundation to go to the new foundation.

But doesn't it make sense now that everybody is reuniting, that the old foundation and its allies be invited back into the fold? Or do the regents just want to make a point? After all, the rich old guys who have sided with the old MCG Foundation are the ones dying and leaving endowments. The young ones with an affinity for the new foundation not only don't have as much money, they also aren't ready to die.

BULLISH ON THE OLD FOUNDATION: They tried to put them out to pasture way before their time.

Now they're sitting on their money bags and won't give a dime.

Comments (24) Add comment
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Junket831
0
Points
Junket831 06/12/10 - 10:00 pm
0
0
Why are the 2 clowns from the

Why are the 2 clowns from the water department that were targeted for removal on PAID leave? Either make them work, mowing the grass or some other job or put them back to work in the water plant. In the meantime, why is this case not being investigated by the Sheriff's office, the DA, the GBI or some other professional law enforcement agency? I think Richmond County officials have already shown they have trouble policing their own, so hand it over to someone who can.

Riverman1
84914
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Riverman1 06/12/10 - 10:29 pm
0
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Look, Junket831, having

Look, Junket831, having others punch your time card and faking meter readings just goes with the water department. Meter readers, Tarzan and Danny, taught me that years ago as I've said hanging out at the old poolroom on Reynolds.

If you make supervisor, the pool room really starts to make money with those playing on "time." Matter of fact, the pool room is probably the only one keeping track of their time. The pinball machines don't do too badly either. Yeah, the ones that "payoff." (Ha, Riverman make joke.)

Asking the Sheriff's Office to investigate is funny. Pay for "specials" to keep the Water Dept. workers in line and maybe something would happen.

Riverman1
84914
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Riverman1 06/12/10 - 10:32 pm
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As far as MCG, it appears the

As far as MCG, it appears the only one vindicated and showing any sense is the "Foundation." I've commented on things until the ad nausea factor has kicked in even with me.

Riverman1
84914
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Riverman1 06/12/10 - 10:47 pm
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The AC must have told Sylvia

The AC must have told Sylvia to start getting her column posted earlier. She was so determined to comply that she put it up early Saturday evening before the automatic lights on my dock had come on and I had drank my sixpack of Corona.

Little Lamb
46400
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Little Lamb 06/12/10 - 11:12 pm
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Can anyone else besides me

Can anyone else besides me see the inconsistency in logic here? Sylvia Cooper wrote:

Dennis and Allen are still on paid leave. Employees John Tucker and Cliff Pittman were not fired because their offenses were not as extensive and they did not lie when questioned. A position was created for supervisor Michael Hopkins, who claimed he didn't know what was going on. Except for member Chip Barbee, the personnel board and at least three commissioners agree that because all five were guilty, all should be fired or none should be.

To me, all five were guilty of something, but they were not guilty of the same offences. It is perfectly reasonable to give lighter penalties to the ones who are contrite and repentant and stiffer penalties to the ones who are defiant and deny wrongdoing.

irishfarmer
24
Points
irishfarmer 06/12/10 - 11:47 pm
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Heads should roll now and i

Heads should roll now and i mean NOW. It prooves what myself and others have said with there postings. B.B. Langham told everyone in a management position he possibly could this was going on. It was ignored time and time again. Hopkins knew about the time theft that was going on. Mr Goins knew about it as well. These two people along with both John Allen and Santonia Dennis need to be out of jobs period and never aloud what so ever in any shape or form to be involved in anything that has to do with the city of Augusta. It is time to wake up and smell the coffee folks. This person has done us a favor. Get rid of these people and now. Also charges should be brought against them as well. This is a serious thing and I hope that it will nort be overlooked. As well certain commissioners might find themselves finding re-election hard or future political campaigns. Tax payers dont forget and when the silent majority is done wrong they vote you out and they keep you out. I guess some commissioners will have to just find this out the hard way. Congrats to Joe Bowles for standing up and not allowing this to go unseen. I hope other commissioners will stand with him. Mr. Mayor you need to get off the fence on this one and stand with Mr. Bowles or your political future will be fading fast as well. Great Job Joe! Sylvia Cooper thanks for the article some of us tax payers who see right and wrong and not color really appreciate it.

466
Points
Lakeside95 06/13/10 - 12:33 am
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BB Langham is a true

BB Langham is a true gentleman. He tried to tell anyone with any power to change the situation. Time and time again he was ignored. I am amazed that he still has a job. I certainly hope that employees like BB are praised and promoted for helping to bring unethical workplace issues to light. In fact, I think that Augusta would be a better place to live and work if there were more men like Mr. Langham in all our governmental agencies.

