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Commissioner seeking audit of finance department

McDuffie County Commissioner Fred Favors is calling for an in-depth audit of the county finance department in lieu of a check that was paid out to an Augusta firm without the authorization of commissioners.

"What was in the dark is now coming to light," Rev. Favors said during an interview last week with The McDuffie Mirror.

He said he recently discovered that a check was written out to Augusta Asphalt in the amount of $5,412.83 for paving the parking lot at the county tax office back in July 2007.

"This was something that was done without the knowledge of the full board of commissioners," Rev. Favors said. "We should have been informed about that amount of money being paid out, because it was more than $5,000."

Commissioners must approve any amount of money being paid out if it's more than $5,000, he pointed out.

"And that's just one instance of how things have been done in the past," Rev. Favors said, noting that's not how business should be conducted. "Unfortunately, we have come across a number of things that seem or appear to have been done inappropriately. Things like this have become a major concern."

It's because of such findings that he has decided to go on record asking that an outside auditing firm be hired by the county as soon as possible to launch an in-depth look into the county finance department.

Rev. Favors said he plans to ask for a special called commission meeting to address his proposal

Commission Chairman Charlie Newton admitted Tuesday that he affixed his initials approving the purchase order for the asphalt. "There's my initials on it, so yeah, I authorized it. We did the work in the parking lot and I don't why my initials are on it instead of Don (Norton), but anyway, my initials are on it."

Mr. Newton said it was never thought that the asphalt would cost more than $5,000.

"I had no idea," Mr. Newton said. "I don't remember the details of everything that happened when we did that and with that being SPLOST money, I do not know. I am fairly sure we talked about it."

Asked whether he had authorized other purchase orders to be paid without getting the approval of the full board of commissioners, Mr. Newton replied, "No, now I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that I have never done anything like that as far as saying, 'Hey, well, it's not much over $5,000, let's just slip it by the board' - because number one, Don Norton would never let that go."

Mr. Norton is the county manager that oversees day-to-day running of county government.

In recent months, the finance department, which is headed by Jimmy Whitaker, the interim director, has seen a variety of allegations surface by employees within that department - the majority of which were levied at Mr. Whitaker. He recently retired from his position and was re-hired to serve as the interim director until commissioners can hire a new finance director. Some of the allegations were dismissed by commissioners during an internal probe.

At least two of the three female employees who still work in the finance department since have filed grievances with the Georgia Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. A probe by that agency still is underway.

"This is a matter of great concern to me," Rev. Favors said. "This is about getting to the truth and facts about what's really going on in our finance department. We need to know and I think the only way we can is if we hire a special auditing firm to look into several things that we have questions about."

Web posted on Thursday, May 28, 2009

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