Augusta Super Inn rooms not actually closed

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News 12 at 11, July 30, 2007

AUGUSTA, GA-- Signs cover the Augusta Super Inn since Friday. 99 rooms at the motel were closed for violating the Richmond County Health Code. The signs went up but tenants were not forced to leave.

News 12 sat down with the Health Department to find out what the signs really mean.

Richmond County Health Specialist IV, David Lee, said, "Technically, the rooms were not closed, it was a warning. When it comes right down to it, it was a warning."

A warning that gave a pretty clear message of just the opposite. After all, the signs do read "This room closed by the Richmond County Health Department."

Lee himself posted the signs.

News 12 asked Lee why the Health Department put signs on the window saying it's closed if it's not closed?

"Mainly to let them know we were serious because we were not being taken serious before," explained Lee. 99 of these signs were posted, which means only 11 rooms passed. The health department says they had been working closely with owner Rajiv Bhardwaj since February to bring the motel up to code after a complaint was filed with the health department.

Bhardwaj was given a timeline to finish the work, but had failed to meet those deadlines over the last two months.

Lee admitted the department had been very lenient with the Super Inn. "I'm not sure if it's a good or a bad thing, but yes."

So last Friday three Richmond County Health Department officials spent three hours at the motel proving they meant business. Citing the motel for the five most serious offenses that could lead to people getting sick: ventilation problems, mold, exposed wires, vermin and holes in walls.

Saturday, Bhardwaj told News 12 he had been unfairly targeted. "It is embarrassing because instead of getting a pat on my back for me and my staff, I feel that I've been wronged and kicked in the back."

Lee responded the department, in his opinion, has not treated Bhardwaj unfairly or unprofessionally.

Remember the owner also said all the problems were minor, and not a huge health risk, whereas Lee says the motel was in extreme conditions and one of the worst inspections he's seen in his 21-year career.

"We were within our rights to close the motel down, and this was a median point, because we really don't want to put anyone out of business."

The warning worked. The motel worked around the clock since the signs were posted. 40 rooms passed inspection Monday and the signs came down. 59 rooms still have code problems.

The health department says it's going to take another look at their procedures and possibly make some changes. For instance, if there's a strong warning in place, the sign should reflect just that in hopes of avoiding any confusion in the future.

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