Sylvia Cooper

City Ink columnist and correspondent for The Augusta Chronicle.

Millage increase was a sweet decision for Augusta Commission

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Raising the property tax rate last week was a cakewalk for the Augusta Com­mis­sion.

Commissioner Joe Jack­son’s abrupt resignation a few days earlier put him in position to apply for a vacant maintenance job at Augusta Regional Airport. It also put his District 6 successor, Commissioner-elect Ben Hasan, in position to join four other pro-tax commissioners salivating over what they think are their just desserts.

It also allowed the four remaining supposed fiscal conservatives to have their cake and eat it too by voting no, although all but Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle, who’d already left the building, had voted yes a few short weeks earlier.

That earlier vote caused folks who foot the cake bills to whip up crowds that came close to threatening to lick the board, causing the supposed fiscal conservatives to step back into a conservative spot. Some say they were cheating, though, because if they’d really wanted the tax increase to fail they’d have abstained and kept Mayor Deke Co­pen­haver out of the game.

Jackson’s resignation also put Commissioner Alvin Mason in a spot from which to launch his next campaign by voting no, not once but twice.

So the motion to raise the tax rate 1.75 mills tied 5-5, and the mayor put the icing on the cake by voting yes. So what do they say to taxpayers?

Let them eat cake!

ONLY ONE BOUGHT SNAKE OIL: Although they’d been dillydallying for months on proceeding with plans to refinance $160 million of utility bonds while they listened to the siren’s song of millions in savings from a race-baiting minority firm, commissioners wasted no time Monday in voting 9-1 to pursue the original plan.

Commissioner Marion Wil­liams cast the lone no vote on the refinancing recommended by the city’s financial adviser, Diane McNabb. Afterward, he said he hadn’t changed his mind about the firm, IFS Secur­ities, despite learning about Vice President Craig Walker’s 1996 conviction for conspiracy to commit mail fraud, mail fraud, conspiracy to obstruct justice and subornation of perjury, which led to a federal prison sentence.

IT’S NEWS; I DON’T CARE WHEN THEY SEND IT: After 5 p.m. Friday, the Georgia State Patrol public information officer e-mailed Au­gusta media about Com­missioner Donnie Smith, a lieutenant with the agency who’s been on administrative leave since June during an investigation of a possible policy violation. The e-mail states:

“The Department of Pub­lic Safety was notified, via e-mail, at 12:30 p.m. today by Georgia’s Em­ploy­ee Re­tire­ment System of their decision to retire Lt. Donnie Smith, effective Sept. 1, 2014.

“The investigation remains open and is ongoing.”

So if he’s retired, he can’t be fired. But we need to hear the rest of the story. It can’t be as bad as the speculation. Can it?

DRAWING TO A FLUSH: Critics who said the mayor’s Augusta Regional Col­la­boration Project to renovate the old Metro Augusta Cham­ber of Com­merce building on Broad Street into a jazz café and coffee bar didn’t pass the smell test were wrong. It was a city inspector’s test it didn’t pass, because it has no first-floor restroom.

All that coffee and nowhere to go.

IT WILL SOON COST YOU MORE TO DRINK AT RESTAURANTS AND BARS IN AUGUSTA: Perhaps the public services committee was doing penance for Monday’s property-tax vote when it spent what seemed like half a day voicing concerns that bar and restaurant owners hadn’t been properly notified that their alcohol licenses would increase 10 percent under a revised alcohol ordinance.

Rob Sherman, the city’s Planning and Development Depart­ment deputy director, told them that three public hearings were advertised in the newspaper and posted on the city’s Web site. One hearing was held July 23 and two July 24.

“About how many people showed up to the meetings?” Guilfoyle asked.

“No one showed up except a couple of people from the media,” Sherman replied.

“All right, so the process we implemented didn’t work,” Guilfoyle said before asking Sherman whether he’d used the city’s database to reach out to bar and restaurant owners, which he hadn’t.

After more conversation, Guilfoyle returned to his original premise that something was wrong with the notification process. Williams weighed in on the matter before launching into his usual speech about there not being anything to do in Augusta but go to Waffle House after 10 p.m.

Next came Donnie Smith saying he didn’t want to belabor what had already been said, and did just that, as did Commissioner Bill Fennoy.

Sherman told them there’s no requirement for holding public hearings on the alcohol ordinance and repeated what he’d said earlier, but Fennoy wasn’t satisfied and proposed putting notices in water bills. Utilities Director Tom Wiedmeier said he wasn’t sure they could pick out the bars and restaurants from the database of thousands of water customers.

Fennoy and Guilfoyle insisted that Sherman should try to notify bar and restaurant owners personally. Guilfoyle even proposed a town hall meeting.

