Sylvia Cooper

City Ink columnist and correspondent for The Augusta Chronicle.

City Ink: Looking back and ahead

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January is the namesake of the Ro­man god of gates and doors, Janus,
who had two heads facing opposite directions: one looking back, the other looking forward.

With January almost upon us, Janus looks back on the old year and forward to 2014.

Looking back to Decem­ber, Janus was as shocked as the rest of us by the arrest of Richmond County Coroner Grover Tuten on a charge of stealing a car from a deceased man or his family. Janus was also dismayed by the arrest of former Rich­mond County Com­missioner Bill Hiers on a charge of shoplifting. Hiers told police he did not want to stand in a long line, so he decided not to pay.

Janus can’t imagine how Tuten got himself in such a fix, but he does somewhat sympathize with Hiers over the long line situation.

Janus is equally puzzled by the predicament Co­lum­bia County Tax Com­mis­sioner Kay Allen is in over fees she received from Grove­town and Harlem to collect taxes. Columbia Coun­ty officials voted to send a letter to Gov. Nathan Deal reporting “possible malfeasance” by Allen.

Janus saw many triumphs and tragedies in Au­gusta in 2013, along with winners and losers, and predicts more coming in 2014.

IT’S GOOD TO BE BOY KING: All in all, 2013 has been a good year for Augusta’s Boy King, Mayor Deke Copenhaver.

He and Matt Kwatinetz, the consultant for the mayor’s Augusta Regional Col­lab­o­ra­tion Project, unveiled what has become known as the Mills project to the Augusta Commission, which agreed to spend $300,000 to investigate the potential of renovating the old Sibley and King textile mills for use by Georgia Regents Uni­ver­sity.

Of course, GRU and the University System of Geor­gia Board of Regents haven’t said yes to the proposal, and they haven’t said no, although a consultant deemed it “the least attractive of the three scenarios” studied.

Meanwhile, plans by the mayor and Kwatinetz to renovate the old Chamber of Com­merce building downtown into a jazz bar, coffee house and collaboration space is under way. The $300,000 for the ARC Project that was in next year’s budget makes it one of the few new programs budgeted that didn’t get cut.

Also, after abruptly firing Ad­ministrator Fred Rus­sell this month, commissioners voted to make the mayor acting administrator until they hire Russell’s successor, which means for the first time, the mayor has some real power.

Last but not least, Copen­haver beat his record in this year’s Ironman triathlon.

BIGGEST KNEE JERK OF 2013: Russell’s firing after he’d agreed to retire next year when a new administrator was on board.

Now they’ll probably have to pay him six months’ salary and benefits – as called for in the city’s policy and procedures manual – and another severance package commissioners approved in his 2005 engagement letter, which includes six months’ pay and benefits, the pension plan and leave time of a 20-year employee.

But that’s not the worst of it. Next year’s general fund budget, which goes into effect Wednesday, is balanced with a 2.4 percent cut in every department’s budget. Russell was to have each department head present a plan for meeting that goal.

Also, after commissioners approved the budget, Russell read into the record that the budget did not include a proposed garbage fee increase and $3 a month street sweeping fee.

WORST OUTRAGE OF 2013: The Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center kept a group of high school students from Augusta’s Alle­luia Com­mu­nity School from singing traditional Christ­mas songs to its veterans. On Monday, a spokesman announced that the hospital is taking a stricter stance on its policy banning carolers from singing religious Christmas music in public patient areas.

Not only is hospital negligence killing patients, but the administration is also trying to keep them from being saved.

MOST ILL-TIMED TOUR: After ignoring a national, state and local survey that indicated proposed names for the new university with “Augusta” in them received by far the most favorable responses, GRU President Ricardo Azziz said he was going on a listening tour.

MOST TROUBLESOME WORD: “Slum.”

BIGGEST LOSER: Former Commissioner Jerry Brig­ham lost 160 pounds this year.

CATCH OF THE YEAR: Cabela’s

LOSSES: Former state Rep. Jack Connell died in February at age 93. Before his retirement from the House in 2002, he had represented Augusta since 1969. For the last 26 years, he held the second-highest position in the House, speaker pro tempore, the longest of anyone in the U.S. in a similar post.

He was an officer and a gentleman.

Former Rep. Quincy Mur­phy, D-Augusta, a state representative for 11 years, died in August at age 60. He was described as an “extra-compassionate public servant” who loved his constituents. Brian Prince won the District 127 state House seat vacated by Murphy’s death.

JANUS LOOKS FORWARD

• Augusta commission­ers will spend $40,000 searching for a new administrator who will leave three months into the job when Com­missioners Marion Williams and Bill Lockett give him his first wedgie.

