How to be both angry and sad at the same time

For the past 17 months and six days, people have said that I am handling suddenly being widowed with grace. Being furious and raging wasn’t going to unwind the fact that a careless driver killed my husband while he was riding his bike. I have limited reserves of energy, and I knew that walking around being angry wasn’t going to get me very far.

Last Thursday I was both angry and sad. If David Cummings was alive, I would have put down whatever work project had my attention in Atlanta just before 2:00, gotten in my car, and driven back to Sandersville, Georgia to celebrate with him. As I have told friends before, it was David who helped me connect the dots not too long after the boondoggle Plant Washington was announced.

I didn’t know much about energy production before the end of January 2008 when Dean Alford was presented to the business leaders of Washington County in an invitation only presentation at the Washington EMC. As I learned more, I became very concerned. It’s handy to be married to a geologist who can explain the water tables and such when a coal plant is going to draw down 16Million gallons of water per day, and your household water source about eight miles from the plant site is also drawn from a well in that same geologic plain.

FACE Board members and earliest supporters with certificates of recognition from President Obama

I’ve always credited David for helping me find my way on responding to Plant Washington. On one of the first beautiful spring days in 2008, the kind that makes you want to find any reason to go outside, I told David I wished there was someone who lived near the proposed plant site that I could talk to, because surely they would be concerned about the threats of coal ash emissions, access to water, safety, and property values. He casually said that long-time family friends Randy and Cathy Mayberry had a cabin adjacent to the site, that maybe I should talk to them.

That sunny afternoon I went out to walk, and after about an hour, sweaty and kind of worn looking, I knocked on the Mayberry’s front door. Cathy answered, and while I told her I didn’t want to interrupt their day, and I surely wasn’t fit to sit down with anyone to talk, maybe sometime we could have a conversation about the risks posed by Plant Washington. From the living room Randy called out, “Come on in.”

From there Cathy and I met on someone’s porch with Lyle Lansdell, Pat, and Sonny Daniel, Paula and John Swint. Jennette Gayer came drove down from Atlanta. Seth Gunning, a student at Valdosta State who was light years ahead of the rest of us about energy and the environment, drove up for a meeting. Larry Warthen, whose church was founded after the Civil War, where unmarked graves of enslaved and free people are just yards from the plant site perimeter, stepped up to help lead in the work. The lawyers and partner organizations came to us to teach us, guide us, and become champions for our community too.

David was a certified stream monitor for the Ogeechee Rverkeeper. Our grandchildren Chase and Ella went with him one afternoon to learn about stream monitoring.

David didn’t go to those early meetings, but he listened to me, counseled me when I thought my head would explode as I learned more about the convoluted way coal plants are developed, permitted, and financed. He signed the petitions and went to the hearings. He phone banked when volunteers across the state came together to help return Cobb EMC to the rightful control of the member-owners. He used a few vacation days to attend court proceedings and EPA public comment sessions. Later he agreed to serve on the board of the small grassroots organization, the Fall-Line Alliance for a Clean Environment (FACE), that came together after the first few community meetings. Because he grew up fishing, canoeing, and swimming at our family’s farm on the Ogeechee River, he became a certified stream monitor.

Summer vacation in Maine, 2010, as I was beginning to realize fighting Plant Washington was the work I needed to do full-time

In the summer of 2010, when I knew to my core that quitting a job as a rural health advocate, where I excelled, instead of working nights, weekends, and burning through vacation days to fight Plant Washington, was my true calling, David supported me. When I worked 12 hours a day, he walked the dogs and cooked dinner. When I had cancer and was exhausted from radiation treatments, and the work required to fight Plant Washington totaled at least one thousand hours each week among our partners, he supported me. When Plant Washington’s funders backed out, and the truth in what FACE and our partners had said all along became clearer and clearer, David celebrated with me. And when the work of fighting Plant Washington wasn’t a full-time job any longer, because winning meant I would work my way out of a job, David supported me while I looked for work that would tap all the passion and experience I had garnered since 2008. He was always there.

Thursday evening I had plans to meet Atlanta friends who don’t know me as coal-plant fighting activist. One of them said she wanted to hear the story of my work as we began walking through the Atlanta Botanical Gardens. I told her I couldn’t compress it well at the moment, as it began in 2008 and changed me forever.

So we toasted a long-awaited victory, one they know matters to the health of the small rural community where my husband and children grew up, where some of my grandchildren live now, the community that helped FACE leaders become the best and truest versions of ourselves.  We toasted to doing work that matters and benefits everyone on this one planet, and to those whose bodies have been returned to it.

