2012 was filled with strange, sensational trials and even stranger political campaigns. Here’s Part I of our look back at this interesting year.1/5 insider
Karma’s a Bitch
Attorney finds that what goes around comes around
Trial attorney and shameless self-promoter Joseph R. Neal Jr., 44, has had a pretty difficult few weeks recently. In a public Richmond County Sheriff’s Department incident report, an unnamed 18-year-old complainant and victim (identifying information redacted) alleged that Neal gave her “4 to 5 alcoholic drinks and marijuana causing her to become intoxicated” and then “had carnal knowledge of her without her consent and against her will.”
This from the guy who sued the makers of the Cabbage Patch Kids.
Do It, Deke!
Mayor once again proves his power… at least to those outside Augusta
Making Georgia Trend magazine’s 100 most influential list? Cup of coffee. Knowing where the bullion is buried? Priceless…
A developer’s dream, he will be in high demand once off the public dole. Look for him to accomplish far more for Augusta than he ever could as mayor once in the private sector.
Dr. Ricardo Azziz is earning high marks from former faculty of MCG’s School of Medicine for what they view as promotions based on ability. Many of these insiders saw so many presidents come and go… and the consensus is most promoted staff based on politics, especially presidents brought in from the outside.
Fred Russell interview:
MS: Is your future more in jeopardy with a black majority?
FR: I don’t care. I’ll do what I think is right, and if they’re black, green or yellow and they didn’t like that, all they need to do is get six people to tell me and I’ll be happy to leave. I’m not saying that to be a smartass, but that’s the way it works.
From joe neal article:
As president of the Summerville Neighborhood Association, Neal made a name for himself with his tough talk on crime. He bragged about arming up after word had gotten out through the email early warning system he championed that Judge Carlisle Overstreet had shot and killed an intruder in his Summerville home.
To the Metro Spirit:
Please note that Joseph Neal, Jr. is not the current president of Summerville Neighborhood Association as reported in your January 5 article.
I was elected SNA president at our November meeting. Should future references to his role in the association be necessary, please identify him as a former president.
Feel free to contact me if any further clarification is needed or if I can be of any assistance.
Best regards, and best wishes for a wonderful new year,
Jack Evans Augusta 1/12
On Tuesday, the Board of Regents approved the school consolidations Chancellor Hank Huckaby recommended last week, paving the way for GHSU President Dr. Ricardo Azziz to take over whatever the new institution might be called.
He obviously has experience at the whole naming thing.
Remember that grace period after he took over the helm at MCG? Nobody else does, either, because while they were sitting back preparing for a slew of meetings and maybe circling the new coffeemaker they hoped to order for the department, Azziz was out giving them all a new name and implementing all sorts of other initiatives.
Now he’s actually got a mandate rubber stamped by the Board of Regents.
Judging the Competition
As Christine steps aside, others jump to replace
Though Associate Magistrate Jason Troiano is the heir apparent, he’s currently trying to mend fences with both the sheriff and the DA after roughhousing a deputy on the stand during a recent sexual assault trial. And those are two people you need on your side if you want that job.
Hasty, on the other hand, comes to the race as an outsider, with no real history with law enforcement or the DA. He’s not the kind who’s going to be a behind the scenes favorite…
“It’s going to be an interesting year, because we’ve got five commission seats up,” he says. “I’m sure some people will be focused on running for office.”
Although an election year can sometimes lead to a lot of political posturing, Copenhaver says the voters’ interested gaze often keeps commissioners in check. But given the racial tensions that ran throughout 2011, does he expect the potential change in the racial makeup of the commission to have an effect on the way the city does business?
“I just want to see 10 people that are looking to the future thinking in a progressive fashion and willing to work together,” he says. “That’s the best case scenario for the city as a whole.”
Insider lady a
And while those concerts in the park won’t resume until spring, the county still isn’t quite sure how it wants to handle the management of the amphitheater. It could start an authority, make some room in Community and Leisure Services for an entertainment and tourism department or just find the right outsider to run the whole thing.
Remembering how much fun Ron Cross had being point man for the inaugural concerts, it’s hard to believe the county would take a totally hands-off approach, however.
Contrary to upbeat comments from the mayor, Lockett doesn’t think the New Year is starting off all that positively.
“If it continues, 2012 is not going to be any better than 2011 or 2010,” he said. “There’s no communication between one segment of the commission council and the other and there does not appear to be a great desire among some of them for that to change. And if it doesn’t change, we’re not ever going to become a cohesive group.”
It may be early, but some have already thrown their hats in the ring
District 1. Matt Aitken has been considered a one-term commissioner since election night by many insiders
District 7. Jerry Brigham is termed out. Donnie Smith has tossed his trooper’s hat in the ring, and at his announcement he was surrounded by a lot of dialed-in Augustans. Insiders say this is his race to lose
Lori davis interview
“Is it a grand conspiracy?” she asks. “We think it is. We have proof, now.”
Though she’s still enthusiastic about the concept behind the CNPO, she feels let down by the process, blaming the Augusta Law Department’s lack of understanding as well as the cross purposes she alleges from the Executive Director of the Planning Department George Patty, who was sitting on the CNPO committee while at the same time quietly pushing to make Harrisburg an Opportunity Zone, something she claims he did illegally.
“I’m going to blow them out of the water on that,” she says. “I’m going to get an attorney and I’m going to sue the city, because it’s illegal and it’s got to be stopped. I haven’t brought it out totally before the commission — I’m waiting for the right time to do this — but George Patty should be fired over it.”