• Russell and Williams will get into a runoff for mayor. Russell will win, and Williams will go to court to have the election voided on the grounds that Russell was ineligible because he’s still being paid by the city.

• When Augusta taxpayers learn commissioners are attending a convention in Las Vegas, they’ll seek an injunction ordering whoever went to Las Vegas to stay in Las Vegas.

• Azziz will announce that GRU will stop using animals in experiments because a researcher made pigs fly.

• An Augusta official will be arrested for stealing pennies off a dead man’s eyes.

• A Columbia County official will be arrested for moonlighting but keeping it in the dark.

• In anticipation of leaving office, Copenhaver will take up the saxophone and become a regular performer at the jazz café in the renovated Chamber of Commerce building.

• Commissioners will implement a rain tax during the worst drought in Richmond County history.

• The Historic Preser­vation Division of the Geor­gia Department of Natural Resources will remove the Con­fed­erate monument on Broad Street in the dead of the night without notifying anybody and store it at Mistle­­toe State Park along with the historic plaque they confiscated from Broad Street. They removed the plaque without notice because of a single complaint that a quote about slavery by British author William Makepeace Thackery was offensive.

Janus says the HPD of the DNR is offensive and needs to be removed.

Comments (36) Add comment
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Riverman1
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Riverman1 12/28/13 - 08:55 pm
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Understatement or Comic Hyperbole?

“Last but not least, Copenhaver beat his record in this year’s Ironman triathlon.”

Sylvia is good at THOSE kinds of lines, although I’m not sure if you classify it understatement or hyperbole used for comic effect. It works beautifully. The last column it was noting a certain political couple maintained separate houses.

As far as Fred Russell's severance package, I can't keep up with it. Every day it seems like he gets another six months pay for one reason or another. I'd hire him back quick to keep the city from going bankrupt paying him off.

Riverman1
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Riverman1 12/28/13 - 08:58 pm
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Deke's ARC Project

Matt Kwatinetz and Deke have their ARC Project off and running. Trying to keep up with all the money is pretty tough, though. Matt and Deke were given $300,000 by the Commission to market the Mills project to GRU who said that’s the last thing they’ll look at. Every time I simply ask for accounting of their funds, I’m angrily told private entities have contributed to this and that. Can we please see exactly how that works? Does it work without financial supervision by the city?

So the jazz bar is still going forward? City money will pay for it? Aren’t Deke and Matt trying a little too hard to get a hipster and LGBT presence downtown as one downtown advocate desires? That is supposed to rejuvenate downtown? I’d rather have people from the apartments sitting on top of the elevated platform in the median of Broad St. as Marion Williams suggested singing gospel hymns on First Friday and aiming their KFC chicken bones at the trash cans down below that the new tax will pay for.

Little Lamb
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Little Lamb 12/28/13 - 10:19 pm
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Audit

The Columbia County commission authorized an audit of the Tax Commissioner's office. Then the auditor told them there was no paper trail, nothing to audit. So the commission punted to the governor to do something, anything.

It is this problem of no paper trail that keeps Riverman and Brad Owens and Many Arrows from figuring out where all the money is coming from for the jazz café.

Nobody can follow the money in the CSRA.

Just ask the folks opposing Project Jackson. They're really in the dark.

corgimom
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corgimom 12/28/13 - 10:32 pm
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Considering the number of

Considering the number of restaurants and bars that have gone broke downtown, the idea of the city putting a jazz café and coffee bar there is ludicrous.

But that's Augusta, business as usual!

Doesn't it stand to reason that Coco Rubio, Brad Owens, or some of the other DT business owners would've already started that if they thought it had a chance of succeeding? They are seasoned, esperienced businessmen; and they haven't done it?

I want to see the business plan for this jazz café/coffee bar. I want to see the data that makes them think it'll be successful.

Especially with Operation Thunder.

Little Lamb
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Little Lamb 12/28/13 - 10:56 pm
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Great Comment , , ,

Corgimom posted:

I want to see the business plan for this jazz café/coffee bar. I want to see the data that makes them think it'll be successful.

Kwatinetz does not have to bother with things that actual business owners do, i.e., making income exceed outgo. No, Kwatinetz's business model is to take taxpayer money by force to make up for his losses.

Conservative Man
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Conservative Man 12/28/13 - 11:21 pm
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The research I've seen....

...shows that Mr. Kwatinetz has a poor track record in other municipalities.

And the fact that our so-called city "leaders" would buy into the snake oil he's selling proves to me even further that RC is doomed..

