Former commissioner to run for state Senate

Former Augusta Commission member Joe Bowles plans to run for the District 22 state Senate seat next year. He said Saturday he’ll announce plans to run as an independent when Sen. Hardie Davis officially announces that he’ll run for mayor of Augusta.

District 6 Commissioner Joe Jackson also said Saturday that he’s running for mayor. District 4 Commissioner Alvin Mason announced last week that he’ll run for the job. District 2 Commissioner Corey Johnson has also said he’ll run for mayor.

Bowles said he’s running to get “somebody in Atlanta to represent Augusta.”

“When was the last time a member of our delegation passed a meaningful bill, besides Barbara Sims?” he asked.

Duh. When Charles Walker was Senate majority leader?

 

IGNORANCE OF THE POLICY IS NO EXCUSE, IS IT? Nobody should have been surprised when the Georgia Board of Regents audit found that Georgia Regents University officials violated board policy by using a university bus, police cars and officers to help put on a wedding at GRU President Ricardo Azziz’s home.

The policy is right there under “Use of Institution Facilities/Property” in the board’s ethics policy, Section 9.10.6.4 concerning Personal Use: “USG property owned by an institution shall be used only for institutional purposes. No USG employees shall permit such property to be removed from the campus of an institution for use on either a rental or loan basis for personal use (BOR Minutes, 1949-50, p. 109).”

Auditors also identified $97,907 in expenditures and obligations for projects at the president’s home, Twin Gables, that hadn’t been approved by the board, but they absolved GRU senior administrators of intending to violate board policy or misuse state resources. Azziz and company just weren’t aware of the policies and regulations.

And as smart as they are, who would have thunk it?

In a written response, Azziz took full responsibility, and blamed everybody but himself.

 

OTHER PRESIDENTS SET THE PRECEDENT: As for the Twin Gables carport construction, Azziz stated they were “operating in some cases on what practices had been followed in the past.

“In addition, although a number of administrators were aware of the planned initiatives, insufficient communication and coordination between those with responsibility occurred.”

(Translation: It’s their fault for not telling me.)

To prove he wasn’t the only president to make renovations, GRU officials compiled a list of improvements to the president’s house since 2001 (before Azziz got there) totaling $363,365.

As for using the university bus, police vehicles and officers to help put on his niece’s wedding, Azziz stated, “The procedure followed was the same as for similar events hosted by previous presidents. However, some of the decisions for this event were not consistent with current policy.”

Do tell.

 

WE CAN’T DISAPPOINT BILL: According to the audit report, Azziz’s wife, Cynthia, asked GRU Chief of Police Bill McBride in February for advice on handling parking, security and transportation for the April wedding. McBride suggested use of the GRU bus and offered to volunteer services for the event and later solicited volunteers from among his senior officers.

“GRU senior administrators, to include the President, discussed the proposed use of the bus and agreed that it would be more appropriate to rent a private vehicle,” the report states.

So why didn’t they? Because nobody told McBride, who’d already arranged for the bus.

How flimsy is that?

Concerning the four times campus police picked his children up from school, Azziz said the relevant job descriptions were being updated to make sure the staff’s roles were “appropriately defined.”

(Translation: So they will know not to violate the ethics policy again.)

To make sure senior staff didn’t repeat their failures, he had 19 of them sit with him during a six-hour training session on board policies last week.

 

A PERFECT STORM: Three controversial issues keep coming up in Augusta government every few years: downtown parking, the ambulance contract and the fire chief’s performance. Usually, they recycle separately, but at last week’s commission meeting all three came up.

Downtown parking has a long and storied history. The latest chapter began recently when the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office started marking car tires with chalk, signaling a plan to enforce the two-hour limit on downtown parking.

Donald Thorstad, an engineer with Johnson, Laschober and Associates in the 1200 block of Broad Street, told commissioners his company, which employs 27 people, relies on parking on the street and that the two-hour limit would be a big problem. Other business owners in that area of Broad Street agree. But next week, commissioners can expect other Broad Street business owners to say the ordinance needs to be enforced. When that happens, you can expect someone to suggest another parking study. The last one was in 2005, so it’s about time for an update.

The Downtown Development Au­thor­ity proposed parking meters a few years ago. After the malls opened in the 1970s, they were taken out in a desperate effort to keep customers shopping downtown. Some people insist there is no downtown parking problem.

For now, the ticketing plan is on hold while city and sheriff’s officials huddle. If they recommend enforcing the two-hour limit, they’ll need to create a traffic court because there’s no way to collect parking fines when people don’t pay. And after two years, the tickets are invalid.

Some commissioners have suggested they could be collected through Magistrate Court, but I do believe that will happen over the magistrate judges’ dead bodies.

 

DO AS I SAY, NOT AS I DO: The ambulance contract is also creating controversy. Commissioners agreed to put it back out for bids, and 13 vendors attended a pre-bid conference. However, commissioners Donnie Smith, Marion Williams and others tried to rescind the bid proposal and renegotiate the contract with the current provider Gold Cross. Commissioners Bill Lockett and Alvin Mason tried to trump Williams’ motion. The committee vote tied 2-2.

Smith also questioned Fire Chief Chris James about manpower shortages causing engine companies to be shut down and about having to borrow air tanks from Fort Gordon because most of the departments’ tanks had reached an inspection deadline.

Lockett said Smith was being disrespectful to James and cut him off by calling for the vote, which I thought was hypocritical considering Lockett’s harsh public criticism of Administrator Fred Russell, Attorney Andrew MacKenzie and other department heads.

 

HE’S NOT HARVEY: When commissioners emerged from their legal meeting and took their seats last week, they were asked to vote on the closed meeting affidavit. The clerk began recording the votes reflected on the overhead screen. She said the vote was unanimous, except for Commissioner Grady Smith, who was not present. A few folks snickered, and someone said he was too there. Smith looked surprised when he saw the screen and said, “I know I’m not the prettiest thing to look at, but I’m right here.”

 

CELEBRITIES: Mayor Deke Copen­haver spoke at River Ridge Elementary School’s career fair Thursday, and afterward a cute little red-headed girl with pigtails came up and asked whether he knew Williams.

“I thought that the question coming from a third-grader was a little unusual until another little girl in the class came up to me and said, ‘My granddaddy is Marion Williams,’” Copenhaver said. “I proceeded to tell Marion’s granddaughter Avery that I couldn’t wait to tell her grandfather that I had met her!”

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