Then Commissioner Corey Johnson repeated everything that had already been said – twice. It might have been thrice, but I lost count.

Finally, Williams said he didn’t understand what was going on, which is what I’d been thinking.

“What we’ve done done was not required by law,” he said. “And nobody showed up. Are you trying to get somebody to show up? … The bottom line is we’re acting like we don’t get it. I don’t get it.”

Johnson insisted they send notices of the proposed changes.

“We’ll notify them, but it will cost approximately $4,000 for the mailing and the information going out,” Sherman said.

“I don’t see $4,000 at 35 cents a stamp,” said Guilfoyle, until someone corrected him and he said, “45 cents.”

“We’re not just talking about 45-cent stamps,” said the planning department’s licensing manager, Larry Harris. “We’re talking about man hours. … It’s going to cost at least that much.”

Guilfoyle made a motion to send the issue to the full commission without a recommendation.

“Hopefully, the news media will post on the newspaper, as well as other media,” he said.

OK. Just don’t talk about it anymore.

I WANT TO BE AN ENGINEER ’CAUSE I LIKE TRAINS: Com­mis­sioners set the date for adopting a property tax rate for 11:30 a.m. Monday so they could hold a legal meeting at noon before committee meetings, whereupon Williams said they need to hold the legal meetings after the commission meetings so people wouldn’t have to wait for hours when such meetings drag on.

“The lawyer works for us,” he said, apparently thinking it was Chief Counsel Andrew Mac­Ken­zie’s decision when legal meetings are held because he calls for them at the proper time. “We don’t work for him. We need to tell him when we will have legal meetings. He don’t tell us.”

“The legal meetings time was adopted by ordinance by this commission, so you need to repeal that ordinance, and you will repeal holding your legal meetings at 12 o’clock,” Commission Clerk Lena Bonner told him.

“Put that on the committee agenda, so we can start driving this train ourselves. It’s been running loose,” snorted Williams, the attorney’s harshest critic.

Comments (24) Add comment
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GnipGnop
12518
Points
GnipGnop 08/30/14 - 09:06 pm
11
1
I was thinking

More along the lines of a car full of clowns rather than a train....

Gage Creed
17967
Points
Gage Creed 08/30/14 - 09:10 pm
8
1
Old Goats...

I wonder if the goats hold legal meetings at High Noon?

TrulyWorried
15530
Points
TrulyWorried 08/30/14 - 09:28 pm
8
1
Holy Toledo

What a mess - well - nothing new, really.

Riverman1
87448
Points
Riverman1 08/31/14 - 05:09 am
11
1
Invite Marion To Something

"Williams weighed in on the matter before launching into his usual speech about there not being anything to do in Augusta but go to Waffle House after 10 p.m."

Will someone invite Marion to a party or something? I can see him alone seated at the counter in Waffle House late at night playing with his change. Ever viewed Nighthawks?

Gage Creed
17967
Points
Gage Creed 08/30/14 - 09:52 pm
9
0
Williams....

If only someone had built a drag strip at Diamond Lakes...

Pops
10858
Points
Pops 08/30/14 - 10:22 pm
11
1
Williams seems

to have a lot of pent up anger. He is usually quoted spouting some kind of tough guy talk at the city attorney or anyone involved in Lena Bonner's new building. He comes across as a bully using his elected office to somehow give him the feeling of being a big man. I'm really surprised that we haven't read about someone bouncing him off a wall somewhere.

Dixieman
15999
Points
Dixieman 08/30/14 - 10:25 pm
7
1
Worse than...

...a dog's breakfast.
Now we know why all the big bank headquarters are in Charlotte.

itsanotherday1
45609
Points
itsanotherday1 08/30/14 - 10:28 pm
9
1
What a three ring circus...

What a three ring circus... Good God Almighty! Bless those commissioners with an IQ above room temp who have the patience to fight the good fight.

itsanotherday1
45609
Points
itsanotherday1 08/30/14 - 10:33 pm
11
1
I'm reminded of the saying

I'm reminded of the saying "you don't know what you don't know". A certain commissioner is too stupid to understand how stupid he is. What's worse, the people who elected him are more ignorant than he is. Please Lord, let us figure out how to educate the uneducated.

Gage Creed
17967
Points
Gage Creed 08/30/14 - 11:49 pm
5
0
IAD..

