Sylvia Cooper

City Ink columnist and correspondent for The Augusta Chronicle.

City Ink: Andy Cheek to run for mayor of Augusta

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Former Augusta Com­mission member Andy Cheek plans to sell his house in North Augusta, move to Broad Street and run for mayor of Augusta next year.

“Logistically, if everything works out like we’re planning it to right now, I will become a citizen of Augusta and will actively pursue becoming a viable candidate for mayor,” he said.

Cheek, who was elected to the commission in 1999 and served until 2008, said he wants to shine the light on city government.

“Too many things come to the table that there have not been public meetings about,” he said. “And the commissioners are as surprised as the public when the details of some of these arrangements become known.”

A good example of that, he said, is the move to designate the city a slum in order to create a 595-acre Urban Re­development Area and be eligible for tax-free bonds to help pay for Munic­i­pal Building renovations.

“And suddenly we’ve come to realize we need two more buildings as part of the renovation,” he said, referring to new Information Technology and Board of Elections buildings to be built on the Marble Palace parking lot.

The public has been isolated from the process, and you have to pull teeth to get any information about what’s going on.

“It goes back to the fundamental concept the government works for the people, and any information, any meeting and any document should be easily accessible to the public,” Cheek said. “There should be nothing hidden or concealed.”

During his last term on the commission, Cheek promoted a plan to turn Ellis Street into a canal to increase tourism. He held several public meetings to promote the idea, but it was deemed too impractical and costly to be pursued.

Former mayoral candidate Helen Blocker Adams, state Sen. Hardie Davis and Augusta Commissioner Al Mason have announced their candidacies for mayor. Reportedly, Charles Cummings of Super C’s fame has also said he’ll run.

BAN THE WORD ‘SLUM’: Cost recovery analyst Al Gray - and thorn in the side of government officials - took the microphone at last week’s commission meeting to speak against the plan to designate downtown Au­gus­ta a slum and create an Urban Redevelopment Area.

“When words no longer are required to carry their true meaning and devolve into meaning the opposite, all men and women should shudder, for in that immoral state, what is the meaning of right and wrong?” Gray said.

He contends that the redevelopment zone supersedes zoning and makes a property owner hostage to whatever rules the city puts on his property.

He said the city had violated Department of Com­mu­nity Affairs guidelines that recommend public and private input. He also said questions about the city’s plan are legion.

“Is it responsible to fund unlimited debt service with SPLOST funds that have not been approved?” he asked.

While much had been said about saving $2 million using the special financing, “one property owner could lose that being singled out for punitive treatment,” he said.

Commissioner Bill Fennoy said although the city might save $2 million, downtown businesses could lose more than that because of people not wanting to come into a slum.

“We were told we had such a good bond rating, and it made sense to finance the whole project,” Commissioner Marion Wil­liams said. “But now I’m hearing we need to do this. It’s got me a little jittery.”

Other folks got a little jittery too when Gray said he’d started looking into the government to find examples of fraud, corruption and mismanagement.

“And I sure found a treasure trove in Augusta,” he said.

WHO ARE YOU, ANYWAY? By this time, you could tell Mayor Deke Copenhaver was getting fed up and told Gray to tone it down.

“Look, we’ve got a lot of other business to do,” he said. “Are you a Richmond County taxpayer? Where’s your place of residence?”

“My final resting place is Westover Cemetery if that matters to you, sir,” replied the Lincolnton resident.

“You’re not dead yet,” said the mayor, who then questioned Gray’s qualifications as an expert witness.

“I would love a list of references,” Copenhaver said. “That would be great. And some background information on how you’ve got this professional designation.”

Gray tried to respond but got cut off. City Adminis­trator Fred Russell who’d been doing a slow burn said Gray had “shared a lot that was not accurate, a lot that was personal opinion” and didn’t match the credentials and expertise of the experts who’d been doing the city’s bond work for 15 years.

“You’ve heard one side of the story from Mr. Gray,” he said.

Commissioner Bill Lockett asked the mayor to advise Russell not to talk so loud because he’d gotten onto a recent speaker for doing that.

Russell apologized and asked financial adviser Dianne McNabb to give them the “facts.”

McNabb assured commissioners that the Community Affairs guidelines allowed for officials to develop an urban redevelopment plan privately or publicly and that URAs facilitated private sector projects. She also said the city would save millions on interest with tax-free bonds.

As for the word “slum,” she said she wasn’t sure how anybody coming into Au­gusta could ever know it was designated as a slum, which some in the audience found humorous.

WELL, THAT’S SOMETHING POSITIVE: Afterward, I asked Gray what he thought about his reception. Among other things, he said ”the Augusta Commission are paragons of good government compared to the idiot Gold Domers who concocted the URA, URD and URP deception.”

I CAN’T SEE A SINGLE STORM CLOUD IN THE SKY, BUT I SURE CAN SMELL THE RAIN TAX: The city’s chief engineer, Abie Ladson, says he needs $4.15 million more next year to maintain the city’s roads, streets, ditches, drains, trees, weeds, buy equipment and manage projects funded by the transportation sales tax.

