HomeNewsParks and Rec department director tries ‘bait and switch’ tactic with Augusta...

Parks and Rec department director tries ‘bait and switch’ tactic with Augusta commissioners

Author

Date

Members of the Public Services Committee were expecting to hear a presentation from Augusta Parks and Recreation Director Maurice McDowell on May 31 asking for the $1 million allocated through federal American Recovery Plan funding be released for renovations and improvements at Riverwalk and Diamond Lakes Park.

Some committee members seemed stunned when McDowell veered off script and asked that the money be diverted to the Julian Smith Barbecue Pit at Lake Olmstead and the Augusta Farmers Market instead, leaving no money for Riverwalk.

“It was a bait and switch, and we shot that down,” said District 10 Commissioner John Clarke.

MORE: Eroding canal bank pose threat to school building

Prefiled documents prior to the meeting stated that McDowell’s department had studied and concluded that Riverwalk had become even more popular with the public as they socially distanced during the pandemic and claimed the $700,000 originally requested from ARP funds would be used to fix the water fountains, enhance shade areas and add comfort stations.

Instead, McDowell asked that the money earmarked by the Augusta Commission for Riverwalk be diverted to the barbecue pit to make the comfort stations at the facility Americans with Disabilities Act compliant and expand the seating area of the building on Milledge Road near the Julian Smith Casino.

McDowell’s price tag for the barbecue pit amounted to $515,000.

McDowell also asked that $330,000 be diverted from Riverwalk to the Augusta Farmers Market without offering any information as to why the market needed the money or how it might be connected to ARP funding.

The original request of $150,000 to expand the tennis program at Diamond Lakes remained in McDowell’s presentation. Currently, taxpayers are having to fund a new plumbing system at Diamond Lakes due to earlier shoddy construction, and patrons are currently being forced to use portable restrooms and will likely continue to have to use them for the foreseeable future.

Commissioners were clearly not amused, with several asking McDowell why he thought that the sporadically used barbecue pit should take precedence over the city’s main public attraction along the river. District 8 Commissioner Brandon Garrett attempted to tactfully allow McDowell to withdraw his request.

“I urge our director to take a step back and say, ‘Is the best way to use those funds right now and deploy them in a way that will touch a lot more people than these facilities that you have to rent out anyway,’” Garrett said.

Instead of taking the cue and withdrawing his proposal, McDowell doubled down and claimed the barbecue was a project that was years overdue and that money from SPLOST 8 could be used for repairs on Riverwalk in the future. Only, there is no allocation for Riverwalk that was approved by the commission according to the final SPLOST 8 list that was made public in March 2020.

Discussion then turned to the decaying Boathouse property at the Augusta Marina, which is currently unavailable for public use due to an unstable wraparound deck and other structural issues. McDowell stated that the costs to repair and make the structure habitable again are staggering.

“The original budget that was $900,000. We project that to be $1.3 million now and currently SPLOST 7 has about $500,800, so we are about $800,000 short,” McDowell explained.

MORE: Higher tax assessments result of increase in property values

Again, McDowell said that ARP funds might be used to fill the gap, but was rebuffed by District 1 Commissioner Jordan Johnson.

“I think that we should really slow down on this one; I don’t think that the Boathouse is not viable to invest in, which it is, but we should also understand that ARP is not this fund that is going to solve all of our problems,” Johnson said.

The long postponed renovations to the Henry Brigham Community Center was the next topic, and McDowell attempted to pass the hot potato of why no movement had been made after three years on the procurement process, stating that that the commission approved $6.5 million for the project, but the original low bid was $7.4 million and that when the Parks and Rec Department sent out a separate bid, the lowest price was $8.3 million.

McDowell never explained why his department waited to submit the bids to the Procurement Department, but conceded that if the bid for the work has to be resubmitted due to a procurement expiration date, the bids may rise another $1.6 million.

“One point six million dollars?” District 7 Commissioner Sean Frantom asked.

“Yes, that’s correct,” McDowell responded.

The Public Services Committee tasked McDowell, who recently took commissioners on a bus tour of parks he would like to close, including Pendleton King and Hickman Parks, to come back before the full body on June 7 with a priority list before a vote is held to give the Parks and Rec Department any more money from federal relief funds.

