Beard details role in $25,000 donation, surgery

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Correction, September 22, 2009: Because of an error in the City Ink column in Sunday's edition, former city administrative assistant Meschery Powell was incorrectly identified as having hired an attorney to represent her for $225 an hour. It should have said city attorney Chiquita Johnson was represented by the lawyer. (Highlight changes)

The big whoop in Augusta politics last week was over a $25,000 donation - some call it a bribe - that a developer who wanted to renovate the Maxwell House Apartments downtown made to the city five years ago.

There was nothing secret about the donation. It was discussed openly in at least three public meetings, and nobody seemed to have a problem with that, except maybe then-Mayor Bob Young. The objection was over something else.

Edmondson & Gallagher first offered the $25,000 to Main Street Augusta to be used for a streetscape on Greene Street, but Main Street rejected the offer because the apartments would have Section 8 tenants, some of whom would be Community Mental Health patients. They were afraid Maxwell House would become another Richmond Summit, which at the time was a trouble spot on Broad Street.

A major opponent was Mr. Young, who was against renovating the apartments into affordable housing, code words for somebody else paying your rent. He said the city already had enough affordable housing, which is ironic in the first degree because he later became Southeast regional director for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the granddaddy of Section 8.

Anyway, after Main Street said no, the developer offered to donate the money to the charity of Commissioner Betty Beard's choice, because she represents the district. Mrs. Beard said she found the offer in line with donations many other companies had made to schools and charities over the years. So Edmondson & Gallagher eventually prevailed with a majority of Augusta commissioners, all of whom knew about the $25,000 donation.

And at Mrs. Beard's behest, $5,000 went to the Augusta Youth Center, and much later, and much more quietly, the rest to city water department employee Atosha Harden's gastric bypass surgery.

Now what do you know? Five years later, the Richmond County Sheriff's Office and the FBI are investigating, and City Administrator Fred Russell has had a complete and total loss of memory.

It Was Business As Usual: "As we (commissioners) do different things and work with different companies, sometimes the companies say they want to do something for the city," Mrs. Beard said. "It happens all the time. CH2MHill who contracts to work with our water department gives scholarships to all the high schools. And people come to us all the time for donations.

"So when the young man came to talk to us about affordable housing, I thought that would be good. They came in and talked to Main Street Augusta, which was interested in advancing and improving the downtown area. They said, 'If you work with us, we will invest $25,000 in the community.' That is not unusual. Main Street eventually said no. They thought houses should be luxury apartments. They did not go along with it. So they said, 'We will allow you to have that money to give to charities of your choice.'

"I thought that was great. They asked where to send the check. I said, 'Send it to the city of Augusta.' At that time, the Augusta Youth Center was having problems. We decided to give $5,000 to the youth center. I presented $5,000 to Augusta Youth Center at one of the commission meetings. The other commissioners were not pleased. Making these donations made me look good, and not them. They said those funds should be sent back, and they directed them to be sent back.

"Don (Grantham) said, 'What about the $5,000 to the Youth Center?' Somebody said, 'We'll never get that back.' We didn't go back and try to recapture that money."

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: "OK, so I'm going to say time went on, went on, and that was the end of that," Mrs. Beard continued. "Then there was a young lady in the water department that needed bariatric surgery. The insurance company had told her they would pay for the operation. Then we changed from United Health Care to Blue Cross Blue Shield. She went for a year and a half or more, and they would not pay for that operation. So I went into HR and talked to them about it.

"She was trying to raise $20,000. She was in critical condition. I mean, it was unbelievable. She was going to the hospital emergency room. She couldn't breathe. She had to wear an oxygen tank.

"I think somehow I got with Fred and was talking, and he said that money hadn't been sent back. We called Mr. (Tom) Gallagher and mentioned we had been told to send the money back and asked if he would mind if we used it for her operation. And he said, 'No.'

"So we did it, and a life was saved. I don't have any regrets. In itself, it is a wonderful story. By the way, the checks weren't in my name, ever."

Mr. Russell signed off on sending the $20,000 back 17 months after the vote, according to city records.

So now, Mrs. Beard has become the focus of a local and federal investigation, which I believe is a bunch of hooey, in addition to being a monumental waste of time and law enforcement resources because even if she were to be indicted, no Richmond County jury would ever find her guilty.

