Sylvia Cooper

City Ink columnist and correspondent for The Augusta Chronicle.

Concerns over city contractors' gifts nothing new

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So there they were Tues­day gathered around a conference table for a second meeting of the Augusta Commission’s ethics ordinance subcommittee: Chairman Donnie Smith and Commissioners Alvin Mason, Corey Johnson and Mary Davis.


Commissioners Marion Williams, Bill Fennoy and Grady Smith were also sitting in to hear the subcommittee discuss a process for determining the guilt or innocence of a commissioner deemed to have violated the city’s ethics ordinance.

Commissioners created the subcommittee to revamp the ordinance after censuring Grady Smith, Joe Jackson and Wayne Guilfoyle for doing business with the city. Com­mis­sioners Bill Lock­ett, Wil­liams, Mason and Fen­noy, vocal critics of the three accused, had complained the ordinance has no teeth.

Shortly after the meeting started, Williams asked Ma­son and Johnson to recuse themselves because of reports that they had received gifts and contributions from Heery International, the city’s private construction management firm.

Augusta Chronicle Staff Writers Susan McCord and Sandy Hodson had worked on stories that week about Heery’s fees and how the company wooed commissioners and school board members with box seats at Atlanta Fal­cons games and Atlanta Braves tickets.

The stories detailed John­son’s and Mason’s requests to Heery for money for community breakfasts, newsletters, neighborhood association awards, donations to nonprofits and scholarships. An Aug. 20 memo from Ma­son to Heery sought $9,800 to pay for those necessities.

Since being hired in 2003, Heery has contributed to many commission candidates’ campaigns. Memos in some company records indicate officials contributed to commissioners who supported their contract, which, by the way, is up for a two-year extension. Heery has also made about $9.5 million the past 10 years.

Johnson and Mason refused to recuse themselves from the meeting and afterward defended the gifts and contributions as being strictly legal, based on the current ethics ordinance.

Mason kept waving a copy of the ordinance around with this exemption for reporting requirements highlighted: “courtesy tickets or free admission extended to an elected official for an event as a courtesy or for ceremonial purposes.”

As for the donations, they went to the Committee to Elect Alvin Mason, he said. Johnson said his went for “community outreach.”

THAT’S THE WAY WE DO THINGS AROUND HERE: The current ethics ordinance calls for both the donor and the recipient to report gifts and contributions of more than $100 to the commission clerk by the following Feb. 1. But as far as we can tell, nobody has reported anything since the ordinance was adopted 14 years ago.

LOBSTERS ON LEASHES: Heery isn’t the only company that has contributed generously to commissioners’ campaigns and pet projects.

CH2M Hill, the city’s water consultant after the water crisis of 1998, and its subsidiary Operations Man­agement International, which managed the city’s sewer plant until it lost out to ESG Operations in 2009, wined and dined commissioners, made campaign contributions, took out ads on one commissioner’s radio station and supported another’s education program.

ESG also contributes to commissioners’ campaigns, as do many other vendors and contractors.

Anyway, after OMI received the sewer plant contract, then-Mayor Bob Young proposed an ethics ordinance for city officials and employees. Commissioner J.B. Powell led the subcommittee that worked on it.

“We’ve heard about the lobsters on a leash,” Powell said at one meeting, referring to a dinner at Morton’s Res­tau­rant in Atlanta held by OMI and CH2M Hill before commissioners voted to negotiate a multimillion-dollar contract with OMI.

“We heard about the proposed trip being paid for by a vendor,” Powell continued, referring to OMI’s offer to pay for the mayor’s airplane ticket to San Juan, Puerto Rico. “We read that in the media. … But yet you don’t read about other things that go on, that have been going on for years.”

What’s so ironically funny about this is that as chairman of the city’s Engi­neering Services Commit­tee, Powell had pushed for OMI to get the contract. After he left the commission in 1999, he did subcontract work for Ste­venson & Palmer Engi­neering, which was working for OMI.

I tried to find out how much money Powell’s companies made working for the city, and the best I could come up was $2.17 million, which probably wasn’t a drop in the bucket.

A GRAVE CONCERN: During the same 1999 ethics ordinance work session, Commissioner Willie Mays, a funeral director, voiced concerns he could be indicted for burying a pauper in a grave provided by the city.

“If we end up passing this ordinance that’s in there, I sure want to know because I don’t want to get caught in it,” he said. “I don’t want to be down there one day losing money in Mag­nolia (Cemetery) and get served with some papers for malfeasance of a gift from the city that’s going to a hole in the ground with somebody else in it under the technicality of a gift and doing business.”

IN THE LAND OF THE BLIND, THE ONE-EYED MAN IS KING: And never let us forget the bullet Augusta water customers dodged when Commissioners Jerry Brigham and Don Grantham convinced their colleagues in 2007 to get out of a risky $160 million utility bond interest-rate swap – a deal almost nobody understands. Among them were commissioners who voted for the swap after a year-long sell by the broker, a consultant and then-Commissioner Richard Colclough.

Colclough had ties to Jack Boatman, who in 1999 was vice president for business development for a company that sold a method of repairing leaking sewer pipes and manholes. It sold the city on a $525,720 contract to work on the Spirit Creek sewer line. The results didn’t live up to their billing, according to then-Augusta Utilities Director Max Hicks.

Boatman later worked for Gardnyr Michael Capital Inc., the firm that brokered the swap. Boatman donated money to the campaigns of Colclough and other commissioners, and to their neighborhood groups.

Boatman awarded a Jack Boatman scholarship at the South Augusta Neigh­bor­hood Alliance for eight years. He also donated money to the Barton Chapel neighborhood group, which then-Commissioner Bobby Hankerson was involved in.

Augusta was supposed to make a lot of money from the deal, based on interest rates rising or staying the same over a long period. But soon after it was consummated, interest rates fell.

Implementing the swap cost the city about $3 million in fees to Gardnyr Mi­chael Capital Inc., which brokered the deal; Deutsche Bank; IMAGE Consulting, a Pottstown, Pa., firm; and Kilpatrick Stockton, which split $75,000 with then-city Attorney Stephen Shepard.

Most commissioners admitted they voted for the swap without understanding it. Officials in Jefferson County, Ala., said the same thing after they found themselves owing billions on sewer debt. In 2011, the county filed the biggest U.S. municipal bankruptcy in history after an agreement to refinance $3.1 billion in sewer bonds fell apart.

As Grady Smith says, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”

Comments (21) Add comment
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nocnoc
60459
Points
nocnoc 06/09/13 - 08:24 am
7
0
I have to agree with our 3

I have to agree with our 3 black commissioners March 2013 demands. The Commissioners charged with these ethics violations should resign immediately.

Opps! we are NOW talking about 2, and maybe all 3 of the same commissioners, NOW discovered to have committed ETHICS Violations. The same group that witch hunted 2 White Commissioners and the 1 Other (sorry Wayne ☺) for trumped up/ political reasons, earlier in the year. But of course they don't think demanding $$$$ and accepting requested gifts, and then not reporting them is an Ethics violation????????

The 2 or maybe commissioners now charged with ethic violations,
unlike the commissioners earlier in the year, actually shalt $$$$ and gifts from contractor(s) to further Political goals and/or to personally benefit.

As Mrs. Cooper writes
"The stories detailed John­son’s and Mason’s requests to Heery for money for community breakfasts, newsletters, neighborhood association awards, donations to nonprofits and scholarships. An Aug. 20 memo from Ma­son to Heery sought $9,800 to pay for those necessities."

