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I-TEAM | Transparency, ethics and the mayor of Augusta

Published: Jan. 20, 2022 at 6:50 PM EST
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT)- A string of secret emails between Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis and a former staffer are raising new questions about the integrity of the man holding the city’s highest office.

An insider speaks with the ITEAM to blow the whistle on what she’s seen, and we’ve confirmed The Georgia Office of Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission is investigating.

The state is already looking into Mayor Davis’ possible involvement into a billboard pushing to build new James Brown arena at the site of the Old Regency Mall on Gordon Highway.

Investigators are also looking at the mayor’s campaign finance disclosures.

The new allegations? The mayor used city employees to work on his re-election campaign while clocked in on the taxpayers’ dime.

A whistleblower talked to me and shortly after that, she says the state contacted her too. She says now, they have the same secret emails between the mayor and his former staffers that I’m sharing with you.

The emails show Mayor Davis assigned his city hall staff tasks related to his reelection campaign back in 2018.

“If we are talking about stuff like that then I don’t think we are at a place where integrity and ethics are a concern anymore.” The whistleblower, who we will call Wendy tells the ITEAM. She’s worried to show her face or use her real name, fearful it may lead to retaliation for speaking out about her former boss, Mayor Hardie Davis.

Wendy tells us she began sending emails to herself.

Date: Monday, January 2018 at 1:05 pm

“asked to work on campaign fundraiser save the date (quietly).”

“I just kind of wanted to document to myself when things started happening.”

Liz Owens asked: “And by quietly, that means keep it on the down low don’t be using work emails?”

Wendy: “Absolutely. That’s how I took that.”

The ITEAM asked Wendy what her specific involvement was with the mayor’s office when she worked there.

“My involvement with the mayor’s office… I was hired to be the executive assistant everything from scheduling to meetings, planning out travel itineraries, things of that nature.”

Through a records check, the ITEAM confirmed she worked for the city as the mayor’s executive assistant.

About a year into her job at the mayor’s office, Wendy says her duties shifted.

“There were some things that happened around the campaign reelection that started to become red flags to me as an employee of the city county government.”

And she began to feel uncomfortable with what the mayor was asking her to do.

“I didn’t feel comfortable doing that sort of work under the table.”

Specifically, she says she was asked to use her personal email account related to Davis’ 2018 campaign for re-election.

“I was asked to use my personal email address to conduct a lot of this planning. I was asked to use my Gmail account and then the mayor was emailing me from his Gmail account… Mainly working on some campaign fundraisers, some event planning, pulling together some guests lists- coordinating specifically a fundraiser that was held in Atlanta.”

From: hardiedavis@gmail.com

To: “Wendy”

Date: Wednesday, February 7th, 2018, at 1:13 pm.

“The attached host committee list is what we will use as our template…. Again we will save all these documents to the hard drive then on a flash drive for all related work.”

(Forwarded-email attachment)

The attachment contains is an old guest list for a fundraising event from Davis’ 2009 campaign for senate.

“That was for the fundraiser that I was specifically asked to work on. That’s the Atlanta fundraiser.” She explains.

The Atlanta fundraiser was officially known as the “Campaign Fundraiser Supporting the Re-election of Hardie Davis Junior.”

She provided the ITEAM this email invitation she sent to the mayor’s personal email account. It was also copied to three others with email addresses ending with @hjrussel.com.

Date: Monday, February 19th, 2018, at 4:41pm

Subject: Atl fundraiser - Hardie Davis

“Mr. Brantley,

Good afternoon. Please find the attached invitation card for your use. Please let me know if there are any changes to be made, and I will make those edits so we can get these out.”

Hb Brantley is listed on the invitation as a member of the host committee for the re-election campaign fundraiser.

Imbed – this link - https://hbbrantley.com/about/

We found HB Brantley heads up a firm that touts working in architecture, development, construction, and management.

https://hbbrantley.com/projects/

Under featured projects on his website: “James Brown Arena; Augusta, GA.”

“HB was retained in January 2020 to serve as project executive consultant to the Augusta Richmond County Coliseum Authority (ARCCA) for the new 10,000 seat James Brown Arena project currently in the design phase.”

“Projected cost: $228m.”

Here is what Mayor Davis himself said about any impropriety last year.

December 15, 2021- Mayor Davis news conference

“As I said before I nor Tonya signed the contract made any expenditures or received any contributions.”

This past December Mayor Davis denied any involvement by him and another former staffer in a billboard urging voters to approve placing the new James Brown Arena at the Regency Mall site.

But, emails previously obtained by the ITEAM show Mayor Davis approved the template design for a billboard. The approval came via his Gmail address- the same one Wendy says he used to email her “in secret” about his re-election campaign fundraiser.

“The way things were done in terms of the campaign and asking me to work on it quietly- I am not all that shocked that any kind of investigation is going on. It makes sense.”

The Georgia Office of Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission confirmed to the ITEAM they are investigating the allegation of using dark money to sway voters when the new James Brown Arena proposal was on the ballot in 2018.

The state is also investigating Davis’ history of failing to file his campaign contribution disclosure reports on time.

That’s illegal under state law.

As for Wendy, she says based on what she witnessed first-hand, her choice was clear.

I resigned the day after he won the reelection.”

The ITEAM sent Mayor Davis an email about our findings a week ago. We sent it to his official government account - and that Gmail account. He has not yet responded to give a statement or share his side.

There are laws against state and federal candidates from using taxpayers’ resources to benefit a campaign, but the rules are muddy pertaining to local candidates running for office in Georgia. The I-Team asked the State for clarification. We are still waiting for a response. In the meantime, the State has confirmed the cases against Mayor Davis will be placed on the March Calendar

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