Commissioners authorized Ladson to plan for a “rain tax” last year, which he said will wash away all of his problems. Too bad it will also give property owners a good soaking.

Landfill Director Mark Johnson proposes raising garbage fees $1.13 a month next year. He also proposes adding a $3 monthly street sweeping fee. The chart he presented at last week’s budget meeting didn’t say exactly who’d pay the street sweeping fee. Neither did he, unless that’s when I dozed off the first time.

Week before last, Sheriff Richard Roundtree and Fire Chief Chris James asked for 5 percent pay raises for their employees, $1.8 million and $800,000 respectively.

And there’s more to come.

EXPLODING THE MYTH: Rus­sell almost always prefaces his budget remarks by saying Augusta has one of the lowest tax rates in the state. Last week’s budget hearing was no exception.

“And this is what totally amazes me that I talk about over and over and over,” he said. “On a $100,000 house, you pay the government about $986.31. Less than a thousand dollars. You’ve got cable TV, you’re paying more than that.”

A few minutes later, Com­mis­sioner Donnie Smith asked Russell to go back to the chart showing the $986.31 tax bill. Smith said someone who owned a $100,000 house had told him his tax bill was $1,400.

Looking at the chart, Smith said, “I see what’s missing: $310 dollars for the landfill. Street lights are about $95 and something like $225 for fire protection. So that would be the figure to get that up to $1,400.”

And you can change the channel on cable TV.

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flcracker
137
Points
flcracker 09/22/13 - 12:25 pm
3
1
New buildings, less parking?

So after the Board of Elections and IT buildings are added to the Municipal Building parking lot, where are people going to park their cars? Any plans for that?

Gage Creed
18871
Points
Gage Creed 09/22/13 - 12:33 pm
3
2
So ARC is going to borrow in

So ARC is going to borrow in excess of $400 Million dollars against the TSPLOST? In return we get Walmart, a frat house, a doc in a box and a sunken, dressed up I. M. Pei building? Shirley you jest? (yes the Shirley was intentional.)

mdl1946
1131
Points
mdl1946 09/22/13 - 12:36 pm
6
1
NO NO NO

Andy please don't move back to Augusta , 8 years is enough.

Stay in N.A.

countyman
21299
Points
countyman 09/22/13 - 01:01 pm
2
8
Gage Creed... The only

Gage Creed... The only project some commissioners want to use T-Splost for is the municipal building. The citizens of Richmond County already voted for $18 million to improve the municipal building.

It's no point of debating somebody who tries to spin a $75 million biotech park or $225 million student/retail development..

I guess metro Augusta turned into Raleigh last night, and were used to bio tech parks... Or Augusta is now Columbus, OH home of the buckeyes, and the $225 million residential/retail development is the norm..

Little Lamb
47950
Points
Little Lamb 09/22/13 - 01:03 pm
5
1
Experts

Sylvia Cooper wrote:

City Adminis­trator Fred Russell . . . said Gray had “shared a lot that was not accurate, a lot that was personal opinion” and didn’t match the credentials and expertise of the experts [i.e., financial consultant Dianne McNabb -- LL] who’d been doing the city’s bond work for 15 years.

This Dianne McNabb is the one who convinced Russell and Copenhaver to float the bonds without letting the people vote on them. It was Al Gray, the Lincolnton carpetbagger, who stood up for the citizens of Richmond County and argued hard for a referendum of, by, and for the people.

A city or county government should not take on bonded indebtedness without a referendum of the voters.

Little Lamb
47950
Points
Little Lamb 09/22/13 - 01:06 pm
6
3
Wal-Mart

I wonder how much of the $10 million to build a Wal-Mart grocery store is going to be put up by the taxpayers? In other cities Wal-Mart finances its own stores, but in Augusta, we taxpayers will happily finance it for you, because of the "economic impact" you bring us.

gargoyle
19553
Points
gargoyle 09/22/13 - 01:22 pm
4
1
What the Social Entrepreneurs

What the Social Entrepreneurs Downtown gloss over is that a 40 million bond hangs a 250 dollar rock around every tax paying citizen in Richmond County's neck and we all know that not every citizen in our fair town has to carry the rock. The weight of all the rocks to revitalize the CBD are taking a toll, according to city-data.com we have already have a higher cost of living than the US average coupled with a high poverty rate that are a one-two punch you can't tax and spend a way out of. The fiscal and social problems we face can't be solved wheeling wheelbarrows of money to four square miles of Downtown acreage .

countyman
21299
Points
countyman 09/22/13 - 01:26 pm
2
5
The Walmart is private

The Walmart is private construction similar to the one under construction on Wrightsboro rd... Everybody offers some type of tax breaks especially when you're trying to revitalize certain areas.

The metro Augusta area is really backwards in terms of thinking, because they seem to think suburbs can lead us to prosperity.

Why do people have a problem with Augusta using the plan, but not Martinez?

Do they really think the metro or CSRA can really move forward with the new Carolina Pottery or Urban Outfitters call center in Martinez?