David Fry, who was arrested in August 2009 for trying to bribe commissioners Alvin Mason and Corey Johnson into supporting the TEE Center, will be back in court on Monday, February 6, at 9:30. On December 6, Judge Carl Brown recused himself when his daughter, DeCara Brown, was hired to represent Fry. Many consider the Brown hire as a way for Fry to avoid going before the hard-sentencing Brown.
Recently, [Commissioner Matt Aitken] hasn’t had a lot to say on the subject, but Monday he couldn’t have been more positive, saying that most of his concerns about the parking garage agreement had been addressed and that he hoped commissioners could check their spirits and remember to put the city first.
Most telling, however, was the fact that he specifically thanked the “motel operator” that’s working there, commending them for being faithful when no one else was investing in the community.
If that doesn’t sound like a candidate remembering how to campaign, it’s hard to say what does
Commissioners, administrator and attorney tee off over management agreement
Specifically, Mason and Commissioners J.R. Hatney and Bill Lockett seemed suspicious of the fact that there were liens against the land, which is owned by 933 Broad Street LLC, a company with ties to Billy Morris.
Plunkett, the city’s special counsel for the TEE Center and the parking deck, argued that the liens were discovered as part of the process and were not “some problem out there.”
Mason made it clear that he didn’t know about them, to which Plunkett answered that the legal team had it under control.
“I hear you saying that,” Mason said. “The only thing I’m going to say to that is this: maybe it’s the lawyer I’m uncomfortable with.”
Finance Committee Chairman Jerry Brigham stepped in and tried to move things along by asking Mason if he was finished with his line of questioning.
“Yes, sir,” he replied, grinning straight ahead. “That’s why I said there are no comments necessary.”
“But you can’t just take a swing at people and not give them the chance to respond,” Russell complained.
“I’m not swinging at you,” Mason said. “Although, I very well…”
Brigham admonished them both, which drew in Lockett, who asked Brigham to settle down.
“There was a mechanism to have those liens released,” he said. “That’s how lawyers do business. We discover the issues with the property and we take care of those issues, ending up with the client having ownership of what they’re supposed to have.”
Get along, little doggies…
As far as the parking deck is concerned, Insiders surmise that little will come from all the uproar captivating the media and Facebookers. No one will be voted out of office. No one will go to jail, David Frey included
Commission news story
First on the agenda was Al Gray, who started things off by listing all the issues involving the TEE Center parking deck that have contributed to the recent divisiveness, including the air rights issue, property liens and bribery trail, and then attempted to sway the commission into action through oratory.
After his five minutes were up, Gray answered questions from several commissioners, including J.R. Hatney, who after asking a question, told Gray he liked to ask questions of experts, which prompted the mayor to ask Gray for a list of references.
“I think that prior to taking expert witness, we do need to establish that that person is an expert in the field, and I’ve just not seen any evidence to that effect,” Copenhaver said.
Joe Bowles pointed out that several cities, including Los Angeles, Chicago and New York, have built similar public buildings relying on air rights.
He later made a substitute motion that the contract be approved pending the land being donated to the Land Bank Authority without any liens and the agreement limited to five years for both parking decks.
Such a donation would basically put the land the parking deck is built on, which the city does not own, under city control while still allowing the tax savings that originally precipitated the air rights decision.
Caught off guard by the option, which Bowles said after the meeting had only been discovered earlier that morning, Lockett and Mason complained about the eagerness with which the commission was prepared to jump at the decision.
Ultimately, however, enough people jumped at the decision to pass the motion 6-3-1, with Lockett, Mason and Commissioner Corey Johnson voting no and Hatney abstaining.
What would he [Lee Anderson] like to do about the Federal Reserve?
“We must build our reserves even stronger than what it is now,” he told a forum in Statesboro.
In the old days, a candidate might plausibly complain that he misunderstood the question or was misquoted. But in today’s camera-saturated world, it’s not quite so easy — especially when video of the forum pops up online, in this case on the <<IT>>Statesboro Herald’s<<IT> website.
So now the plainspoken man from Grovetown is saddled with this very obvious example of how he doesn’t really understand the big issues that Republicans like to frown over.
If he’s not Atlanta material, does he really belong in Washington?
Which isn’t to say that the other candidates for the 12th are necessarily wowing voters.
According to some on the campaign trail, Wright McLeod’s fighter jock persona is so pronounced that he sometimes seems to swagger from the backseat to the front seat of his old F-14, which isn’t necessarily a good quality for someone that starts out with enough confidence to fill just about any sized room.
And then there’s Rick Allen, who while known as a wealthy man and contractor, has yet to distinguish himself as a politician. When too many work too hard to convince you how good someone is, you start to wonder why he doesn’t just tell you himself.
Maria Sheffield might be making hay in other parts of the district, but her tentative start and lack of local name recognition have local Republicans wondering just when she’s going to show up and give it her all.
Lady A Floundering?
Word is the management and decision-making apparatus have been in flux since the beginning. Before the park was completed, Columbia County Chairman Ron Cross was initially the point man for bookings. Since then, the responsibilities have bounced around the Community and Leisure Services Division, headed by Barry Smith. With no one in charge, everyone seems to be.
The skills needed to conceive, propose, spearhead and build something of such magnitude are impressive, even to the naysayers. But the skills required to operate such a machine are very specific and require someone with a lot of industry savvy. Let’s get some skilled hands on that board.
TEE it up
Obviously, that doesn’t mean that it’s too complicated for the likes us, but it does mean that it’s too complicated for the likes of <<IT>>all<<IT>> of us, and it seems right now that all of us — or at least all of us who are obsessing over this parking deck — feel like we have something groundbreaking to say.
But here’s a thought — while everyone is queuing trying to smash this piñata, what’s <<IT>>really<<IT>> happening in this city? And who’s getting away with it?
And yes, the city does own the deck above the first floor, not just the air.
