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.

Comments (47)

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Gage Creed
12333
Points
Gage Creed 09/21/13 - 07:42 pm
11
2

Poor Boy King... I wonder if

Poor Boy King... I wonder if he crossed his arms and stomped his foot?

badmoon426
789
Points
badmoon426 09/21/13 - 08:25 pm
11
3

Exactly what are...

...Diane McNabb's qualifications for her position as expert on the matter of declaring Augusta Slum City of the South?

Riverman1
70320
Points
Riverman1 09/21/13 - 08:27 pm
10
5

Fill 'er up

We better get them to run that Keystone pipeline all the way to Augusta if Andy Cheek is going to start getting free gas again.

badmoon426
789
Points
badmoon426 09/21/13 - 08:47 pm
9
2

So when do you rush...

...to label a district or neighborhood as a slum without doing public hearings especially since this proposed classification will affect businesses and residents living in the downtown area?

Oh I forgot this is Augusta. The last time something like this got done in Augusta was the TEE Center, which is still the only publicly financed building I know the is attached and integrated with a privately owned complex.

Riverman1
70320
Points
Riverman1 09/21/13 - 08:50 pm
14
3

Deke's Phone Should Stay Off

Deke’s strategy is to attack the messenger and ignore the facts. He wants to slam Al Gray with innuendo and allows Fred Russell to shout at Al like the fat kid watching a fight and screaming, “hit him.” Some city government.

Heck, I’d like some background info on Deke. He began his education at UGA, but left. Later he finished at ASU. He started to work at Nations Bank in Atlanta, but left there and went to Beaufort. He started selling houses and was a partner in a real estate firm. He left there and came to Augusta and started selling houses again. After he became Mayor of Augusta he couldn’t be found for days during the Cherry Tree Crossing riots. He said he was at the beach and his phone was turned off.

What was that about the Commission being more respectful and courteous? Let’s see if Deke’s manners get any better at the next meeting.

Conservative Man
4578
Points
Conservative Man 09/21/13 - 09:13 pm
11
2

Fred (what me worry?) Russell....

...says we have one of the lowest tax rates in the state....hmmm...

Yet we have multiple department heads asking for tax increases to pay for various needed services that RC does not have the money to pay for right now...

But STILL city leaders are more concerned with getting "slum" designations in order to garner federal funds to pay for their buddies pet projects and sticking regular RC citizens with larger tax bills...

Some "welfare" cheats wear hoodies......but in Augusta they wear ties..

countyman
16777
Points
countyman 09/21/13 - 09:24 pm
4
16

Why doesn't Al Gray move to

Why doesn't Al Gray move to Richmond County if he's so concerned? Why doesn't he use the same expertise during the CC or AC meetings? I think you should always respect the outside perspective, but the designation will ultimately affect the residents of Richmond County. What are his plans for attracting 'growth' to Augusta if we don't approve the plan? The problem with Augusta now is choosing between doing it one way or absolutely nothing. There's never an plan B to move the city forward..

The citizens will always suffer when more people are concerned with fighting every single issue compared to presenting new ideas themselves.

The designation has proven to attract private investment around the state of Georgia.

Do some people really want to help the citizens of Augusta or stick it to some local politicians?

Let's get rid of the word 'slum', but definitely continue with the plan... The city should use every single avenue possible to save taxpayer money while attracting private investment.

Badmoom... The residents of Richmond County voted for the TEE Center, and you might have it mistaken with the exhibition hall in Grovetown(no vote)... What public hearings did the government in CC have?

Riverman... Deke was ELECTED by the majority of Richmond County... Over 60% in two straight elections.. The commissioners might get elected in their district, but not Deke.

Conservative Man
4578
Points
Conservative Man 09/21/13 - 09:33 pm
11
3

Al Gray...

...doesn't NEED to use his expertise during CC or AC meetings because they aren't "target rich environments"...Augusta-Richmond County is..

