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.
Riverman1
86837
Points
Riverman1 03/04/12 - 02:53 pm
0
0
The Chronicle never takes

The Chronicle never takes these suits all the way and demands damages and so on. It's always a warning shot over the bow to make county government play by the rules.

Little Lamb
46891
Points
Little Lamb 03/04/12 - 02:56 pm
0
0
Riverman wrote: GHSU jobs at

Riverman wrote:

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.

From what I get reading the quote from Fred Russell in Friday's paper is that the MCG Foundation offer came as a land purchase only. They had no proposal over what they intended for the land. It might have stayed a vacant lot. It might have been turned into a parking lot. It might have been rented out to a chrome plating facility.

Russell and Copenhaver saw the grocery store as a plus for the community. They knew that if Wal-Mart came in, the Kroger would shut down pronto.

Somebody up above made a good point about nearby out-parcels. They probably belong to some well-known players.

Little Lamb
46891
Points
Little Lamb 03/04/12 - 02:57 pm
0
0
Part of the hard work of

Part of the hard work of being a legislator during sessions is that you have to go to other legislators schmoozing and asking them to support your legislation. It's hard to keep up with the yesses, noes, and maybes.

Now we learn above that Sen. Hardie Davis gave his pledge that he would support this year's legislative proposal to allow the state Dept. of Education to authorize charter schools if the local district school district was opposed. Now, personally, I don't have a dog in the fight and don't care one way or the other. But I find it telling that Davis is reneging on his pledge. Did he have a revelation about the public schools after he promised? Was he presented with some new information from the local school district? Was he given an ultimatum from his Democratic party chief?

It does not seem so. If Sylvia's column is to be believed, Davis reneged on his pledge over a matter totally unrelated to public education; namely, over drawing state senate district boundaries.

Once again, Sen. Hardie Davis is shown to be petty, vindictive, and downright childish. That's sad.

Well, we know that Davis’ vote is for sale. And now we know the price.

Riverman1
86837
Points
Riverman1 03/04/12 - 03:04 pm
3
0
"joebowles Thursday, Feb. 23

"joebowles

Thursday, Feb. 23 6:07 AM

River, I have been on the commission for 6 years and have never seen any offers from the Foundation for any property. Last I checked we stroked a 10 million dollar check to mcg a few years ago."

Somebody is not telling the truth.

floridasun
310
Points
floridasun 03/04/12 - 04:00 pm
2
0
Riverman- I agree with you

Riverman-
I agree with you 100% that Walmart is not the best use for the city bus property on 15th Street. The expansion GHSU creates thousands of jobs from entry level to top tier all of which will expand the tax base. Can't say the same thing about Wal Mart
Oh and Countyman I live on the Hill and and I have never shopped at the Kroger on 15th Street and don't plan on shopping at the WalMart on 15th either. I don't know one person in my neighborhood that will shop at a Wal Mart on 15th Street

Little Lamb
46891
Points
Little Lamb 03/04/12 - 04:27 pm
0
0
@floridasun — the trouble is,

@floridasun — the trouble is, you are merely assuming that GHSU has (or had) any intention of expanding onto the bus depot property. They never hinted they were going to expand there. From all appearances, the offer was mere land speculation.

allhans
24003
Points
allhans 03/04/12 - 04:38 pm
1
0
Those of us living on the

Those of us living on the Hill and beyond have a choice. Those below the Hill - nope!

Riverman1
86837
Points
Riverman1 03/04/12 - 06:58 pm
0
0
LL, there was information put

LL, there was information put out that GHSU wanted to build facilities on the site. The bus depot property was critical to the expansion.

Riverman1
86837
Points
Riverman1 03/04/12 - 07:12 pm
0
0
The Kroger property was

The Kroger property was giving to GHSU from an inheritance like much of the Foundation's assets. This whole idea that the Foundation has ulterior motives and is some kind of uncaring profit making land speculator is out to lunch.

Insider Information
4009
Points
Insider Information 03/04/12 - 08:37 pm
0
0
This says a lot.... We are

This says a lot....

We are arguing over whether Wal-Mart is better than Kroger. We answer that question each day with our money.

But the real issue is whether government should be answering that question for us with our money.

