Despite public scrutiny of Mayor Hardie Davis’ credit card spending and the My Brother’s Keeper fund, some Augusta commissioners want a line item in next year’s budget that gives them the power to spend up to $1 million dollars a year in each of their districts.
The proposal comes as the city is set to receive a windfall $84 million payout over the next two years from the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). Under this Act, the money must be spent by 2024.
MORE: Mayor’s Office Credit Card Audit Fails in Commission
On July 1, the commission voted down a proposal to audit spending by employees and elected officials. At the same meeting, they voted to accept the fiscal year 2022 budget workshop summary that included regular budget items as well as how to use the ARPA funding.
That workshop, which occurred on May 26, included the mayor, commissioners and representatives of the Georgia Municipal Association.
The workshop summary has a wish list of priorities, such as making $30,000 the lowest annual salary for all city employees, adding a mental health unit to the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office, creating a chief financial officer position, producing a master plan for riverfront development and a host of other infrastructure-related items.
Along with hammering out a comprehensive list of spending items, commissioners discussed the possibility of allocating a specific amount of money for commissioners to use at their discretion, including a plan that would give each commissioner $1 million to use in their districts.
Commissioners did not consider any oversight of how that money would be spent. The ARPA funding comes with strict requirements on how the city may use those federal funds.
District 10 Commissioner John Clarke says that giving each commissioner a $1 million dollar blank check is a recipe for disaster.
“This is just malfeasance waiting to happen. With no oversight, how would we know if commissioners aren’t funneling money to their friends or even paying people’s rent?” Clarke said.
Clarke points out that commissioners already have a mechanism for addressing needs in their districts such as sewage problems and potholes. According to Clarke, commissioners only have to bring the issues in their districts before the entire body and get funding allocations by a majority vote.
According to Clarke, the fact that there was no discussion on oversight paves the way for there to be no official policy, which is why the Mayor’s Office spending is under scrutiny.
“That whole My Brother’s Keeper mess is a prime example. The city gave the mayor an allocation and then just took him at his word that he was spending the money on at-risk youth,” Clarke said.
MORE: Other Georgia Cities Regulate Credit Card Spending
Clarke said that he knows that if the majority of commissioners want to give themselves the allocation, they will do it, but he says he will not accept a dime.
“I wouldn’t accept it with a 10 foot pole. I won’t accept it, and I will fight against it. These people seem to think that tax money is their money. They don’t understand that eventually you can’t spend tax money from a prison cell,” Clarke said.
Sean Frantom also offered a word of caution against spending with no oversight.
“If this passes, I am going to ask for input from the people of my district on how the money should be spent,” he said. “I can’t force other commissioners to do the same, but that’s what I am going to do,” Frantom said.
Scott Hudson is the Senior Reporter for The Augusta Press. Reach him at email@example.com.
And this won’t just be Richmond County tax money if it’s coming from the Feds. Typical Democratic way of thinking.
Exactly my thoughts!
Local politicians following the Federal level examples.
You have got to be joking! This ARPA money from the federal government will be nothing but a HUGE burden on taxpayers now and well into the future. The government doesn’t have any money to give except what it confiscates from the taxpayers. Or, in the current administration’s case, what the printing presses can churn out! You can tell which of our commissioners were career government employees; they think money grows on trees or is found at the end of a rainbow. Turn the money down! Tell the Biden administration NO to this nonsense!
The U.S. Congress using federal bureaucracies have authorized 84 million dollars of our hard earned tax dollars to be given to these clowns? The National debt just keeps on growing due to the incompetence of Congress and Biden/Harris. John Clarke is the only one with any sense. Unbelievable.
The lining of pockets of cronies begins! With no oversight, I highly agree with Mr. Clarke. All expenses over $5000 should have to go through procurement. Cudo’s to Mr. Frantom for at least saying he’d ask his constituents what they think their biggest district needs are if this ridiculous scheme passes.
My waiters are on it just keeps getting deeper and deeper!
I think we should use the money to buy a new commissioners for our districts. Someone who has a spine, voice, and financial responsibility. Someone who will not go along to get along and knows right from wrong when it comes to spending taxpayers’ money. Feel free to use the following letter with your own address and signature.
Office of the Attorney General
Department of Law, Criminal Justice Division
40 Capital Square, SW
Atlanta, GA 30334
Dear Attorney General Carr:
I do not know if you are aware of the past and ongoing alleged financial malfeasance by Mayor Hardie Davis, current mayor of Augusta, Georgia, his staff, and the Augusta-Richmond County Commission. The Augusta Press successfully sued Augusta-Richmond County to enforce their Freedom of Information Act requests for the mayor’s financial records, after he and his staff stalled and partially complied. The newspaper published multiple pages of the mayor’s credit card and PayPal statements that indicate his expenditures are for personal items or political items that enhance or enrich his post-office future.
It appears the mayor and the Augusta-Richmond County Commission are in violation of the Georgia Codes quoted below and no independent local law enforcement or justice agency will investigate.
Georgia State Code 50-5-80 (b) states: “It shall be unlawful for any person to obtain for his or her own personal benefit, or for the benefit of any other person, any goods, services or other things of value, through any resource or method established pursuant to this article, including, but not limited to, purchase orders, government contracts, credit cards, charge cards, or debit cards.”
Georgia State Code 36-80-24 specifically states that elected officials can only receive a credit card by a majority vote of the governing body: “No such county, municipal corporation, local school system, or consolidated government shall issue government purchasing cards or government credit cards to elected officials on or after January 1, 2016, until the governing authority of such county, municipal corporation, local school system, or consolidated government, by public vote, has authorized such issuance and has promulgated specific policies regarding the use of such government purchasing cards or government credit cards for elected officials of such county, municipal corporation, local school system, or consolidated government.”
The Augusta-Richmond County Commission never authorized the mayor’s credit card(s) nor issued a policy for its use, claimed ignorance of this code, and blamed the commission’s attorney for failing to enlighten them when it went into effect.
I urge you to investigate Mayor Hardie Davis’ use of the credit card(s) issued to him by Augusta-Richmond County, the mayor’s PayPal account, and the issuance of the mayor’s credit card(s) without approval by the Augusta-Richmond County Commission and a policy for its use. If warranted, please indict and prosecute any involved party in this apparent abuse of public trust and theft of taxpayers’ money. A response to my letter will be greatly appreciated. Thank you.
Hopefully the state will look into this.
Sammie Sias finally charged with destroying records in a federal investigation and lying to federal investigators. No wonder commissioners do not want a forensic or internal audit of anything, and King Hardie is bluffing when he says he does. If the Feds and GBI dig deep enough, Augusta-Richmond County will be able to field a federal prison football team with full-time offense and defense squads and plenty of bench depth. Yet some of them still want a cut of the unaccountable federal COVID money to spend on themselves and their pet projects and programs. Still some slow learners out there. Like a deputy once told me, “We only catch the dumb ones.”
This is dangerous and will only lead to mismanagement. Arbitrary pay raises/bonuses to friends and family. Lunch to go for all. Photo shoots, videos, hair cuts, make overs, etc.
I can not express my distaste for this type of financial corruption and lack of integrity for those who support this ridiculous spending.