 

The arc of justice is long

Dean Alford

Earlier this afternoon the Atlanta Journal Constitution sent out a news alert concerning the resignation of Dean Alford, a member of the Georgia University System’s  Board of Regents. Alford was recently reappointed to the Board by Governor Brian Kemp.

The newspaper details that the Georgia  Attorney General and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation issued arrest warrants for Alford for creating a fraudulent invoice submitted to the state, and for forging the signature of a university employee.

What did Alford do?

The paper’s coverage includes, “Alford is accused of creating a fraudulent invoice acknowledgement form, dated Sept. 24, to submit to a company called Versant, state officials said. The document is alleged to have falsely asserted that the University of Georgia would pay Versant $487,982.88 to satisfy a debt owed to Alford’s own company, Allied Energy Services, LLC, located in Rockdale County.”

That’s not the biggest amount of money, according to the AJC. The article continues with, “He’s also suspected of transmitting fraudulent documents to Versant to make the company believe he had legitimate purchase agreements and accounts receivable with various entities, state officials said. Alford was attempting to sell such accounts receivable to Versant in exchange for $1,798,327.06, investigators said. ”

Alford purchased Allied Energy Services for pennies on the dollar when a judge ordered Cobb Energy holdings, a private shareholding company spun off from the nonprofit Cobb EMC, to be dissolved. Alford’s “haul” at Cobb EMC, the electric membership co-op in the north Atlanta suburbs, was close to $18Million according to 2015 news coverage.

But there’s more. Much more.

Allied Energy Services was awarded a no-bid contract to develop Plant Washington, a $6Billion proposed coal plant that soaked up millions of dollars from EMCs in Georgia under the umbrella of Power for Georgians. The electric co-op in Washington County, Washington EMC, sunk $1Million of member-owner dollars into the boondoggle plant, slated to be built just miles from my home, and the homes of a small group of local citizens who became the Fall-Line Alliance for a Clean Environment (FACE). Alford never secured financing, power purchase agreements, or customers. FACE has never wavered in its grassroots committment to protecting our natural resources and the health of our families and friends.

January 25, 2012

The adventures of FACE, and those of others in Washington County, have been detailed on this blog since Plant Washington was proposed in January 2008. The saga involves seeing fellow citizens for who they truly are, or are not. FACE leaders earned the rights to our story through hard work and selfless determination.

I’ll close here by adding that FACE and our partners have waited years to throw the biggest celebration to ever happen in Washington County. We’ve got a party to plan and invitations to send to those who stood with us.

When the data scare folks

Earlier this week I found this nifty tool for comparing the healthcare plan proposed by the Republicans (Trumpcare) to the current plan in place (Obamacare). Let’s call the plans what they are, since the Republicans considered attaching the former President’s name to the health care plan he championed, which provided affordable insurance to over 20Million more Americans, as a negative way to tag the plan and policies.

I also shared the Kaiser Family Foundation’s tool in a FaceBook group that was put together to support the hospital in my rural county. All I did was compare the differences in costs for a 60 year-old making $40,000 per year. I used the names Affordable Care Act and Affordable Health Care for America, not Obamacare and Trumpcare, respectively. I didn’t even mention either President or member of Congress by name.

Yesterday a local man took issue with posting the tool and providing the difference in coverage costs as criticism of the plan and the hospital. I responded today:

I am sharing the data. The tool allows people to use it themselves if they choose to do that. Both plans impact the access to care, and affordability of that care for local residents. Both plans also directly impact our hospital.

If we want to keep our hospital open and viable, it will take a combination of many funding streams- that’s not a criticism of the hospital. Hospital admins and leaders have been frank about the diverse source of funds and payer load that is required to keep the hospital open. I have not named any elected officials, nor criticized anyone, OR provided any information that can’t be verified. If sharing information in a polite and civil forum “stirs people up,” that is something that people who are “stirred up” must resolve for themselves. I’m not afraid to do some of the work of being an informed citizen, and share what I learn if others want to use those resources. The proposed legislation is being fast-tracked, so there isn’t a lot of time to “wait for all the data to be processed.”

I’m smart enough to look at the numbers myself and work through the differences- I don’t have to wait for someone to explain it to me.

Have a good day and weekend.

What’s so scary about a an easy-to-use data tool with information that is readily available and verifiable? What’s to get “stirred up for no reason” about looking at information yourself? And perhaps worse, why does anyone think that we ought to, “wait for all the data to be processed.’? Even though this in a complex problem, it isn’t rocket science.

Why are Trump supporters so unhappy about comparing Trumpcare data to Obamacare data?

