Cordele Dispatch, Cordele, GA

Local news

February 4, 2012

Council seeks answers

Byromville — BYROMVILLE  — Not only members of the general public, but city officials here are having problems getting information about the town's financial status.

During a town council meeting Thursday night, several council members said they have asked the clerk for financial records and bank statements on several occasions, but they have yet to see them. They are questioning whether such records even exist or if they do, whether they are available at City Hall.

Councilwoman Suzette Grantham said she has requested information three times with no results, and she is ready to ask City Attorney Toni Sawyer to join her at City Hall in demanding that financial information be made available to them.

She has told Ms. Sawyer about her concerns, but when the attorney questions Mayor Kenneth Lester, he says the records are at City Hall, and he didn't know Ms. Grantham had requested them.

Lester was not present at Thursday's meeting, and Mayor Pro Tem Cheryl Foster presided in his place. Neither was the clerk, Tan Mathis present at the meeting. Council members say City Hall is supposed to be open from 8-12 and 1-5 Monday through Thursday, but they have trouble catching Ms. Mathis there. Council members did acknowledge that Ms. Mathis has had some health issues and frequently has doctors' appointments.

Before they get the city attorney involved and have to pay her hourly rate, Councilwoman Conshelloah Clayton asked that Ms. Mathis be given one more chance to produce the records.

Councilman Keith Lamberth says he has no idea how much money the town has in its general account nor how the funds have been spent. He has obtained records from State Bank & Trust concerning the town's SPLOST fund (special purpose local option sales tax). Currently there is $6,200 in that account from the 2005 SPLOST, and "we have very little to show for our money," he says.

Lamberth said bank records show that SPLOST money was used to make payroll, pay light bills and for other unauthorized expenses. Some $78,000 had been allocated for new equipment, he said, and the city has bought nothing new. In fact, Lamberth said he doesn't know where the city's tractor is, and its mower is inoperable.

The only legitimate use of SPLOST funds, Lamberth said, was $36,000 to upgrade the town's sewage treatment pond. He estimates that about $120,000 in SPLOST funds is unaccounted for.

Ms. Grantham said town of Byromville funds have not been audited since 2006. An auditor has been unable to complete a 2007 audit because sufficient records are not available. The town council had not had a meeting since March of 2011 until January of 2012, Grantham added.

Ms. Foster said she has offered to help the clerk get her office organized so that financial records can be produced, but her offers have been rejected. Ms. Grantham said failure to produce a city's financial records is a felony punishable by 8 to 10 years in prison. "I think it's time to get the law involved."

She also recommended the formation of a personnel committee.

The five Council members attending the Thursday meeting including Eddie Walker in addition to Ms. Foster, Ms. Grantham, Ms. Clayton and Lamberth agreed to stop paying a cell phone bill for three phones, one of which is used by the mayor. They also said they will ask for invoices for all the checks that were paid out of the SPLOST account.

A committee of Walker and Lamberth was appointed to work with the city services employee any time there are problems that need immediate attention.

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