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Government and People
The July Term, 1999 Grand Jury, in conducting its business, voted to inquire into the operation of the Richmond County government as a whole. It was decided by the Grand Jury that the best approach to this investigation would be to interview the County Commissioners and City Administrator individually. Because the Commissioners and Administrator appeared with the County Attorney objecting to the Grand Jury's planned format for the interviews, the Commissioners and Administrator were subsequently subpoenaed to appear before the Grand Jury to be interviewed individually and under oath.
Several issues were then discussed with the Commissioners and County Administrator. It appears that there is much room for improvement in the area of employment of county personnel. There is a need to update and refine the policies and practices regarding hiring, disciplining and terminating personnel. Too many county employees were hired with poor job skills and deliver marginal performances. The county currently provides training for employees who are unable to do their jobs merely to bring them up to par. Obviously taxpayer money is wasted in this ineffective and inefficient operation of county government.
In the area of procurement, to include contracts, bids, and purchasing, this requires further investigation. Apparently a satisfactory system for complete accountability is not in place. Misappropriation of funds exists. The practice of commissioners or their businesses doing business with, or having the potential to do business with, persons bidding for county contracts should be absolutely forbidden. At the very least this practice gives the appearance of impropriety and, at worst, provides an opportunity for corruption. One example is the recently awarded OMI sewer contract.
The Grand Jury became very concerned about the OMI contract when it was revealed that OMI was doing business with a commissioner. The Grand Jury questioned why a Colorado based sewer maintenance company would be advertising in Augusta, GA on a radio station in which a commissioner has an ownership interest; who would be the target audience of such advertising and what would be the ad content? Most importantly, how much money was paid to the station(s) from OMI? Satisfactory answers to these questions were not forthcoming. This Grand Jury suggests that this matter be further pursued by the next Grand Jury.
There was also speculation of potential business by OMI with a second commissioner. Questions posed on these contracts were not responded to thoroughly or promptly and are cause for alarm and further investigation.
The lack of a long-range plan causes us to wonder at the shortsightedness with which the county attempts to proceed forward. With no planned direction, much taxpayer money has been spent on various studies including the $90,000.00 space study (to date, no action taken) and the $167,000.00 efficiency study (to date, 20% action). Lack of follow-through and follow-up consistently result in continued ineffectiveness and inefficiency. The bottom line, once again, is poorly spent tax dollars.
The county's practice of "giving away" money should come under close scrutiny. Under the heading of grants or the guise of providing "support" to various organizations or select groups, taxpayer dollars are given away. There often appears no rhyme or reason for the "sponsorships" other than, possibly, political tradeoffs.1
To conduct an investigation of this magnitude and depth requires more time than allowed by one current Grand Jury. It is unfortunate that the term of this Grand Jury could not be extended, and it is strongly recommended that the succeeding Grand Jury devote considerable time and attention to these matters.
In conclusion, this investigation and its findings should serve as a "CITIZENS ALERT" and be a reminder to the public that the citizenry has the right, responsibility and, indeed, obligation to call our officials to task. Further, these findings should, and hopefully will, engender a renewed, or new, interest in how our county works and what our officials do. Their actions, or lack of, effect us, how we live, and how our monies are spent. Ultimately, it is up to us to hold them accountable.
1. Unanswered questions remain concerning the operations of various departments. Questions abound concerning the operation of the County Landfill and Water Works Departments. There are also many unanswered questions concerning the regularity or irregularity of the county's uniform contract
The September Term Grand Jury, in conducting its civil duties, voted to continue the July Term Grand Jury's probe into the conduct of the government of Augusta-Richmond County. The Grand Jury formed a committee and charged it with forming its own course of action, The committee decided to examine the areas of personnel and procurement. The committee subpoenaed witnesses and requested all relevant documents. Many issues of concern were explored, while many more were uncovered. The committees' findings and recommendations are as follows.
The committee spent a great deal of time on the policies and procedures of local government and its employees. Much of what we found was that while there are specific tools of accountability in place, they are often ignored or used in an erratic or sporadic manner. In sworn testimony, we learned that there are still many cases of employee termination due to theft. The committee also learned that there is still too much political involvement in the hiring of department heads and other employees. Better use of employee evaluations and stronger monitoring of employee performance would lead to greater efficiency. The present treatment of government workers by Augusta-Richmond County has led to a serious morale problem. Specific areas the committee looked at are:
In conclusion this committee urges that until a Special Grand Jury is convened, that the next Grand Jury and its successors pick up where we have had to stop. The "citizens alert" issued by the July Grand Jury still rings loud and clear.
Charles T. Redd
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