News 12 at 11 o'clock / Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- There is finally a TEE Center management deal, but some are calling the deal unethical. Some say commissioners violated their own rules to reach it.
"I mean, we are giving away everything but the kitchen sink," said Commissioner Bill Lockett. "And I better check. It may be gone, too."
Emotions were high as commissioners tackled a controversial management contract for Augusta's new convention Center.
"I'm concerned about the taxpayers," Lockett said.
Expected $900,000 losses were surprisingly revised down to less than $500,000 as part of a string of last minute changes. In all, 16 contract amendments are presented and approved in a matter of minutes.
"Do you know what you voted on today? Do you know what's in this [agreement]?" we asked Commissioner Alvin Mason.
"I don't think anybody knows what's in it," he replied.
Our cameras were rolling as city leaders officially passed out the 16 amendments during the commission meeting. Most of the deal seems to have been brokered in a closed door meeting with the Marriott and select commissioners.
"Most of it did," confirmed Commissioner Corey Johnson who was one of three commissioners present at the meeting and who ultimately cast the deciding vote in favor of the deal.
It is a startling admission. The city attorney has directly advised against even the appearance of city leaders negotiating contracts.
"I don't think it is the place of most elected officials to be negotiating contracts," said City Attorney Andrew Mackenzie.
"These 16 amendments comes as a result of the negotiations ... correct?" we asked Johnson.
"Well, no. It's a result of us displaying our concerns to the attorney," Johnson said. "No, we don't negotiate the contract. The contract was already put together."
But Johnson announced the negotiations on News 12 earlier this week.
"Where do we stand now?" we asked.
"Well," Johnson replied. "We are in negotiations again."
"They say, 'Well we didn't negotiate,'" noted Lockett. "But still, changes were made."
Commissioners were able to negotiate to receive a percentage of revenue from catering.
The new terms say the deal is 15 years long, but now there is an option to terminate after five years. It was all brokered in what seems to be a case of commissioners behaving badly.
"Certainly the lawyer thought it would not be appropriate," Mason said. "But I think it does fall under unethical and immoral acts."
Commissioners approved the deal in a 6-3 vote on Thursday night. Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle did not attend the meeting.
The process has been long in the making, with some bumps in the road.
The Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police was supposed to host the center's first event in January but had to back out because a management deal was not reached in time.