Spaceport Rot Starts To Stink
While many Camden County businesses hang on for life, spaceport consultants and lobbyists haven’t missed a beat taking our money. Commissioners feed tens of thousands of our tax dollars every month to the same guys who have failed for the past five years.
What’s worse, new consultants providing ‘secret’ services have joined the feeding frenzy.
Last December, taxpayers started shelling out $5,500 monthly to Fenimore Ventures Group, Inc. Try Googling them. Nada. Where are they?
What’s their experience? The invoices say a guy named Greg Ammirati gets our money. That’s the name of the ex-VP of Sales for bankrupt Vector Launch. Also, for a guy who is the VP of Sales at Astra Space.
Shouldn’t Steve Howard explain why we’re paying a space company instead of them paying us? Especially one that’s never had a successful launch.
Greg Ammirati and Fenimore Ventures Group, Inc. has been showing up monthly on Camden's spaceport expense ledger:
Hoping to solve that mystery, we sent a Georgia Open Records Act request to Camden County for the Fenimore invoices to see what we’ve bought for $44,000. Camden responded by submitting seven invoices with all the critical information blacked-out. They hid the company address on each invoice. Every section showing the services provided was blacked-out, too.
Click below on an invoice to view the information Camden is hiding:
So, we don’t know who or where Fenimore is or why we’ve paid them. The redacted information is intended to hide something Spaceport Camden officials don't want taxpayers to know.
You'll notice that County Administrator Steve Howard approved all of the invoices. It looks like he approved 2 invoices showing work each month in December, January, and March. It's most likely that the biller was careless preparing the invoices and put in wrong details, but neither Steve Howard or Camden County Finance Department caught the problem. In any case, an auditor would quickly red-flag such mistakes. Or are they mistakes?
Camden said they redacted the information because Fenimore provided services related to the purchase of the Union Carbide property. Hence, they claim the information is exempt from disclosure until Commissioners complete the purchase, or the deal falls through. But we cannot find anything showing that Fenimore provides any real estate services like engineering, environmental consulting, or spaceport design.
Camden has withheld information from a few consultants that have established practices probably related to the spaceport property purchase. And taxpayers have never been allowed to see the unredacted Purchase Option Contract(s). But Camden officials have misapplied that exemption many times over the past five years to hide information about their spaceport shenanigans. For instance, they refused to provide the information they gave to Georgia Southern University for the so-called “Spaceport Economic Summary” publicity flyer. However, GSU answered the open records request with about 800 pages of documents proving Camden’s “Spaceport Economic Summary” was 100% pure fiction.
The Fenimore episode is worse.
When Fenimore first showed up on the spaceport expense account, I found a website that matched up with “Fenimore” and the rarely used term “Wash Ops” printed on Camden’s expense sheet. The website has since disappeared. But in December, Fenimore offered “Senior level access to the House, Senate, White House, and Key Federal Agencies.” In other words, they are Washington lobbyists.
The now-deleted Fenimore Ventures website:
If the spaceport is worthwhile and legal on its merits, and real space companies are clamoring to come here, why are Camden taxpayers secretly paying Washington lobbyists? Or are we paying space company employees? Where is our money really going to? And for what?
The Georgia Open Records law is supposed to breathe fresh air into stinky messes like Spaceport Camden. We have a right to know what our hard-earned money is buying.
It took all the County’s share of the property taxes from 53 average homes to pay $44,000 to Fenimore. Who and why they’re getting our taxes cannot be kept secret.
What’s the spaceport secrecy hiding?