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COLUMN: Bryan Co. Good Ol’ Boy System Means No More Services for DV, Sexual Assault Victims

OPINION: Jessica Szilagyi says a continued climb in sexual assaults and domestic violence incidents hasn’t stopped the good ‘ol boy system from doing it ‘the way it’s always been done,’ which, for one Georgia county, means no more crisis services for victims.

The following article is an opinion piece and reflects the views of the author and not those of AllOnGeorgia.


As rapes, sexual assaults, and domestic violence numbers in Bryan County climb, the only victim services provider in Bryan County plans to close its doors in the next six months due to the argyrocracy governing Bryan County.

The announcement was made Tuesday night after Bryan County Commissioners hitched another wagon to the feral horse of accountability. 

The saga is an ongoing one that dates back years, but garnered my attention in 2019 when I wrote a series of articles on the apparent mismanagement of LVAP funds. (For newbies: LVAP funds are add-on fees assessed on criminal citations and criminal ordinance violations in the amount of 5% of any total fine amount. The legislature enacted the add-on fee in the 1990’s in hopes of incentivizing non-profit organizations to provide tangible services to victims of violence. [More on all of that here]) In turn, the funding from convictions would open the door for the nonprofits to be eligible for other state and federal grants made available for victims, ultimately providing more services. The law dictates that the money should go to non-profit entities within the boundaries of the county and if no non-profit exists, the funds should be directed to the District Attorney’s Office. Bryan County has one victim services provider: The Cottage in Richmond Hill, which provides crisis and forensic medical services at no cost to a victim when they need it most. It’s largely funded by donations, volunteer nurses and service providers, and the financial backing of the owner. 

A year ago, Bryan County’s own records showed a lack of sound accounting practices over the 10 most recent fiscal years, which resulted in, at least on paper, more than $100,000 in unaccounted for LVAP dollars. 

Instead of offering an explanation or, Heaven forbid, an apology for the confusion/poor recordkeeping/et. al., Bryan County doubled down and lodged now-deleted personal attacks against those who called for reform of the LVAP process – including victims. The Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (CJCC), which is the state council of political appointees responsible for LVAP funds, wanted no hand in helping, and directed those concerned about the unaccounted dollars to the District Attorney’s Office.

Yes. The same district attorney’s office that would receive the funds if it weren’t for the nonprofit and the same district attorney’s office whose reports did not match the county’s and contributed to the $100,000 in unaccounted funds. Laughable, at best.

After considerable blowback from the community, the county ended up awarding 15% of the upcoming year’s funds to the Cottage and directing the other 85% outside of Bryan County. Though the fiscal year began on July 1, 2019, the county did not issue its first check to The Cottage until March 23, 2020 and by summer 2020, after only a few of the promised monthly checks, the county was already jockeying to cut funding for Bryan County victims in FY 2021.

In Tuesday’s Commission meeting, commissioners paraded an auditor before the public in apparent attempt to refute allegations of the financial mismanagement 18 months ago, Bryan County. There was no mention, however, of the two things: 

  1. An audit is only as good as the information provided;
  2. If there was no mismanagement or misappropriation of funds, why isn’t someone in the financial department in Bryan County in the unemployment line because of the filing of consecutive quarterly reports reflecting inconsistencies totaling more than $100,000? (What would happen to you if your check register was off by $100k?) 

Apparently Bryan County is more concerned with its own image than it is with providing services to taxpayers and the least among us. Instead of articulating what Bryan County dollars are doing in accordance with the law, what services are provided, and to whom, the county opted to say, ‘We still don’t think we had poor recordkeeping and we paid someone to show up and tell you so!’ In my opinion, because it cannot justify directing all of that money outside of the county to organizations that admit they use Bryan County funds to help people elsewhere while their own people do without. But all of that pales in comparison to the direct blow dealt to victims of sexual assault and domestic violence by the inflated egos of Bryan County’s puppetmasters. are doing to the victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. 

Bryan County Commissioners recently voted to slash the funding to the only service providers that actually provide tangible services to victims, opting to instead direct money to a Liberty County organization seeking funds for a billboard to compete with a similar entity in Savannah. Advertising is not even a lawful expenditure under the LVAP statute. The provider, of course, has a personal friendship with at least one person who serves on Bryan County’s LVAP funding committee which decides to whom the money is awarded. 

This…as Bryan County crime statistics show that both domestic violence incidents and sexual assaults are on the rise in the county.

In 2019, Bryan County law enforcement officials responded to 661 domestic violence calls. Year-to-date through October 23, 2020, the numbers were already at 632 calls.

In 2020, 21 rapes and/or sexual assaults were reported to Bryan County law enforcement, 12 to Richmond Hill PD, and 4 to Pembroke PD.

Those numbers are not representative of the problem in the county, though, as only an estimated 10% of victims report their assaults to law enforcement, for a variety of reasons. Most facilities treat victims at rates exponentially higher than those documented by police. The Cottage, for example, has assisted 133 victims since January 1, 2020.

And perhaps the most underdiscussed statistic: In the last 10 years, Bryan County has had 11 known domestic violence-related deathsfive murder-suicides and six homicides

Yet in 2020, Bryan County Commissioners decided the service provider in Bryan County could do more with less so that commissioners could direct more money outside of the county.

That ‘less is more’ mentality, however, was the straw that broke the camel’s back for The Cottage, which has been blackballed by Bryan County’s Supreme since before it even opened its doors two-and-a-half years ago. The county has seemingly used a personal disdain for those associated with The Cottage as a reason to punish victims, even writing The Cottage out of agreements and directing law enforcement to take victims to other counties – sometimes two-plus hours away – to get care in a time of crisis.

The District Attorney’s Office, which uses the money to pay salaries, travel, and stamps, has little to show for the hundreds of thousands of dollars received, in addition to their fully-funded budget from the six-county judicial circuit. In requesting funds, they said they use the money to ‘be BFF’ with victims. $100k is a hefty price tag for a friend, when you really need a medical provider, a counselor, and access to recurring support resources. As for the rest of the money Bryan County collects from criminal violator, it goes toward billboards, rent for buildings, and 5K runs in other counties.

It is a travesty – from the fiscal responsibility perspective, the lacking state oversight perspective, and, of course, the victim perspective.  

Since there is no lawful and ethical reason for this immoral behavior to continue in the sunlight as citizens of Bryan County watch, one can only deduce that it’s because victims of domestic violence and sexual assault just don’t carry the same clout as the political elite. May God bless them with privilege of never having a loved one need victim services. 

 

Jessica Szilagyi is a Statewide Contributor for AllOnGeorgia.com. She focuses primarily on state and local politics as well as issues in law enforcement. She has a background in Political Science with a focus in local government and has a Master of Public Administration from the University of Georgia. Jessica is a "Like It Or Not" contributor for Fox5 in Atlanta and has two blogs of her own: The Perspicacious Conservative and "Hair Blowers to Lawn Mowers."

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Avatar

    George

    November 11, 2020 at 11:36 pm

    The good ole boy system is strong in Bryan county and as long as the back room deals continue, the public will loose. Power and status are more important than the good of the county.

  2. Avatar

    roger daniel burke

    November 12, 2020 at 7:28 am

    I hope they get any body doing wrong .spending tax payers money

  3. Avatar

    Neka

    November 13, 2020 at 5:43 pm

    There needs to better accountability of the funds or it’s simple some body needs to be put in handcuffs. This is ridiculously that know one can show the paper trail of where the money is going. That’s not right to the tax’s payers of Bryan County.

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