Sylvia Cooper

City Ink columnist and correspondent for The Augusta Chronicle.

Nobody wins in Augusta Commission's Stupor Bowl II

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EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of this column incorrectly reported the year former State Rep. Robin Williams became involved with Community Mental Health Center of East Central Georgia. The activities that led to his federal prosecution began in 1999.

Roccontained The year The Augusta Commis­sion’s Stupor Bowl II took place Monday during commission committee meetings. The venue was changed this year to the Marble Palace from the TEE Center because commissioners wanted to have home-field advantage. Besides, none of them wanted to be seen playing there because of the controversy surrounding the center’s management contract.

When the whistle blew, Com­mis­sioner Alvin Mason grabbed the ball and ran with it by making a case for seeking competitive bids for Augusta’s ambulance service. In the spirit of good sportsmanship, he said the current provider, Gold Cross EMS, should be given nine months’ notice to prevent the contract from automatically renewing.

Mason repeatedly said he didn’t want to address any Gold Cross shortcomings, only the ones that might be in the 8-year-old contract.

Controlling the offense for most of the quarter, he called Fire Chief Chris James from the sidelines to speak on what he saw as the contract’s shortcomings. Then Mason sent Sammy Sias into the game. Sias, representing the Richmond County Neighborhood Alliance, was obviously itching to pass on complaints about the ambulance service, but Commissioner Marion Williams intercepted and asked why they wanted to fix something that wasn’t broken.

“Somebody ought to be showing me where we got to this point,” he said.

The clock kept running the whole time, and the first quarter ended after what seemed like an hour when somebody called for a vote on the motion to send the matter to a subcommittee. It failed, and the score was 0-0.

In the second quarter, public services committee members Williams and Mayor Pro Tem Corey Johnson blocked a lease agreement with Virginia Beach Golf Management for Augusta Municipal Golf Course. Johnson first ran interference by recommending they postpone taking action until after the city hires a recreation director.

Williams said he’s opposed to giving the course to “somebody else.”

“They’re not going in there just to break even,” he said. “They’re going in business to make money, and I don’t blame them. But just like they’re doing it, we can do it if we put people in place and hold them accountable, and stop paying them for not doing their job.”

When the vote was called, the score was still 0-0.

The quarter ended with city Administrator Fred Russell’s update on plans for increasing government office space. Completely renovating the Marble Palace will cost about $31 million, $18 million of which is in the bank. The cost has risen because of fire code safety and elevator requirements. Russell proposed issuing bonds for the difference, plus another $7 million for a new stand-alone Information Technology building on a corner of the parking lot.

Russell carried the ball for most of the third quarter, discussing budget items that hadn’t been approved. On the revenue side, $1.25 million in increased property tax revenue is expected from property discovered through new technology and $130,000 more from newly discovered cell towers. (There are twice as many as they thought there were.)

The finance committee agreed to spend $115,000 on a cell tower valuation project; $11,500 for public defender office interpreters, court reporters and witness fees; $86,180 for a contract compliance officer; $165,530 for tax assessor’s personnel; $64,600 for a Probate Court associate judge; and $75,000 for an Accountability Court DUI case manager.

The committee nixed $780,560 for employee raises, ran with forfeiting $500,000 in excise taxes on energy produced by local industries and punted on six other requests.

By the fourth quarter of the Stupor Bowl, many of the people from the Lake­mont Neighborhood Association who’d packed the stands had become stupefied and left. Those remaining pleaded with the city to modify an application with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers so that all of Lake Olmstead could be dredged instead of only a portion.

Property owner John Bailey went on the offensive and said that when he bought his property years ago, the tax bill was about $200 and is now more than $2,000. The lake is so silted up around his property that he can almost walk from one side to the other, he said.

The engineering services committee also punted.

Finally, Commissioner Bill Lockett called the game by deleting one item from his committee’s agenda, postponing one, consenting two and calling for a work session on three.

Afterward, some usually long-winded commissioners said the meetings were lasting too long.

Can you believe it? Wil­liams is back, and the meetings are lasting too long.

As for Williams, he says, “If you don’t want to work this job, you might not ought to apply for this job.”

ANATOMY OF A CRIMINAL CONSPIRACY: A federal appeals court in Atlanta has denied former Georgia Rep. Robin Williams’ appeal of his federal fraud conviction.

Williams was convicted in 2005 and sentenced to a 10-year term for a scheme that bilked millions of dollars from the Community Mental Health Center of East Central Georgia.

