Sylvia Cooper

City Ink columnist and correspondent for The Augusta Chronicle.

Nothing good happens behind closed doors

  • Follow City Ink

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.

Comments (57) Add comment
ADVISORY: Users are solely responsible for opinions they post here and for following agreed-upon rules of civility. Posts and comments do not reflect the views of this site. Posts and comments are automatically checked for inappropriate language, but readers might find some comments offensive or inaccurate. If you believe a comment violates our rules, click the "Flag as offensive" link below the comment.
Conservative Man
5578
Points
Conservative Man 03/03/12 - 08:01 pm
5
0
Agree with Sylvia about the

Agree with Sylvia about the Walmart thing...any time our city leaders do something behind closed doors I'm suspect. Especially considering their most recent track record.
I'm more upset that these same "city leaders" think the ends justify the means...

Little Lamb
49020
Points
Little Lamb 03/03/12 - 08:35 pm
3
0
I think it is strange, but in

I think it is strange, but in Saturday's front page story, Fred (What, me worry?) Russell let out the the bag the fact that he got his marching orders to negotiate the Wal-Mart deal with Blanchard & Calhoun at the commission retreat! I think it is a bad idea to actually conduct city business there. The era of good feelings at the Marriott and the heady euphoria of singing Kum Bah Yah does not lead to cold, reasoned analysis.

Insider Information
4009
Points
Insider Information 03/03/12 - 08:58 pm
5
0
With regards to the

With regards to the commissioners hiding behind close doors, the saying goes...

People have affairs in backrooms and weddings in churches.

I've asked before, but can anyone name one legitimate reason to conduct public business in secret?

Austin Rhodes
2989
Points
Austin Rhodes 03/03/12 - 10:04 pm
1
2
Closed sessions are legit to

Closed sessions are legit to discuss pending litigation (so the other side does not get to hear your game plan), personnel matters (mainly to protect employees from false allegation later proven wrong...if they are legitimate, they are made part of the record), and real estate matters ( to prevent profiteering and land speculation).

Austin Rhodes
2989
Points
Austin Rhodes 03/03/12 - 10:07 pm
6
0
Oh...and there was another

Oh...and there was another time when a big government real estate deal was made behind closed doors, without benefit of an auction, or public bid...when the Richmond BOE sold some prime real estate on Lake Forest Dr. to Morris Communications.

csraguy
2395
Points
csraguy 03/04/12 - 12:45 am
4
2
I see no need to try and bash

I see no need to try and bash Wal-Mart to prove a point as Wal-Mart provides great products in clean and safe environments at great prices.

However, I see no reason this should have been done behind closed doors (even if legal) and if the city was offerred $1,000,000.00 from MCG then Wal-Mart should have to meet or exceed the current bid. This is $450,000.00 that we could use to balance the budget or provide for needed services that should not simply be given up.

broad street narrow mind
348
Points
broad street narrow mind 03/04/12 - 01:08 am
5
0
i don't think austin is quite
Unpublished

i don't think austin is quite right about real estate. i think closed meeting for real estate are only ok when discussing acquiring, not selling.

seenitB4
97406
Points
seenitB4 03/04/12 - 04:39 am
0
0
Not quite right about

Not quite right about sumthing....I gotcha!

seenitB4
97406
Points
seenitB4 03/04/12 - 04:40 am
1
2
Sylvia....Charlie Rich sez

Sylvia....Charlie Rich sez good things happen behind closed doors....go figure!

G'ment Watcher
97
Points
G'ment Watcher 03/04/12 - 05:59 am
2
0
Seems they want to purchase

Seems they want to purchase the property for one million. I think I remember the figure of 10 million going from the City to the University. Would we just be getting back one tenth of that? Walmart should have to match the highest offer of one million and will probably clear that in a year. As should everyone, I don't agree with back room deals, good or bad!! Sylvia - there is no such thing as "free' medical care from the University. Do you forget that all medical care provided at no cost to the patient is supported by the tax payers and insurance companies who are billed for services received by their covered patients.

Riverman1
93615
Points
Riverman1 03/04/12 - 07:28 am
5
0
I think BroadStNM is right.

I think BroadStNM is right. Discussions to sell land can't be private, only those when purchasing land.

Also, didn't Joe Bowles post a comment here that he knew nothing about Foundation offers?

Are we at the point where Russell and the Commission have become anti-GHSU? His comment you quoted was pretty close to that.

My goodness, folks, we are talking about GHSU v. a Walmart. Walmart moved out of the building in South Augusta and don't think they won't do it here.

We fought a losing battle in Evans to keep the Walmart out. The foundation is an altruistic, privately funded group that seeks to improve GHSU in AUGUSTA. GHSU provides thousands of good paying jobs from housekeeping to PhD.

Should we start tearing down some of GHSU buildings and try to entice a Dollar Store, too?

