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GBI to Conduct “Preliminary Review” of Hefty Oak Park Fuel Bill

Oak Park Interim Police Chief Gerald Price has contacted the GBI for their assistance in investigating “discrepancies” in an unpaid fuel bill dating back three years. Agent Bill Cammack of the GBI Office in Eastman confirmed Wednesday that an active investigation has not been launched, but the GBI is set to conduct a “preliminary review” of the information. If it is found that criminal activity occurred, a full investigation will be launched at a later time.

Price told council members Monday night at the council meeting that some discrepancies in the fuel bill had been found by Mayor Pro Tem Royce Dismuke and the Emanuel County Fire Chief, but he did not offer extensive details about what was unusual or who may have been involved. No comments were offered on to which company the outstanding balance is due nor did the comments address exactly how much is owed.

Price said the bill stretched over three years but payments were made over time, just never completely paying off the outstanding balance. Royce Dismuke, in the meeting, said he thought the bill was for two years and there appeared to be some uncertainty as to how long there was an issue, but Price said the look back would be three years.

Details of the Fuel Bill Shielded from the Public

AllOnGeorgia filed an Open Records Request on September 18, 2018 regarding an unpaid fuel bill after concerns were brought forth by a number of concerned citizens. Price confirmed to AllOnGeorgia in an email on September 19 that he received the request and paperwork would be ready in two weeks – on October 3rd – due to the fact that he was out of town at training. A reasonable response time is still required, even if the records custodian is out of town – and Price said the records would be fulfilled promptly after his return on September 27.

Timeline
Tuesday, September 18 – Open Records Request filed.

Wednesday, September 19 – Price confirms to AllOnGeorgia that he has received the open records request and documents will be available in two weeks.

Thursday, September 27 – Price returned to Oak Park from training.

Monday, October 1 – Price contacted the GBI about an investigation into the fuel bill discrepancies. He also contacted AllOnGeorgia to say that the records related to the fuel bill would not be available due to the pending investigation that was launched on October 1.

When pressed at the council meeting on whether or not the issue was under investigation when the records request was filed, Price said “they were looking at it” and the city attorney advised they contact the GBI. When it was pointed out that the persons ‘looking at it’ when the request was filed were not law enforcement officials and therefore the documents were not under investigation, Price did not say anything further.

AllOnGeorgia has inquired with the attorney general’s office as to whether the documents can be shielded from the media given that the request was filed 10 days before the investigation by the GBI was requested.

Previous GBI Investigation

The City of Oak Park previously announced intentions to initiate a GBI investigation but ultimately backed out on pursuing the request for their assistance. Those calls were made by former chief Trey NeeSmith, who wanted a multi-year forensic audit to look at financial concerns brought forward by AllOnGeorgia and the public. The council ultimately voted to decline to pay a private auditing firm to conduct a forensic audit and NeeSmith told council members a GBI forensic audit could take years because of a wait list. No further action was ever taken.

Citizens at Monday’s meeting voiced frustrations over the fact that the GBI investigation will be limited to the fuel bill instead of city financial practices as a whole. At the end of the meeting, Councilwoman Elaine Strange said she had no plans to take pursuit of prosecution of former city clerk Monica Slater off the table once the past-due audits are complete.

The City Council did go into Executive Session on Monday night. Mayor Pro Tem Royce Dismuke said it was ‘to discuss the fuel bill,’ but when council members returned after less than five minutes, they voted to give the clerk, who has officially been working with the city for 30 days, a raise.

Jessica Szilagyi is a former Statewide Contributor for AllOnGeorgia.com.

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