Exhibit A:..we have a Mayor and (now former) city administrator agreeing to pay 300 grand for what?...Collaboration?..please..

Exhibit B: we have a commission voting to do the same?

Exhibit C:..we have a DDA that is sucking the life out of downtown to the tune of well over another hundred grand a year?

Lastly...we have a mostly compliant "pimento cheese plutocracy"in Augusta who believes that if enough manure is shoveled (in the form of OUR tax dollars) that roses will surely pop up where even angels fear to tread......

Until the Mr. K's, the Ms. Woodards, and those in power who pay them enormous sums for NOTHING are gone, Augusta will continue to languish...

countyman
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countyman 12/29/13 - 02:10 am
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Keep up the good work mayor!

The main puporse of the chamber of commerce renovation is to provide space for GRU, SRS, Fort Gordon, Georgia Power, Starbucks, city officials, etc to collaborate and not the jazz cafe... How can anybody be against offering space for the businesses/industry in the CSRA to interact?

The Craft & Vine, 905 Broad(restaurant/event space), and Sprint Food Metro Market is under construction. The Whiskey Bar Kitchen and Farmhaus Burgers restaurants have both opened recently.. The restaurant scene downtown is going pretty strong heading into 2014..

The $300,000 is for the Mills Campus and the growth associated with the campus will bring new jobs, tax base, population, businesses, etc. The ARC has received 300,000 from the private sector and obviously very important must believe in the plan. I don't understand why people are criticizing Deke or Mr. Kwatinetz for trying to bring high paying jobs here.. The Mills campus will easily help gentrify Harrisburg and help increase the property values, raise the test scores at the nearby schools, and lower the crime rate.

What are the leaders in Columbia County doing to bring high paying jobs here?

What are the leaders of Aiken County doing? The Brigestone expansion is huge but the plant was already located in the county.. Where are the new businesses?

The residents of metro Augusta should be thanking our mayor for focusing on growing the economy. The CBD/urban core is the best chance to attract white collar office jobs besides West Augusta..

Riverman1
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Riverman1 12/29/13 - 05:10 am
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"The $300,000 is for the Mills Campus"???

"The $300,000 is for the Mills Campus..."

For what? GRU has already said it's not in their plans.

Sylvia said this: "Meanwhile, plans by the mayor and Kwatinetz to renovate the old Chamber of Com­merce building downtown into a jazz bar, coffee house and collaboration space is under way. The $300,000 for the ARC Project that was in next year’s budget makes it one of the few new programs budgeted that didn’t get cut."

So it appears the jazz café is also coming from county funding. See how no one has a clue where the county money is going. There is no oversight of the ARC Project.

Riverman1
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Riverman1 12/29/13 - 05:19 am
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Conservativeman, Also TEE Marketing Fee

Conservativeman, don't forget the money paid to market the TEE Center even though the Marriott is being paid to manage it.

But does everyone see how ridiculous this Jazz café, coffee bar and place to meet is? They need to spend hundreds of thousands for a little place to meet? What are they going to do, go there and drink wine, listen to jazz and come up with ideas to promote Augusta? My goodness, there's the library and many other places they can meet. Give each of them a half pint of liquor if they want to drink to get creative. Is the public going to use the place too? If so I can see where that will go.

raul
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raul 12/29/13 - 08:55 am
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Jazz cafe

I'm with Riverman, the collaborators can collaborate at restaurants, the Tee Center, hotel meeting rooms, Savannah Rapids Pavillion, etc. They can turn on the local smooth jazz radio station and do their thing. Why put money into a jazz club?

Little Lamb
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Little Lamb 12/29/13 - 08:59 am
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How?

Countyman posted:

The main puporse of the chamber of commerce renovation is to provide space for GRU, SRS, Fort Gordon, Georgia Power, Starbucks, city officials, etc to collaborate and not the jazz cafe... How can anybody be against offering space for the businesses/industry in the CSRA to interact?

I am against offering this space. In the first place, every one of these powerhouses is tied in with the Chamber of Commerce (many paying dues, the city an honorary member). They can "collaborate" anytime they choose over at the current Chamber of Commerce office on Greene Street.

In the second place, GRU, SRS, Fort Gordon, Georgia Power, Starbucks, city officials, etc. have meeting space at their own facilities. Taxpayers don't need to renovate and provide secretarial staff for that building. Kwatinetz's idea is ludicrous.

Conservative Man
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Conservative Man 12/29/13 - 11:26 am
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This whole mess ...

...is a joke...City employees can't get a raise but we've got 300 grand to throw at soap selling consultants?...

First it is common knowledge that GRU does NOT want the mils, so the money being paid to Mr.K to entice them to accept it is wasted..