HotDiva01
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HotDiva01 06/13/10 - 02:33 am
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Lakeside95 I could not agree

Lakeside95 I could not agree with you more. B.B. Langham is a true gentleman. I know for a fact though his career with Augusta Utilities want be long. It is because I truly believe now more than ever that instead of paying of Hardie Davis campaign debts that Republicans will finally support there own true canidate. 2012 will be here soon. District 22 vote for B.B. Langham and for real leadership.

andrew412
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andrew412 06/13/10 - 02:38 am
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That is a shame that Grace

That is a shame that Grace Edwards is being held back from magnet school due to race restrictions.

I am privileged to have received a world-class education from Davidson a few years ago, and I am consistently pleased to hear it ranks in the top 100 best schools in America. But the sad fact is- DFA is 45% black & 45% white. As calculated as could be.

I am white, but I am about as liberal as they come, and I still can't get over this injustice. I would be insulted if a public entity was giving my race a "leg-up" - and you should be too.

I'd like to think I got into DFA based on merit. All you need is C's or higher (completely average...) and a talent or an evident interest to pursue a fine art. From there, the selection should be completely random- no male/female, no black/white, no rich/poor. That is the TRUE definition of equal opportunity.

Brad Owens
4583
Points
Brad Owens 06/13/10 - 04:29 am
0
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Looks like the water plant

Looks like the water plant needs some cleaning up.

Brad

Dixieman
15309
Points
Dixieman 06/13/10 - 04:35 am
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0
I feel really sorry for the

I feel really sorry for the little girl who has had such a horrible experience at public school. Government school = child abuse as I have posted here before. Lots of private schools give scholarships. Westminster is the best, with really caring, supportive faculty and well-mannered kids who learn a lot.

factfinder
6
Points
factfinder 06/13/10 - 08:44 am
0
0
The carelessness, poor job

The carelessness, poor job performance, and blatant disregard for rules on a job can often be attributed to persons receiving a job because of who they know. Or when the workers in situations where it is obvious that appointments and promotions are made based on friendship and nepotism. Whether a person is the benefactor of nepotism or a victim, very seldom do people working in that type of environment strive to be excellent workers, because excellence is not rewarded. Maybe that is why there is such hesitancy about firing those employees, who clearly should be fired, or at minimum suspended w/o pay.
Andrew 412 the above statement is why it is necessary to use race, sex, and other additional criteria for selecting students for the magnet schools. The world is not free of bias.

Riverman1
84914
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Riverman1 06/13/10 - 08:55 am
0
0
Using the racial quotas for

Using the racial quotas for the Richmond Cty magnet schools is a complex issue. Sure it’s not fair to the little white girl, but at the same time it is an effective way to improve the scores of the black kids and create schools that match up against any in the nation.

I’ll argue against magnet schools in a perfect world because they take the best students from regular schools, but as far as integration, they accomplish it painlessly and effectively.

All that crazy busing that came about as a result of the Civil Rights Act didn’t do anything but tick off the whites and the blacks. Magnet schools have parents willingly providing transportation.

If the Feds wanted to improve racial integration of the schools, uplift the blacks and provide the whites a superior education, too, they should invest in magnet schools.

corgimom
33161
Points
corgimom 06/13/10 - 09:40 am
0
0
Grace's experience in public

Grace's experience in public school is sadly typical. You wouldn't believe some of the behavior that goes on there. I have had to literally wrestle a child to the ground- and he was 5. My experience is not unusual.

People, YOU are the ones that elect your school board. Make it CLEAR that you want better discipline in the schools. INSIST on it. Make it CLEAR to the principals that you expect proper behavior of all children- and that INCLUDES YOUR OWN.

Insist that teachers with experience working with emotionally disturbed children be hired- spend what needs to be spent- and set up classrooms for these children instead of that mainstreaming nonsense- which ruins school for everybody.

As it stands now, these disturbed children rule the schools. Why is anyone allowing this?

