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Citizen Spotlight: Woody Merry, City Government Watchdog

For Woody Merry, his passion for justice that took him to council meetings, community events, and even the Georgia Supreme Court, started with a single priority that many Americans share: family business.

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When Woody’s son was about to graduate college, his  counselor recommended he move to out of his hometown of Augusta, and head to the growing city Atlanta.  When Woody heard this, he know he had to take action to improve the community.

“I wanted to do whatever I could to help Augusta recover,” he said.

Woody’s latest fight for posterity is over Augusta’s Hyde Park community. The city is seizing 370 parcels of land to build a detention pond, which they claim is necessary due to flooding.

Woody’s family owned the brick business that supplied many of the bricks used to build the homes for Hyde Park’s families. As a well-known community activist, Woody got the attention of residents who came to him for help.

Last summer, Woody contacted Watchdog Wire with details of the situation.

Hyde Park

From the beginning, Woody’s been skeptical of the government’s actions in Hyde Park. The 370 parcels of land that Augusta is seizing will be used to “…improve the water quality and flooding conditions in the Hyde Park community,” according to a government document obtained by Watchdog Wire.

Woody doesn’t buy that.

“The Hyde Park area has been a center of controversy for 30 plus years,” he said. “Some people want the area really badly.”

Since Hyde Park is an economically depressed part of Augusta, residents largely lack the financial means to challenge the government.

“The residents who have come to me are proud of their homes and do not want to relocate,” Woody said. “Several of these homes were built with money provided by the G.I. Bill after World War II. Some were built by hand one brick at a time.

Woody proposed an alternative plan in 2012 that would have allowed residents to stay in their homes. But the city wasn’t interested.  Instead, they proceeded with their plan and have already begun relocating residents. They are losing their homes, and taxpayers are paying for it.

With Woody and Watchdog Wire on the same team in 2013, the spotlight of the mainstream finally shown on the Hyde Park situation. We filed an open records request and continue to pursue the truth.

“We have fiduciary responsibilities to the taxpayers, the ones that are paying the freight,” Woody told WJBF in an interview.

Woody and Watchdog Wire are continuing the investigation into Augusta, GA’s Hyde Park Project. You can find all of our reports here.

Challenging City Government

Woody Spotlight Graphic

When asked what makes him an effective Citizen Watchdog, Merry put it simply.

“I just have a big mouth,” he said.

In addition to his work in Hyde Park, Woody has fought to hold the multiple labyrinths of government accountable.

Woody sued his city government when one commissioner was purposely abusing his ability to abstain from voting.

He sought to prevent commissioners from using abstentions “to block majority wins and the mayor’s ability to break a tie,” according to The Augusta Chronicle.

“The mayor is just a figurehead and only gets to vote when there is a tie,” Woody explained. “Commissioner Marion Williams was abstaining from voting to block the six votes needed for a bill’s passage and stop the mayor from breaking ties.”

The fight went all the way to the Georgia Supreme Court, which ruled in the city’s favor.

Though he lost that fight, Woody continued to challenge the Commission, and Commissioner Marion Williams left office in 2007.

Woody, along with allies from a group he started called CRSA Help, also worked to expose waste and fraud in Augusta.

One investigation involved the city’s procurement department.

“We tracked the purchases for a year, looked at bids, and found consistently that the low bid was often kicked out for technicalities,” Woody said.

Because the low bids were dismissed, the city wasted $2 million in taxpayer funds.

“The law is clear that they could have waived the technicalities if it saved the city money,” Woody explained. “They were dropping low bids for mismatching dates and problems with the notary.”

Woody and the Association for Fair Government sued the city. Yet again, a judge ruled in the city’s favor. But the public was alerted to the corruption, and reforms have been made.

Woody continues to police the public integrity in his community. He’s been fighting for over a decade, but he isn’t stopping just yet.

“You know, when you stop and look back on your life, you want to be able to say, ‘Thank God I made a difference.’”

You don’t have to be a writer to get involved with Watchdog Wire. Send us news tips to info@watchdogwire.com and take our Watchdog Quiz to find out how you can get involved.

Josh Kaib

Josh Kaib is the Assistant Editor of Watchdog Wire. Twitter: @joshkaib

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Categories: Citizen Spotlight, Must Read

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