Amidst renewed calls for an audit and new calls for a special grand jury, Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis Jr. continues to spend lavishly on political cronies, unknown individuals, marketing, photography and digital entertainment.
County Commissioners John Clarke and Catherine McKnight continue to ask for an audit of city spending, and former Mayor Bob Young has recently asked Augusta Judicial District Chief Judge Daniel J. Craig to empanel a special grand jury to look into “the operations of the office of the Mayor of Augusta-Richmond County.”
Davis has access to multiple city bank accounts including those for the Parks and Recreation Department, the My Brother’s Keeper program and a stand-alone nonprofit corporation called Augusta Mayor’s Masters Reception.
One name that keeps popping up in the spending records is Davis’ former campaign manager Tonia Gibbons who was recently excluded from the on-going investigations and proceedings by the Georgia Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission.
Gibbons also served as Davis’ director of community outreach before creating a business called Farr More and Associates.
Banking records show that Farr More and Associates has been paid $4,925 in 2022. A portion of the money came out of the Mayor’s Office bank account, but $2,475 was paid out of the Augusta Parks and Recreation Department. The invoice submitted to Parks and Rec shows the charges were for “event planning.”
In 2016, the Mayor’s Masters Reception Committee Inc. was dissolved with the Secretary of State’s Office and a new nonprofit corporation, Augusta Mayor’s Masters Reception Inc. was created with Gibbons listed as CEO, CFO and secretary.
Even though the city of Augusta puts on the annual event, owns the land where it occurs and owns the stages and sound equipment, the city paid Augusta Mayor’s Masters Reception Inc. $5,000 for this year’s event, according to the check register for the Mayor’s Office. After the money was paid to Gibbons’ company, it became untraceable.
A former executive assistant to the mayor, Latisha McMillan, is on the record as saying Davis used the Mayor’s Masters Reception fund as his own private piggy bank.
According to McMillan, who has a degree in accounting from Colorado Technical University, one of her first tasks when she started working in the Mayor’s Office in 2018 was to help organize the Mayor’s Masters Reception. For many years, the annual reception was funded by private donations. In 2018, the Augusta Commission decided to allocate money to put on the event, District 10 Commissioner John Clarke confirmed.
However, McMillan says that Davis continued to raise donations that may have totaled as much as $100,000. The reception’s account was taken away from her and given to a consultant who was a part of what she described as the mayor’s “outside office.”
According to McMillan, Davis has two offices, one inside the city government and one outside. Gibbons, McMillan said, runs the mayor’s “outside office.”
Meanwhile, Mayor’s Office check records show that a man named Myles Delont Graves was paid $9,949 from the My Brother’s Keeper account over three months beginning in November of 2021.
The Augusta Commission defunded the My Brother’s Keeper Program for the FY2022 budget, but the bank account remains active.
A background search on Graves produces nothing other than that a man by that name graduated from the Academy of Richmond County in 2015. One invoice for payment only lists Graves as the mayor’s “fellow.”
The mayor continues to spend city dollars on photography. The check register for his office shows that over the past year, Davis spent $5,275 with various photography studios and image consultants, paid video production company LC Studios LLC $7,000; cut checks to Styling Purpose LLC, a fashion house out of Miami in the amount of $607.12; paid the same amount to a company called Sweet Plans LLC out of Florida; and paid $662.72 to a hip-hop entertainment company called Red Eye Entertainment, also out of Florida.
After being shamed last year by the Augusta Commission for the overuse of his credit card, the Suntrust account lay virtually dormant for months, but by February of this year, spending from the account ballooned back up to nearly $7,000.