AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – After several conversations throughout the community, we took a deeper look into the mayor of Augusta’s credit card statements over the past year and a half. Some of the swipes recently became a source of controversy, so we wanted to know if certain payments were justified.
We spent a day combing through the mayor’s credit card statements looking for production company purchases and other related expenses.
We found several charges, but very few were from Augusta based companies.
“If we’re good enough for Mel Gibson, we should be good enough for the mayor I would think,” said Independent Film Producer Mark Crump.
He runs Reflecting Pool Productions where he’s making a name for himself from Hollywood, to Netflix and right here in the Garden City, where he’s spent years working on videos for the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office. But his company’s name is nowhere to be found among the charges made to production companies by Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis. Doing the job, he said would not be a problem.
“Would I be able to put it together and staff it up and crew it and get it done, absolutely,” Crump said when asked whether he could do work for the mayor if the request came.
We looked at nearly 30 pages of SunTrust credit card statements dated between December 2019 and April of this year. There were more than $20,000 worth of production company and related purchases during that time. The related purchases include companies that sell event based equipment, such as B & H Photo, Video, Audio. But the price tag does not include hundreds of dollars in makeup to local makeup artist HelloChriss, which is also needed when putting together a production.
The city does not have a credit card policy when it comes to elected officials and their use of credit cards. So, that task has been left to the Mayor’s discretion.
NewsChannel 6 learned that many of these companies were hired during times when events were planned and promoted by the City of Augusta. Nearly all of his events took a pivot from in person to online only due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The first purchase to a production company we saw was on December 16, 2020. There was a purchase to Florida based LC Studios for $1,350. That next day, the mayor’s office held a community voter awareness day with award winning artist Common. The same company received $950 on January 16 of this year, during the mayor’s virtual ceremony to honor COVID-19 victims. Later, a charge to LC Studios could be seen for $6,669 on March 6, right in time for the online based launch of the mayor’s Construction Ready Program. Then Masters Week hit and Mayor Davis rolled out several events, including a gala with singing and music performances and several online chats. That same time, Atlanta Premier Production received $4,500.
Most of the events can be found on the City of Augusta’s YouTube page.
The only question NewsChannel 6 has is why weren’t there more places from the CSRA?
We called around to 8 production companies and all of them say they were not contacted by the mayor’s office, but some said they would love the opportunity.
“We’ve done films, commercials, documentaries. Stuff from major national brands to local non-profits,” said Justin Wheelon, Oak Film Co. Co-Founder.
Wheelon runs an award-winning company and he said he has worked with the mayor in the past and welcomes more opportunities.
He said, “We’ve done full length features all the way to 30 second, 15, 10 second clips. We’ve got multiple drone pilots.”
We learned there was at least one Augusta based place, A Drone’s Perspective, which earned more than $600 on March 23. A few weeks later, there was a well edited State of the City Address shared.
So, why was there at one point, a more than $6,000 purchase for a Florida based company and just a few hundred dollars for the local business? Crump said prices vary with production work, but distance matters.
“Are we bringing in people from out of town? Are we putting them up in hotels?”
We reached out to Mayor Hardie Davis to see if he would talk and he told us this was not a good time. But he later said he would look into talking next week.
We do have additional questions, including whether he’s already given the green light to city auditors to look at his purchases.
Photojournalist: Gary Hipps