This city and those that run it,(not elected, but those who buy the votes) is one of the most crooked in the region..and all the so-called "development" will not change that reality..
As I said earlier...Some welfare cheats wear hoodies ...In Augusta they wear ties...

nocnoc
30670
Points
nocnoc 09/21/13 - 09:39 pm
7
2

If we give them more Tax $$$$,

they'll spend or waste it and come back for more.

Richmond Co., since consolidation with Augusta, is nothing more than a Dumping Ground and a $$$$ source to Save the A.

Demographically the direction ARC is growing is not conducive of increasing Property values, the situation can't last long without more and more NEW taxes, as we are already seeing.

Besides, NA/SC and Columbia Co. are to close for a taxpayer to stick around just for a job, the way it is going.

Riverman1
70320
Points
Riverman1 09/21/13 - 09:41 pm
15
3

Give You Two Dekes For One Al Gray

Countyman said, "The commissioners might get elected in their district, but not Deke."

Earth shattering information there even if it doesn’t make much sense. All the districts vote for mayor. But if you want to get into the election of Deke, it's an interesting subject. He grew up in Columbia County and had absolutely no experience in government other than serving on conservation boards. His career had consisted of bouncing around in different cities selling houses. He did get lots of money from his father and he had far more than Willie Mays and the others. He brought in high priced PR firms from Atlanta to manage his campaign. They ran polls on everything to give him talking points. TV was inundated with his spots. Well, he won handily. Look what we got.

badmoon426
789
Points
badmoon426 09/21/13 - 10:06 pm
13
3

Countyman...

...Al Gray is active not only in Richmond County but also Columbia County with the Magnolia Trace fiasco and the new Falcon's Stadium fiasco in waiting.

Well if the mayor and his boy Fred get their way I wonder how many businesses you will get to open in a blighted area call the CBD as you constantly refer to Downtown Augusta.

Thank you Mayor Copenhaver and Fred Russell for giving Augusta a new honorific, 'Slum City of the South'. It should play well with Master's guests.

District 8 RCBOE
17
Points
District 8 RCBOE 09/21/13 - 10:08 pm
7
2

Andy Cheek to run for Mayor of Augusta

I predict Andy will get more votes than he did when he ran for North Augusta City Council but less than his brother Robert when he unsuccessfully ran for the Board of Education.

badmoon426
789
Points
badmoon426 09/21/13 - 10:10 pm
10
2

Riverman, I was talking to a friend...

...they had the same question what are Deke Copenhaver's credentials to be mayor based on his professional résumé besides marrying well and being connected?

dichotomy
26538
Points
dichotomy 09/22/13 - 12:27 am
15
4

"Commissioners authorized

"Commissioners authorized Ladson to plan for a “rain tax” last year, which he said will wash away all of his problems."

He means it will wash away DOWNTOWN problems with SOUTHSIDE MONEY.

"Landfill Director Mark Johnson proposes raising garbage fees $1.13 a month next year."

The damned GARBAGE FEES are getting TOTALLY OUT OF CONTROL.

"He also proposes adding a $3 monthly street sweeping fee."

He can kiss my patootee.

So, the BOE raised the SCHOOL TAX. The Commissioners are going to raise our PROPERTY TAXES. The Engineering folks want a RAIN TAX. Mark Johnson is going to raise our GARBAGE FEES. And Mark Johnson wants SOME PEOPLE, or maybe ALL PEOPLE to pay a STREET SWEEPING FEE.

I don't know about the rest of you folks, but my pay ain't going up fast enough to support our local politicians and bureaucrats HABITS. THEY HAVE AN ADDICTION to our money. They are worse than heroin addicts. It's a freaking disease. Things have reached the point of being ridiculous......and FRED is full of crap with his low taxes statement. We have HIGH taxes based on the low, or NO, level of service we receive. Fred is under the false assumption that we get something for out money........WE DON'T. And anything that we DO get MARK JOHNSON CHARGES US EXTRA FOR IT.

And the worst part is that they waste a LARGE part of OUR, that's OUR....NOT THEIR, money. And that don't include that other $MILLIONS that outright GIVE to Paul & "associates" and their (built with OUR money) Marriott.

