PORTERDALE, Ga. — Porterdale’s mayor says an investigation into a former city manager’s spending is nearing its end after it found he mismanaged the city’s finances but did nothing that warranted criminal charges.
The “mismanagement” by former city manager Bob Thomson likely contributed to the city’s government having unpaid bills with a variety of agencies totaling almost $1 million since 2018 after council members were given inaccurate budget numbers, officials have said.
Former District Attorney Layla Zon worked with city officials on the case before Gov. Brian Kemp appointed her as a Superior Court judge in early June.
Interim District Attorney Randy McGinley said he was reviewing it with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation “as quickly as possible.” He wanted to do so because he was not the district attorney when his office originally reviewed it in 2019, he said.
“I have the duty to make my own individual assessment,” McGinley said.
The investigation began in 2019 after Councilwoman Linda Finger, a member of the council’s Budget Committee, approached Chapman “regarding what she felt were some discrepancies on the part” of Thomson, Mayor Arline Chapman said.
“At my suggestion we met with someone who had no personal interest but would be able to assess the information that she had,” Chapman said. “We were advised to meet with the district attorney.”
The mayor said she and Finger met with city auditor Mark Hardison and Zon who “chose to contact the GBI for an investigation.”
“A thorough investigation took place, (Porterdale City) Council members were interviewed and a thorough study of documents was made. This was a lengthy process,” Chapman said.
The Covington News reported in August 2019 the investigation reportedly centered on allegations Thomson had signed Chapman's name on city checks.
However, the GBI did not confirm that information at the time and Zon said “very generally” the scope of the investigation involved the authorization of spending of city funds.
At the time, Porterdale owed more than $123,000 to the Newton County Water and Sewerage Authority and the city of Covington, according to Mike Hopkins, executive director at NCWSA, and Covington Finance Director Randy Smith.
The Authority was told to work with Thomson — who had served as city manager since 2010 — to ensure Porterdale would make payments and Hopkins stated that Thomson assured him payments would be made.
However, Thomson resigned the same day and the city remained eight months behind on payments to the Authority on Aug. 14.
Meanwhile, Chapman said Zon finally determined “that while funds had been inappropriately used by moving back and forth and violating rules and regulations for how funds are to be appropriated, the city manager did not personally profit.”
“State regulations were not followed and finances were in chaos,” Chapman said. “The Budget Committee was only given incomplete information as to how business was being conducted.”
The mayor said she, Finger and Hardison met with a GBI investigator and Zon again in April.
“The district attorney informed us that she believed that because the city manager did not personally profit but had mismanaged (city funds), a grand jury would most likely not indict,” Chapman said.
Chapman said after the investigation ended “the city began the task of righting the ship.”
The council then promoted Witcher from public works director to interim city manager and the mayor and city council are assisting Witcher “in the process of putting Porterdale back on the steady road to improvement,” Chapman said.
Under the city’s charter, the city manager serves as chief executive officer rather than the mayor, Chapman said.
Council members voted on July 13 to tentatively adopt a four-mill increase in the 2020 property tax rate that is more than 35% above the full rollback rate.
On Monday, July 21, they agreed to a three-year action plan that includes requiring all city workers except police officers to work 32-hour weeks — four-fifths of their current pay — and increasingly pay greater shares of their health insurance premiums.
The city has since worked to repay the water and sewerage authority and city of Covington but still owed more than $162,000 to the two agencies on July 13, officials said.
Thomson did not immediately return a request for comment.