Government has won when it can frame the question in such a way as to hide the real issue.

galaxygrl
1259
Points
galaxygrl 03/04/12 - 08:40 pm
0
0
Where are all the people that

Where are all the people that live in that district suppose to go to buy food? North Augusta? . The closest grocery stores are on Washington Road. Have you ever ridden the bus to go grocery shopping if you don't have a car. You can't carry much food and you can't get a rolling cart (not a grocery cart) up the stairs easily if at all. The people that get jobs from the GHSU expansion will live in Columbia County for the most part and how does that grow the Richmond County tax base. I agree with open door meetings, it has long been the law. I still think it was the right choice for the community.

Riverman1
86837
Points
Riverman1 03/04/12 - 09:24 pm
0
0
Galaxgrl said, "The people

Galaxgrl said, "The people that get jobs from the GHSU expansion will live in Columbia County for the most part and how does that grow the Richmond County tax base."

Ahhhh, now that's another story. If people don't want to live there look for the causes and fix them. However, realistically, many of the lower level employees at GHSU live around there.

joebowles
104
Points
joebowles 03/04/12 - 10:10 pm
1
0
RIVER, YOU AND MANY OTHERS

RIVER, YOU AND MANY OTHERS DON"T UNDERSTAND WHAT THIS SALE WAS ABOUT! IT'S NOT A WAL-MART STORE. Please look at what a "NEIGHBORHOOD MARKET by Wal-Mart" actually is. This is a grocery store! Not a Wal-Mart

Insider Information
4009
Points
Insider Information 03/04/12 - 10:28 pm
0
0
Commissioner Bowles, you make

Commissioner Bowles, you make a great point.

As you observe, a natural byproduct of secrecy is that those kept in the dark will be uninformed.

I mean no disrespect, but if this land deal had been discussed, debated and voted on in public, perhaps the public would be better informed.

dichotomy
34343
Points
dichotomy 03/04/12 - 10:47 pm
1
0
I don't care about Wal-Mart

I don't care about Wal-Mart and I don't care about GHSU. I don't care if the Hill people will or will not shop on 15th.

What I care about is that our commission committed another illegal act, behind closed doors, just like the coward fascists that rammed healthcare down our throats in the middle of the night behind closed doors. They do what they want to do and they ignore the public and the law. When will we get enough backbone to put these skulking, coward and crooks out of office? I know hookers who have more courage, honesty, intelligence, and integrity than all of our commissioners and the administrator put together. Doesn't it make you wonder why the only thing they seem to be able to cooperate on is illegal stuff? Please, somebody sue the bejeebers out of them over this. We, the not too bright RC voters, deserve to pay out millions in lawsuit settlements because we keep electing the worst the county has to offer.

Little Lamb
46891
Points
Little Lamb 03/04/12 - 11:56 pm
0
0
What dichotomy said was

What dichotomy said was pertinent. Was it possible that the city commission's disscussions and vote to approve the sale of city-owned land to a private developer were illegal because said meeting was held behind closed doors (i.e., in secret)?

Little Lamb
46891
Points
Little Lamb 03/05/12 - 12:01 am
0
0
Why not ask for an attorney

Why not ask for an attorney general's opinion, Hardie?

Insider Information
4009
Points
Insider Information 03/05/12 - 12:07 am
0
0
LL, if a court determines the

LL, if a court determines the meeting was held illegally, all actions taken in the illegal meeting would be null and void.

For that to happen, though, someone would need to challenge it.

galaxygrl
1259
Points
galaxygrl 03/05/12 - 12:26 am
0
0
Riverman, the cool people

Riverman, the cool people that Azziz wants to hire will not be low income workers that live in that area. Do you ever go down there? They will live elsewhere. Researchers and skilled professionals won't settle for Harrisburg or most of downtown Augusta. Of course, they could live on the river with you but that's a whole different demographic, isn't it?

allhans
24003
Points
allhans 03/05/12 - 12:28 am
0
0
How did Hardie Davis manage

How did Hardie Davis manage to be elected anyhow?

Riverman1
86837
Points
Riverman1 03/05/12 - 09:03 am
0
0
Galaxygrl, I did work down

Galaxygrl, I did work down there everyday for years. I still work there on occasion. I know what the staffing of those places is like. There are many lower level workers in hospitals and research institutions for every MD or PhD. If you want to see Augusta decimated start closing parts of GHSU and see those who live down there begin to suffer.