She said he said. He said she said : Richmond County Tax Commissioner Steven Kendrick and I have agreed to disagree about a conversation we had several weeks ago during which I asked him who paid for a cookout lunch he held for his employees and others this summer in North Augusta. People were talking about why the event was held outside Richmond County and why the city paid for it. So I called on Mr. Kendrick and, as I recall the conversation, I asked him who paid for the picnic, and he told me he did out of his own pocket. Weeks later, I learned that the city paid $1,165 for food and supplies, so I called Mr. Kendrick last week and asked him why he told me he'd paid for the picnic when he hadn't, and he said he was referring to the rent on the facility, Riverview Park Activities Center, not the food. He said I didn't ask him who paid for the picnic, that I only asked him who paid to rent the center.

Going Green (backs that is): While the tax commissioner doesn't seem to be too concerned about eating up taxpayer money, Augusta commissioners have become more concerned about burning it up.

This time last year, six commissioners had burned $7,870.62 worth of city gasoline. Commissioner Corey Johnson was leading the way with $2,836.92 worth, barely ahead of Commissioner Alvin Mason's $2,204.

This year, all six have used only $2,634,97 worth of city gasoline. Mr. Johnson has reduced his octane use to $818.06, while Mr. Mason has used a mere $92.76 worth.

Commissioner Calvin Holland has burned only $338.28 worth; Mr. Grantham $182.92. Only Mrs. Beard and Jimmy Smith are doing about the same as last year.

Aren't County Attorneys Supposed to Keep Us Out of Trouble? But who knows how much taxpayer money city attorney Chiquita Johnson spent trying to prevent former administrative assistant Meschery Powell from collecting $3,000 in back pay that both the city's human resources officials and the U.S. Department of Labor said was due her? Certainly more than the $3,000 they'll have to pay her anyway. After Ms. Johnson refused to pay Ms. Powell, she filed suit in Richmond County Civil and Magistrate Court. Ms. Johnson hired a $225-an-hour lawyer to represent her, but Judge William D. Jennings III agreed with the previous two opinions last week and awarded her a $3,000 judgment. The judge, however, determined Ms. Johnson could not be sued on an individual basis for $10,555 more of Ms. Powell's claims for damages and attorney fees.

Life After Death: Faye Reeves of Thomson is 67 but living the life of a young mother with two children to get off to school, to soccer practice afterward, home to do homework and then to bed. Mrs. Reeves doesn't complain though. Caring for her grandchildren, Hannah Neville, 12, and Joseph Standridge, 9, is her life.

The morning of Feb. 28, 2001, Mrs. Reeves went next door to find out why the children's mother, 35-year-old Robin Reeves, had not gone to work and found her slashed to death in the hallway of her Gordon Street home in Thomson. Baby Joseph was still in his crib.

This horrifying crime has never been solved, and every year on the anniversary of her death, a candlelight vigil is held in front of the house where Robin was killed.

Gary Nicholson, special agent in charge of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation's Thomson office, said agents are still actively seeking information in the case while Ms. Reeves lives for two.

Contact Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228.

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methree
0
Points
methree 09/20/09 - 02:46 am
0
0
i thought our city attorney,

i thought our city attorney, ms johnson, was the one that hired the expensive attorney. with the city paying for him (of course!)

bettyboop
7
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bettyboop 09/20/09 - 03:28 am
0
0
fire the bananna!

fire the bananna!

jg41160
6
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jg41160 09/20/09 - 04:30 am
0
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1-Ms. johnson hired the

1-Ms. johnson hired the attorney.
2-What is meant by "So Edmondson worth; Mr. Grantham $182.92. Only Mrs. Beard and Jimmy Smith are doing about the same as last year.

WhippingPost
1
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WhippingPost 09/20/09 - 04:42 am
0
0
As long as the affirmative

As long as the affirmative action hired lawyer is on the job, there'll be problems.

toppergem
125
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toppergem 09/20/09 - 06:31 am
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Does the offer and acceptance

Does the offer and acceptance of this money from Edmondson & Gallagher look a little shady? Perhaps it does. But, so does a lot of other things that get done downtown in those public meetings held in the government building. This is not the first time something like this has been done in Augusta politics and I am pretty sure it won't be the last time. It is just this time you have the egos of children wrapped in this mess and they are determined to try to do as much damage as they can regardless of who gets hurt. And I am sure the madness is not over yet. The saga continues...

