Augusta commissioners request in-depth audit for the 4th time

Published: Mar. 29, 2022 at 6:42 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - Calls for an investigation into how the city spends its money are back on the table.

Two commissioners are making their fourth request for an in-depth audit of all city departments.

This comes a week after a state committee found enough to move forward with investigations into Mayor Hardie Davis’ office, but commissioners tell us this is about more than just the mayor.

Both commissioners Clarke and McKnight say it’s about decades worth of issues in Augusta that haven’t been fixed even though taxpayers pay for it. The question is, will they get enough votes to make it happen this time?

“The motivation behind the request this time is the same as it’s always been. Accountability,” said John Clarke, commissioner for District 10. “We’ve got 206,000 reasons why we need an audit. It’s called the citizens and taxpayers of Augusta, Georgia.”

This request comes at a time when Davis is under a state investigation for his spending, but he’s thousands of miles away in Qatar. A trip commissioners knew nothing about.

Catherine Smith-McKnight, commissioner for District 3 said: “Here we are, people concerned that okay if this is going on, what else is going on that we don’t know about?”

They say it’s not all about Davis.

Clarke said: “They don’t understand what’s happening with their money. They can’t get services, they can’t get infrastructure, they can’t get roads paved, they can’t get anything done. Because the answer is always, we don’t have the money to do it.”

Clarke also pinpoints the stormwater fee that’s been in place since 2016.

“Yet things are still flooding out,” said Clarke.

Other commissioners still need something more to be on board.

Dennis Williams, commissioner for District 2 said: “As long as there’s no concrete or no information, no allegation, no samples of anything being done incorrectly, or wrong or criminal, I’m still of the opinion that there’s no need for an audit.”

In the past, Sean Frantom and Brandon Garrett voted in favor of audits.

On Wednesday, the finance director said she believes there’s no need for an additional audit because the city does a state-required annual audit that has been clean for the last three years.

Brandon Garrett, commissioner for District 8, made a substitute motion for a forensic audit of the mayor’s office from 2018-2022. Sean Frantom, commissioner for District 7, seconded the motion.

Substitute motion 3-7: ‘Yes’ votes: Garrett, Frantom, McKnight. Original motion for in-depth audit 2-8: ‘Yes’ votes: Clarke & McKnight.

We’ve asked all nine mayor candidates if they believe transparency in Augusta government needs improving and if so, how they would go about making improvements.

Below are the seven responses we have received.

Charlie Hannah said: “I’m hoping that Augusta will have a group of dedicated leaders wanting and capable of being honest and transparent about the public’s business. No so-called leaders should exercise self-aggrandizing behavior or counter to the general public’s will. Legislating under cover of darkness isn’t how business should be conducted for the citizens. If elected Mayor, all people’s matters that are not subject to privacy laws will be open to scrutiny before any decisions are finalized. We are fiduciaries of the population; a task only suited for selfless, ethical, and logical leaders.”

Steven Kendrick said: “I think transparency in government should be a constant goal of public officials. As the public’s desire for information increases, it is incumbent upon public officials to provide avenues for information to flow. As mayor, I will encourage open forums for dialogue, such as town halls, both in-person and virtual, to be accessible to residents for private meetings and as some have suggested, take a look at government meeting times so more resident engagement can be available.”

Marion Williams said: “Yes, it needs to improve there are so many ways in government, not just finance but contracts and other ways as the mayor I would hold each department accountable Augusta is not unique with this problem.”

Lucas Johnson said: “I absolutely believe that transparency can be improved as it is a major point of my platform to let transparency reach all corners of the city government. I would welcome and push for a full audit on a scheduled basis, and even unannounced audits to not only the mayor’s office but every department. If there is nothing to hide, then an audit should be no question. While audits are expensive, it would be money well spent to help re-establish confidence in our city government.”

Donald Bradshaw said: When you have a sitting Mayor who has speaking engagements in Qatar with council members that are completely blindsided and a Mayor Pro Tem who I’ve heard couldn’t be reached for comment, yes transparency needs to be improved. I believe transparency is at the core of building trust with its citizens and is at its best when we have a clear understanding of where their tax dollars are going, and how well the city is performing. Augustans need to have better, easier access to their local government. Augusta needs to have a strategic plan; this is where I will achieve better transparency. When a city implements a strategic plan correctly, it has the potential to produce the openness and sense of community that many cities desire, and where I will make transparency part of the process. Strategic planning doesn’t seem to be standard among cities and not in Augusta, which currently seems to be blank.”

Garnett Johnson said: “As a small business owner, I am responsible for the overall profitability of my company. As Mayor, I will take those same principles to improve how we spend our tax dollars. I believe there needs to be transparency and accountability with tax dollars. We should try to provide a monthly budget, revenue, and spending reports in forums, town halls, and online. All citizens of Augusta should be able to see how much the city is taking in and how and where it’s going. This just continues to emphasize my message “who’s on the side of the taxpayers?”

AK Hasan didn’t want to comment on an ongoing issue. However, his stance on transparency is on his website.

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