On the same day that Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis presented his 2018 State of the City address, his good pal, Coliseum Authority member Darren Smith, faced tough questions from his colleagues regarding the controversial proposal to build a new $120 million arena at the former Regency Mall site.
Smith was put on the spot while Davis was getting spiffied up for his big speech and reception.
When you’ve got friends like that, who needs enemies, right?
But, let’s face it, Smith brought it on himself.
Over the past few weeks, Smith has been busy making public speeches around town insisting he was the one driving the Regency Mall proposal.
Not the mayor.
During the Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 27, Authority Chairman Cedric Johnson played a recording of a speech Smith recently made in front of the Committee for Good Government.
“I called the mayor and asked him to check into it, and he did,” Smith is heard saying on the recording. “And for four or five months, I tried my best to get leadership on the Coliseum Authority to check into these folks and find out what their interest level was. And to be quite frank with you, they didn’t do it, and they were not going to do it.”
As the recording was being played, the coliseum authority’s vice chairman, Brad Usry, simply shook his head.
“At that point, I personally asked the mayor to intervene and to contact (the owner of former mall Alan Cardinale) on our behalf to see what their interest was,” Smith was heard saying.
After playing the recording, Johnson told Smith he was presenting to the public a “misrepresentation of the truth.”
“For four or five months you came to us asking to do negotiations (with Cardinal Management)?” Johnson asked Smith.
Smith looked straight at both Johnson and Usry and said that was absolutely true.
“I came to y’all several times,” Smith said. “Right here in this room.”
“No, sir,” Johnson said as Usry once again shook his head.
“Yes, sir,” Smith responded, adding that he simply wanted Johnson and Usry to approach the Cardinale family to find out their “level of interest” in developing the Regency Mall property.
Smith said he asked both Johnson and Usry to contact the Cardinale family prior to the coliseum authority meeting approving the Regency Mall location as the preferred site for the new arena back in August.
“How legally could we negotiate with the Cardinale family?” Johnson asked, pointing out that the authority hadn’t approved the site at that point. “Brad and I are not in a position to do any negotiations or talks.”
The only one who was supposed to be talking with Cardinal Management was Ed Enoch, the coliseum authority’s attorney, Johnson said.
The fact that Smith was going around the community telling people that the leadership of the coliseum authority refused to negotiate with the Cardinale family is simply a lie, Johnson said.
In fact, Johnson said the mayor was the only person who ever asked him and Usry to consider the Regency Mall site, Johnson said.
“You are misrepresenting the truth, and you are being dishonest about the facts,” Johnson said directly to Smith. “It’s slanderous for you to say Brad and I didn’t do anything.”
However, Smith insisted he was telling the truth about the entire matter.
After going back and forth several times about the dates involved in the Regency Mall discussions, it was clear that the two sides were not going to come to any agreement, so the meeting was adjourned.
Following the meeting, Johnson said he simply felt he needed to set the record straight.
“It’s just amazing to me,” Johnson said. “Even based on all the documentation and records that we have, and the fact that none of his fellow Coliseum Authority members approved any negotiations, he still insists that he singled Brad and I out and asked us to talk with the Cardinale family without the approval from the rest of the body.”
Usry said he can’t believe that Smith looked him in the face and still didn’t tell the truth.
“I hate people questioning my character when I’ve been above board during the entire process,” Usry said. “Once the mayor asked us to look at the Regency Mall site, from that point on, we did it.”
Without question, Usry said he and Johnson have always been straightforward and honest with the mayor.
“Anytime we were asked by the mayor — and it was the mayor, not Darren — we discussed it with him,” Usry said. “But now Darren is trying to protect the mayor during his re-election and say it was his idea.”
The entire situation is ludicrous, Usry said.
“The first time Regency Mall was truly brought up to us was by the mayor. That’s a fact,” Usry said. “He asked us to look at it, and we honored that request out of respect for the mayor. But for someone on the authority to question our reputation and our character is completely preposterous.”
You have to wonder why Smith is willing to jump into the fire for the mayor over this Regency Mall debate.
Let’s at least hope Davis served him up a big juicy steak at the mayor’s reception because Smith had already been put through the flames and grilled that day.