Brad Owens
4906
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Brad Owens 09/20/09 - 07:05 am
0
0
Yep, they just HAD to have a

Yep, they just HAD to have a law department

getalife
4
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getalife 09/20/09 - 07:08 am
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I understand from an earlier

I understand from an earlier article in this paper that after Ms. Beard donated $5,000.00 to some youth group, the commissioners voted to return the remaining $20,000.00 to the developer. I think this is where maybe Ms. Beard broke the law or at least ethics in giving the money to an individual. Sylvia, please explain your last sentence on this subject in the article.

wizzardx1
0
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wizzardx1 09/20/09 - 07:22 am
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Betty Beard said she did

Betty Beard said she did nothing wrong.Isn't that good enough for you racist hate mongers.

Riverman1
93717
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Riverman1 09/20/09 - 07:28 am
0
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Sylvia don't do no stinkin

Sylvia don't do no stinkin internet stuff. She won't answer here. Either you get it or you don't. (I don't get those sentences either.)

JohnQPublic
5
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JohnQPublic 09/20/09 - 07:28 am
0
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Since when can an individual

Since when can an individual person become a charity of any public official's choice? I understand the lady needed help, however, so do a lot of other citizens. This just doesn't look right.

rwarmy
51
Points
rwarmy 09/20/09 - 07:42 am
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Ms Beard has always been a

Ms Beard has always been a hypocritical biased racially motivated commissioner in her government performance representing her district. Would she have "solicited" a $20.000 donation for a white obese constituant? Absolutely not!

justus4
113
Points
justus4 09/20/09 - 07:43 am
0
0
Wow! These writings are not
Unpublished

Wow! These writings are not well-thoughtout because of a glaring omission, blatant hypocrisy, and just slanted observations. What are the charges associated with Ol' Fry and why not address his dilemma? (of course "we" already know that answer) The article correctly states that Ms Beard acted through a legitimate PROCESS which requires openess, not secrecy. Bribery requires secrecy, even the uneducated knows that. The observations of the lost legal dollars for attorney fees is blatant hypocricsy and , again "we" know why. The foolish case of the city fighting the X-Mart adult store and that appears to be OK. Nothing about the individual attorneys and their failure to reconize a lost battle, but C. Johnson's motives are questioned? Why? Who is heading the X-Mart legal debacle? They owe taxpayers an explanation. Isn't that worthy of the same ink given to a minority supervisor in government? Of course it does, probably even more due to the expected amount of lost tax dollars fighting a losing battle.

AWyld1
3
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AWyld1 09/20/09 - 08:01 am
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justus your posts are so

justus your posts are so confusing and rambling how can you expect anyone to make any sense out of them? "We" can't even tell what you are trying to say other than the AWM is behind everything and it's all some conspiracy....in your head. Betty Beard should resign now!. She is thumbing her nose at the taxpayers of ARC. This city is a joke because of the bumbling commission and their powerless leader. Vote yea or nay or get the heck off the commission. Quit playing it's a white thing or it's a black thing and just vote for the good of the city. If you can't do that then resign!! I, for one, am tired of my taxes going up in triple rate while the city stagnates with 6 white commisioners and 6 black commissioners meeting seperately and refusing to vote like they were elected to do. You don't have to stand tall but you do have to stand up!!!

AWyld1
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AWyld1 09/20/09 - 08:21 am
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Oh and by the by. If any

Oh and by the by. If any other commissioners are involved in any unethical dealings like this they should resign as well. I don't care if they are purple!!

concernednative
28
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concernednative 09/20/09 - 08:21 am
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0
I do find it amazing that the

I do find it amazing that the AC is covering a four year old story in the headlines daily. But is barely covering the current bribery case. I wonder why?

AWyld1
3
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AWyld1 09/20/09 - 08:28 am
0
0
Probably because Fry is smart

Probably because Fry is smart enough to keep his mouth shut instead of bragging about it in the newspaper. You will hear more about Fry when he is indicted by the grand jury. Betty can't seem to keep her mouth shut about her unethical actions.

concernednative
28
Points
concernednative 09/20/09 - 08:28 am
0
0
It is like Fox News covering

It is like Fox News covering ACORN with about 50% of its airtime. ACORN has gotten 54 million over 15 YEARS. The federal govt spends 54 millions dollars in a couple of hours daily. So is it really the biggest thing going on with our govt.

