Trading Places: Pickens and Gilmer to Exchange C.F.O.s?

Featured Stories, News

During a budget townhall meeting last Thursday, Sole Commissioner Robert Jones took the opportunity to clear the air of rumors surrounding the recent resignation of Pickens County Chief Financial Officer (C.F.O.) Mechelle Champion. Champion resigned from her position on September seventh, but will continue her duties with the county through October 31st, Jones says. Gilmer C.F.O. Faye Harvey also left her position last month. Harvey replaced Champion in Pickens County, taking over the C.F.O. duties starting September 25th. In a strange reversal, Champion applied to Gilmer County as C.F.O., to take Harvey’s old position. FYN has confirmed that Gilmer, however, will not hire for the position until January.

In the townhall, Jones answered a question from an ad in a local newspaper, asking why Champion quit her position with the county.

“That young lady has done a great job for Pickens County for us over the seven years. She has run a tight ship; she has run good numbers. And the pressure that has been put on all if us here in the last three months has been difficult. I know you’re feeling it at home; we’re feeling it here on the county budget and we are trying to cut and we have been cutting over the last three years,”

Jones said, adding,

“I know rumors, gossip—whatever it is flowing—let’s put a stop to it. There’s no need of that,”

trying to quell talk of Champion’s resignation.

To citizens, Champion’s departure seems sudden and comes in the midst of tumultuous financial times in the county. Unsubstantiated rumors aside, the county is in the midst of a series of financial woes, the most glaring of which is the Young Life Lawsuit. In August, Jones announced he was increasing the millage rate to 6.9 to raise the $400,000 the county owes from the Young Life lawsuit, which the county must pay by January 15, 2013. Citizens came out in droves to the public hearings that following the announcement, voicing their criticisms of the move.

Jones explained in the first hearing that the increase would not only have to cover the initial $400,000, but an additional $256,694 for a total of $656,694.

“The $656,694 is the difference in the total taxes levied in 2012 and 2011. We based our 2012 budget on taxes on digest being $9, 286, 179,”

Champion explained. When Citizen Ken Pint asked if this meant the county over-estimated its budget, Jones confirmed the fact. Further, the second hearing resulted in a petition calling on all county public officials to further cut their budgets. Jones responded by lowering the millage increase to 6.65 and asking the public officials to cut their budgets. Last week’s townhall was the result of Jones request, when all public department heads explained their budgets to the citizens and how much they were able to cut.

As such, citizens took notice when Champion resigned in the midst of the county’s financial mayhem. FYN has requested a statement from Champion on her decision to leave and possibly move to Gilmer as C.F.O. As of the writing of this article, she has yet to answer our request.

Champion started working with Pickens in January 2005 as Internal Auditor and in May of the same year became the Finance Director.

In a recent correspondence with FYN, Commissioner Jones confirmed that the county will conduct an audit of its finances in the wake of Champion’s departure. Such audits, though, are not out of the ordinary and are in accordance with common business practice. Jones said R.L. Jennings and Associates from Gilmer County will conduct the transitional audit. He went on the say that the audit will take approximately 40 days to complete, after which point the results will be made public.

“We are not expecting any serious issues to arise,”

Jones said.

The commissioner also said that as C.F.O of Pickens County, Harvey will be paid less than Champion was paid when she was C.F.O. for Pickens. Jones, however, did not give the amount of her pay.

Back to Top