Commissioners Face Questions Over Forensic Audit

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The Pickens Board of Commissioners met in front of a concerned audience last night. There was a citizen seeking help with smoke inhalation which created some controversy, but most seemed to have their attention drawn to a recent recommendation by the grand jury to perform a forensic audit of the county’s finances back to 2005.The smoke problem outlined by Alexandra Bryan is due to a neighbor who has a smokehouse near her home that is going continuously, creating a veil of smoke around her home. She cited the Georgia Nuisance Law as a resource for her complaint on both nuisance and health hazards and sought help from the board on how to proceed with filing a complaint. Another attendee, Ben Hopkins, says that he’s lived on Turner Road 42 years and the resident of which Bryan was speaking has had a smokehouse in one form or another his entire life. The board took it under advisement and stated they would consult with the county attorney Phil Landrum on the issue.

The grand jury gave their recommendations and presentments on August 28 which included a suggestion of a forensic audit. According to Board Chairman Rob Jones, as a courtesy in the past, grand juries have alerted them ahead of time of their intentions but in this case they didn’t become aware until it was posted in the legal notices of the local paper. He stated they were a bit blindsided by it but that all the county records are open and have been during his entire tenure for anyone to peruse. In addition, a yearly audit is done that is submitted not only to the county and the state, but also the grand jury.

Jones reported no one from the grand jury contacted them with questions or interviewed them as would seem appropriate. He did state that they are planning to address the problem although the outlined requests were unspecific. The finance department has started the process of seeking the cost in the meantime, before they decide a definitive course of action. They anticipate it will take a few weeks to get an estimate.

Jones wondered why they’d make such a request that may be answerable within a yearly audit review rather than a forensic investigation. He pondered why now.

“Why are we asking questions for ’05 that should’ve been asked in ’05?”

There was a reported $10 million surplus in 2005 that appears to have been depleted according to audience members, citing the Pickens Progress as their source. Although citizen Joey Roland seemed set that when Jones took office by the end of the first year is when the surplus was realized. He stated it was shortly thereafter that the surplus began evaporating and the county took on a $6 million loan that hasn’t been repaid.

Jones stated in that case, he would recommend if the forensic audit is performed it be retroactive to 2000.

“I don’t much defend you but this time I will. This is the second time it’s come around and you didn’t cause all this, you inherited a lot of this. It’s not fair to you Rob, or to these other two commissioners. It’s time to put this to rest,”

said Pickens resident Gary Copeland. He suggested if the cost is reasonable that perhaps a forensic audit should be pursued to put all the questions to bed, once and for all.

In other board news, the budget for this year is 6.18 percent lower than it should be at this time at 60.52 percent in expenditures. It was also discussed that the courthouse final cost came in $750,000 less than budgeted. Total cost was $16,200,0000. The board approved replacing an engine in a county vehicle with a rebuilt model coming in between $18-19,000.

An audience member quizzed CFO Faye Harvey about the 2012 audit and she stated it should be ready for the next board meeting.

Young Marines Gage and Athan Bennett petitioned the board for October 23-31 to be Red Ribbon Week as has been adopted by the City of Jasper and they did so. Red Ribbon Week is a conscious dedication of the county to recognize the goals of the Young Marines organization which includes living a drug-free life.

Also in attendance was Sheriff Donnie Craig who was asked to give an overview of the recent Jeepfest event. He reported the profit cleared after expenditures was $65,000 for the Georgia Sheriffs’ Youth Homes. It won’t be known until the tax reports come back from the state in the next few months but they anticipate the revenue for the county was likely substantial. He added that next year’s Jeepfest will be September 5-7 and that some hotels have reported they’re already booked for that weekend.

The grand jury’s request:

The Board of Commissioners meeting may be viewed in it’s entirety here: