To the editor:
Last year ended under the dark cloud of the Newton County forensic report issued in November 2016. In contrast, 2017 began with hope that our new Board of Commissioners (BOC) would address the many wrongdoings outlined in the 113 page report authored by David Sawyer, a certified fraud examiner and licensed private detective. A new BOC chair and two new district commissioners were the reasons for that initial hope, which is now fading.
One year after issuance of the report, little to no progress is evident. Yes, we have a more responsible BOC seated that has made headway on some fronts. However, they seem to have little interest in addressing the past misconduct and monetary waste alleged by the Sawyer report. The BOC and local law enforcement continues to place all responsibility for that on outside agencies like the FBI and GBI even though it is a local government problem.
The information below is directly from the forensic report.
“Based on analysis performed by me (David Sawyer) and professionals working at my direction, it is my opinion that actions taken in various functional areas within Newton County resulted in financial damages to Newton County taxpayers of more than $25 million, not including interest, litigation expenses, general damages and punitive damages, as depicted in the table below.”
What about the Nelson Heights Community Center, which is managed by Commissioner J.C. Henderson? To quote the forensic report about its operations, “at least $42,648 of taxpayer funds were used for undefined, wasteful or abusive purposes…” Nothing has been done to recover those funds. In fact, Mr. Henderson is still in control and the center is still receiving $ 38,000 per year in taxpayer funds.
When the forensic study was released much of the public’s attention rightly was focused on the alleged improper conduct of our former county attorney, particularly as related to his real estate purchases for the Bear Creek Reservoir. The report claimed that millions were wasted as a result of his buying property at inflated prices and purchasing unneeded land. What has our BOC done about that? Well, without any legal challenge, they just honored questionable purchase contracts and gave back free to the original owners 200 acres of mitigation land for which taxpayers paid $1.4 million!
Likewise, the Newton Recreation Commission (NCRC) was called out by the forensic study for financial misconduct and conflicts of interest by its director. Surprisingly, the NCRC defended him at that time, but recent reports of additional problems at NCRC provide a second opportunity to fix things there.
It’s not too late for Newton County citizens to press for a fair and objective criminal investigation of the allegations in the $300,000 report and to insist the BOC recover as much of our wasted money as possible.