The mansplaining and “don’t you worry missy, wait until someone can explain it all to you” is another problem. If you look at the provisions for women’s health care in the Trumpcare plan, and the lack of respect for women and our ability to make information decisions about our health and bodies, well, no wonder this man thought I needed to just sit down and be quiet.

Clearly I didn’t take his words to heart.

One way the Republican health plan will impact my rural county

Last night I used this nifty tool released by the Kaiser Family Foundation to calculate how the proposed health care bill released by the Republicans Tuesday night will impact Washington County.

In Washington County, if you are 60 years old and making $40,000 a year (per capita income is under $38,000 in my county), the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) health insurance tax credit in 2020 will be $7,800. The House plan would provide a credit of just $4,000 in 2020. That means the cost of buying health insurance for a 60-year-old making $40,000 per year will GO UP by $3,800 if the Republican plan is adopted.

Washington County health data comparing ACA and proposed plan from Republicans

Under the current plan, insurance companies are capped at charging three times the amount charged for coverage for younger people. Under the Republican plan the cap increases to five times the cost of rates charged to younger people.

There are also considerable cuts to Medicaid and Medicare.

All of these proposed changes will impose serious financial and health threats to people in my county who may not be able to afford insurance any longer, and these expenses will be added to the other cuts to funding in the proposed legislation. These factors, plus others in the proposed plan, do not bode well for our hospital or facilities in other rural communities.

Last May Washington County voters took on a bond to support our hospital, knowing that the bond could not solve all of the financial problems for our struggling facility. We still have work to do if we want to keep our hospital open.

You never know where you’ll meet a member of your tribe

The Friday Photo
July 29, 2016
IMG_1173

Wednesday afternoon I stopped to get gas after picking up some groceries in Milledgeville, the “big” city to the west of my home town of Sandersville. A small SUV pulled up at a pump diagonally to mine. The driver, a woman maybe in her mid 60s, jumped out of her car and started walking toward me, smiling as she approached me standing at the rear corner of my car.

With great enthusiasm in her voice she asked me where I got my bumper sticker. She looked so happy, like she had finally come across another kindred soul, that she gave me a high five and immediately started telling me how worried she is about Donald Trump becoming President.

I replied that the racism and hate people feel comfortable sharing is horrifying, adding that the judgmental attitudes about people who don’t look or behave like them is stunning.

She said she’s taken issue with people she knows who judge gay people as sinners, saying that her response has been, “Do you believe God made everyone, and does God make mistakes?”

From there she said friends and family had turned away from her after she came out as gay, and that others in her family have been treated similarly.

Think about that- a family shunned one of their own, not because she was a murderer or thief, but because she wanted to date women instead of men.

This woman then looked at my car tag and realized I live in a neighboring county, and she said, “You live in Washington County and you have this one your car? You are a brave woman.”

It’s not so hard to be a privileged, white, straight woman driving around rural Georgia with a Democratic pride sticker on your car. When it helps you find members of your tribe while doing the ordinary things in life, it is even easier.

Thank you Bonnie, for extending your hand, telling me your name and story, and saying We Are Stronger Together.

Washington County Commissioners want full control of our hospital

During the rare evening meeting of the Washington County Board of Commissioners  (WCBOC) last month, the Commissioners adopted a change to the Washington County Regional Medical Center (WCRMC) Hospital Authority (HA) that now officially places full control of the Hospital Authority in their hands.

The Commissioners approved a change to the HA that allows the Commissioners to appoint, and remove, all members of the HA.(Appointments_to_the_Hospital_Authority)
After it passed WCBOC Chair Horace Daniel said they made official what they were already doing.

After the monthly WCBOC meeting on January 14, 2016,, the Commissioners went into Executive Session with Hospital Authority Chair Rob Mathis and Vice-Chair Marc Sack. The Sandersville Progress coverage the following week quoted County Attorney Tom Rawlings saying, “We had a nice discussion about appointees/potential appointees to the Hospital Authority,” said County Attorney Tom Rawlings. “We had a nice discussion with current members of the Authority and the Commissioners about the makeup of personnel – those are personnel issues as well.”

Members of the Hospital Authority are volunteers- they aren’t paid. They don’t get paychecks from WCRMC because they aren’t hospital personnel.

The pedestrian shorthand for what qualifies for Executive Session is real estate purchases, personnel, and litigation. The January 20th issue of the Progress included a letter to the editor raising concerns about Open Meeting requirements. (The Open Meetings Rule was revised by the Georgia General Assembly in 2012. The Association of County Commissioners of Georgia posted a summary of the revisions on their site.)