All of Augusta will be better for it.

disssman
6
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disssman 06/13/10 - 10:05 am
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Junket83. They aren't

Junket83. They aren't investigating because the guys didn't break any laws of rules. Go look at the city code, which explains how each department must operate, and you will "unfortunately" not find a thing about having to work at your job for 8 hours. That city code was last rubberstamped (no actual changes) in 2007 and a firm in Florida was responsible for updating it. Go look at it for a good laugh, its in the Legal dept of the city web. So now I say again, we all assume they did something wrong, we just don't have the documents to prove it.

smAShT
42
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smAShT 06/13/10 - 10:42 am
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So finally the Augusta

So finally the Augusta chronicle has caught on with what has been going on at the mental asylum know as highland avenue water plant. Such rift-raft like Mr. Allen and Mr. Dennis should NEVER be allowed at ANY water treatment plant again. If these corrupt operators are reinstated the public should fear for their health and well being. WATER IS LIFE---an Augusta Utilities department motto for years now...I don’t want these clown in control of anything that has to do with my life!!! I hope this Michael Burgess fellow has sent his e-mail to higher powers than our BOZO city commissioners. Im sure the EPD and the Secretary of States office need to know of such violations as falsifying state documents. Thank you Silvia for keeping this story in the paper. …maybe after all this is clear up the Chronicle can shed some light on the water operators who do there job correctly and uphold their duty to the community.

smAShT
42
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smAShT 06/13/10 - 10:50 am
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I still want to know HOW MUCH

I still want to know HOW MUCH OVERTIME did this crooks steal...i mean they where being paid any where from 14 to 17 dollars in hour....we need some hard numbers to really open the publics eyes!!! Revrend Run where are you?

myparrot
18
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myparrot 06/13/10 - 11:26 am
0
0
Since they are allowing these

Since they are allowing these guys to keep their jobs then what they should do is reduce paY to minimum wage doing the the most menial job under tight supervision then they will appreciate what they had and took advantage of. Getting paid full salary doing nothing is CRAZY!. It is great to have a board to hear grievance from employees. Sometimes it is not the work that is the issue but a boss wanting a place for a buddies relative or their own. You can be fired at most jobs because the new boss doesn't like you and can say what ever they want and you are gone. So the committee is a good thing if used properly this did not need review as the charges were quite clear it was on video they say. Where is the issue the proof is in the puddin'!

Insider Information
4009
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Insider Information 06/13/10 - 03:07 pm
0
0
It's quite easy to see how

It's quite easy to see how the water treatment mess will shake out. It will turn out the same way as all business with the city and the BOE. It's called WWTAD (What Would The Attorney Do). The city will get its directive from McKenzie and that will be that. Neither the city nor the BOE sneezes without permission from its respective attorney's permission.

LBenedict
2
Points
LBenedict 06/13/10 - 06:31 pm
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I concur...put BB Langham in

I concur...put BB Langham in charge of the whole thing! Well done BB.

irishfarmer
24
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irishfarmer 06/13/10 - 06:46 pm
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(LBenedict) I agree but sad

(LBenedict) I agree but sad to say B.B. Langham has not gotten the level of liscence to be in charge of the whole plant. The city of Augusta and the state of Georgia's EPD says that you have too have a Class 1 liscence. I also agree with you on saying well done to B.B. Langham. I have known him since he was a little fellow and i know all of his family as well and he is a great young man. So I say as another person has posted District 22 and the republican party of Richmond County support one of your own for once. Support B.B. Langham and help him bring a new era to Atlanta and our great state of Georgia as the state senator from district 22.

apex24
0
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apex24 06/13/10 - 07:55 pm
0
0
Admit it.The reason the Water

Admit it.The reason the Water Dept. employees weren't fired is because they are black. No one in Augusta government has the testicles to make waves if it concerns blacks for fear of being called a racist. Black officials in Augusta know this and pull the race card evey chance they can.

Little Lamb
46400
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Little Lamb 06/14/10 - 08:23 am
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They say that Allen and

They say that Allen and Dennis are sitting at home drawing "administrative leave" pay. As a taxpayer, I resent that. If the city is afraid they will commit sabotage if they are let back into the water plant, they could at least make them pick up litter all around town. Or they could think up something to make them earn their pay.

Ayetidiosi
2
Points
Ayetidiosi 06/22/10 - 05:59 pm
0
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Dear Sylvia Cooper of City

Dear Sylvia Cooper of City Ink fame: There are activities ongoing in Probate Court of Richmond County which make the water department look angelic. Please go ask some tough questions about sick time and full paychecks, harassment, and unauthourized personnel collecting 70k annually for a job which DOES NOT EXIST.
Thank you.

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