My next votes for commissioner and mayor will go to the candidates that SWEAR THEY WILL FIRE FRED RUSSELL AND MARK JOHNSON and hire some competent people who can manage budgets, projects, and contracts.

Hey Mark Johnson....where did you get that $1.13 a month figure......pull it out of your wazoo? The price of fuel is NOT UP.....the price of labor is NOT UP......you just screwed us last year by cutting our service IN HALF AND KEEPING THE PRICE THE SAME. WHAT THE HECK IS WRONG WITH YOU....ARE YOU CRAZY???????

We need a tax revolt folks.....a tax AND FEE revolt. NO RAIN TAX. CUT THE GARBAGE FEEs IN HALF. NO STREET SWEEPING FEE. ALL OF THAT CRAP IS WHY WE PAY PROPERTY TAXES AND THEY SHOULD HAVE BEEN DOING ALL OF THIS STUFF ALL ALONG.......SINCE CONSOLIDATION.......OUT OF OUR BASIC PROPERTY TAXES. Instead they have STOLEN your TAXES and now want you to PAY SEPARATELY FOR THE SERVICES YOU SHOULD HAVE BEEN GETTING ALL ALONG. And you know what......WE STILL ARE NOT GETTING ANY GOOD SERVICES. INADEQUATE FIRE, POLICE, AND AMBULANCE PROTECTION. Mark Johnson STILL CAN'T GET ALL THE GARBAGE PICKED UP.....but he CAN figure out he needs another $1.13 a month from us NEXT YEAR. Must come from his SCREW THE TAXPAYERS crystal ball they issue these politicians and government bureaucrats.

So Freddy boy......WE PAY PLENTY OF TAXES CONSIDERING THAT WE GET NOTHING FOR IT while Paul & "associates" get a significant portion of OUR MONEY.

All of this planning and taxing and feeing.......AND THEY CAN'T FIGURE OUT HOW TO FIX OUR DUAL STANDARD, DISCRIMINATORY, ILLEGAL, DUAL TAX and FEE SYSTEM.

Augusta isn't a slum.....it's just a village that is run by it's idiots.

Gage Creed
12333
Points
Gage Creed 09/22/13 - 12:53 am
6
3

"The commissioners might get

"The commissioners might get elected in their district, but not Deke."

Is there really anything else that needs to be said...

Young Fred
13670
Points
Young Fred 09/22/13 - 03:34 am
8
5

What few times I've heard Mr.

What few times I've heard Mr. Cheek speak, he seems to be a no-nonsense kind of guy. Speaking his mind forcefully, which is a good thing! While I didn't always agree, he made his point with facts and passion – to my face – without cameras or media around – mano e mano – I can respect that!

I've only one major problem with Mr Cheek. Why in the heck would he give up a home in a area that works, versus taking on a “dysfunctional” family?

He either loves the Augusta area, or he's crazy!

I could back a man like Mr Cheek!

grinder48
1348
Points
grinder48 09/22/13 - 05:46 am
0
0

What Are They Hiding?

Unpublished

Copenhaver and Russell's response to Mr. Gray's presentation definitely comes across as their getting nervous and upset because Gray is either exposing or getting close to exposing unscrupulous behind-the-scenes shenanigans. And the comments above regarding Copenhaver's lack of qualifications is certainly enlightening ... sounds like an unqualified kid from a family with money marrying into a locally powerful wealthy family being put into a position for which he's unqualified so the families and their friends can reap under-the-table benefits ...

Riverman1
70320
Points
Riverman1 09/22/13 - 07:38 am
10
1

Andy Cheek

Fred, I don't disapprove of Andy Cheek. Everything you said seems to be true. I was just poking a little fun at him because of his past copious free gas use when he was a commissioner. I'll probably make fun of him again about the Ellis St. canal before it's over.

seenitB4
72430
Points
seenitB4 09/22/13 - 08:41 am
6
1

One day

One day Dichotomy will tell us how he really feels..:)

Riverman1
70320
Points
Riverman1 09/22/13 - 08:52 am
5
2

Countyman Has Deke and One More

I think Countyman has Deke and one other thumbs upper.

