New hopefuls for sheriff, commission dream big

Move over, Freddie Sanders, and make room for another Repub­lican candidate in the Richmond County sheriff race.

Former Deputy Mike Godownes said he’s running because somebody needs to step up and take the county in the right direction, “morally, ethically and professionally” and create a non-political, budget-sensitive department.

Now that’s a mighty tall order.

“I don’t owe anybody any political favors,” he said. “I wasn’t hand-picked by the sheriff. I’m not best friends with the sheriff. I wasn’t groomed for the position. I’m not related to anybody. And since I’m not directly involved with the department now, I can go in and make the hard changes that need to be made.”

Godownes, 55, was a Richmond County deputy from 1995 until 2005. He now works in security at Plant Vogtle.

He said his file with the sheriff’s office will show he was suspended for not doing reports and also because of a complaint from the public.

“Any deputy who’s been there five or six years is going to have things in his file,” he said. “Unless it gets cleaned up.”

 

WHO’S HE TALKING ABOUT? The sheriff’s office’s internal affairs records indicate Godownes was suspended for three days in 2001 for not doing a report required when force is used, and again that same year for four days for not doing crime reports. In 2002, “because of this continuing problem,” he was transferred from the road patrol to jail transportation.

 

ANOTHER CANDIDATE FOR DISTRICT 7: A man with high political aspirations said he’ll run for the Augusta Commission District 7 seat.

“I’ve been in Augusta 11 years and have always wanted to get into the political aspect of the arena,” said Brian Marcus, the owner of Mr. B’s Laundry and Housekeeping Services.

“I’ve always been interested in politics,” he said. “One reason I’m running is I hope to one day become a state senator and governor of Georgia.”

Marcus, 38, is a graduate of Savannah State Univer­sity, where he majored in business administration.

Former school board president Ken Echols and Geor­gia State patrolman Donnie Smith are also running for the seat.

 

OH HOW I WISH I HAD A CHODO, SO I COULD DRIVE A LEXUS, TOO: The hot topic in city politics is whether Augusta Commissioner Johnny Hatney should have abstained from voting to pay back $292,128 in federal HOME money spent by an organization he founded.

The vote set tongues to wagging so much that the city law department is looking into whether a conflict of interest existed when Hatney voted to repay the money spent by the East Augusta Community De­velop­ment Corp. East Augusta is a CHODO (look it up) associated with Good Hope Baptist Church, where Hatney is senior pastor.

Now really, does it take a lawyer to figure that one out?

In 2007, East Augusta CDC bought 12 lots in the Marion Homes subdivision with federal money that comes through the city’s Housing and Community Develop­ment’s HOME account. At the time the contract was signed, Hatney was president, a position he held until later that year when the administrative pastor at Good Hope became president.

The corporation was supposed to build low- and moderate-income housing on the lots within five years, but hasn’t, and HUD gave the city until April 20 to refund the money or face sanctions and/or loss of future federal funding.

Under the gun last week, commissioners voted 6-2 to repay the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Devel­op­ment the money from the city’s general fund.

Before the vote, Comm­issioner Joe Bowles asked whether the city could recoup that $292,128 from East Augusta CDC and $52,105 from the 30901 Development Corp. that was spent for ineligible fencing.

Assistant Housing Direc­tor Hawthorne Welcher said the corporations were sent formal requests for repayment March 31, but neither has responded.

It’s hardly likely they will, at least not East Augus­ta CDC, which owes $7,228 in delinquent taxes, penalties and interest for 15 properties in the Marion Homes area, some of which date back to 2006.

 

LOCKING THE BARN DOOR: Bowles grilled city attorney Andrew MacKenzie about the corporations’ obligation and liability to spend the money properly. MacKenzie gave a lawyerly answer, but in the end the answer was there is none.

“We’re operating nothing more than a bank helping nonprofits build houses,” Bowles said. “You know when that happens to a for-profit corporation, the banks come take that property and because these are nonprofits we’re telling the taxpayers of Augusta, ‘Guess what? You get to pay for it.’ I don’t understand why we can’t have these nonprofits pledge assets to our government to cover these funds you want us to expend.”

City Administrator Fred Russell said the city could do “some of that moving on,” but not this time.

 

TIT FOR TAT: Before making the motion to pay back the money, Commissioner Alvin Mason said, “While I appreciate my colleagues’ attention to detail at this particular time, I wish I had seen a little bit of this when we were going through the TEE Center parking deck and $12 million. I wish I had seen a little bit of this when we were going through the TEE Center, period.”

Mason, Hatney and Commissioner Bill Lockett have been ultra-critical of TEE Center and parking deck issues, the latest being an 11th-hour $399,083 bill to upgrade the center’s smoke extraction system to meet Marriott Hotels Interna­tion­al’s standards.

That argument went on for weeks, with Hatney bashing Augusta Riverfront LLC president Paul Simon when Simon came to the meetings to explain why the upgrade was essential. Last Tuesday, however, Hatney didn’t say a word.

After Tuesday’s meeting, Bowles took exception to Mason’s comment.

“He chastised us for not critiquing the TEE Center,” he said. “So he’s OK with his double standard, but we shouldn’t be OK with ours.”

 

LET THE PUNISHMENT FIT THE CRIME: Six months ago, Recreation Director Tom Beck received a 15 percent raise and more responsibility. Today he’s on unpaid administrative leave and could get the ax.

Well, what did Beck do to warrant the prospect of such an nonceremonial exit from the government he’s served for 37 years?

Did he leave a safe open overnight and lose a wad of cash to a thief? No.

Is he as dumb as a dodo? No.

Did he fail miserably in overseeing $8.7 million worth of buildings and equipment and hundreds of employees for the past 16 years? No.

So what did he do? He signed off on an employee’s time card that had hours she’d not worked instead of making her take comp time. Oh yes, and some employees said he shows favoritism.

My, my, I’m sure that’s never happened before in the history of Augusta government.

As one employee recently said, “It’s beginning to seem working for the city is like being in Salem, Mass., in the 1600s.”

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