The Hospital Authority held a called meeting the day after the Commission met. Mathis and Sack resigned. HA members Bobby Anderson and Adam Adolphus weren’t present, but the Progress reported that, “Written resignations were submitted.”

Jim Croome took up the work as the HA Chair,  John Brooker, Jr replaced Mark Sack as the Authority’s Vice-Chair, and Carla Belcher became the Secretary. Other HA members are Andre Jenkins, Andy Crabb, Raven Smith, and Terry Jackson.

The Washington County Commissioners have now positioned themselves in a very powerful position in regards to WCRMC.

Clearly they thought it was important to have their own slate of Authority members. The Progress’ coverage quoted HA Chair Rob Mathis saying, “There were concerns about Board members being here that overlap with the previous administration’s tenure.”

In doing that, the WCBOC have also removed all institutional history from the Authority. If an Authority member has a question about what happened, say, two years ago, there isn’t a single member among them who can answer. As a student of history, Edmund Burke’s quote,  “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.” comes to mind.

Since the Commissioners will be able to appoint, and remove, all Authority members, will they tolerate members who won’t march in lockstep with their vision? Is our county now set up to see a revolving door of HA members if they don’t agree with directions passed down to them from the Commissioners?

The Commissioners have spent over $116,000 on a consultant whose best recommendation to date is a two page document that includes a request for more consultants.

They will soon have a stranglehold on who will sit on the Hospital Authority.

And they are asking Washington County property owners to back a $15.4M bond in May.

We can only hope the Commissioners know as much about running a hospital as they  think they do.

Who else is looking at WCRMC?

To give my urban readers a glimpse of rural life, the legal organ in Washington County, and the one that people mean when they ask, “Did you see this week’s paper?” is The Sandersville Progress. The Progress is published weekly, and has no online presence. They have been doing some really good coverage of the issues that have surfaced about Washington County Regional Medical Center.

One of the two local radio stations, Waco 100, includes local news coverage as part of their programming. Last week they posted a breakdown of the travel expenses incurred by Washington County’s hospital consultant Alan Richman, at InnoVative Capital.

As pointed out by the Progress and Waco 100, former County Administrator Chris Hutchings reminded Richman that he was requesting reimbursements without providing receipts.

I submitted two more Open Records Act requests last week. The more I learn, the more questions I have.

$15.4M of legalese

Nothing says exciting reading like a county bond resolution. If you want to pour over the legalese before Washington County citizens vote on the proposed $15.4M hospital bond in May, this is a short read.  WCBOC_bond_resolution_WCRMC_Feb_2016

update: Friday, February 26, 2016
If you language in the bond is clear as mud to you, I suggest contacting your County Commission representative for answers to your questions.

 

Contracts, consultants, and hotel bills

Note concerning documents: some of the documents I am posting pertaining to Washington County Regional Medical Center and the Washington County Board of Commissioners have notes and underlined portions. I have not marked up any of the documents, they are uploaded exactly as I received them. All documents here and in a February 15, 2015 post on Rural and Progressive were obtained through Georgia Open Records Act requests.

Sometimes the best way to solve a problem is to have a fresh pair of eyes look things over. In September 2014 the Washington County Board of Commissioners (WCBOC)  received a contract from consultant Alan Richman, the President and CEO  at InnoVative Capital(IC).  Richman offered to assess and advise on several areas of hospital operations.

On October 9, 2014, Board of Commissioner Chair Horace Daniel signed the contract (InnoVative_Capital_contract_Sept_2014) . The contract detailed seven tasks for Richman to complete:

  • Hospital Financial and Operational Review
  • Staffing Study Review
  • Review of Outstanding WCRMC Funding Requests of Washington County
  • Review and Critique Management and Consulting Proposals Received by WCRMC
  • Identification of Issues Statement
  • Produce a Strategic Roadmap of Next Steps
  • Present Finding to Washington County

The contract included the possibility of an extension through December 2015. Washington County agreed to pay a “hospital consulting fee” totaling $40,000. A non-refundable payment of $20,000 was due when the contract was signed, and the remaining $20,000 would be paid when Richman presented his findings to the county.

My Open Records Act document search included an email to former County Manager Chris Hutchings in late March 2015 from Richman detailing his suggestion that additional consultants may be required for his project here. These consultants would be “retained” by Washington County. Richman credited the county’s earlier $20,000 payment to his new contract proposal and requested an additional $10,000. On April 13, 2015 Horace Daniel signed a new agreement on the county’s behalf that included a monthly payment to IC for $7,000 plus expenses. (InnoVative_Capital_contract_April_2015)

What is especially interesting about the April 2015 contract is item 14 on page 2: “If the Transaction involves the WCRMC’s Partner’s commitment to a replacement hospital or major renovation/project (“Hospital Modernization Project”), InnoVative Capital may provide mortgage banking services for this purpose under a separate contract with the WCRMC Partner, if asked to do so by the WCRMC Partner, the Hospital Authority, or the County.”