Though a lot has been made about the unhealthy intertwining of interests, the fact of the matter is, it wasn’t just the city’s bond attorneys and tax attorneys that signed off on what everyone would agree was a complex deal. Insiders say the city would never have been able to sell the bonds if a gaggle of lawyers, the bonding company and most of all Wachovia, now Wells Fargo, weren’t happy with the agreement.
When you’re Barry White and you’re sandwiched between Lori Davis and Al Gray like he was on the last commission meeting’s agenda, discretion is definitely the better part of valor. By not being there while Davis and Gray did their best to dismantle the TEE Center parking deck, the TEE Center and pretty much everything else in the city that wasn’t bolted down, White lived to pitch another day.
So he put himself back on the agenda and Tuesday he was back in front of the commission, getting the chance to talk about all the great things the CVB was doing to promote the TEE Center and what a great asset it was going to be for the city.
The commission, however, was less interested in that than they were in stumbling over the latest hurdle with the TEE Center itself, a $300,000 change in the smoke evacuation system that would bring the city-owned exhibition hall in compliance with the Marriott’s air quality standards.
The Marriott’s air quality standards.
The Marriott, which is connected to the exhibition space, has standards that are higher than the state standards the building was built to comply with, but without the upgrade, Administrator Fred Russell seemed to feel the Marriott would not be totally onboard and the project could slow to a halt while they quibble over the details.
Thanks to all in the local media who have apparently made “dry humping” an acceptable parlance in news stories. Onward and upward!
Simon Says Let’s Play Chess
The commission even heard from Augusta Riverfront’s Paul Simon, Public Enemy No. 2, and you know what? He made sense.
First, he talked about all the benefits that being associated with the world’s No. 1 hotel provider, but that’s stuff people either already know or dismiss as PR (or BS), so pretty quickly he laid the facts on the table.
When the city voted to build the TEE Center, it had to be built to Marriott standards or Augusta Riverfront wouldn’t be able to operate it, and the commission approved Augusta Riverfront as the operator.
That paradox ceases to be an intellectual exercise real quick, though. If you run afoul of Marriott, Augusta Riverfront can’t operate the facility, and if Augusta Riverfront can’t operate the facility, the city would have to separate the TEE Center from the hotel and from the convention center it already owns, which is not only impractical, it’s basically impossible.
And Augusta Riverfront knows it.
J.R. Hatney, though, didn’t want to hear it.
“How can they mandate what this government does?” he asked.
“They can’t to you,” Simon said. “But they can to us, because we have a contract with them.”
Operation Smoke Screen Clears the Air
Odds are that we’re going to be talking about Operation Smoke Screen the way we now talk about Augusta Ink, the undercover sting that garnered nationwide attention for the way deputies and agents used a Tobacco Road tattoo parlor to close the noose on some of Augusta’s most hardened gang members.
If one thing was clear, though, it’s that Scott Pebbles is the chosen one. That doesn’t necessarily mean now — the operation prevented Strength from announcing whether or not he is going to run (he says he’s made his mind up and will let everyone know mid-March — but it hardly takes a visionary to see that someday Pebbles will be sheriff.
Peebles was at Strength’s side on a stage that held 18 other law enforcement representatives, a literal right-hand man. And Strength did his best to single him out, telling the assembled press that Operation Smoke Screen was his baby. Though Strength did most of the on-camera work because it’s the sheriff the cameras want to film — the sheriff and all those guns — Peebles acted as unofficial host, efficiently and effectively answering questions, guiding reporters and offering his own version of the charm needed to rise to the upper levels of law enforcement.
Being personally responsible for giving all those people back there stuff — that won’t hurt, either.
Former Summerville Neighborhood Association President Joe Neal Jr. and his wife, Caroline Caldwell Neal, have been indicted on charges that they raped their 18-year-old babysitter.
However, the motivation does not seem in doubt. The two were described by a law enforcement official with intimate knowledge of the case as being “bat sh** crazy.”
Sentinel Faulty System
Though news leaked out Monday regarding a city investigation into time fraud at the Recreation, Parks and Facilities Department, insiders are reporting that time fraud is just the tip of a very large and very dirty iceberg.
The Insider has assembled several first-hand accounts from probationers serving out their community service at the Recreation Department. Not only does the Rec Department get free labor from Sentinel Offender Services, the company in charge of the city’s probation services, the system allows city employees unreasonable power over the offenders under their control.
It’s here where things get ugly.
The Rec Department employee has the opportunity to falsify the numbers — for a fee or for a price not measured in cash. The employee can have the numbers show that the offender put in time he or she hasn’t, or he can derail an offender’s probation by reporting back to Sentinel that the offender refused to do the job assigned, did it poorly, was belligerent or rude or late.
In other words, an offender’s probation is being supervised by a low paid city worker who has very little supervision himself.
Strength to Announce Retirement
Maneuvering to commence
Multiple sources from both inside and outside law enforcement agree that Sheriff Ron Strength will announce his retirement on Friday. Well, not necessarily announce his retirement… just that he won’t be running again.
While many have predicted a showdown between Captain Scott Peebles and former Richmond County Sheriff’s Office Investigator Richard Roundtree, now with the Richmond County Board of Education, the sheriff’s brother-in-law, whose ties go back to JB Powell, is also reportedly planning a run. And family ties being what they are (Strength’s wife was former Sheriff Charlie Webster’s right-hand woman), that move prevents Strength from publicly endorsing Peebles, a promise he had to make with his better half.
If Strength’s brother in law, who doesn’t stand a realistic chance of winning, drops out, insiders say he will be free to throw his support to Peebles.
