Augusta mayor faces investigations, shares his response

Published: Mar. 21, 2022 at 12:00 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - The investigations into complaints against Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis will move forward.

Davis is being investigated by the state ethics commission regarding two complaints. The commission has the power to decide whether criminal prosecution is necessary. The commission itself cannot criminally prosecute but can refer a case to law enforcement or the attorney general.

“I just don’t know if there’s enough to warrant probable cause,” said one commission member.

One of the complaints against Davis alleges he misused thousands of dollars in campaign funds. It claims Davis didn’t file his campaign contribution disclosure reports on time for multiple years in a row.

The other investigation is about a series of billboards from back in 2018 encouraging voters to approve a location for the new James Brown Arena in south Augusta. The commission voted unanimously, finding there is enough probable cause to proceed with the investigation.

Ed Tarver, the attorney representing Davis, argued the billboard case should be dismissed because the evidence is lacking proof that Davis paid for the billboard. Tarver said the evidence only shows he communicated with James McKinnon of Cardinal Management, Regency Mall owner, who received the invoice to pay for the billboard.

Email Evidence

In a thread, says ‘let’s go with the first template picture.’ McKinnon says ‘agreed.’

Tarver said: “The information that’s being offered in support of the probable cause is very lacking.”

Joseph Cusack, ethic’s commission senior attorney said: “There’s probably more evidence out there, but there’s no way for us to figure out where exactly it is unless we can go forward.”

Tarver said: “It would seem logical that Mr. McKinnon and anybody that wanted to find a use for this abandoned mall, would reach out to the mayor’s office.”

Essentially, the state was only able to obtain the billboard contract from Lamar Advertising as evidence that showed the billboard was billed to McKinnon.

The commission agreed to move forward with the case to allow the state to gather more evidence and because there was a violation by “Concerned Citizens of Richmond County” by not registering as an official group and not disclosing the amount paid for the billboard in filing reports.

Another commission member said: “If there’s an email that says ‘I approve spending ‘X’, show me that right now. The emails say ‘I like this template’.”

Now the state will be able to demand a subpoena response from McKinnon to provide the bank records on who paid for the billboard and also hold depositions/interviews with those involved. Both Tarver and the commission agreed the complaint about campaign filing disclosures had probable cause. There was no discussion on that.

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