Look at some of the dates (August 2012).
This means while these commissioners were witch hunting, play political games and going after "other" Commissioners, while

they were likely the biggest Ethical / thieving Hypocrites in doing so.

obkad
233
Points
obkad 06/09/13 - 08:18 am
7
0
Tom Beck is laughing

To be a fly on the wall now... This is the exact same thing that was the brunt of Tom Beck. As is now being found out, the good ole boy whether they be black or white are now feeling the sting of king Marion who, though no one will say anything, is behind this.. Come on boys lets do what we want no one will say anything, but we go after those who questioned Marion, but low and behold comes king Marion and EVERYONE and everything gets questioned... we are off to the races.. opps, sorry Marion, guess you forgot about the race track issue.....Like Tom Beck we need to fire all the commissioners as they are ALL guilty of doing what has been an accepted practice for many many years.. but no is saying anything now.... HUM, this is going to get real interesting.. l

Riverman1
110880
Points
Riverman1 06/09/13 - 08:25 am
13
0
Tickets To Atlanta Sporting Events

Accepting tickets for local events as representatives of local government is one thing. Accepting luxury box tickets for events in ATLANTA is quite another and constitutes bribery under any definition. I don’t care what Alvin Mason is waving around. The big payments for the other things are so farfetched it’s ludicrous to even discuss.

Riverman1
110880
Points
Riverman1 06/09/13 - 08:32 am
6
0
JB Powell, You Da Man!

It’s nice to see J.B. Powell furnished so much information on how the money is funneled. JB is such a wealth of information. He knows intimate details about so many things and people.

seenitB4
116026
Points
seenitB4 06/09/13 - 08:39 am
3
0
Hahha ^

Bad bad Leroy Brown...

...point to ponder
802
Points
...point to ponder 06/09/13 - 08:57 am
8
0
Not public servants...

Each has violated the law as far as these donations are concerned.

No amount of double talk makes what they did right.

Each violation needs scrutiny by a higher authority outside of Augusta's legal department,

And it does call into question the receipt of Master's tickets. Berckman Road -- land deal comes to mind.

Riverman1
110880
Points
Riverman1 06/09/13 - 09:05 am
4
0
Point to ponder, tickets to

Point to ponder, tickets to the Masters can be justified in my mind. The National is not doing contract work for the county. They give millions to the area, hundreds of millions in economic effects. So giving tickets to public officials as representatives of the government is okay.

But didn't the National recently start putting photos on any badges that are given to these type people? I suspect that is to keep the tickets from being sold as I also suspect was done in the past.

soapy_725
44852
Points
soapy_725 06/09/13 - 09:07 am
1
0
Its true.....
Unpublished

Right is Right if no one does Right.
Wrong is Wrong is everyone does Wrong.

Politics is a dirty game and all who play are dirty. Some are dirty before the game, but all are dirty after the clock starts.

soapy_725
44852
Points
soapy_725 06/09/13 - 09:20 am
1
0
In the corporate world.....
Unpublished

The value of a meal "a reasonable person might eat at one sitting" is all that is allowed by a vendor or prospective vendor. And then with the expectation that you reciprocate later. This will "level the playing field".

Corporate buyer's are exposed to millions in temptation. When contracts are changed, some head for the early retirement clause. "Just before the fit hits the shan."

NO OBLIGATIONS!!!!

But the ARC of No Covenant cannot be run like a business? Right?

The ARC of No Covenant is one big "slush fund".

nocnoc
60459
Points
nocnoc 06/09/13 - 10:06 am
5
0
What Atlanta Falcons luxury

What Atlanta Falcons luxury suites prices
https://www.alsd.com/content/falcons-raise-suiteclub-seat-prices-4-2011

An entire super suite can cost $288,000.
Falcons President Rich McKay said the team renewed every suite that was up for renewal in 2010 and hopes to do the same in 2011.

NUMBER OF HOME GAMES
http://www.atlantafalcons.com/schedules/schedule.html
About 10 Home Games

Corporate Super suite $288,000. / 10 home games
$28,800 per game
Seating 20 to 25

$28,800 /25 = $1152.00 thereabouts.

If they flew to Atlanta and Heery provided a limo to the game
add another $750

These "GIFT TICKETS" and the travel, food and drinks (wet bar fees) could have easily been valued at around $2,000.

An they don't think that is a reportable or a incentive for an upcoming renewal vote, or a polite bribe?