Columbia County, which will vote for two commission seats, is not affected by indecision, though a change in the redistricting map did claim District 2 challenger Damon Cline, who found out he was drawn out of his district after launching a forceful attack against District 2 Commissioner Trey Allen and Commission Chairman Ron Cross for their endorsement of the Magnolia Trace neighborhood, which allowed lower income renters into a Martinez neighborhood caught unaware.
According to a press release, Cline is preparing to go after the District 1 seat when it becomes available.
The Richmond County Commission races, however, are still in a state of flux.
“We are planning to campaign according to a July date,” says District 3 commission candidate Mary Fair Davis. “That’s what we’re focusing on, but if it changes, that’s fine. We’re flexible.”
Running for the seat held by Joe Bowles, who like District 7’s Jerry Brigham and Super District 9’s J.R. Hatney, is being term-limited out of office, Davis has considerable power associated with her. Her campaign manager is Clay Boardman and she was Mayor Deke Copenhaver’s campaign manager.
“I work part time, so I do have the time to commit to this,” she says. “We’ve been hard at work on this campaign since the beginning of December, and the support has been overwhelming. I’ve been humbled.”
Davis’ opponent, Ed Enoch, comes to the race from over 10 years as the Coliseum Authority’s attorney, which means he’s seen his share of bad government first hand.
With school board races, the TSPLOST, Columbia County’s alcohol sales referendum and all the curveballs that make politics so interesting, 2012 is shaping up to be an exciting election year, and the Metro Spirit promises to be with it every step of the way.
Joe neal jr
Speculation is that the prosecution sought her (Caroline Neal’s) indictment at least in part to seek her testimony against her ex. That is powerful evidence that could put him away for 25 years to life. On the other hand, he could just as easily walk. Insiders in law enforcement as well as outside legal observers say this is one case that could easily go either way, given the facts as they are now understood.
Most people at the Warren Road Community Center didn’t bat an eye. Instead, they wondered about the congressional candidates speaking in front of them. Why did Lee Anderson look so out of place? Why did Rick Allen wait so long to agree to participate? Why were people staying after to talk to Wright McLeod? Who the hell was that Sheffield woman?
So how is Roundtree campaigning? By launching a Facebook broadside demanding unity in the black community.
“Let me first apologize not for what I am about to say but for waiting so long to say it,” he wrote. “We are in a position to change the face of Augusta, unite this community and to make history. Yet there members of our community who choose to chastise and defame us…’just because.’”
He went on complaining that “we have been and still are our own worst enemies” and finished by saying “You can either get aboard this train… or you can stand in front of it… The choice is yours…”
Not exactly the populist approach, but maybe he figures Peebles already has that wrapped up.
LETTER FROM PUBLISHER
A year ago last Friday (at 4:45 p.m., to be exact) the Metro Spirit was once again locally owned.
We’re lucky to be here, and would like to thank our supporters — readers and advertisers alike — for being a part of what we do. Thank you. Joe White
A Foundation of Mistrust
Bus property battle frustrates commissioner
Though much of the rest of the city doesn’t make much of a distinction between Georgia Health Sciences University (GHSU) and the MCG Foundation, Commissioner Joe Bowles does, especially when it comes to who he would like to see as a landlord in Harrisburg.
“GHSU — yes,” he says. “The MCG Foundation — no.”
The battle of words over the city’s relationship with a proposed Walmart Neighborhood Market planned for a city-owned parcel off 15th Street and the lengths the foundation may have gone to sabotage that relationship has been escalating over the last few days, but Bowles doesn’t shy away from saying that the MCG Foundation and its president, James Osborne, have not been team players throughout the negotiations.
“In terms of cooperation, I would say the foundation has zero cooperation,” he says. “And I know for a fact that GHSU and President Azziz and his director of facilities are still meeting with Blanchard and Calhoun and they’re working a pretty substantial deal out.”
Anybody Else Want to Run?
Freddie Sanders is the fifth candidate to enter the Richmond County sheriff’s race
Roundtree — one prominent member of the legal profession jokingly said that if he was elected he would be in jail in 18 months
Ivey — a very nice man, but no way could he run the department.
Silas — fired by Webster, rehired by brother-in-law Strength…but many doubt his abilities.
Peebles — in for a fight
Downtown left uncleaned after parade
St. Patrick knew how to drive the snakes out of Ireland, but it seems nobody in Augusta knew what to do with the garbage left by Saturday’s St. Patrick’s Day parade.
“In my mind, we blew it,” said Administrator Fred Russell.
Russell acknowledged the city’s poor response in an interview Tuesday.
The parade left the downtown area awash in debris and many downtown residents wondering if they’d been forgotten.
In a way, they had.
“I think the people have a valid complaint,” Russell said. “We sort of dropped the ball on that one.”
The Cadi crew eventually started cleaning on Monday morning and later in the day they were joined by city crews.
Welcome to Augusta, y’all!
While the Augusta National has relatively friendly relations with its remaining residential neighbors, it seems to have a decidedly frosty relationship with some of its commercial neighbors. As hospitality and the National encroach on one another, all bets are off. There are big plans for lots more big buildings inside the gates, and that’s going to impact what happens outside the gates for locals.
It’s Masters Week, which means the fleet’s in…
For every golfer checking his lie there seems to be dozens planning their lay. Budda BING!
Sheriff Strength Rebuts
The Metro Spirit was called in to meet with the sheriff because last week’s Insider, the Spirit’s anonymous, opinion-based column, reported on longstanding rumors that Silas, Strength’s brother-in-law, had been fired for cowardice by former Sheriff Charlie Webster. Strength wanted to go on record about the rumor and other inaccuracies he found in the Insider piece.
The first thing he took on was the rumor that Silas was fired by Webster.