It all started in 1999, when Williams asked the center’s executive director, John Warner, whether he would let Williams’ friend Mike Brockman, who had been fired from Gracewood, come to work in the business office if it didn’t cost him anything. Warner agreed, and Williams put $60,000 in the state budget as a line-item salary for “the business manager at CMHC,” according to then-deputy director Sharon Haire’s 2003 anonymous letter to the board.

Brockman gained control of the money by hiring Williams’ company, CHS, as consultants. Then he convinced the board they needed a business contract to handle the money and wrote the request for proposals to ensure CHS would get the contract. Brockman then manipulated the board into giving them the contract. It then became easy to funnel money to Williams and back into Brockman’s pocket, according to Haire.

Haire’s letter continues:

“Next, (spokesmen from a public relations firm hired by Mr. Williams) told the board the commissioner would pay for the center to get a (Certificate Of Need) for a children’s unit. That it would not cost the board anything. Later, after the board believed an application had been made, (they were told the Department of Human Resources commissioner had reneged on his offer and that the center had to pay $250,000), he then charged the money out to two different budgets and skimmed off $700,000 to Robin and himself.

“He did this with the help of Chad Long, a lobbyist he was paying along with Rick Camp, even though it is against the law for the CMHC to employ lobbyists. He also paid Pam Ste­phen­son $20,000 for her role in this as a consultant. Next, Mike convinced the board that the commissioner was going to consolidate Community Service Boards and the only way to assure autonomy was to let Mike form a private company (Insight) and manage all of the contracts.”

Williams rewarded Brock­man with cash and gifts, including a $7,200 Caribbean cruise. He also paid his girlfriend, Patricia Fink – a former Hooters girl – $10,000 a month to run errands and entertain, half of which she used to pay for a $1.1 million condo in Hilton Head they were buying. She said Brockman hired her to work at the mental health center, but she couldn’t remember her job title or what she did there, according to her trial testimony.

The Augusta Chronicle investigated the center’s payments and contracts, wrote stories and pressed state officials for answers throughout 2003. The publicity helped trigger investigations that led to the conviction of Williams, Brock­man, Camp, Long and Augusta pharmacist Duncan Fordham.

WOULD THIS BE EARNED RAISE CREDIT? You know, kind of like earned income credit? You get the credit. But you didn’t earn it.

WGAC radio talk show host Austin Rhodes reported that Augusta commissioners discussed raise requests for Sheriff Richard Roundtree and State Court Solicitor Kellie McIntyre in a legal meeting. The requests were for $140,000 a year. Sheriff Ronnie Strength made $126,000 a year.

To paraphrase a local philosopher of things political, if you don’t want the pay these jobs offer, you might not ought to apply for these jobs.

Comments (55) Add comment
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Riverman1
86702
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Riverman1 02/02/13 - 09:27 pm
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Discussion Today About Williams

I just had an online discussion about Robin Williams today under the article about his early release being denied. Williams was an unbelieveable character. Poor Harlem boy, high school dropout and mall security guard who became a power with his manipulations.

Willow Bailey
20603
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Willow Bailey 02/02/13 - 09:17 pm
8
4
Who would ask for a raise

Who would ask for a raise after being on their job for only a month?
The salary was set when they ran for the positions. I'm quite certain their opponents would take it for the current budgeted amounts.

SemperParatus
3225
Points
SemperParatus 02/02/13 - 09:18 pm
6
3
Sheriff's salary

Roundtree has been in office a few weeks and already he's itching for a raise? If he gets it, his deputies should get the same percentage increase in their pay.

Willow Bailey
20603
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Willow Bailey 02/02/13 - 09:25 pm
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You brought up an excellent

You brought up an excellent point, SemperPartus. Did the sheriff also ask for raises for his men? Did solicitor, Kellie McIntyre, request raises for the staff?

Riverman1
86702
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Riverman1 02/02/13 - 09:34 pm
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It would be interesting to

It would be interesting to know what the sheriffs of Columbia and Aiken Counties are paid.

Patty-P
3516
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Patty-P 02/02/13 - 09:36 pm
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I thought sheriffs were paid

I thought sheriffs were paid according to the size of the city or something like that.
???

Connor Threlkeld
881
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Connor Threlkeld 02/02/13 - 09:40 pm
10
0
From our February 2012 salary

From our February 2012 salary databases, Aiken County's sheriff Michael Hunt makes $92,141.09 a year. City of Aiken's public safety chief Charles Barranco makes $77,875.20. Columbia County's Clay Whittle makes $116,892.41.

