Nothing good happens behind closed doors

Every time the Augusta Commission goes behind closed doors I think the worst.

I’m seldom wrong.

Not only did they violate Georgia’s open meetings law two months ago when they voted in secret to sell the city’s bus depot for $505,000 to developers but they also snubbed a longstanding $1 million offer from the Medical College of Georgia Foundation.

Why?

They must like the idea of a Walmart grocery store on the 3.5 acres at 15th and Fenwick streets much better than a Georgia Health Sciences University medical facility. Who wouldn’t?

We all know how community-oriented Walmart stores are and how much more important they are to Augusta than anything to do with GHSU and the good it does.

After all, GHSU is only the No. 2 employer in Augusta, with a $2 billion annual economic impact on the city. And who gives a hoot that the hospital provides a mere $100 million of free medical care in Augusta annually?

Besides, everybody knows how concerned Walmart is about its employees and customers. That’s why they let their security guards go. And that’s why they’ve made the little-old-lady greeters move back from the front door and stand by the bananas. The next thing you know, they’ll be back in dairy and then out the back door, never to be seen again except on the obituary page.

Customer concern is also why you’ll see folks in Walmart standing in line at the three open checkout lines on a busy Saturday afternoon and at the pharmacy around the first of the month waiting to get their medicine. And God forbid you want to return something unless it’s midnight or 6 a.m.

 

THANKS FOR THE OFFERS … but all that’s beside the point. The point is, the MCG Foundation has been trying to buy the property from the city since 2006 and has offered three times in writing to pay $1 million for it.

The first written offer, dated July 29, 2009, was sent to City Administrator Fred Russell and all sitting commissioners at that time – Corey Johnson, Joe Bowles, Alvin Mason, Joe Jackson, Jerry Brigham, Jimmy Smith, J.R. Hatney, Calvin Holland, Don Grantham and Betty Beard.

Two others to Russell with the $1 million offer are dated Nov. 11, 2009, and Feb. 12, 2010. A separate letter of June 14, 2006, was sent to Mayor Deke Copenhaver, stating the foundation was interested in discussing the purchase of the property. There also is documentation of other meetings on the campus about Central Square shopping center, also known as the Kroger shopping center.

And on Jan.15, two days before the secret vote, Dr. Jim Osborne, the foundation’s president and CEO, two foundation board members and Commissioner Matt Aitken met with Russell, who was very receptive and said they would have further discussions, Osborne said.

The foundation’s offer is still on the table, but Osborne said he’d like to have a chance to negotiate “to get it down” since everybody now knows the selling price.

Oh, by the way, after the city reimburses the Federal Transit Authority $400,000 and the state between $50,000 and $100,000 for what they spent on the property, they’ll be lucky to end up with $40,000.

Oh well, it’s not about the selling price or whether the taxpayers get a good deal. It’s all about how much money the developers with dollar signs in their eyes can make off outparcels in the future.

And it’s fairly obvious somebody blocked the foundation’s efforts. The question is, “Who was it?”

 

FOCUS MIGHT BE JUST A LITTLE FUZZY: Republicans are in a lather over state Sen. Hardie Davis’ withdrawing his support on the Governor’s Charter School bill, accusing him of selling out Georgia’s children.

Davis said the agreement he had with the Republican leadership to support the bill fell apart after they wouldn’t commit to reverse the Republican redistricting map-tinkering that put Sen. Bill Jackson into part of Richmond County.

Drawing Jackson into Richmond County gives the county two Republican and one Democrat senator and weakens Davis’ power in local legislative issues.

As for rumors he wants to run for mayor of Augusta, Davis said he’s honored people are discussing him as a potential candidate in 2014, but that it is premature to be discussing running for an office that is 24 months away.

He said the issues facing the state demand his immediate attention.

“The citizens of Augusta need a senator who is
engaged and focused on
the issues affecting Georgia, like job creation, public education and transportation,” he said.

He and his team are also preparing for his Senate re-election campaign in July and will be ready “to launch against any likely opponent.”

 

EVERYONE HAVE A SEAT: The District 1 Augusta Commission race got a lot more interesting last week when community activist and former mayoral candidate Lori Davis announced she will run for the seat now held by Matt Aitkin.

Davis had previously said she wouldn’t run, but decided to get into the race after she and Al Gray, a cost recovery analyst, made a presentation to the commission about concerns they had with the TEE Center parking deck.

“It was mind-boggling to me to see my commissioner (Aitken) vote for a lease agreement on the parking deck when everything pointed toward it being a bad thing to do at that particular time,” she said.

Others who plan to run for the District 1 seat are JoRae Jenkins and Stanley Hawes. William Fennoy, who was in a runoff with Aitken in 2009, said he hasn’t made up his mind about running.

Aitken said a few weeks ago that he had not made up his mind either because of the constant flak he’s received. He didn’t return phone messages left Friday and Saturday.

In other local political news, the campaign for District 3 commission candidate Mary Davis announced “a very successful fundraiser” attended by more than 150 people at the Milledge Road home of Dudley and Marc Guitton. As of Friday, Davis has raised $32,000.

Also last week, lawyer Ed Enoch officially announced his candidacy for the District 3 seat at Augusta Fire Station 9. He said he chose the fire station because it is in the middle of the district and to remind everyone of a public safety need in Augusta.

 

A LITTLE HELP FROM A FRIEND: Thirty-two years ago, Richmond County Superior Court Judge Bernard Mulherin appointed Richard Slaby as Juvenile Court judge.

Now Slaby, currently the chief judge of the Richmond County State Court, has returned the favor by appointing Senior Judge Mulherin to help him with the day-to-day operations of the Probate Court after the resignation of Judge Issac Jolles.

Slaby agreed to manage the Probate Court until a new judge is sworn in next year.

So far, local lawyers Harry James and Carleton Vaughn have announced they will run.

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