Are those guy dumb as building on quicksand when it comes to their own Ethics?

Riverman1
110880
Points
Riverman1 06/09/13 - 10:29 am
4
0
NocNoc, your noting the value

NocNoc, your noting the value of the trips also brings up IRS implications. Does anyone think they declared these gifts/bribes?

Brad Owens
5221
Points
Brad Owens 06/09/13 - 10:42 am
4
0
Great article...

Sylvia left out that ESG gave $1000 each to Aitken, Lockett, Mason and Johnson.

Fat cash for commission races.

badmoon426
1197
Points
badmoon426 06/09/13 - 11:09 am
4
0
So Is Everybody On The County Commission...

...is ethically challenged? I am simply amazed...

The maximum allowed gift should be set at a reasonable amount but should not include luxury box seats for Atlanta sporting events. I think it is reasonable to set 'gifts' at less than $100.

Campaign contributions should not be allowed from a contractor to a candidate or an incumbent.

nocnoc
60459
Points
nocnoc 06/09/13 - 11:13 am
5
2
RM1 You bring up a good point

RM1
You bring up a good point about the IRS.

But I heard they are busy harassing conservative groups and don't have time for liberal politicians right now.
☻/☺

augusta817
88
Points
augusta817 06/09/13 - 12:12 pm
1
0
Grand Jury

The last one broke our hearts. No one wearing any orange jump suits. Every few years, I call for a run away grand jury whose motto should be, "If it don't (sic) look right, we're gonna (sic) indict. " I call it my defense lawyer employment act.

Sweet son
13670
Points
Sweet son 06/09/13 - 01:22 pm
4
0
A CENSURE would be appropriate for all commissioners who

have accepted campaign contributions and "courtesy tickets" from companies doing business with the city/county.

dichotomy
43049
Points
dichotomy 06/09/13 - 03:24 pm
2
0
It's all a game. Played with

It's all a game. Played with YOUR money. They write their own rules, get indignant when caught, get arrogant when THEIR rules say they can be crooked without being punished, and they think you will forget and forgive by the time they run for higher office.

Conservative Man
5611
Points
Conservative Man 06/09/13 - 04:40 pm
1
0
Concerns over city contractors' gifts nothing new......

....My question is; are the concerns over gifts nothing new?. Or is it the fact this kind of "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours", has been going on for generations and politicians ALWAYS find a way to justify it?....

itsanotherday1
53253
Points
itsanotherday1 06/09/13 - 08:01 pm
0
0
Badmoon, the maximum gift to

Badmoon, the maximum gift to politicians should be $0.00....; unless it is a personal gift from someone not involved with government business.

Not even a breakfast or lunch. I was involved in the medical industry and influence peddling from sales had come to be so expected that an organization was formed whose members were forbidden to even give away a logo ink pen or coffee cup. The exception was in the case of educational seminars conducted which intruded on meal time.

The customers whined when they couldn't get sponsored outings, Christmas goodies, fancy dinners, etc.; but it allowed companies to compete on merit rather than who had the biggest slush fund for greasing the decision makers.

GnipGnop
13136
Points
GnipGnop 06/09/13 - 08:03 pm
3
0
The Masters tickets to commissioners...

smack of a bribe when you look at the fact that they are trying to close a public road. It is definately a conflict of interest for any commissioner to vote on anything concerning the Masters.

double_standard
166
Points
double_standard 06/09/13 - 10:41 pm
1
0
I wonder why no one mentions

I wonder why no one mentions Jackson tickets to the braves game.

Riverman1
110880
Points
Riverman1 06/10/13 - 05:56 am
1
1
Yeah, but the Master's

Yeah, but the Master's tickets have always gone to Commissioners, the Mayor and others. The Berckman's Rd decision is a recent development.

Riverman1
110880
Points
Riverman1 06/10/13 - 10:45 am
0
0
Trivia

Who was the last Richmond County official who had to go to court for election ethics rules violations? Hint, it came about as a result of the Schrenko investigation.

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