The county’s hospital consult also does mortgage banking services.

And bonds.

Think about that for a minute.

If the county’s consultant recommends a new hospital building or major improvements, he can then step up and offer financing services. If bonds are needed, Richman’s consulting company does those too.

And there’s more.

On pages 3-4, (InnoVative_Capital_contract_April_2015) the contract spells out what Richman’s company receives in different scenarios. for example:

  • The county requires debt funding of $7-10Million, signs an “External Management Contract” or extends the Management Agreement with University, or “retention of Replacement Internal Management”

If University Hospital is the signing partner InnoVative Capital would be paid a $40,000 transaction fee.

If a partner other than University was the Partner for an External Management Contract, Richman’s company would receive an  $80,000 fee.

  • WCRMC enters into a Lease or Change of Ownership  and the county has a net debt funding requirement of less than $5Million:

If University is the Partner, InnoVative Capital receives $100,00 plus 5% times the final Net Debt Funding required < than $5M

If a Partner other than University is engaged, IC makes more money. Richman’s company would be paid $140,000 plus 5% times the final Net Debt Funding required < than $5M

Any agreement or modernization project that didn’t include University Hospital meant a bigger check from Washington County for Richman’s work.

Richman made seven trips to Washington County that cost taxpayers $14,483.45. Some of Richman’s expense reimbursements are a simple word document with no receipts attached. However, the request submitted on  June 29, 2015 reveals that Richman’s hotel of choice isn’t anywhere near Sandersville. The county’s consultant stays at the Ritz Carlton in Atlanta’s toney Buckhead district near the Governor’s Mansion, and commutes to Sandersville in a rental car. (see page 10 InnoVative_Captial_invoices)

Richman submitted another contract for his services in November of last year, one that would run from November through July 2016. Richman’s monthly consulting fee jumped from $7,000 per month to $10,000 per month, an increase of almost 43 percent. Horace Daniel committed the county to the higher monthly consulting fee when  he signed the contract on November 13, 2015. (InnoVative_Capital_contract_November_2015)

The November 2015 contract includes a list of 12 items for Richman to work through. Item 8 reads, “Identify potential partners for the County and Authority and work to make the process competitive, if possible.”

If possible.

Hospital leaders here did a call for proposals for management/lease options in the fall of 2014 from nine companies/organizations. University, Navicent Health, and Augusta University were among the nine asked to submit proposals. The resulting document includes a response from University but nothing from Navicent. Augusta University (Georgia Regents Health system at the time, still often called the Medical College of Georgia) was interested in a partnership but “without any change in management,” i.e. they didn’t want to run our hospital.
( see the last page in WCRMC_requests_for_proposals_fall_2014)

We had a plum lease agreement from University Hospital last spring that was left on the table by county leaders (University_proposal_to_WCRMC_April_29_2015). Navicent Health never made an offer last summer, which prompted local officials to pursue a partnership with Augusta University Hospital (which had already said it didn’t want to manage WCRMC).

The contract Horace Daniel signed in November includes a scope of services for Richman to complete. The resulting recommendations for the county to consider are contained in no more than two pages in a January 21, 2016 document, titled Washington County Regional Medical Center-Plan B:Repurposing WCRMC-Business Plan Development is “for discussion purposes only.”

The proposed plan development team includes two consulting firms in addition to InnoVative Capital. Richman allows for eight weeks of work. Depending on the amount of work required, the fees for the market and financial feasibility consulting firm DHG Healthcare could range from $35,000-$45,000. Adams Management Services, a capital consulting company, would ring in at $12,500. Both companies would also bill for expenses in addition to their fees.

Who would manage this project?

If you guessed Richman proposed that his company should serve as the Project Manager you would be right.

Through January 2016 Washington County taxpayers have spent $102,000 on consulting FullSizeRenderfees to InnoVative Capital. Combine those fees with $14,483.45 in travel expenses, and we’ve spent $116,483.45.

The more time I spend reading these documents, the more I scratch my head.

Of course we need a hospital here, and it should be a good one. We are fortunate to have good doctors and hospital staff who want their friends and family to receive the best care possible, at home, when they need it.

I don’t expect the bond to fail in May, and I am not suggesting that people consider voting against it.

