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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Discussionstarter
467
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Discussionstarter 09/20/09 - 02:46 pm
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Let the GBI investiagte. If

Let the GBI investiagte. If she violated laws and has not been truthful in her recollection of event.... send her to jail. Then she can appeal... and we will let Mr. Tarver's group work with it. I am so tired of Augusta politics.

Craig Spinks
817
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Craig Spinks 09/20/09 - 02:59 pm
0
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If the AC and other local

If the AC and other local media are going to do some real investigative reporting, let them look at the privatized local probation, process; who are receiving the $7M+ in funds undelineated under "Other Administrative Expenses" and "Other Managerial Expenses" in the RCBOE budget; and why Columbia County government is reluctant to make its financial procedures as transparent as those of Carroll County, GA- for starters?

mgroothand
5
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mgroothand 09/20/09 - 03:00 pm
0
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I don't know Betty Beard but

I don't know Betty Beard but from what I understand she got her current job because her husband died in office. What I have been advocating for years is a competency test for anyone running for public office. What qualified Mrs. Beard for her current job? All jobs need qualifications that can be easily verified except for for City Commissioner entrusted with millions of tapayer dollars???

Craig Spinks
817
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Craig Spinks 09/20/09 - 03:01 pm
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CORRECTION: "probation

CORRECTION: "probation process," not "probation, process" in line 2.

concernednative
28
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concernednative 09/20/09 - 03:11 pm
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mrgrooth, the same thing is

mrgrooth, the same thing is about to happen on the school board. It is not so much as their husband dieing but name recognition. That is why you have career politicians and families where everyone is a pol. The name gets out there and that is it. People don't really research the issues and the person's background they just recognize the name and/or party affiliation.

KSL
118572
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KSL 09/20/09 - 05:19 pm
0
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Mrs. Beard, how long was it

Mrs. Beard, how long was it from the time that the current insurance said they would pay for the operation until the time you changed companies? That detail was left out. I am also curious about the fact that it was stated the money had not been sent back. The money was supposed to go back and it didn't. Part of this story was left out this morning.

KSL
118572
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KSL 09/20/09 - 05:21 pm
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So note, the money was never

So note, the money was never sent back despite the vote of the commission. The plot thickens.

BAMABOY
20
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BAMABOY 09/20/09 - 05:39 pm
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Brad, That money was given to

Brad,

That money was given to the city of Augusta and not an individual. If it was going to be given away to a person, the WHOLE commission should have voted on the issue, not a commissioner and the administrator. Also, Main Street voted against the bond issuance due to the mental health component of the deal, not the Section 8 portion. The Maxwell House is require to house some 40 residents who have mental problems, and that was the concern.

KSL
118572
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KSL 09/20/09 - 06:13 pm
0
0
I have to admit that I wanted

I have to admit that I wanted to move to Augusta and live downtown. It didn't happen. That was when Riverwalk was new and it was safe to walk there and it was landscaped. We drove from Aiken to Augusta many evenings to walk on Riverwalk and eat at the restaurants. I shopped at Augusta Mall without trepidation. Loved to shop on Broad Street. Shopped alone at Surrey Center. Between the paper and posters, you really frighten out-of-townee's.

disssman
6
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disssman 09/20/09 - 06:32 pm
0
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I wonder if Betty will do the

I wonder if Betty will do the right thing and pay any fines and taxes for this woman who she advised and cared so much for. After all she is the one who came up with the idea and apparently she is the one who did all the negotiations.

KSL
118572
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KSL 09/20/09 - 06:50 pm
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And I'm certain that a woman

And I'm certain that a woman who had been out of work so long does not have a reserve to pay the taxes on her gift. It would be nice to know, also, if she was employed when the baby was born or was her child one of those 50% medicaid babies born in GA. I'm thinking that if you are the recipient of a gigantic gift from an angel, you get yourself back to work and pay your own way and you pass that gift forward before you receive another dime of largess not earned.

KSL
118572
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KSL 09/20/09 - 07:04 pm
0
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not, that's pretty petty. Are

not, that's pretty petty. Are we going to be posting like we are submitting our posts to English teachers for grading where 3 errors in spelling (typos), grammar, or punctuation automatically take you to the grade level below no matter how brilliant your thesis is, or are we posting like we are on a cell phone texting?

whatashame
0
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whatashame 09/20/09 - 07:32 pm
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o.k can we be real about

o.k can we be real about this. This employee could have hit weight watchers or do dieting. There is another woman in that same department that has a weight problem. I don't know if she had surgery but I see her still working and trucking along. As a county employee, she should have refused the donation due to where it was coming from. She knew where it came from, and it should have been returned. Being overweight is a choice, and hell the youth center needed more than 5K. They do not bring in any revenue, that other $20K could have went a long way for those kids.

KSL
118572
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KSL 09/20/09 - 07:51 pm
0
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According to the story, she

According to the story, she was no longer an employee, but on long term disability.

Grasshopper
7
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Grasshopper 09/20/09 - 08:11 pm
0
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She is back to work at the

She is back to work at the utilities department! I am happy for the lady. People who have problems with obesity are just like drug addicts. They know their lifestyle is not good for them, yet they just can't control themselves.

KSL
118572
Points
KSL 09/20/09 - 08:11 pm
0
0
She should have at the very

She should have at the very least paid taxes on the donation unless her situation had been set up as an eleemosynary situation by tax standards, which is highly doubtful, since it has not been reported. Somebody owes taxes or somebody needs to explain poor reporting.

Grasshopper
7
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Grasshopper 09/20/09 - 08:30 pm
0
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The gift tax does not apply

The gift tax does not apply if the money is paid directly to a medical or educational institution. http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p950.pdf

Pu239
284
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Pu239 09/20/09 - 08:30 pm
0
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When this Obamacare passes
Unpublished

When this Obamacare passes I'm gonna get me some body work done. A lap band so Niko can't dis me, some EVLT to get rid of those ugly varicose veins, a face lift so I can get my skin as tight as Nancy Pelosi's. This going to be great! I just hope I don't have anything really serious happen while I'm waiting for my elective surgeries.

Pu239
284
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Pu239 09/20/09 - 08:33 pm
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And while I'm waiting I guess
Unpublished

And while I'm waiting I guess I need LASIK also, because this is the wrong thread!

KSL
118572
Points
KSL 09/20/09 - 10:34 pm
0
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The gift tax does not apply

The gift tax does not apply if the money is paid directly to a medical or educational institution. http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p950.pdf
Posted by Grasshopper on Sun Sep 20, 2009 8:30 PM What a nice loophole!

KSL
118572
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KSL 09/20/09 - 10:42 pm
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I'm with you Pu239. Been a

I'm with you Pu239. Been a damned fool paying for my medical care all of these years and for my children. Think of all of the electronics I've deprived myself of. I've been unemployed and instead of applying for benefits I have gone self employed. People like me and my husband solve problems. People who look to the government to sustain them until and if they wish to become self sufficient are just different from us.

Grasshopper
7
Points
Grasshopper 09/20/09 - 11:14 pm
0
0
I don't write the tax code, I

I don't write the tax code, I just know how to research it. The lady got a break in life, which is good. As for beard she legally did no wrong. However, she seems to be as crooked as the rest.

KSL
118572
Points
KSL 09/20/09 - 11:25 pm
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Grasshopper, if the giver,

Grasshopper, if the giver, the development company, claimed a tax write off, and if the recipient was not a eleemosynary entity, someone or several someones have some tax consequences.

KSL
118572
Points
KSL 09/20/09 - 11:28 pm
0
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You need to research a little

You need to research a little more in dept, grasshopper. I know that it is a bit more complicated that the article in the paper that first appeared this morning. Later this afternoon they discussed the fact that the money had not actually been returned for 17 months. It seems to be that the city/county of Richmond have some explaining to do.

KSL
118572
Points
KSL 09/20/09 - 11:30 pm
0
0
I'm not certain how Georgia

I'm not certain how Georgia city and county politics work anymore since I've been long gone from there, but dang if it doesn't seem like there needs to a lot of explaining going on.

Grasshopper
7
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Grasshopper 09/20/09 - 11:36 pm
0
0
Think of you paying for you

Think of you paying for you child's college tuition. Should you have to pay a gift tax? This lady will not have to pay a dime in taxes. I am sure that Maxwell's accountant, has this matter covered. The truth is, there were some back room deals made. Betty did a CYA. Then when it was investigated by Scott Hudson, Betty purposely made the statements of bribe and redirection funds. Those comments by Betty, is what put everyone in a frenzy.

GaMedic
0
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GaMedic 09/21/09 - 12:41 am
0
0
My husband is a public

My husband is a public servant who was hurt on the job. Workmans Comp paid all the med. bills UNTIL they found out the life-saving spinal surgery he needed was 200K+ then...oops suddenly the condition wasn't caused by the job accident. Our private health ins wouldn't pay because they said it WAS job-related. No hospital would touch him w/o either the cash for the operation or insurance. Finally after he nearly became paralyzed (I bathed, dressed, fed him, etc. w/o prof. nursing care), after 4 mos of jagged bone pressing on his spinal cord, I took him to MCG's ER & refused to leave until someone helped him. He got the surgery and is back @ work, 35% permanently disabled but is able to work desk job. Where was this charitable contribution from B. Beard for my husband when he needed it? Glad the water dept person is ok but I guess hubby was working in the wrong dept wearing the wrong color skin. Just saying...

nofrills
0
Points
nofrills 09/21/09 - 06:41 am
0
0
GaMedic- The public yells

GaMedic- The public yells racist for that remark but I understand and have seen it with my own eyes. You see the City of Augusta employs many blacks and when ever I am at a city office or goverment office I have notice the treatment of blacks favored over whites and latins. I am sitting at the DSS office to give paperwork on a guy trying to beat the system. I wasnt even looking for help when a black woman came out and call a latins name. She then noticed a lady she knew from her neighborhood. She told the family to wait a minute so she could catch up with her friends current events. She was curt to the latin family and friendly to her friend. Remember I am still waiting to help and Her friend gets called back to the back ahead of everybody else sitting in the office. When I ask about it I am told I can leave whenever I want because they are still thinking I am waiting to apply for help. I tell her why I am there and I am still treated like an enemy. So if you live in Augusta and your not black expect to be treated like crap.

thankgodforaugusta
0
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thankgodforaugusta 09/21/09 - 09:19 am
0
0
if the commission returned

if the commission returned the $20,000 because it looked like a bribe why was the $5,000 not returned how could it not be considered the same thing whatever they call it are they less guilty if they only take part of the money either the whole commission is guilty or they are not

getalife
4
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getalife 09/21/09 - 09:39 am
0
0
Noils, I do not listen to

Noils, I do not listen to Rush. It was stated in a news interview with a senator. Not sure of what news network.

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