Riverman1
93615
Points
Riverman1 03/04/12 - 07:30 am
4
0
This deal reminds me of the

This deal reminds me of the contracting department with their little song and dance committee that could award contracts no matter the bid. It was have the bidders come in before the committee and give them 2 minutes to sing, dance and then have the members hold up a number. The losers were hooked off the "stage."

When you put unpublished conditions on government actions you are really doing nothing more than awarding or selling based on your personal whims which may have associated good intentions or may NOT.

Justin4466
43
Points
Justin4466 03/04/12 - 07:46 am
3
0
This sounds like another

This sounds like another issue of the commission making a bad financial decision if all Sylvia facts are true. What I find more interesting is how Sylvia can dig up the facts with dates, times, and documentation on this issue while being silent on the 7 million dollar loan on a $400,000 piece of property with the cities 12 million dollar parking deck on it. If you are going to be consistent can we have the facts. Clue: They are probably in the same place.

Willow Bailey
20605
Points
Willow Bailey 03/04/12 - 08:50 am
2
0
There are some facts about

There are some facts about City business that even Sylvia can't talk about. Backroom meetings are about three things, secrecy, control and deception. They don't talk about things openly mainly because they don't want any interference and there is so much to hide. Someone stated earlier, that this deal is about the out parcels, who owns them and how THEY can financially benefit from Walmart vs. GHSU. I tend to agree with them; in fact the word "corrupt" comes to mind. It's a shame we can't trust the city officials to do right on anything; the choices didn't appear that hard.

scott-hudson
10
Points
scott-hudson 03/04/12 - 08:43 am
4
2
Oh, I know Sean is going to

Oh, I know Sean is going to toss this, but I cannot resist....

Sylvia, when you and I finally retire we can be greeters at Walmart together...I can be the one that says "Welcome to Walmart, go to H---" and you can just purse your lips and shoot them the bird....lol

Riverman1
93615
Points
Riverman1 03/04/12 - 09:11 am
4
0
Well, maybe there's another

Well, maybe there's another way to look at it. When Sears moved out of the building on 15th St. the medical college took it over. If you look closely, you can still see the rubbed out Sears name. It's kind of a metaphor for the businesses that moved out of the city. When Walmart moves out due to the shoplifing and crime in the parking lot, maybe the school will get that empty building, too.

TrukinRanger
1748
Points
TrukinRanger 03/04/12 - 09:13 am
0
0
The greeter positions at
Unpublished

The greeter positions at Walmart stores are technically gone. Especially over night. They are supposed to use other available associates, usually a cashier to watch the door for people bringing in returns. They have also gotten rid of the "security" guards. No, they didn't really have any authority- but they were required to keep a walkie which was a direct line to the management inside the store and was extremely helpful in many ways. When it comes down to it- Walmart cares about one thing. Green. When you pay minimum wage for these understaffed positions, what do you think you're going to get? You get truck unloaders that don't come to work because their friends are off, you get overnight stockers that don't want to come to work, you have cashiers who'd rather sit at home and watch tv and lower level management having to stock shelves themselves, answer customer's endless complaints, move pallets around, unlocking and locking doors from one end of the store to the other continuously because other employees can't be trusted with a key and then wonder why there's no time to do what needs to be done in the office.

Riverman1
93615
Points
Riverman1 03/04/12 - 09:28 am
2
0
Here's another point. The

Here's another point. The Foundation doesn't just buy up land to make the most money they can. Until they could acquire all the land necesssary to build what they wanted down there, they leased out land for a grocery store. That's something the residents wanted and lacking in the downtown area.

The Foundation is sensitive to good uses for the land. Do you think Walmart is going to be so altruistic when they decide to leave later?

countyman
21630
Points
countyman 03/04/12 - 10:01 am
0
3
Doesn't Syliva live in

Doesn't Syliva live in Columbia County?? The negative comments seem to be coming from people who don't live or visit the surrounding area.. I still haven't heard anybody living in Summerville, CBD, Waters Edge, and Olde Town not be excited about the new Walmart...

People who are focusing on the sale of the land, seem to be forgeting the future generated sales tax.... The sales tax generated will easily trumph $40k within a few months of opening.. GHSU can still develop the 15th street Kroger, Fatmans property, and the GGHF site..

How can you expect to draw a large number of residents downtown or to the inner city with no grocery store?? That Kroger is old, and doesn't attract the population living in Summerville, CBD, Waters Edge, Olde Town, etc.

I'm sorry but having multiple GHSU buildings won't draw people downtown.. Grocery stores, bike lanes, sidewalks, bars, restaurants, theatres, nightlife, public transportation, etc will..

What if Kroger closes in 2014? The city is stuck with nothing, and GHSU won't owe an explanation..

seenitB4
97406
Points
seenitB4 03/04/12 - 10:09 am
0
0
countyman said... Doesn't

countyman said...