“He was not fired,” Strength said. “I didn’t know all this until I looked at it, but when it came up, I went to Internal Affairs and said, ‘Pull his file and bring it to me.’”
Will the attacks on Rountree help or hurt him? Will the age of both Peebles and Sanders be viewed favorably or negatively? Will John Ivey receive more votes than his current T-Mobile Friends and Family plan? Remains to be seen. But we in media are happy. The Parking Deck/Magnolia Trace/Fred Russell chapter is finally coming to an end. It’s going to be fun to have new arguments and controversies to dissect.
Now that the Golf and Gardens is gone, here’s an idea for the new GreenJacket’s stadium: put it at the depot.
For one thing, that part of downtown could really use the traffic. And talk about infill. Build a baseball stadium beside the river at the Fifth Street Bridge and you immediately shore up lower Broad Street. Suddenly, there’s more than just Luigi’s “down there.” There’s parking and people and some of the crappy stuff gets replaced by shops or bars or restaurants.
And the Fifth Street Bridge, which has been slated by many to be a pedestrian bridge anyway, already plays a major role in Augusta Tomorrow’s Master Plan when it comes to unifying the Augusta and North Augusta
We call BS
For days, weeks, all forms of jalopies line Washington Road as large men in small chairs wave signs to passing traffic that say “Masters Tickets” and “Need Badges.” During Masters Week, driving to the course, they are all over. So you pull into the Augusta National parking lot, head in to the course and all is well. On exiting, someone approaches to buy your practice round ticket for a few bucks. Sure? Everyone is selling them. But then something unfathomable happens. You are arrested. Hauled to the jail, booked and fingerprinted.
It’s not fair, it’s not right and it should not be tolerated. There are signs everywhere for the patrons. It’s like Disney Land, except with a green on white motif. Pleasant? Pleasant on steroids. That is why there is no warning whatsoever about selling your tickets upon exiting. It could perhaps scar the sensibilities of those attending. It may intrude on the refinement of the occasion. But if your grandfather visiting from California is handcuffed and hauled off to the jail in downtown Augusta for making an innocent mistake, you wouldn’t be so flippant about it.
Sure, there aren’t signs that tell you not to rob a bank, but people aren’t robbing banks everywhere you look and getting away with it. It is a monumental failure to not communicate the rules.
In the Rough
Augusta rolls up red carpet for Canadian couple caught scalping
Last year, Canadian Dave Rawlings entered the Masters ticket lottery and won. This year, when he and his wife, Dianne, sold them to a stranger from Illinois as they left the course early Tuesday afternoon, they ended up spending the rest of the day in jail.
“We were walking out and this guy came over and asked if we were finished with the tickets,” Rawlings says. “I told him that we never got them scanned so he wouldn’t be able to get back in, but he said he’d take the chance. We were going to give them to him for nothing, but he gave us $50 because he didn’t feel right taking the tickets for nothing.”
That’s when the plain-clothed officer showed his badge and asked them all to come with him.
“He took us up to a building on the side and made out all the citations and then we got driven down to the jail,” Rawlings says.
Luckily, his wife had $500 in her wallet. That was enough to bail him out of jail, albeit four hours later. One of the guys who was in there with them took him back to the Augusta National, where he got his car and went looking for an ATM so he could withdraw another $500 and bail his wife out.
They were apprehended at 1:15 p.m. and he didn’t get her out until 7:30…..
Once More, With Feeling
Wednesday evening Matt Aitken announced his intention to run for reelection, looking to recapture the mojo of his surprise election in 2009.
Some say that he deserves to win simply by making the decision to run. He did, after all, pray about it a lot, and if he thinks he deserves a shot after getting that kind of guidance, it’s kind of tough to argue…
On the Inside
The kid gloves are coming off in the Richmond County Sheriff’s race. First came the rumors about Robbie Silas, his past and his rise to prominence, which hadn’t been completely buried since his return to the force decades ago. Then came the whisper campaign that all was not right in Scott Peebles’ personal closet.
Tit for tat. Par for the course.
To many on the inside, the Silas campaign is less about Silas than it is about those behind the scenes wanting to retain some control. It doesn’t seem to matter that Silas isn’t that strong anywhere outside of South Augusta, because in South Augusta among South Augustans he’s the guy. Maybe by default, but he’s the guy.
But is he the guy because he’s right for the job, or is he the guy because those in the background think they can control him? With Silas in, they’re back in the game.
The irony, of course, is that the same people who are working Silas like that are charging Roundtree supporters with the same kind of misbehavior.
Everyone, it seems, just wants to get inside.
The Art of Raising Money
How the Art Factory suffered from the economy, its location and its success
If you blinked, you missed it.
On Wednesday, March 28, the Art Factory sent out a press release stating that after 17 years of providing arts education programming to some of Augusta’s most economically challenged children, the nonprofit could no longer continue to fund its programming and would cease operations.
“I was floored when I heard they weren’t going to be around anymore,” says James Crawford, director of Sand Hills Elementary, a school with a long history with the Art Factory. “I’m really disappointed that it’s gone.”
The Art Factory began with six women sitting around a table discussing Marsha Shlaer’s trip to New Orleans, where she was exposed to an effective arts education program that got her wondering why such a thing couldn’t happen here in Augusta.
“Clearly, there was a need for art to be taught to kids, particularly in the inner city,” says Shlaer, who would become the Art Factory’s founding board president.
Before they jumped, however, they visited the different arts groups in town to make sure they weren’t duplicating programming and found that no one was serving that particular population.
“So we looked at ourselves and said, ‘Well, if nothing else happens, maybe we’ll stimulate interest in doing this kind of programming,” says Margaret Wamsted Pickett, the founding director.