Scott Hudson is the senior reporter for The Augusta Press. Reach him at [email protected] 

13 COMMENTS

  1. I have never met him but I really don’t like this McDowell guy. How did he come to be in charge of the Parks Department? Can Augusta find someone better, more honest? I imagine he and Davis are buddies.

  2. Sell the Boathouse and get it back on the tax rolls instead of putting $1.5 Million into it and getting very little in return. Threre was a buyer for the Boathouse willing to pay $1.2 million and assume the existing problems. Ask why that deal did not proceed.

  3. Do any of Augusta’s department heads ever get up from their desks, go to the facilities under their management, inspect them, make a list of the required corrective maintenance, and then prioritize the list contents as line items in their department budget? Does Augusta have a consolidated maintenance work order database that allows employees to create and file a work order request to be triaged and tracked to closure?

    Can TAP publish an Augusta government organization chart that shows all the department heads and their minions, down to the type and number of hourly employees they supervise? Copies of the department heads’ resumes would be interesting too. Yes, it will require a FOIA request, at least $2500, and a court order, but it would be worth it. BTW, when TAP files the FOIA request, also request copies of all the checks written on the mayor’s MBK account listed on this website – https://appweb2.augustaga.gov/Budget/Watch/checkregister.html. And the commissioners turn a blind eye to this?

  4. It would be interesting to know how this man was put in this position. If he worked for a private company, he would have been shown the door immediately. Same old same old in the local Government.

  5. Please TAP, follow up on Mr. Antonacci’s questions. It appears the McDowell is in way over his head. An audit is probably needed in this department as well. The government officials have done little to maintain any existing properties over the years. Conveniently the last two, Covid has been their excuse. Riverwalk, Olmsted stadium, Diamond Lakes, Broad St curbing, fountains, parking pits etc. all have fallen into disrepair. With all the eyesores and mismanaged money it’s time for a new director of Parks and Rec. As a footnote – perhaps a small amount of money could be used to purchase and maintain the downtown sculpture’s for Augusta’s sculpture trail. This would be money well spent , ask the Arts Council.

Recent posts

Recent comments

Juliann McCraney on Column: Faith: Ups and downs
Robert Schloesser on Saga with Gold Cross EMS continues
Thomas Yarbrough on Garnett Johnson: In his own words
Tedd Antonacci on OPINION: Letter to the editor
Charmain Brackett on Reoccurring Members
Charmain Brackett on Short Getaways: Edisto Beach
Russell Smeak on Short Getaways: Edisto Beach
Trudy Edwards on Short Getaways: Edisto Beach
Gay Wright on Reoccurring Members
Russell Smeak on Short Getaways: Edisto Beach
Charmain Brackett on Short Getaways: Edisto Beach
Charmain Brackett on Short Getaways: Edisto Beach
Russell Smeak on Short Getaways: Edisto Beach
Thomas Plowden on Short Getaways: Edisto Beach
Charmain Brackett on Man struck by train Thursday
Thomas Yarbrough on Man struck by train Thursday
Tedd Antonacci on Man struck by train Thursday
Dennis Perry on FAITH: Our Only Hope
Robert Turbyfill on Column: Serene18 – take two
Leonard Zimmerman Jr on In The Kitchen With Vera: Oh Honey
Tedd Antonacci on Bomb threat suspect in custody
Frank Bush on FAITH: A Great Lady
Judy Wheeler on FAITH: A Great Lady
Robert Green on Kemp signs tax cut bill
Dan Barnett on FAITH: The Turtle
William Speer on Whither Ukraine?
Sherri Jones Rivers on FAITH: The Turtle
Judy Wheeler on FAITH: The Turtle
Doug Herman on Whither Ukraine?
Phillip Williams on Column: Electing judges
John Mulherin on Column: Electing judges
Sarah Scott on Column: Electing judges
Thomas Yarbrough on XPR Augusta Concerts Canceled
Bill Lesshafft on XPR Augusta Concerts Canceled
Amanda Main on FAITH: The Covid Effect
Tedd Antonacci on XPR Augusta Concerts Canceled
Rev. Bill Harrell on FAITH: The Covid Effect
Jackie VOSS on FAITH: The Covid Effect
Penny Danner on FAITH: The Covid Effect
Rabbi David Sirull on FAITH: The Covid Effect
Phillip Williams on