Doesn't Syliva live in Columbia County?? The negative comments seem to be coming from people who don't live or visit the surrounding area..

What do you know about what people do with their time....you amaze me sometimes.....when i'm in the CSRA I post from my daughters puter....so do you know where I am & what I'm doing???

heheheh...even GOB can't keep up with me all the time..lol

When we get you a countywoman...do you want a blonde-brunette -redhead??

Riverman1
93615
Points
Riverman1 03/04/12 - 10:19 am
4
0
GHSU jobs at the proposed

GHSU jobs at the proposed location will provide millions in salaries yearly. These employees own homes and pay property tax in addition to sales taxes at OTHER stores. GHSU provides Georgia certified law enforcement for their facilities. Why is this so hard to get?

Austin Rhodes
2989
Points
Austin Rhodes 03/04/12 - 10:44 am
0
1
Well...OBVIOUSLY there is

Well...OBVIOUSLY there is little need to close a meeting to SELL real estate, IF it is being done right. I can remember a behind closed doors meeting to discuss SWAPPING land to facilitate the new Judicial Center back when I was on the Coliseum Authority...

But in answering the original question by Insider Information, there are legitimate matters that must be discussed behind closed doors.

The biggest problem is when those meetings dissolve into side discussions...and when that happened a few times in my group, I was not hesitant to open the door and invite the press back in just to shut everyone up.

allhans
24885
Points
allhans 03/04/12 - 10:57 am
2
0
Boy. Lots of questionable

Boy. Lots of questionable dealings going on in the area. (Not only RC).
As always - follow the money.

Insider Information
4009
Points
Insider Information 03/04/12 - 11:11 am
0
0
countyman once again praises

countyman once again praises illegal activity. Not a surprise.

countyman
21630
Points
countyman 03/04/12 - 11:53 am
0
0
I live in the immediate area,

I live in the immediate area, and I hardly ever spend time in Columbia County..

Besides the CBD, and the businesses along Kings way in Midtown, and Monte Sano in Summerville.. The majority of the population in CC doesn't visit Laney Walker, Harrisburg, Olde Town, etc often..

sand gnat
675
Points
sand gnat 03/04/12 - 11:57 am
0
0
What some of us call MCG will

What some of us call MCG will probably not need the space. Just confirms the big picture of moving more of the school to Athens.

countyman
21630
Points
countyman 03/04/12 - 12:12 pm
0
0
Considering MCG students

Considering MCG students chosed the Augusta campus over Athens six to one. Ontop of 190 students in Augusta vs the 40 at the Athens site.. People forget we have the dental and medical school..

If Im not mistaken they wanted to make the property surrounding Kroger into an conference center.. I don't see how that's related to an medical school.. The new educational commons will break ground soon next to the $112 million dental school..

GHSU still owns Kroger and the Fatmans property.. Sunset is sitting right next door, and the GGHF site is waiting..

I'm sure GHSU is looking forward to the GGHF site compared to the Kroger area..

Woody Merry
0
Points
Woody Merry 03/04/12 - 12:14 pm
4
0
I am new to posting comments

I am new to posting comments but the closed-door stuff is very relevant here. My phone has been ringing off the hook this morning. Some very unhappy residents of Hyde Park were notified last night starting at 9pm that there would be a meeting today at 4pm at the Utley Center. One woman was crying so hard I could hardly understand her. She was notified by a neighbor at 11pm by phone as she was not at home when "they" were canvassing the neighborhood. Just WHO is behind this pushing this move through so quickly? The residents were told that a man from New York who specializes in relocation will be there. Who is he? Is he being paid? By whom and how much? They know that media will not attend their meeting on a Sunday! This needs to be looked into!

Little Lamb
49020
Points
Little Lamb 03/04/12 - 01:24 pm
1
0
Thank you for posting that

Thank you for posting that information, Mr. Merry. I have a church committment that will prevent me from going. I hope the media can get some reporters in there so the community can learn what is going on. The Hyde Park deal is shameful, and way smellier than any toxic waste dump.

Little Lamb
49020
Points
Little Lamb 03/04/12 - 01:32 pm
2
0
In the article in Saturday's

In the article in Saturday's print edition, the Chronicle’s attorney said he "gave notice" to the city government that its closed-door meeting to sell the land to a developer violated the state sunshine law about open government meetings. Then later in the article it said that the city was subject to being sued if they did not reverse the action. Nowhere did attorney Hudson ever say that he or his clients intended to sue.

Now, Hudson is being a good citizen in informing the city government that is violated the law and that there is a way to correct the injustice. But do you think the mayor, commissioners, or administrator care about justice and the law? No way.

Back to Top

Top headlines

More Americans traveling this holiday season

You might want to get a head start to Grandma's house this year. It appears more Americans - 98.6 million - will be traveling this holiday season than ever.
Search Augusta jobs