In my minds "ear" whenever I read of the escapades of the commissioners.. there is a background of calliope music.. just like the three-ring circus you mentioned.

dichotomy
34676
Points
dichotomy 08/31/14 - 12:02 am
9
0
I'm just fed up with the lot

I'm just fed up with the lot of them. I'm disgusted with the mayor and the 5 that voted for the tax increase and I'm disgusted with the ones who could have stopped it but didn't. It all just goes to prove that none of them care about the middle class working people. We are just here to feed the animals.

jwilliams
1004
Points
jwilliams 08/31/14 - 12:16 am
5
0
If you all think it’s bad

If you all think it’s bad now, just wait until Sammy “I’m in control here” Siass comes on board.

gargoyle
18726
Points
gargoyle 08/31/14 - 01:24 am
8
0
The Commissioners are a short

The Commissioners are a short term problem as funny and misguided as they are . The real malaise that has crippled Augusta are the appointed or employed denizens of the Government complex lack of oversight . The Mayor has no power and Administrator being a contract employee who doesn't want to rock the boat has no reason to ensure public services are efficient or applied reasonably. As it stands now inmates are running the asylum with no one to realistically answer to , A real flaw in the City Charter. That's how money disappears from the tax office and no one cares about a open safe and that's how backup files get erased and no explanation is given , that's why we have so many dysfunctional departments, misguided managers and Department Heads . Hopefully Mayor elect Davis and the future Administrator will be more involved in the day to day business and advocate for the people of Augusta .

Young Fred
18262
Points
Young Fred 08/31/14 - 03:59 am
5
0
The goats

might not be around much longer. They're a metaphor the commission just can't live up to.

LillyfromtheMills
13978
Points
LillyfromtheMills 08/31/14 - 07:19 am
8
0
In regards to liquor cost increases

Don't they have a database of those who already have a license? Seems simple - contact those involved not the whole dang county

seenitB4
91139
Points
seenitB4 08/31/14 - 07:39 am
6
0
Augusta you are so funny--Goat Dynasty coming soon..:)

“Put that on the committee agenda, so we can start driving this train ourselves. It’s been running loose,” snorted Williams,

nocnoc
45394
Points
nocnoc 08/31/14 - 09:20 am
5
0
I see a few more ARC Charter Change Suggestions

A quorum of 6 commissioners must be present to conduct any ARC business. The Mayor shall not be considered part of the commissioner quorum .

A super majority of commissioners (7) shall be required on all Budget and Tax increase items to be valid. The Mayor shall not be considered part of the commissioner super majority.

Any commissioner or Mayor missing 3 consecutive votes or meetings (until less medical or pressing family problems (death or serious sickness)) shall be fined the twice amount of pay.

Any expenses submitted by a commissioner or mayor shall be withheld until said member attends at least 3 consecutive Public Commission meetings.

All Commission meetings shall be held after 6pm M-F to afford residents the opportunity to attend.

Riverman1
87448
Points
Riverman1 08/31/14 - 10:06 am
11
0
Not Enough Black Goats

I see trouble coming over the goats. From the photo I counted 5 white goats, 1 black and 1 brown. That doesn't represent the racial make-up of the county. A position should be created and someone hired immediately to ensure black goats are fairly represented in the county goat herd and that they get their share of the grass growing, no matter if the white goats are busier.

Riverman1
87448
Points
Riverman1 08/31/14 - 10:27 am
4
0
Should have known...

Should have known Lilly would comment on the price of liquor going up. :)

JRC2024
9406
Points
JRC2024 08/31/14 - 11:56 am
3
0
"He don't tell us" Where did

"He don't tell us" Where did he go to school? I am sure the lawyer is much smarter than Mr. Williams and certainly knows a lot more about what is right.

LillyfromtheMills
13978
Points
LillyfromtheMills 08/31/14 - 12:45 pm
3
0
Hahaha

Hershel - you know me too well!

Truth Matters
7263
Points
Truth Matters 08/31/14 - 07:50 pm
1
0
"“The Department of Pub­lic

"“The Department of Pub­lic Safety was notified, via e-mail, at 12:30 p.m. today by Georgia’s Em­ploy­ee Re­tire­ment System of their decision to retire Lt. Donnie Smith, effective Sept. 1, 2014."

Forget about the goats. This statements raises many questions. Since when did a retirement system start retiring someone without the person requesting retirement? The statement reads as if the decision to retire was not Donnie Smith's. The public needs to know if the same decision that led a retirement system to retire an employee might be reason for him to give up his seat on the commission.

Truth Matters
7263
Points
Truth Matters 08/31/14 - 07:57 pm
0
0
Thanks, Mrs. Cooper

I enjoyed the column today.

Thanks for not giving us the race score card of the vote to increase the millage rate.

Have a relaxing Labor Day.

AFjoe
4013
Points
AFjoe 09/02/14 - 12:28 pm
0
0
First Item read

I always read Sylvia's article first before I read anything else. It is by far the most interesting and her cheek must have a small indentation where her tongue rest while she writes. Who's gona fill her shoes?

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