COVINGTON, Ga. — County commissioners Tuesday voted to give $50,000 to the coroner’s office months after a controversial presentation some perceived as threatening to divulge incriminatory information if they did not approve the money.
County Manager Lloyd Kerr said the Newton County Board of Commissioners had voted in January to give the money to Coroner Dorothea Bailey-Butts for equipment for a new office after she complained the existing space in the Historic Courthouse was inadequate.
“We just had not done the transfer yet,” Kerr said. “This is money in addition to her budget.”
Finance Director Brittany White told commissioners Tuesday she was moving the money from the county’s Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) account to the coroner’s budget.
She said she anticipated the county would collect enough future LOST proceeds to replace the transferred money.
“LOST collections have trended a little higher than what we budgeted so I feel confident that we will have enough money to increase our revenues slightly,” White said.
The Board voted Jan. 19 to give the extra funds to the coroner after she complained about the condition of the county morgue and office equipment, which included outdated laptop computers and other hardware.
Bailey-Butts, who is a registered nurse, told the board past holders of the part-time office also had been morticians able to use the funeral homes where they worked to perform job functions and store records and equipment.
In a sometimes rant-filled presentation to the board, Bailey-Butts also had waved an envelope she claimed contained information that “would shut Covington down.” She later said it was her personal property and not subject to public disclosure.
Kerr in February asked a state agency to consider removing Bailey-Butts from office because of accusations made about her work since taking office Jan. 1. The agency said it could not legally take action unless she had gone through required training.
White said previous coroner Tommy Davis’ term ended at the end of the calendar year on Dec. 31 but halfway through the budget year — which runs July 1 to June 30.
The additional money will give Bailey-Butts the equivalent of a full year’s budget of about $107,000 with half of the year remaining, she said.
Bailey-Butts has said she had been using personal funds to pay deputy coroners and other office expenses since taking office.
In answer to questions from commissioners, Kerr said enough funds were in a separate capital budget to upgrade the county morgue facility in downtown Covington.
He said the county would need to coordinate the work with the sheriff’s office, which oversees the annex building in which the morgue is located on Stallings Street.
“We don’t have access,” he said.
Workers have completed renovation of space in the former Cousins Middle School building to provide the coroner the office she requested, Kerr said.
The work included new paint and installation of new carpeting. It is near offices of the county Emergency Management Agency and Keep Newton Beautiful, he said.
“It’s ready and available for her to move in whenever,” Kerr said.
In a separate action Tuesday, commissioners voted to add Bailey-Butts to the list of county officials with purchasing cards, also known as P-cards.
The cards are designed to allow the user to electronically access funds in a department’s budget. It allows the holder to make purchases of needed items without having to wait on the finance department to physically give them money from their budgets, White said.
Bailey-Butts’ card will have a limit of $5,000. She will now be one of about 50 P-card holders throughout the county government, water and sewerage department, and constitutional offices, White said.
“$5,000 is pretty standard for your department heads,” she said.