Moreover it is my belief that the 300 grand is his salary which means not one dime of that money will be spent to renovate nor otherwise "fix-up" the Commerce building....

I challenge city leaders to prove me wrong by showing an accounting of how that money is being spent....and if it IS some "nebulous" consulting garbage then we truly are being led by the most inept administration this city has seen in decades...

countyman
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countyman 12/29/13 - 11:34 am
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Facts vs opinions

I'm still waiting for somebody to please share the innovative and dynamic ideas from our suburban counterparts. The only comments I see revolve around criticizing the people who are offering solutions... We should be proud that our leaders are pump new life into two underused properties..

The chancellor notified the mayor in 2013 the Mills Campus will be incorporated into the new GRU master plan.. The mayor is moving forward because GRU is definitely interested in the idea.

The $300,000 in next year's budget is specifically for the Mills Campus...

Dixieman
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Dixieman 12/29/13 - 11:39 am
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Thank you, Sylvia

Your column is the BEST part of the paper and I look forward to reading it every Sunday. Long may you write!

countyman
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countyman 12/29/13 - 12:14 pm
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New city= new ideas

The high paying jobs are coming to the cities who are moving forward and not standing around waiting... Does anybody really believe the smaller up & coming metros like Austin, Raleigh, would make their major companies/industries meet at the public library, Golden Corral, etc to work on moving the city forward??

How can you have such low standards when the Cyber Command is coming? Why does somebody who lives in Columbia County spend all their time criticizing things in Richmond without first acquiring the facts? I wish some of the CC residents would demand the same type of leadership from their elected officials.. How do you continue to be silent when large businesses aren't opening except for Taxslayer?

The city is spending $100,000 on the Chamber of Commerce renovation and not hundreds of thousands.. The $300,000 in the budget was set aside for the Mills Campus and nothing else...

The mayor has received over 60% of the vote in two straight elections and he continues to move Augusta forward. The growth can be found in every part of the county and 2014 will bring unprecedented growth. The private sector has donated $300,000 to the ARC and nobody can deny the progress..

Riverman1
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Riverman1 12/29/13 - 12:29 pm
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Facts

GRU's consultant deemed using the mills the least attractive of 3 plans. They've said their current plan is to consolidate at Frog Hollow. But back to Kwatinetz. He is being paid to market the mills to GRU..right? Thus, the bottom line he is going to be given $300,000 of county money, exactly as we've been saying. How can the Commission let this fly? The Richmond County budget can't even be funded.

As far as the jazz café and other cities, how many have specifically built a jazz café and collaboration facility for people to sit around being inspired?

The jazz cafe, collaboration place is right out of Matthew Kwatinetz's Deep Springs College hipster, commune living background. Kwatinetz found his perfect benefactor in the shallow thinking, bike riding mayor. I hope they are happy together.

Little Lamb
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Little Lamb 12/29/13 - 12:29 pm
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I Doubt It

Countyman posted:

The private sector has donated $300,000 to the ARC. . . .

Prove it. And you cannot offer a statement from the mayor as proof, because we've already seen he misrepresented the degree of private investigation in the Laney-Walker/Bethlehem housing project fiasco.

Riverman1
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Riverman1 12/29/13 - 12:45 pm
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So The County Has Given $400,000?

"The city is spending $100,000 on the Chamber of Commerce renovation and not hundreds of thousands.. The $300,000 in the budget was set aside for the Mills Campus and nothing else..."

Okay, that's now saying the county has given $400,000? See how crazy all this money floating around like a Macy's T-Day balloon that has gotten loose is? As near as I can tell, all that money goes to Kwatinetz and to build the jazz café. Does anyone dispute that?

raul
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raul 12/29/13 - 12:56 pm
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I don't know how many

I don't know how many different subtle ways GRU can say they aren't interested in the Mills project. Regarding the Cyber Command, what percentage of those high paid civilians and military officers would you guess will be buying homes in Columbia County?

countyman
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countyman 12/29/13 - 12:59 pm
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Richmond County will always be the main hub

I think newcomers can understand why metro Augusta lags in certain things when they read the AC. Let's tear down anything that can pump life into the CSRA and not demand progressive ideas..

Why can Starbucks think highly enough of Mr. Kwatinetz(prior consultant for the company) but not the city of Augusta? Which entity is in better shape when you compare Starbucks versus Augusta?

Mr. Kwatinetz is being paid by private donations to lead the ARC and the $300,000 is for evaluating the Mills Campus... The $172 million Starbucks plant wouldn't be underway in South Augusta without Mr. Kwatinetz..

