Newton County purchasing card records from June 2020 to June 2021 were brought to light, as promised.
I spent many hours poring over paperwork and receipts, and analyzing purchases of everyone from Chairman Marcello Banes to a sheriff’s deputy that half the county wouldn’t know from Adam.
I strived to keep my reporting fair and accurate, as always. I tried to shed light on every questionable purchase possible. I also tried to get clarity on how those purchases were for the business of the county.
I’m sure if I looked once more through the year’s worth of records from Newton County’s 50 P-card users, there’s no doubt I would likely find something I didn’t notice the first, second and third time around. In fact, it happened this week. On one occasion, I noticed one of Mr. Banes’ “meetings with constituents” was not only with his wife, Cheneeka, but also his daughter, Bailey.
It also came to my attention that it wasn’t just one pair of “work boots” that Banes purchased from K&D Men’s Shoes in Conyers. He bought two pairs, and one was listed on the receipt as “Ladies 6 Steel/Brown.”
I regret leaving those nuggets of information out of my initial reports, but I believe the work that was published has achieved what was intended — keeping you, the community, informed and out of the dark.
One question that remains is, what’s next?
District Attorney Randy McGinley has asked state authorities to investigate some of the county’s P-card records. Despite not knowing which P-card users or specific purchases will be under the spotlight, I’m relieved to see this type of action being taken.
Honestly, I hope for the best, because, I mean, who really wants to see their own community mixed up in a situation like this?
To say the least, it’s a disappointing position to be in, but I would say it’s even more disappointing to know that taxpayer dollars are potentially being mismanaged.
Now that records have been brought to light and an investigation is seemingly underway, what can’t happen is for this all to fall upon deaf ears — not again.
In 2016, Newton County Fire Chief Kevin O’Brien was guilty of using his P-card to purchase a variety of home improvement items over a four-year period in the amount of $16,991. After he was sentenced to prison time and probation, do we recall what happened? One might think the county took a shot at improving or tightening the policy to ensure nothing of this sort could ever happen again.
Instead, only silence.
Here we are, five years later, and it could all be happening again, pending the outcome of an investigation.
With so many questions still surrounding P-card usage and Newton County’s policies and procedures, it’s time the Board of Commissioners take action.
Page 12 of the current P-Card Policy states, “Administrative Services will ‘make periodic audits of card use and charges for appropriateness.’” This could be done in-house or it could be outsourced. I believe it would serve the county well to hire an outside firm to conduct an audit and present the results publicly.
It would also serve the county well to seek outside influence and revise the current P-card program policy.
McGinley said many entities, including the state government, have a tighter and clearly defined policy. Why should our county be any different?
Not only would it serve the county well from an operational standpoint, but it would go a long way in gaining and maintaining the trust of its residents.
Someone once said, “True democratic governance is doing what your people want, not just what you want for your people.”
Board of Commissioners meetings are held the first and third Tuesday of each month inside the Historic Courthouse at 1124 Clark Street in Covington. Meetings begin at 7 p.m. If you want to see the P-card policy changed, attend these meetings and request to speak during the allotted time for public comments. If you’re unable to attend meetings, call the Board of Commissioners office at 770-784-2000 or visit www.co.newton.ga.us to learn how to reach your respective commissioner. Either way, make your voice heard. After all, “the power of the people is much stronger than the people in power.”
Taylor Beck is editor and publisher of The Covington News. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.