Dixieman
10350
Points
Dixieman 09/22/13 - 08:52 am
8
2

Well...

...I think he would move to Mouse Breath, Iowa if he thought he could get elected there.

Riverman1
70320
Points
Riverman1 09/22/13 - 09:01 am
3
1

Dixieman, Deke or Andy? Heh.

Dixieman, Deke or Andy? Heh.

countyman
16777
Points
countyman 09/22/13 - 11:35 am
2
9

Usual double standards

The sky is always falling in Richmond County

1. Both Aiken and Columbia counties have the storm water fee already.
2. The TEE Center continues to be mentioned, but nothing about the exhibition hall in Grovetown or the planned center for North Augusta.
3. The urban redeveloped plan has worked all across the state, but now won't help Augusta.
4. Andy Cheeks wants to come back to Augusta, but didn't speak out against project Jackson which the majority of Aiken County residents don't want..

Darby
19068
Points
Darby 09/22/13 - 12:00 pm
6
3

Andy Cheek for Mayor

Now that's funny.....

Darby
19068
Points
Darby 09/22/13 - 12:25 pm
5
3

"I could back a man like Mr Cheek!"

I did once. Couldn't force me to do that again.

I firmly believe that if you took away his ego, what would remain wouldn't be enough to cast a shadow.

Other than that, he's a likable fellow.

Little Lamb
40058
Points
Little Lamb 09/22/13 - 12:55 pm
3
1

Investment

Countyman posted:

Let's get rid of the word 'slum', but definitely continue with the plan. The city should use every single avenue possible to save taxpayer money while attracting private investment.

You don't save taxpayer money by collecting it and spending it.

The urban redevelopment bonds they are talking about floating are to be spent on renovating the Marble Palace. That certainly will attract not a single dime of private investment.

countyman
16777
Points
countyman 09/22/13 - 12:58 pm
2
9

Facts

The current amount of apathy and negativity will get this city nowhere..

The majority of time we continue to focus on nitpicking every single idea that might help attract growth instead of putting the effort into coming up with plans for growth...

The metro and CSRA won't ever reach it's full POTENTIAL unless the urban core of Augusta is strong... Do we really expect for everybody to work at SRS(laying off hundreds of people) or Bridgestone in Aiken County? Do you really expect for people to work at the jobs in Columbia County?

The people who love to bring up Detroit obviously don't realize the facts. When the city of Detroit fell on hard times the ENTIRE metro lost population....

I don't care how fast either Aiken and Columbia County grows. They'll never be able to attract the same type of overall development compared to Richmond County.

I don't care how much you invest into South Augusta... The area will never be able to attract the same type of office jobs similar to West Augusta or the CBD. The CBD will never be able to have the high paying manufacturing jobs like the Starbucks plant in South Augusta.

Let the different areas of the city play their role, because their not equal and have different responsibilities.

Little Lamb
40058
Points
Little Lamb 09/22/13 - 01:00 pm
5
1

Street Sweep Fee

Sylvia Cooper wrote:

Landfill Director Mark Johnson proposes raising garbage fees $1.13 a month next year. He also proposes adding a $3 monthly street sweeping fee.

If you live on a dirt road, do you think the city might give you a break on the street sweeping fee?

And thinking about the garbage fee, they just cut our service in half in 2013 with no reduction in the fee. A decent person would wait at least two or three years before asking to raise the fee.

countyman
16777
Points
countyman 09/22/13 - 01:01 pm
2
6

Little Lamb... '' In addition

Little Lamb... '' In addition to the municipal building renovation, Au­gusta’s redevelopment plan cites several proposed future projects including a $75 million biotechnology research park, a $10 million Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market, $500,000 to convert the old chamber of commerce building to a tech business incubator and a $225 million housing and retail development to support 7,000 new Georgia Regents University students.''

Sweet son
8204
Points
Sweet son 09/22/13 - 01:21 pm
4
1

Russell Busted!

I loved it when Donnie Smith busted Russell on the taxes on a $100,000 house. I have one that is not even worth that and the taxes are about $1300.

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