Little Lamb..... Starbucks announced their portion of the $300,000($200,000) when they broke ground in 2012...

Riverman1
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Riverman1 12/29/13 - 01:14 pm
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"the $300,000 is for Who?

"the $300,000 is for evaluating the Mills Campus"

So the ARC Project now has $600,000? Who exactly is getting their hands on the "mills" $300,000? This is like pulling teeth. Is it the same Matt Kwatinetz? Or is he getting the OTHER $300,000 that you say private entities donated? Or is he getting the money from the county AND private contributions?

Riverman1
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Riverman1 12/29/13 - 01:25 pm
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Figured It Out

You know how the city has to pay Charles Walker's cousin, Butch Gallop, to be the consultant community fixer for Heery Int. and the projects they do in Richmond County? I think Matthew Kwatinetz is sort of like Deke's white equivalent Butch Gallop.

Little Lamb
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Little Lamb 12/29/13 - 01:41 pm
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Audit

You know how Ron Cross said the Columbia County Commission had a complete financial audit of the taxes done every year, then admitted that auditors cannot find errors or improprieties if one is clever enough to leave no paper trail (a la Kay Allen).

Well, this mystery $300,000 that is now ballooning into $600,000 in Richmond County is kind of like that. We see "announcements" in the newspaper, but the county books conveniently do not provide any details. It's the famous Russell Black Hole.

In 2014, Russell will be gone, but his accounting methods will still be in place. It will become the Copenhaver Black Hole.

Sweet son
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Sweet son 12/29/13 - 02:08 pm
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Maybe for 2014 Sean will keep a record of the most 'thumbs up'

and the most 'thumbs down.' I already have a prediction for 'thumbs down' and the winner is countyman! You guys should leave him alone and stop harassing him with so many thumbs! LOL!

raul
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raul 12/29/13 - 02:23 pm
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I bet Sylvia or Susan McCord

I bet Sylvia or Susan McCord could figure out this Mills Campus/jazz club/consulting fee mess.

Conservative Man
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Conservative Man 12/29/13 - 05:44 pm
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raul.....

...I doubt it.....no offense to Sylvia or Susan, but investigative reporting is generally not their forte...

It will take someone NOT affiliated with any local media, as it is well known that both the daily of record and the "weakly" tabloid of record have very close ties to those who make these decisions and those who benefit from these decisions....

It will take outsiders who are not "connected" to those who are bankrupting this county to get to the bottom of this mess...

GA was recently given the distinction of being the most politically corrupt state in the union...and I submit that Augusta is the most politically corrupt city IN that state...

corgimom
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corgimom 12/29/13 - 06:46 pm
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I have a GREAT space for

I have a GREAT space for business leaders to meet.

It's called the EMPTY TEE CENTER!!!

And it doesn't need $100,000 of renovations!

You know why the CofC moved out of that building? Nobody wanted to go there, because you had to take your life in your hands to get to it.

Only in Augusta do you put a building on a median of the busiest downtown street, and think that people won't have a problem getting to it.

Riverman1
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Riverman1 12/29/13 - 10:13 pm
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Disgusting

The whole thing is disgusting. We have people like Bonnie Ruben, Brad Owens, ConservativeMan and Many Arrows who can and have contributed more effort and money to promoting and saving tax money downtown than any around, yet, we pay Matt Kwatinetz hundreds of thousands of county money we are learning without supervision to promote downtown? The knowledge of the folks I mentioned make Kwatinetz's ideas smell like Deke's Speedos after one of his LONG daily bike rides.

corgimom
36346
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corgimom 12/29/13 - 10:22 pm
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"The main puporse of the

"The main puporse of the chamber of commerce renovation is to provide space for GRU, SRS, Fort Gordon, Georgia Power, Starbucks, city officials, etc to collaborate and not the jazz cafe... How can anybody be against offering space for the businesses/industry in the CSRA to interact?"

Gee, you know what, I'm wondering here. Just how has all the business leaders functioned all along without a place to "interact"?

And what is going in there that costs $100,000 to renovate that little tiny building?

But they can all interact about how they nearly got their azzes ran over trying to get to the place, that'll be something that they can all agree on. And after it happens once or twice, they'll find another place to meet that doesn't have that problem.

Nobody likes that building and they never have.

corgimom
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corgimom 12/29/13 - 10:24 pm
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"Conservativeman, don't

"Conservativeman, don't forget the money paid to market the TEE Center even though the Marriott is being paid to manage it."

Yeah, it's being marketed alright. Take a look at what all that money has gone for- look at how it sits empty most of the time.

Pouring sand down a rat hole.

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