Collateral Damage

Collateral Damage

Al Gray had a busy day last Tuesday.

First and probably most publicized, came his run-in with Augusta Commissioner Donnie Smith, who showed the audacity – at least that’s what Gray’s supporters would call it – to question the accuracy of the $65 million Gray estimated the Municipal Building renovations would end up costing Richmond County taxpayers.

Despite his laser-like focus on Richmond County’s bottom line, Gray is a resident of Lincolnton, Georgia, which pretty much makes him the living embodiment of a busybody to those who don’t always follow his number-fueled attacks on the way things are done. Others just can’t seem to grasp why someone could spend so much time and attention on this stuff, because one thing is indisputable: he spends a lot of time on this stuff. A lot of time.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with such passion, but when people don’t easily see the motivation behind it, it’s often called into question. This is politics, after all, and that makes everyone suspicious of everyone else, especially those who thrust themselves into the center of things that don’t really concern them.

And then there’s the ongoing issue regarding his qualifications to make such pronouncements, which he frequently touts but has been reluctant to divulge. That’s actually a brilliant tactic on his part, since nothing, absolutely nothing, builds myth better than mystery.

Later in the day – after all, it was on his way home – he stopped in at the Columbia County commission meeting, where he followed builder Jim Bartley during the public presentations. Bartley was there to once again voice his displeasure with the way the county has handled building permits.

Not calling it motivated self interest or anything, but Bartley just happens to be running against Columbia County Chairman Ron Cross, who as chairman presided over the meeting.

Bartley’s main point – over the last 10 years, the county has gotten increasingly slack about monitoring construction sites. Hanging unsaid, of course, was the fact that Cross has been in office for 12 years.

Gray, however, had a bone to pick with outgoing District 1 Commissioner Ron Thigpen. In a long winded, data-heavy explanation of a banking contract that Cross twice attempted to call to an end on account of going over his five minute limit, Gray threw up a lot of dots that he left for the public to connect in a way something like this: for this banking contract, the county opted to go with what Gray considers and inferior option with Georgia Bank and Trust after someone on the finance committee requested additional information from the county’s underwriter.

Gray laid out the following facts: Cross and then-Commissioner Charles Allen both owned stock in Georgia Bank and Trust and Thigpen served as the bank’s Chief Operating Officer. The payoff to Gray’s presentation: Thigpen was later paid a performance bonus of $22,000 from his employer.

Though he was careful to point out that Thigpen recused himself from the vote and the two other uninvolved commissioners, Trey Allen and Scott Dean, agreed that the amount of stock Cross and Charles Allen owned (each less than five percent) allowed them to vote under the county’s ethics ordinance, the fact that an unidentified member of the finance committee asked for the additional information seems to imply enough for Gray to lead people to believe that Thigpen improperly benefited from the deal.


The circumstantial guilt implied by all of this is kicked up a notch by the fact that Charles Allen along with his wife, Tax Commissioner Kay Allen, resigned amidst scandal and that Scott Dean is currently in prison on child molestation charges.

With Thigpen moving off the commission, many see the move as an attack against the Columbia County establishment, which of course is an attack against Cross, because no one is more establishment than Cross.

Gray certainly flings a lot of arrows, though you have to wonder how many are actually aimed at his real target.

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