How can you expect the CSRA to really boom without the urban core of Augusta building mega projects like th bio tech parks or student/housing developments?

my.voice
5085
Points
my.voice 09/22/13 - 01:35 pm
6
1
Andy got spanked running in

Andy got spanked running in Aiken County. I wouldnt vote for him f he was running for postal carrier. He's a bully having experienced that first hand with him. His grandiose visions of his intellect are sickening. He calls Austin Rhodes and you'd think he's got honey dripping from his lips. But mark my words, the REAL Andy Cheek is a much different person.

But I will be glad to see all that crap out of his front yard, looks like an episode from Sanford and Son.

countyman
21299
Points
countyman 09/22/13 - 02:09 pm
3
6
Gargoyle... Have you ever

Gargoyle... Have you ever been to downtown Savannah, Charleston, Greenville, Columbia, Chattanooga, etc?

Do you really believe Augusta has invested the same amount of funds into the CBD compared to those cities?

The city of Greenville is only around 60k, and the metro population is over 800k which is larger than the CSRA(over 700k).

The population of Greenville County is over 400k people, and it's the largest county in the state of South Carolina...

Why do the leaders of Greenville who live in a county with over 400k think it's important to have a strong urban core(which is only 60k)?

Why can't Augusta invest all over the county? We don't have to choose between the CBD or South Augusta, especially when Forest Hills/West Augusta/Hephzibah/Southwest Augusta/Blythe/Old Town/Harrisburg/ Medical District/North Richmond exist...

LillyfromtheMills
14058
Points
LillyfromtheMills 09/22/13 - 02:17 pm
5
1
Very sad that a little govt like Augusta can't succeed

It would be so refreshing if at least our local government worked - we have lost the federal govt - Lock, stock and barrel

SRD
469
Points
SRD 09/22/13 - 02:54 pm
3
6
I know Andy

I wouldn't support him because he is the obvious best choice, I wouldn't support him because I know he is a man of principle and faith, I wouldn't support him because he understands how we the people feel as one of the people, I wouldn't support him because he truly loves the CSRA and understands that if Augusta isn't working the entire CSRA will feel the repercussions. I would however support him because I know that he genuinely loves the CSRA and he cannot be bought and he will work hard for all of the people in Augusta. Helen Blocker Adams, although a fine woman couldn't run a business properly much run a city. Hardie Davis in my opinion is already ruined by the corruption that he has become a part of in Atlanta, and lastly I believe Alvin Mason to be a racial divider with all of his decisions. You all have a decision to make and it could be a make or break for the citizens in Augusta. You think it can't get much worse than a "Slum" just look what happened to Detroit and how it happened. Having to designate a city a "Slum" for money you don't have to spend is a disgrace to the once referred to "Garden City". Deke, Russell, and the rest of the spend-alcoholics don't get it! People are broke, businesses are hurting. It's just a good thing Augusta can't print their own money!

gargoyle
19553
Points
gargoyle 09/22/13 - 02:59 pm
3
1
How Much ?

How Much More resources do the Social Entrepreneurs Downtown need before the rest of us get to even dream about being mentioned in one of the T splost or other boondoggles crammed through. The new trend of bypassing the voters for securing bonds makes highly likely the tax payers will have larger than ever bills to pay. How much more tax money will it take to make the CBD succeed

GnipGnop
12692
Points
GnipGnop 09/22/13 - 03:10 pm
6
1
Good question....

Why can't Augusta invest all over the county? We don't have to choose between the CBD or South Augusta, especially when Forest Hills/West Augusta/Hephzibah/Southwest Augusta/Blythe/Old Town/Harrisburg/ Medical District/North Richmond exist...why don't you ask fred? While you are at it ask him why he hasn't fixed the illegal property tax system. Why does Augusta need a mayor? It's obvious Fred and the rich land owners run Augusta. Deke is a puppet, always has been.
I wouldn't support Andy Cheek for dog catcher. He proved his worth when he became Marion's brother. He's useless and I don't care how many times he calls Austin nor do i care how much Austin loves him. I am also curious as to how Countyman knows the majority of Aiken county is against something when no vote was taken. Maybe he did a straw poll when he was out counting state tags in different areas of the CSRA?

Darby
28357
Points
Darby 09/22/13 - 03:55 pm
6
2
"The current amount of apathy and negativity

will get this city nowhere.."

.
Neither will bullheadedness and extravagant waste of limited resources.

Gage Creed
18871
Points
Gage Creed 09/22/13 - 06:51 pm
6
1
When one entity sucks up all

When one entity sucks up all the resources... there will be discord... if the policy continues there will be revolt... it's history and human nature....

dichotomy
36258
Points
dichotomy 09/22/13 - 09:50 pm
3
1
" It's just a good thing

" It's just a good thing Augusta can't print their own money!"

That is what they are trying to do with this "slum" program (whether they use the word or qualify another way). This is a way for them to "print" money by borrowing it without going to the voters and then we are stuck paying it back either through a SPLOST or from the General Revenue Fund.

bubbasauce
23036
Points
bubbasauce 10/15/13 - 11:37 pm
1
0
To Young freds post, its all

To Young freds post, its all about thinking that you have power. Andy is arrogant. I have also seen him in action.
Dichotomy, You need to run for Mayor of Augusta! Very well said with your comments.

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