Newton County Commission Chairman Keith Ellis cut fellow Commissioner J.C. Henderson a loan, or “paycheck advance,” for $4,500 on Aug. 12. Henderson said he needed the money to send his son to college after financial aid promises from Tuskegee University fell through.
Ellis said he had two hours to make the decision and made it with his heart, not his head. But he added in a letter to the Covington News on Thursday that Henderson had a record, both of paycheck advances and, importantly, of paying them back on time.
The records show Henderson took a paycheck advance of $1,000 on Oct. 29. 2007. His payments were $50 per pay period. It was paid off by the following March.
Former Commissioner Earnest Simmons likewise took out a $1,000 “employee advance” on Nov. 8, 2007, with the proviso of paying it back in $100 increments per pay period. He, too, paid it off by March 2008.
Other county employees have taken similar advances. Jimmy Aikens of the public works department borrowed $300 in October 2011. Carlton Patterson borrowed $250 in June 2010. Josephine Brown borrowed $500 in January 2005 and $750 in January 2007.
In 2007, Sandy Williams borrowed $850, Mia Johnson asked for and received an advance of $800, Sandra Braswell borrowed $250, and Robert Gaddy borrowed $700.
Henderson’s most recently acquired loan was by far the largest, and all the financial transactions were done without any interest required.
All loans or paycheck advances were paid back, according to county records. Only Henderson’s most recent loan was paid back early, in its entirety.
Councilman Levie Maddox, for one, wants to see the entire practice done away with. He said last week that he thought the practice, old as it was, had been discarded.
“I do believe that the county should have a policy that allows structured cash advances to employees under a documented hardship,” he said. “Any and all types of loan scenarios are unacceptable.”
But what makes a loan different from a “gratuity”? The Georgia constitution forbids the latter, which is defined as money given by a public body for no return. A paycheck advance with no interest would seemingly fall into that category, even if it was immediately paid back.
While deemed a paycheck advance, Henderson’s $4,500 check was set up to be paid as if it was a loan. He was to pay $86.54 per pay period beginning Aug. 29, which would have required two years to do. As it was, he paid back the loan, without interest, a week and a half after receiving it. There has been no word on where that money came from.