disssman
6
Points
disssman 09/20/09 - 08:54 am
0
0
I think Sylvia got her names

I think Sylvia got her names all messed up in this one. Maybe she should try again next week.

americafirst
1001
Points
americafirst 09/20/09 - 09:01 am
0
0
The article is misleading. It

The article is misleading. It seems to imply that what ultimately happened to the $25K including the donation to the city employee for surgery was discussed in open meetings. That simply wasn't the case. The only thing the public knew from the open meetings was that the Commission voted to return the money.

getalife
4
Points
getalife 09/20/09 - 09:04 am
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As far as ACORN, they are due

As far as ACORN, they are due to receive up to 8 billion dollars from the stimulus fund. I don't think they should receive another penny of taxpayer's money. On the Beard case, the city attorney said to return the money, that it looked like a bribe, then the full commission voted to return the money and a check for the $20,000.00 was cut back to the developer. Then how did Ms. Beard get the money back to give to the obese woman??? Many unanswered questions on the Beard issue.

nofrills
0
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nofrills 09/20/09 - 09:16 am
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Beard details role? She has

Beard details role? She has detailed nothing! She helped a friends daughter who works for the city and this person has medical insurance that refused to pay because it wasn't a life or death problem. Diet and exercise would of worked and Beard wouldn't be explaining anything!

Riverman1
93717
Points
Riverman1 09/20/09 - 09:26 am
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0
Betty will never have to pay

Betty will never have to pay to have her hair done again, I'll bet. Let Mike Ryan proofread Sylvia's column for typos and grammatical errors. :)

KSL
143858
Points
KSL 09/20/09 - 10:03 am
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Was MS Harden's fund set up

Was MS Harden's fund set up as a legal charitable donation? I'll bet not.

Junket831
0
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Junket831 09/20/09 - 10:31 am
0
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If the facts pan out as

If the facts pan out as reported at most Ms. Beard may have committed an ethical violation. There does not appear to be any criminal activity based on the facts presented so far.

While we may not like her choice of a charitable cause (1 individual instead of the community at large), it was the developer who decided to make the donation. Therefore it is a private matter between the developer and Ms. Harden. Unless you can show that Ms. Beard benefited personally or that the developer felt coerced into making a private donation, you've got no case.

Brad Owens
4906
Points
Brad Owens 09/20/09 - 10:41 am
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Even if it wasn't ethical it

Even if it wasn't ethical it was not a bribe. Bettey ALREADY suppotrted Section 8 housing and she stated that the 25K did not influence her vote at all. The company has said they asked HER becuase it was her district they were building in. So I just don't see why anything she did here is wrong. She would have voted for the Section 8 no matter what. You can't have a 'bribe' if there is no quid-pro-quo. Besides, you can't have a BRIBE if the person did not receive anything. Betty NEVER received anything from this (but good juju for saving a life). For God's sake see this for what it is! This is a diversion of attention away from the TEE Center bribery case and the investigations that should be done but are not.

noils
5
Points
noils 09/20/09 - 12:12 pm
0
0
"As far as ACORN, they are

"As far as ACORN, they are due to receive up to 8 billion dollars from the stimulus fund."

getalife please post a link to your source. Hearing it from Rush won't do.

Has anyone ever noticed how the far-right attacks national organizations like ACORN, the NAACP, Rainbow Coalition or the Southern Poverty Law Center that helps the poor and disenfranchised? On the other hand you can count on them to support the first and second amendment rights of the wealthiest americans and organizations that promote violence at home and abroad.

nofrills
0
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nofrills 09/20/09 - 12:14 pm
0
0
Betty Slumlord Beard may not

Betty Slumlord Beard may not of directly profited from this but she did have a conflict of interest in this Maxwell deal. She has a lot of bad judgement calls to be taking care of the people who put her in office. She should resign!

soldout
1283
Points
soldout 09/20/09 - 01:18 pm
0
0
Once the Christians found out

Once the Christians found out you can pray for "All truth to come to light" things are breaking loose everywhere. That is a prayer where God doesn't have to deal with the will of another person and is answered fast and easy. If our house isn't clean we better get a broom because God is responding to those folk's prayers. This will become even more fun.

concernednative
28
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concernednative 09/20/09 - 01:21 pm
0
0
Good points Brad Owens and

Good points Brad Owens and noils.

HillGuy
7
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HillGuy 09/20/09 - 01:26 pm
0
0
Tell them about the

Tell them about the furniture Sylvia.

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