For O’Brien, who had been with the organization since the beginning, the fact that after 17 years the Art Factory departed from the Augusta landscape with such little fanfare seemed unfair.
“It’s been just kind of a ho-hum thing, and that’s kind of sad because I know it wasn’t ho-hum to the kids,” she says.
Audit Part Duex
Remember that audit everyone was clamoring about? The forensic one the commission finally agreed to do? Well, it’s run into a snag. It seems you don’t just say “Investigate the TEE Center parking deck” or whatever else you might want to investigate. Apparently, the companies that do the actual work, the ones that do it for a living, require a bit more direction than simple “fetch the crook.”
When the city put the job out for bid, they got back questions like “What exactly do you want” and “Why are you suspicious that something’s wrong.”
The irony is, of course, that the people the companies are asking — the staff — don’t think anything’s wrong at all. Some of the commissioners, on the other hand, do.
So a special subcommittee was established to determine the scope and the maximum budget of the forensic audit.
And if the negotiations that follow are anything like the ones before, it’s very likely the plan will lose support altogether.
The Size of Bowling Balls
Attorney Jack Long’s request for a ruling to be tossed out of Juvenile Court Judge Willie Saunders’ courtroom because of the judge’s issues with the IRS is classic Long.
Quoting from the motion: “That at the time the Court entered its Order dated January 7, 2011, a copy of which is attached as Exhibit ‘A,’, the Court and the parties were unaware that Juvenile Court Judge Willie Saunders was not qualified to sit as Juvenile Court Judge, in that he owed substantial back taxes to the United States of America, all as shown by tax liens attached hereto as Exhibit ‘B.’”….
…. Stiff-arming a man in his own courtroom is showy and effective, and political insiders are not surprised by the move. Overstreet and Long have long been simpatico, and the politically active and pugnacious Long has never been one to shy away from a fight.
Apparently, he can still bring it as well.
Commission fires longtime recreation director for inaccurate time card
Tom Beck’s 35-year career with the city ended with little fanfare Monday afternoon when commissioners voted to terminate him for approving a time card he knew was inaccurate.
Beck, however, did not go down without a fight, surprising some commissioners by withdrawing a resignation proposal he’d earlier delivered to Administrator Fred Russell.
“After much soul searching and prayer about this situation, my resignation is off the table because there’s one thing more important to me than any money or anything else in this world, and that’s my integrity,” he told commissioners before the vote.
Though Beck’s attorney was beside him, the recreation director made it clear he alone would be speaking.
“Mr. Mike Brown is with me, but Mike won’t be talking to you today,” Beck said. “That will be me. Because today is about you and your vote and me and my career.”….
“I’ve been accused of fraudulently signing a time card for an employee that showed four days of regular work hours when in fact that employee did not work,” he said. “Well, I’m here to tell you today that’s absolutely true. Positively, absolutely true. I did sign that time card and that employee did not work.”
“Because the recording of that kind of time has been standard process for our department for years and years and years.”
When Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle asked for Russell’s recommendation, the administrator was matter-of-fact.
“Based on the evidence and the testimony of people that were interviewed — the evidence in front of us — my recommendation would be termination,” he said. It was a recommendation that was swiftly carried out. All commissioners but Grady Smith voted terminate.
Commissioner Jerry Brigham was absent for medical reasons.
Looks like things are heating up again for Sentinel Offender Services, the private probation company responsible for so much misery.
Remember the woman who filed the police report claiming her ex-boyfriend gave her boss naked photos of her? That woman was a Sentinel employee.
It matters because, if she were a state probation officer or a parole officer, she could be arrested for having a relationship with anybody who’s under sentence, and a paroled murder is pretty much the definition of someone under sentence.
But she’s not a state probation officer or a parole officer. She works for a private probation company, so the paroled murderer gets arrested instead…
The Credibility Gap
Candidate tries to maneuver money into votes
After the Republican candidates for the 12th Congressional District received their updated financial numbers, things changed for Wright McLeod.
“This time, when I went to D.C. to meet with the Political Action Committees (PACs) and the lobbyists, they were inviting me to come over,” he says. “The last time, I was cold calling them.”
Those numbers, which included the first quarter of 2012, have McLeod leading the pack in total money raised at $284,000. Developer Rick Allen was second with $268,000, followed by farmer Lee Anderson with $210,000 and attorney Maria Sheffield with $114,000.
While raising money doesn’t guarantee votes, it does create a sense of presence and possibility for less established candidates needing validation.
“I’m a legitimate resume, but until we posted some strong fundraising numbers, I’m just another nice guy with a good resume,” McLeod says.
“I don’t think I’m the dark horse anymore,” he says.
Bloodworth reflects on presidency and return to teaching
That internal academic foundation has not always been appreciated, due to the school’s relaxed enrollment policy, a policy Bloodworth said was quite intentional.
“It’s been a place where the internal academic standards are actually high,” he said, “but the external standards for admission are not high, so it’s been a place that has created an opportunity for a lot of people to go to college or try to go to college. And it’s been my view over the years that that is a good thing.”
One of the benefits of college, he said, is seen in the flowering of the next generation. Campus, he said, is full of students whose parents spent a semester or two but didn’t finish.
“You’ve got people who come to schools like this who were not born to come to school, who may come from backgrounds with very little exposure to higher education,” Bloodworth said. “A lot of those people do not do well starting out. Sometimes, they come back and sometimes their children come back, but it’s still a benefit.”
Since the Board of Regents decided to consolidate its Augusta campuses, bringing ASU together with GHSU to form a new kind of comprehensive research university, some have questioned whether that mission will continue, and while remaining optimistic, Bloodworth acknowledged the worry.
The District 12 Congressional race heated up over the last few days when Rick Allen’s campaign fired off an ethics complaint against Wright McLeod.
