HomeNewsState Ethics Commission investigation expands to include Augusta mayor and former...

State Ethics Commission investigation expands to include Augusta mayor and former staffer

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A probe by the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission that began in 2018 has expanded to include an investigation of Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis Jr. and Tonia Gibbons, former community relations and engagement director for the mayor’s office.

Glenn Richie, the general manager for Lamar Advertising and James McKinnon of Cardinale Management, owner of Regency Mall, have previously been issued subpoenas in the matter.

Documents show the mayor used $24,000 in public funds to support the referendum campaign to have the new James Brown Arena moved to the Regency Mall site.

At issue are several billboards that The Concerned Citizens of Richmond County group purchased in 2018. Those billboards urged voters to vote “yes” on a non-binding ballot initiative on whether to build the new James Brown Arena at the site of the former Regency Mall. Voters overwhelmingly did not support the measure.

The state ethics’ commission turned its attention to the matter because The Concerned Citizens of Richmond County group has never registered as a political action committee with the Richmond County Board of Elections, and it did not disclose how much money it raised or spent, which is required by law, according to Elections Board Assistant Director Travis Doss.

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Local Republican strategist David Barbee filed a complaint with the commission shortly after the May 22, 2018 referendum. That filing kick-started the probe into who paid for the billboards.

Georgia elections law required that any amount of money over $500 spent in an election be reported. According to elections law, any initiative placed on a ballot is considered an overall part of the combined election. State ethics rules also require disclosure of contributions intended to influence “voters to approve or reject ‘. . .a proposed question which is to appear on the ballot in any county or municipal election,” according to the City Clerk Handbook on the Ethics Commission website.

The purchase cost of the billboards was around $2,000, which is a large enough amount to be considered reportable income.

At the time, Davis, while publicly supporting moving the arena to Regency Mall, attempted to distance himself from the unregistered PAC and claimed he did not know who paid for the advertisements, according to press reports published in “The Augusta Chronicle.”

Sylvia Cooper, who was a reporter and columnist for “The Augusta Chronicle” at the time, said she had asked Davis then who was responsible for the marketing campaign promoting the Regency Mall site, and he replied, “I can’t say. I have my own campaign ….”

Brandon Garrett, who had worked for Lamar Advertising prior to his election to the Augusta Commission, says that to his knowledge, Cardinale, owner of the Regency Mall property, paid for the billboards, and the mayor’s only involvement was approving the final design of the ads.

Emails between the company and Davis show that he did give the final approval to the proposed layouts.

The Sizemore Group, an Atlanta architecture firm, was hired to draw mock-ups of the building designs and provide consulting services.

In total, checking account records and invoices show the mayor’s office paid $25,622.05 in taxpayer funds to The Sizemore Group for services that appear to be related to the campaign to place the new arena at the Regency Mall site. Some of those services are logged as vision and analysis, program development and logistics, according to the invoices.

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Invoices from The Sizemore Group, and corresponding checks from the mayor’s office check ledger, show that Davis used city money to pay for the designs and consultation.

Augusta Blueprint was contracted to produce the final renderings, and payments may have been made from the mayor’s My Brother’s Keeper account. Payments from that account during the same time period show they were made to Augusta Blueprint.

Emails between Lamar Advertising, the mayor and Cardinale all show that Augusta Blueprint was responsible for producing the final formatted files to be used for the billboards.

In 2017, the mayor’s office paid The Sizemore Group $24,500 to co-host a by-invitation-only “SOGO Summit.” SOGO stands for South of Gordon Highway. The summit organizers took local and regional business leaders on a tour of the Deans Bridge Road and Gordon Highway areas and ended with a lavish dinner at The Partridge Inn, according to a story by Sylvia Cooper.

While the mayor and The Sizemore Group were the official hosts, McKinnon, of Cardinale Management, which operates out of New York, was on hand for the event. McKinnon’s company stood to gain millions of dollars should voters approve the ballot initiative moving the James Brown Arena to Regency Mall since they own the property.

While the summit was billed as an event to inspire development ideas in south Richmond County, the majority of the emphasis centered around the Regency Mall property and the possibility of turning the 77-acre tract into a new James Brown Arena complex.

Numerous phone calls and emails to the Davis’s office were never returned.

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

28 COMMENTS

  1. All the more reason for a forensic audit of every single department in Augusta, as well as WHY Davis should never hold any office or lobbying position in the future. He should be held accountable for every taxpayer dollar misappropriated. Are you listening Commissioners?

  2. Ha, ha. The truth never hurts – until it does. Lies, obfuscations, misleading statements, malfeasance, misfeasance, and more should be tracked and exposed. Where are the commissioners in these issues?

  3. Just how far back does the corruption go? How many commissioners should be investigated, how many city employees should be jailed along with commissioners? Please investigate and bring charges against all these and former corrupt employees, commissioners, and mayors plural. Silas and Davis for sure.

  4. Who paid for the promotional material in support of the failed GO bond issue for a new arena? None of the signs contained their source, as required by law. And what of the big banner on the JBA, which was later removed? Lots of dark money here.

  5. I knew it…I asked Hardie face to face if the Sizemore Group did it and he just said, “maybe.” John Clarke was there and heard it. (before he was a commish.) I knew the prints were at Augusta Blueprint too…Steven Kendrick’s dad’s company…yeah, let’s send this scheister to ATL to lobby…

    • Thank you Catherine. Public pressure often takes time to build up and have the desired effect. In this case it should be approached to CLEAR the names of all commissioners and employees – not to incriminate them, unless they should be incriminated. Keep calling for that audit. The money will be well spent and help to restore trust in the commissioners and public officials.

      • AUGUSTA PRESS. —-
        PLEASE PROVIDE YOUR READERS
        DETAILS CONCERNING THE EXPENDITURES MADE ( OR TO BE MADE ) FROM THE
        FORTY FIVE THOUSAND ( $45,000.00 ) DOLLARS WHICH THE COMMISSIONERS TRANSFERRED TO THE COLISEUM AUTHORITY AFTER THE PROPOSED THREE ( 3 ) MILL PROPERTY TAX INCREASE WAS DEFEATED BY THE VOTERS .
        WILL IT FUND ADVERTISING SUPPORTING A NEW GENERAL OBLIGATION BOND PROPOSAL
        ( Property Tax Increase ) WHICH WILL APPEAR ON A BALLOT AFTER THE MAY 2022 COMMISSION ELECTIONS .

  6. Forensic audit of the books for My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) and Hardie’s MBK slush fund may be enough to make him a cellmate for Sammie Sias. Still waiting for GBI and Attorney General Chris Carr to wake up and investigate The King before all the evident is destroyed.

  7. Don’t forget about the individuals that bought the property in front on the old mall site. And the former politician that owned several homes on the Dean’s Bridge area also. Both of these individuals are close to Hardy Davis. Please do a property search. You will be overwhelmed. One of them is still on the James Brown Colosseum Board. The other is a former commissioner and state politatiin

  8. Don’t forget about the individuals that bought the property in front on the old mall site. And the former politician that owned several homes on the Dean’s Bridge area also. Both of these individuals are close to Hardy Davis. Please do a property search. You will be overwhelmed. One of them is still on the James Brown Colosseum Board. The other is a former commissioner and was a state elected official serving with Davis at the same time in Atlanta.

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