Joe, the whole matter is confusing and your past statements didn't help much. But knowing what we know about Walmarts or any grocery store, the area and the buying prices offered, I'll stick to my conclusion that selling the land to the Foundation was best.

Little Lamb
46891
Points
Little Lamb 03/05/12 - 09:32 am
0
0
Maybe we can make some

Maybe we can make some lemonade out of the lemon (selling city property without open discussion). Here's a rosy scenario:

1. David Hudson's clients decide not to challenge the violation of the open meetings law.

2. Wal-Mart builds their grocery store using local developer Blanchard & Calhoun.

3. Kroger goes out of business on 15th Street.

4. MCG Foundation finally uses the land where the Kroger was for some useful function of the medical school, which is what it was intended for anyway.

5. Win-Win?

Riverman1
86837
Points
Riverman1 03/05/12 - 09:40 am
0
0
LL, sort of. David Hudson is

LL, sort of. David Hudson is right though. He won't pursue this until the end, but he will expect some promises it won't happen again. I'm not sure GHSU will have enough land with just the Kroger, but maybe.

I don't know how Blanchard and Calhoun suddenly became entitled to so much money. Lastly, taking RETAIL business from other stores in the city-county does not help the overall taxes payments increase.

williamhitt
3
Points
williamhitt 03/05/12 - 09:47 am
0
0
This is nothing new for

This is nothing new for Augusta. Remember the Allen Park giveaway?
How many cities give away large city parks in the middle of town? Where is the new bus depot going to be located?
Signed A native Augustan and graduate of MCG.

Little Lamb
46891
Points
Little Lamb 03/05/12 - 09:50 am
0
0
Hi, William. The new bus

Hi, William. The new bus depot is going to be down on Hwy. 56 — I think between Lumpkin Rd. and Bobby Jones.

Little Lamb
46891
Points
Little Lamb 03/05/12 - 09:54 am
0
0
You are correct about the

You are correct about the sales taxes and corporation taxes, RM. New retail stores essentially take business away from existing ones. The overall appetite for groceries does not go up just because a new grocery store opens.

GuesS_wHU
3
Points
GuesS_wHU 03/05/12 - 03:35 pm
0
0
I live in District 1 and work

I live in District 1 and work at MCG/GHSU/GHSU-ASU.

I can not say that a new Wal-Mart will excite me any more then the Kroger excites me now. Sure it will be new but the benefit will end there and the newness effect will fade rather quickly.

I'm still wondering why anyone would expect people from Summerville and the Hill area to come downtown to what will be another dirty grocery store when they have Daniel Village.

Right on
209
Points
Right on 03/05/12 - 08:35 pm
0
0
Sylvia, You and David

Sylvia,
You and David Hudson keep on digging. I promise you are close to a bomb shell. Look out for the fall out because it will not be pretty.

Right on
209
Points
Right on 03/05/12 - 08:47 pm
0
0
Yes, the devlopers will make

Yes, the devlopers will make a bundle off of this. Mr. Bowles and Deke are thier friends. They will put the land together, package it, and sell it at an inflated price to Wal-Mart. There will be out parcels which will be sold from the develoment as well. Also a high volume gas station which will cause traffic problems. Maybe some of the prope
rty owners in the target area can get rich off of it now that the cat is out of the bag and are aware. The hold outs can come out on top as well.

...point to ponder
760
Points
...point to ponder 03/05/12 - 11:30 pm
0
0
A couple of items... *David

A couple of items...
*David Hudson is right....
**Someone will be filing the petition before the 90 days is up....
***Someone really needs to investigate about proper 'land sale' protocol...an appraisal must be performed "prior to" any City property being sold.
(***if our elected officials were men of ethics and integrity then this business would have never become an issue. BUT, as you can see, it is an issue and it does raise tremendous ethics questions for all persons involved. If our elected officials had an ounce of either quality mentioned above then this item of business would be pulled...null and void...and the land would be put up for auction/bid(with an appraisal supporting a min. price). (*Or the city should give the Foundation first right of refusal to purchase same with 2 appraisals being performed to determine the fair sales price). I'd say the price is far above the $550,000 unsupported number and much closer to the $1 million.

(*if the court must be petitioned in this matter to "clean" up the back room dealings because those involved "don't care about doing what's right" without court action...then 'all' of them need to be '............' **just can't put into words the right public punishment...)

Back to Top

Search Augusta jobs