Allen’s camp, specifically his campaign manager Scott Paradise, filed an official complaint with the Federal Election Commission in Washington, accusing the McLeod campaign of stealing proprietary donor information from Rick W. Allen for Congress, accepting excessive contributions involving the Wright McLeod campaign office and failing to properly disclose expenditures by failing to itemize campaign expenses and reimbursements.
While such sparring between campaigns is normal and shows that the election season is finally starting to heat up, insiders point out that seldom does a campaign itself sign on to a complaint like this. Whether it shows desperation, inexperience or genius remains to be seen, but it seems that the complaint has been successful at establishing one thing — right now, McLeod is the candidate with the target on his back, and if you’ve got a target on your back, insiders say you’re the one out in front of everyone else.
Audit Process Perplexes
Subcommittee meets to give scope — and a budget — to the forensic audit
Members of the Forensic Audit Subcommittee spent much of their first meeting determining the proper scope of the audit so that the firms wanting to bid on the job have some idea what they’re bidding on. They also discussed the potential expenses of the audit as well as the reasons for doing one.
Brown also tried to pin Lockett down on what he was searching for with the forensic audit.
“Honestly,” he said when discussion turned to the management contract portion of the issue. “Why is it that should be looked at? What is the suspicion?”
“My suspicion is that we’re not getting our fair share of the proceeds,” Lockett said.
“If we’re not getting our fair share from the money, why would you think that arrangement would ever be set up?” Brown asked.
“Because of what I’ve been preaching for the last six months,” Lockett said. “We need a professional contract person because we’re giving away city assets because we don’t have people versed in how to give a contract.”
“Do you think that’s bad management or do you think there’s fraud connected to that?” Brown asked.
“Do I have to answer that?”
“No, but I’m simply saying that if you think there’s fraud, you should have a forensic audit,” he said. “If you think it’s poor management, it would not be the subject matter of a forensic audit.”
“Sometimes, you know, management can be so poor that you think it has to be criminal,” Lockett said.
The committee meets next on May 29, with the pre-bid conference with the vendors moved to mid-June.
Duck and/or Cover
The Rick Allen campaign followed up its attack on Wright McLeod by distributing an email linking to a commentary in the Savannah Morning News written by political reporter Larry Peterson claiming McLeod is ducking the Allen campaign’s claims that he broke federal election law.
Ducking the allegations or forging on. The voters will be deciding that one come July.
In a special meeting called in part to discuss the possibility of outsourcing many of the functions of the Human Resources Department, Fred Russell seemed unusually willing to throw former HR Director Rod Powell under the bus.
Now that everyone’s serious about the fact that ADP — very reliable and very expensive — could be ready to step in and handle things (commissioners were going on a field trip the to the ADP offices the next day) apparently staff has figured out that part of the system used by HR, a thing called IFAS, was never fully utilized by Powell, who was not present to either defend himself or explain why.
That explanation might end up being important, since without it, Russell sounded like he’d found an excuse to give it another shot with his own people, people who, if armed with the full power of this miracle piece of technology might be able to do what they have been consistently unable to do for some time — provide reliable and effective service to the hardworking employees of the county.
Sources have been insisting that the black vote was gearing up to come out in record numbers long before Alvin Mason’s voter registration rally, and though the churches can help, in Roundtree’s case, the question might be whether or not they can rally everyone to make a return trip to the polls less than a month later for the all-important and nearly inevitable runoff.
None came close to the one submitted by Columbia County Republican Party Chairman Brian Slowinski, who… well, the subject line of his email pretty much says it all.
“Slowinski did his duty, then Qualified for School Board.”
The email, penned by Slowinski, certainly lays out a compelling story.
“In front of God, family and flag, Brian did his duty as Republican Party Chairman to qualify 12 candidates in 20 hours for the ballot, then filed the paperwork to run for the non-partisan school board.”
While that might seem impressive, it pales in comparison to what follows.
“A Leader as: Local Chair, District Treasurer, State Committeeman, Scholar and spokesman for Republican and Conservative organizations shows I am ‘solid, tested, red white and blue conservative for the school board.’”
With all that going for him, you can almost forgive the grammatical missteps.
A New Calling
Rick Allen attempts to build a political career after building business
Though the race seems to be between Allen and McLeod, Lee Anderson has been campaigning for a long time and has certainly made no secret about targeting the rural, agricultural vote. His campaign sign even features a tractor.
Allen contrasts that narrow approach by touting his wide range of experience.
“The way we’re going about this race — farmers know I know farming, hospital executives know I know healthcare and the business executives know I know business,” he said. “We’re not trying to say we want this segment to vote for us or we’re going to write off this segment. We’re for all the people, and I think we can represent all the interests out there.”
“Obviously, I can’t do everything,” he said. “I’m just one voice. But I feel good about folks in this cycle and the folks we’ve got up there. Like I said, this is going to be a good time to go to Congress and get this thing turned around.”
Joe Neal Jr. Trial
The prosecution had a tough case. All the prosecution team, the grand jury and the presiding judge are all to be applauded for the tough decisions they made. This case should not have been swept under a rug, and it wasn’t. The sentence handed down, while not severe given the sordid story and appalling actions, is entirely consistent with the plea agreement and the most that the judge could give. The defendant did not receive a pass. This Insider appreciates the poetic justice of assigning time at the wastewater treatment plant for public service.
While Joe Neal, Jr. was not convicted of the crime he was charged with, he and his very capable attorney admitted possession of marijuana and provision of alcohol. The public has heard much of the case and can infer what it may.
The Warrior’s Way
Joe Neal Jr. avoids rape conviction, but more than his reputation is soiled
Six days after accepting a plea deal that reduced a felony rape charge to two misdemeanors, a defiant and unapologetic Joe Neal Jr. lashed out at his accuser.