Riverman1
86702
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Riverman1 02/02/13 - 09:43 pm
4
1
Connor, thanks for the fast

Connor, thanks for the fast reply. But if Patty's point is valid, we would have to compare his salary to sheriffs of similar sized cities, I suppose.

Willow Bailey
20603
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Willow Bailey 02/02/13 - 09:49 pm
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Why, because the numbers

Why, because the numbers didn't come out right? One thing for certain, the salary was fixed before they both asked the taxpayers for the job.

Austin Rhodes
2903
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Austin Rhodes 02/02/13 - 09:49 pm
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4
There are minimum salaries...

...per state law that are required by population level, and the local counties can supplement all they want. Pretty bold to suggest this pair with zero experience in their new jobs be paid more than the veterans (especially Strength) who held the jobs so long. (Evans was the fill in for Harold Jones, who made the same salary).

That McKenzie would make the inquiry during a CLOSED legal session is flat out illegal. No way such a thing is legal under state law.

Riverman1
86702
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Riverman1 02/02/13 - 10:16 pm
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"Why, because the numbers

"Why, because the numbers didn't come out right? "

Ha....It is a well known practice when someone assumes a new position to negotiate salary and other benefits at that time. Strength had been in there many years and possibly it is time to raise the salary of the position. I don't know. What's the going rate is all I'm asking. Connor posted the salaries of the Aiken and Columbia County sheriffs and I must admit Richmond County pays lots more.

I'm surprised at how little Columbia and Aiken pay their sheriffs. Aiken possibly would pay less because they also have a City of Aiken police force and North Augusta has the same, plus some small towns have LE.

I think the gold standard would be to compare Augusta-Richmond County with a similar sized county and police force. Yeah, I realize Hephzibah and Blythe have small police forces.

rational thought trumps emotion
2614
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rational thought trumps emotion 02/02/13 - 10:05 pm
4
1
Patty and River

I believe Patty and River are both correct. Most of the salaries for the constitutional officers are set based on population. It seems we are being misled to believe that the Sheriff and Court Solicitor actually asked for raises but it does not appear this is the case. If Andrew McKenzie brought it up then it was done so as a legal matter on behalf of the county, not the Sheriff or Solicitor. One thing is for sure, the deputies are very much underpaid based on other local agencies and ones similar in size to Richmond County and that has not been addressed in years.

Before jumping to any clues or being misled, I would like to know from Austin, Sylvia, Connor or some official media outlet that can verify either or both the Sheriff or Solicitor actually asked for a raise???

Austin Rhodes
2903
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Austin Rhodes 02/02/13 - 10:07 pm
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I was told by elected officials...

...that McKenzie made the inquiry in a closed legal meeting. The salaries are in no way currently violating state law.

As to who prompted McKenzie to make the request...ask him.

Riverman1
86702
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Riverman1 02/02/13 - 10:09 pm
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Rational, that also crossed

Rational, that also crossed my mind. Who actually asked for the raises? Does anyone doubt Roundtree wouldn't ask for raises for his men? Do you even have to hear it?

Riverman1
86702
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Riverman1 02/02/13 - 10:29 pm
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Hey, Austin, do you have any

Hey, Austin, do you have any comments about Robin? It might be interesting if we went over that debate we once had about Williams.

Gage Creed
17842
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Gage Creed 02/02/13 - 10:30 pm
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River...I'll give you a

River...I'll give you a comment about Robin Williams...You left out that he worked for Wackenhut @ SRS; I believe he was a Lieutenant. Also that he was involved in Augusta Precast Concrete, if memory serves me correctly, that was a family business. A little different than the picture you painted in my estimation.

Riverman1
86702
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Riverman1 02/02/13 - 10:46 pm
3
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Gage, interesting, although

Gage, interesting, although I'm not sure what you mean about the picture I painted? That he was a mall cop for awhile? Dropped out of Harlem High School? Where, here or on the other article? Be specific.

My overall thoughts about him are that he was a colorful manipulator, an over achiever, who went after the woman whistle blower at the mental health center unmercifully. A scoundrel, but loveable if you can forgive the meaness against that lady and others.

I'm interested, tell me more positive things about him. I'll listen. If he gets out of prison right now, it wouldn't bother me. He's paid a lot with the years already.

Willow Bailey
20603
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Willow Bailey 02/02/13 - 10:43 pm
3
2
So we are going with the

So we are going with the McKenzie Epiphany Theory. It works for me, although there go those legal fees again.

Riverman1
86702
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Riverman1 02/02/13 - 10:51 pm
4
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Do you reckon MacKenzie has

Do you reckon MacKenzie has some type of improper collaboration going on with Roundtree?

dichotomy
34304
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dichotomy 02/02/13 - 11:09 pm
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How about let's see if

How about let's see if Roundtree can make it through the first year or so without being indicted or sued for something before we give him a 10% pay raise. I mean, most people have to actually work long enough to draw a salary at one rate before they can get a "raise" to another rate. .

Gage Creed
17842
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Gage Creed 02/02/13 - 11:29 pm
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River...I knew Robin

River...I knew Robin personally years ago before he got into politics. I knew him as a person with a very driven personality; my take is that he was driven to succeed. I also think this is what got him in trouble.

"That he was a mall cop for awhile? Dropped out of Harlem High School?" seems to describe a much different person than the Robin Williams I know. I have no knowledge to contradict what you have said, however, I do know that these things you have stated did not define the man I knew years ago. In my estimation, being a high school dropout or a mall cop isn't necessarily something that limits your future, conspiracy and fraud are another matter.

seenitB4
90557
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seenitB4 02/03/13 - 07:10 am
3
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Now this is funny Sylvia...

many of the people from the Lake­mont Neighborhood Association who’d packed the stands had become stupefied and left

Too bad we didn't have a few comments from these folks....even stupefied people can comment...I bet they would be interesting to read....:)

seenitB4
90557
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seenitB4 02/03/13 - 07:19 am
3
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Whittle makes $116,892.41.

That is not enough money for his job...give him a fat raise...thefolks in Columbia county are LOADED & they can afford it....I think $50,000 more would be nice...:)

ColdBeerBoiledPeanuts
8957
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ColdBeerBoiledPeanuts 02/03/13 - 07:34 am
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Wow, it' seems that Marion

Wow, it' seems that Marion Williams may have become an example that the rest of the commission should aspire to! I don't know what happened since his last term but he is making more sense than the rest of cast!!

Riverman1
86702
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Riverman1 02/03/13 - 07:40 am
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Hey Gage

I mention Robin Williams’ poor background as a plus. He overcame lots to become an influential State Rep. and lobbyist later. Many of us on here had humble beginnings. I know I sure did. I believe it makes you tougher. But there is no denying Williams went very wrong.

I find him colorful as I find some people who live flamboyantly interesting. Hey, anyone who can pay a Hooters girl 10 grand a month must have something going for him.

But what I find very interesting is the way people take up for him even today. Saturday, I had a conversation in the comments with some who are much like you, telling me how he really didn't do some things that I knew were accurate. I would point out even a minor thing about him, and some would want to confront me even though I knew it was true. I mean he summons those kinds of defenses. Extraordinary.

Sylvia’s column explained the true Williams well. The loyalties and friendships he collected were plentiful. One local newspaper man was a good friend of his in his younger days and if a book is ever written about Williams he should write it. Another media guy knew him well and I distinctly remember him taking up for Williams during the trial. He said something like while what Williams did was wrong, it wasn’t illegal. I almost fell on the floor when I heard that. Hey, if I had known him better, I may have been under his Rasputin spell too.

Riverman1
86702
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Riverman1 02/03/13 - 07:52 am
3
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Sure Whittle needs a raise.

Sure Whittle needs a raise. But his salary is not that far from Roundtree's now and Roundtree has a much larger department and county with much more "activity." The fair comparison is a similar sized county with a similar sized police force and crime rate.

grinder48
2005
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grinder48 02/03/13 - 07:53 am
0
0
11% Raise !
Unpublished

That's an 11% raise! How many of you got an 11% raise this year? I read stats recently that average raise in US this year was 2.5% (and that was wiped out by SS tax increase and inflation made net gain go negative). Granted 2.5% was average but people get raises for performance. What has Roundtree done? !

CobaltGeorge
164144
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CobaltGeorge 02/03/13 - 09:09 am
1
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CBBP

Glad to see you back. Really have missed you from the good old "Wild West" AC days.

CobaltGeorge
164144
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CobaltGeorge 02/03/13 - 09:13 am
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Yes RM

but even with his lower salary, his crime rate is a heck of a lot less than Roundtree's.

Riverman1
86702
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Riverman1 02/03/13 - 09:17 am
3
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CG, two ways to look at that.

CG, two ways to look at that. Should the salary be lower or higher in a low crime county?

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