What we need to understand as voters and property owners, is that we didn’t get to this question overnight. We are more likely to hold our local leaders accountable for our hospital’s sustainability if we know the full story.

The documents behind a $15.4M question

Washington County Regional Medical Center (WCRMC) has steep financial challenges. That doesn’t make the rural hospital in Middle Georgia unique.

The solution proposed by recently appointed Hospital Authority members led by Chair Jim Croome, and, the Washington County Board of Commissioners (WCBOC), is to ask the county to approve a $ 15.4Million dollar bond.

The debt that citizens can choose to take on in a May referendum will fund $9M for infrastructure, IT, and computers at WCRMC. Property owners will have to decide if their personal budgets can stretch to take on more in property taxes to also give the hospital $6.4M to pay down debt, address pension plans, and general operations.

Last year the Washington County Tax Commissioner included a neon green insert with 2015 property tax bills stating that one mil of their taxes was being used for the hospital.

Last year county leaders could have chosen a course of action that might have made last week’s 2.5+ hours county commission meeting a lot shorter.

In late April 2015, county and hospital leaders had an option to improve operations and secure $5Million in capital improvements through an offer from University Hospital in Augusta. A management agreement already in effect between the two hospitals had already secured a $1Million line of credit for WCRMC.

University’s offer included a 20 year lease with an option for Washington County to sell the hospital if it decided that was the best course of action (University held first right of refusal. After that Washington County could pursue another buyer: page 3, University_proposal_to_WCRMC_April_29_2015). University guaranteed 24/7 Emergency Department operations, surgical and inpatient nursing services, and diagnostic and imaging services.

The lease proposal also stated that University, “will not seek any support from Washington County for the operation of WCRMC” during the first five years of the lease agreement (page 3, University Hospital offer to WCRMC April 2015).

University has already proven it can right-size a small hospital; just ask McDuffie County residents and patients at University McDuffie County Hospital.

Instead of saying “No thanks” to the offer, the Washington County Commissioners took a different tack, one that broke the management agreement with University and a retraction of their April offer.

County Attorney Tom_Rawlings hand-delivered letters on June 8th to local doctors inviting them to a private meeting with Navicent Health representatives from Macon to “structure a partnership with a larger hospital system.’ The meeting wasn’t planned for county offices or Rawlings’ office , both located on the high visibility Courthouse Square.

Instead, the June 8th meeting to discuss a possible relationship with Navicent was planned at Daniels Heating, Air, and Electrical just north of Sandersville, where cars travel pass at 55 MPH. The Chair of the Washington County Board of Commissioners is Horace Daniels.

While Navicent Health was planning a meeting with Washington County leaders and physicians, their 11 month old management arrangement with neighboring Oconee Regional Medical Center was spiraling towards a fatal crash.

The meeting Rawlings convened where the WCBOC Chair works violated the Management Agreement between University and WCRMC according to a letter dated June 12 from University’s CEO Jim Davis.

Davis closed his letter with, “We wish you and the Commissioners the best of luck in preserving a hospital in Washington County.”

Washington County leaders signed an agreement with University that secured a $1Million line of credit for our hospital. The organization that right-sized McDuffie County’s hospital proposed a 20 year lease agreement with $5Million of improvements to our struggling hospital. It did not include a request for $15.4Million in bond debt funded by Washington County property owners. It did include a restriction on future requests for taxpayer dollars.

Washington County needs a good hospital. Voters should have an opportunity to read the documents that brought us to a $15.4Million bond referendum in May. As I work through more documents I’ll post them here.

Another hurdle for “dormant” Plant Washington

The Carbon Pollution Standards for new power plants announced by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on August 3rd confirm that Plant Washington will not get a “pass”, adding yet another hurdle to the development of one of the last proposed new coal plants in the country.

The new standards rely on partial capture and storage of carbon dioxide emissions. Plant Washington project spokesman Dean Alford has said that such a standard will result in cancellation of the coal-fired project because it was not designed to meet the standard. To avoid that outcome, the project developer, Power4Georgians, LLC (P4G) sought to convince EPA that the project had “commenced construction” when the standards for new sources were first proposed in January 2014.  Under such circumstances, Plant Washington would be considered an existing source exempt from the new standards

Dean Alford
Dean Alford

But as Alford and P4G are now finding, there’s a difference between saying something and proving it.

Almost two years ago, in the draft version of the standards, the EPA specifically addressed Plant Washington and another proposed coal-fired plant in Kansas. The agency took the developers at their word that the plants were under construction and therefore qualified as existing sources.  But EPA also said that if either plant failed to qualify as an existing source, and was therefore classified as a new source, the agency would consider granting special standards due to the unique circumstances that both already had their construction permits.  The idea was that these two sources, the last two coal plants still supposedly under development in the country, would get special treatment – perhaps a standard less stringent than that applied to other new sources.  Otherwise the two lingering plants might not get built despite their “sunk costs.”

But last week, in the final rule, EPA said it is “unaware of any physical construction that has taken place at the proposed Plant Washington site,” and noted that a recent audit of the project had described it as “dormant.” EPA said it appears that Plant Washington did not commence construction when the new source rule was proposed, and would therefore likely be considered a new source should it ever be constructed.
 

The EPA pointed out that in October 2014, P4G received an 18-month extension on Plant Washington’s air permit from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division. The EPA went on to say that the possibility of Plant Washington being built and operating is “too remote” to merit an exemption from the new carbon emission standards.

So Plant Washington is not an existing source.  But what kind of carbon standard will it get? Remember that EPA said it would give Plant Washington and the Kansas project their own new source carbon standards.  Well, on this point, EPA punted.  Why?  Because the agency views it as so unlikely that these projects will actually go forward that it doesn’t want to spend the time coming up with individualized standards.  In the agency’s words, “because these units may never actually be fully built and operated, we are not promulgating a standard of performance at this time because such action may prove to be unnecessary.”

Ouch. 

EPA puts the ball P4G’s court, telling the developer that it must formally request a determination of its status — new or existing —  before EPA can decide whether and what kind of standards should apply to its carbon emissions.

P4G has had the ability since January 2014 to seek this so-called “applicability determination,” which would clear up once and for all the question of its status under the new standards.  In fact, under Alford’s leadership, P4G sought such an “applicability determination” from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, but later chose to withdraw that request before the state agency could respond. Rather than clarify the project’s status, Alford opted to pursue an 18-month extension of the construction deadline under Plant Washington’s state-issued air permit. Alford got the extension, but this did little to convince EPA of P4G’s claim that the project had commenced construction in January 2014.  Instead, EPA arrived at the opposite conclusion: that Plant Washington is going nowhere fast.

Thanks to EPD’s generosity, Plant Washington still has 8 months left on its deadline to construct under the air permit.  But the project’s water discharge permit, another critical piece of the project, expired in March of this year. P4G failed to timely file an application to renew the permit prior to its expiration, prompting EPD to fine P4G.  EPD gave P4G thirty days to cure the defect but P4G missed that deadline as well.    These are not the actions of a project developer intent on meeting its construction deadline. 

And here in Washington County, there are no signs the coal-fire project is going forward, even at a snail’s pace. No ground has been broken, no Power Purchase Agreements have been announced, and no financier willing to pour the necessary billions into the project has emerged.

The EPA was correct in its refusal to exempt Plant Washington from the new carbon emission
standards.  The plant is not needed and would be a major source of carbon emissions.

Over 8.5 years have passed since this boondoggle plant was first announced, and its future is not one bit brighter than it was on the cold, gray, January day when it was unveiled. If Mr. Alford returns for yet another permit extension next year, the state would be wise to tell him that the final buzzer has sounded and no more time can be added to the game clock

Sleeping with the Enemy

The Friday Photo
June 26, 2015

Not a photo this week, but a fond remembrance, in two parts, of a campaign where a picture and few words told the story (It won a national marketing award for “Best Villian.” I wish I could claim the idea as my own.)

Sleeping with the Enemy frontSleeping with the Enemy back

The Fat Lady is looking through her sheet music

After 8.5 years, a lot of questions about Plant Washington, Cobb EMC, and Cobb Energy, a for-profit company created by Dwight Brown while he ran the state’s largest electric co-op, have been answered after a forensic audit conducted for Cobb EMC was released by Channel 2 News in Atlanta last week. (A forensic audit is a type of financial audit that is conducted concerning possible fraud or misconduct.)

The document, which includes a 150+ page Executive Summary, also shines a bright light on Plant Washington, which Washington EMC leaders spent $1Million pursuing. Allied Energy Services, run by Brown’s crony Dean Alford, holds a no-bid contract to develop Plant Washington.

The audit includes some big numbers. Dwight Brown and his wife Mary Ellen, received over $20Million in payments, loans, benefits, and preferred stock from Cobb EMC and Cobb Energy, a for-profit company, established in 1998 under Brown’s directive.

Brown’s private business partner and Vice-President at Cobb Energy, Dean Alford, hauled in about $18Million in payments and benefits, according to the audit.

Alford was selected by Brown to serve on the Cobb Energy Board. From there Alford landed CEO appointments to Allied Utility Network and Allied Energy Services, both owned by Cobb Energy. The auditors wrote that they, “found no evidence that Cobb Energy reviewed or approved any business plan for any of the businesses it acquired or created.” The audit states that, with the exception of perhaps two entities, neither of them being Allied Energy Services of Allied Utility Network, “all of the Cobb Energy spinoffs lost money, some on a grand scale.”

Cobb Energy gave Allied Utility Network $5.9M by moving money from the nonprofit Cobb co-op to Cobb Energy, the for-profit company that, according to the audit, was anything but a profit generator. The audit reports that Cobb Energy general ledger entries totaling $4M appear to have funded Allied Energy, but the bookkeeping isn’t precise (lack of clear bookkeeping records is just one of the many criticisms raised in the audit).

So what about Allied Energy Services, Plant Washington, and the group of co-ops, including Washington EMC, that organized Power4Georgians (P4G) to support Plant Washington (and another coal-fired plant to be located in Ben Hill County) that Brown and Alford were touting years ago?

Allied Energy Services, led by Alford, secured the no-bid contract to develop coal-fired Plant Washington, even though, as the audit states, “neither Alford nor Allied had any experience building or developing a coal-fired power plant, and witnesses indicated he was hired on the basis of a recommendation by Dwight Brown.”  Alford also heads P4G, which continues to promote Plant Washington even though all of the original EMCs that made up the consortium have ceased funding the project. P4G has already dropped plans for the second facility, which would have been called Plant Ben Hill.

Large tracts of land for both coal plant sites have been bought or tied up in contracts by several companies in amounts that totaled in the millions.

Where all that money came from is among the audit’s more interesting findings.

Monies paid to Cobb EMC by its members went to more than the for-profit companies owned by Cobb Energy. Both Alumni Properties LLC, which was involved in land acquisitions for the Ben Hill coal plant, and Buster and Brown, LLC, another private real estate venture, are linked to Dean Alford and his boss at Cobb Energy, Dwight Brown.

But there were even more land companies, including Ben Hill Timberland, LLC and Washington Timberland, LLC. Washington Timberland, LLC, as readers of Rural and Progressive may remember, has a history of late property tax payments in Washington County.

Dean Alford and P4G cancelled Plant Ben Hill over three years ago, but the audit raises questions about whether it was ever a real project.  The audit says that “Senior Cobb EMC officers…advised that Plant Ben Hill was a ‘decoy” designed as a subterfuge to keep land prices lower in Washington County.”

Which raises troubling questions about Plant Washington and whether it was ever a viable proposal, or merely a scheme designed to enrich P4G.  In January of 2012, Cobb EMC Board members ceased funding Plant Washington following a presentation by Alford, during which he said, “P4G never intended to build Plant Washington” and that, “P4G’s goal has always been to obtain the permits needed and then sell them to any interested party that could build the plant.”  Unfortunately, it took many more months before Washington EMC followed Cobb EMC’s lead.

I happened to attend the invitation-only announcement for Plant Washington at the end of January 2008. The event was attended by former Washington CEO Frank Askew, then CFO and now Washington EMC CEO Wendy Sellers, Washington County Industrial Development Authority Chair, and Sandersville Railroad stockholder Hugh Tarbutton, and other Tarbutton family members.  At that time, Alford was clear in stating that Plant Washington would be built, owned, and operated by P4G members to provide affordable power to co-op members.

“Senior Cobb EMC officers interviewed advised that Plant Washington is now dormant,” according to the audit.

There’s a lot of information to digest in the 150+ page audit, which was requested by the Cobb EMC Board members elected after Brown and his cronies were ousted from the electric co-op almost four years ago. Last week Cobb County Prosecutor Don Geary told Channel 2 News in Atlanta that additional criminal charges could result from the findings.

The audit concludes with this statement, “This report has clearly demonstrated that how the former CEO made business and accounting decisions from which he and his friends profited. There was no effective compliance and ethics program and no oversight on the part of the Board of either entity, Cobb Energy or Cobb EMC to stop the activities perpetuated by the former CEO.”

It is time for Washington EMC leaders to come clean with its members and the larger community about the waste of member resources that Plant Washington has been from the beginning. Members expect and deserve the truth. We must hold them, and all our county leaders, accountable for the boondoggle they signed us up for over 8.5 years ago.

Two boxes, 8.5 years

The Friday Photo
May 29,2015


We’re downsizing today. These two boxes are filled with documents spanning 8.5 years (and counting) of some of the most difficult, rewarding, and meaningful work I will ever do.