“That girl was just a liar,” he told the Metro Spirit. “If you were in court you would have seen what happened, but we never got a chance to cross examine because she was a liar and she didn’t want to go through with it.”
After giving this testimony in court, the victim decided not to go on, which led to Neal pleading guilty to disorderly conduct, possession of marijuana and furnishing alcohol to a person under the age of 21.
Some say the text messages alone are actionable enough to cause him trouble, while others in the legal community are suggesting that he will be required to undergo psychological testing because of the case.
Either way, the odds are likely that he’ll be putting some distance between himself and Augusta.
Let’s Win This Thing
Roundtree gets good news at hearing
Fifteen minutes before the Board of Elections hearing that would determine whether or not he would be allowed to continue his campaign for Richmond County sheriff, Richard Roundtree pulled his dark gray Kia Optima into the first row of the mostly empty Municipal Building parking lot.
He got out of the car, deliberately slipped on his black sport coat and retrieved a folder from inside the car. A big man with a quick smile, he seemed unhurried and lost in thought as he made his way to the front entrance of the Marble Palace.
At 7:27 the board returned, gave Roundtree back three of the four copies of his tax records, then unanimously denied Cooper’s challenge.
Roundtree sat still for several moments while his supporters stood up and cheered and the cameras all jockeyed for position.
“We’ll win this election, baby,” someone said as Roundtree finally stood up and smiled. “Let’s go win this thing.”
McLeod tries to outmaneuver criticism while firing back at some allegations
For Republican congressional candidate Wright McLeod, the last few weeks have been like combat. Ever since he came out ahead of businessman Rick Allen in the first quarter financial numbers, he’s been taking fire.
“I don’t want this to be a Wright McLeod/Rick Allen grudge match, but they’re very aggressive and they’ve made some very inappropriate remarks to my oldest daughter (a rising senior at Washington and Lee in Virginia),” he said. “Bar smack at the P.I. At least we used to call it bar smack. I don’t know what they call it now.”
Whatever it’s called, McLeod said his daughter and some of the campaign’s interns were at the Partridge Inn when Allen’s campaign manager started making inappropriate comments about McLeod, not knowing that she was his daughter. Once informed, they allege he continued.
“The hard part is not reacting in a way that you know is inappropriate,” he said. “Your first tendency is to grab and ax and bludgeon back, but that doesn’t serve any purpose.”
“The only people that said we’ve done anything wrong are Scott Paradise and Rick Allen,” he said.
That, and maybe Savannah Morning News writer Larry Petersen, who has been particularly harsh on McLeod.
“All I can think back is, did I date his daughter in high school?” McLeod said, chuckling.
Particularly eager to participate in this fight has been Savannah Morning News political writer Larry Peterson. In story after story he’s consistently and systematically taken it to Wright McLeod. For FEC violations. For campaign contributions to Democrats. For a voting record that’s not partisan enough to satisfy those for whom life is black or white, all or nothing.
When a reporter becomes a mouthpiece for a particular campaign, it throws the entire process off kilter. Either the reporter is lazy (you don’t think Peterson really went though all those contributions himself, found out who worked for who, determined how much money they made and then thought — hmm… something sounds fishy here) or he’s working to forward someone else’s agenda.
The Savannah Morning News is a Morris paper, as is, of course, the Augusta Chronicle, which has started linking to these stories running in its sister paper.
When things like this go on, you really can’t help wondering what an IOU goes for these days and just how it might be paid.
My Name is Sue, How Do You Do?
When the two merging schools suddenly referred to by just about everyone as the “New U” decided to form a committee to handle the naming of the new school, few expected great things, but the list the committee delivered last week was especially underwhelming.
Oddly enough, most of the names seemed to give a nod to the ASU part of the merger rather than the “everything else” part that has been getting most of the advantages.
Arsenal University? Really?
If the list was just sort of bad you could have lived with it. After all, giving a name to something already called something else is never easy (just look at the nation’s divorce rate), but this is so bad you can’t help getting suspicious. If no name emerges as a frontrunner and all the names are pretty much universally disliked, you can almost see Dr. Azziz — purely for the sake of time and efficiency, of course — making the decision for us.
FEATURE “I’m Ready for Barrow”
Sheffield relishes underdog role
In Sheffield’s case, the woe comes from the fact that she has raised so little money. With Allen and McLeod raising well above $250,000 apiece and Grovetown farmer Lee Anderson raising just over $200,000, Sheffield is pulling up the rear, having raised only $14,000 beyond a $100,000 loan.
That’s enough to get you left off the debate list in some places, but Sheffield insists that in the day and age of social media, ground-up campaigning can be effective.
“I think you do win races without having the most money,” she says. “It means you work a lot harder because you spend a lot more time out there in the district going door to door and making those telephone calls.”
As the city considers signing over the Aquatic and Tennis Centers to the New U, participants worry about access
When word got out recently that the city was talking with officials at Augusta State University (ASU) and Georgia Health Sciences University (GHSU) about the possibility of the new, combined university taking over at least some control of the both the Aquatic Center and the Newman Tennis Center, it sent a shockwave through Augusta’s athletic community, particularly its highly structured competitive swim programs.
“Obviously, our biggest concern with our program would be continued access to the Aquatic Center,” says Adam Byars, program director and head coach of the Aiken-Augusta Swim League (ASL). “It’s the only 50-meter pool within 60 miles, probably.”
For now, however, Augusta’s swimmers and tennis players are taking a wait and see approach.
“Everything’s on the table except for a reduction of public use,” Russell said. “That’s a deal breaker.” You Might Also Like: