The following article is an opinion piece and reflects the views of only the author and not those of AllOnGeorgia.
Bryan County officials spoke out in a lengthy rebuttal to two articles published on AllOnGeorgia in recent weeks regarding the use of local victim assistance program (LVAP) –first on June 18 and again on July 8th– which raised concerns over mismatching reports filed by county officials and the circuit district attorney’s office.
The article penned in the county legal organ focuses more on Bryan County’s interpretation of the law than it offers explanation as to why numbers, year after year, do not add up.
Titled “Local officials deny mishandling Victim Assistance funds,” the authors say the newspapers in Bryan and Liberty counties sought to “explore the allegations” made by AllOnGeorgia. But if you read the piece, the only thing they explored is how upset Bryan County government officials are over claims that they are not properly handling finances.
Let’s take a look at the defense by government officials as presented and consider them on a point-by-point basis:
- “Bryan County officials have since released pages of documents related to LVAP funds in response to these allegations of mismanagement.”
- The newspaper reports that Bryan County’s funds were forwarded to the district attorney’s office, which is what was reported by AllOnGeorgia. The issue has been – and continues to be – that the documents are inconsistent and not in accordance with state law regarding retention percentages.
- Additionally, the documents attached to the article published in Bryan County are a different set of documents than those initially provided and include notations by government officials. The notes on spreadsheets published by the Bryan County newspaper include statements like “error, should have been….”, “was collected but not paid,” “do not know why CJCC has [x] data.”
- The county claims the paperwork provided to the local paper matches what they filed with the CJCC, which is true. The concern has been why the county CJCC report does not match the district attorney’s CJCC report and why the county audit report does not match the county CJCC report. Neither of these are addressed.
- “Nor those officials say, has anyone from the website contacted them directly for information related to allegations officials have mismanaged hundreds of thousands of dollars in such funding.”
- It has always been my belief that official documents speak much more clearly than those in elected office. County officials are clearly upset that they weren’t given a platform to explain away why numbers don’t match. The public should review numbers without influence from those who stand to gain from explaining it away.
- The county government and the local newspaper also wrongly imply that the county government is the only place from which records on these funds can be obtained. Multiple times, official city documents were included or linked in the articles by AllOnGeorgia. Is Bryan County asserting those documents are fake?
- Bryan County’s official statement claims they have six approved providers in the circuit and they routinely send the funds to one.
- We already knew this. It was outlined in both the first and second article
- Even without considering which providers the money is going to, how does Bryan County explain 10 years of reports that are inconsistent with what the district attorney’s office files with the state and what the county reports to the state?
- Bryan County officials say they didn’t want to pull the rug out on funding for an agency that depended on it.
- The money is allocated on a monthly basis and is not supposed to be budgeted on the side of the county or the district attorney’s office because the amount expected to be collected each month is unknown. The money comes from fines. No county or prosecutor could (or should) predict how much money they expect to collect in fines.
- Additionally, if the funds are used for services, and not salaries, the funds would be utilized on an as-needed basis.
- An audit has never reported a discrepancy.
- Mismanagement of these funds would not be caught in an audit as an audit is only as good as the information provided. If the county provides one number to the auditor and another number to the state — which it has been doing for several years — the auditor would never know a different number was reported to the state and the district attorney accounts are not audited by the county auditor. This is not helpful.
- No one from the state has contacted them [the county] regarding the issue.
- That’s because the state is not an enforcer of the statute or the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council practices. In a statement to AllOnGeorgia in July 2019, Samantha Wolf of the CJCC said the agency “is not charged with enforcing the use of funds. CJCC does not distributed any funding. All funding is managed on the local level. Any mismanagement of funds by the local Board of Commissioners should be addressed by an appropriate investigative agency, which would include local law enforcement or the District Attorney’s Office.”
- The system is set up so the district attorney’s office, which receives money from the Board of Commissioners, will investigate if either the district attorney’s office or the Board of Commissioners mismanage funds. You read that right.
The article cites Liberty and Long county officials as stating they are both in compliance, and that is true for Liberty County, but did the newspaper make an attempt to check the statements in accordance with the law?
Court Clerk Sherry Long in Long County said in an email (which was reported in article 2) that no county reports exist because they send all of the money to the district attorney’s office, but state law – OCGA § 15-21-132(c) – details that reports must be filed by the governing county EVEN IF the funds are sent directly to the district attorney’s office. If the county is not filing reports, they are not in compliance. If Sherry Long files reports but said the reports did not exist when AllOnGeorgia filed an Open Records Request, she failed to provide documents according to the law.
Long also told the Bryan County News that she doesn’t know who receives the funds, but told AllOnGeorgia in an email following an Open Records Request that the money goes to Kelly Jackson and Samantha Ashdown at the district attorney’s office.
Here is here letter to AllOnGeorgia:
Here is Long’s statement to Bryan County News:
Additionally, the district attorney’s office still can’t articulate what specific, tangible victim services it provides to victims every year or why their reports do not match those sent to the state by the county governments. The newspaper made no mention of that – or anything about the Atlantic Judicial Circuit.
I fail to see how the county is denying mismanagement of funds. The core questions were not even answered by the entity that sought to publish their rebuttal and defend the local government’s position.
Expecting that assertions that the county did not mismanage funds to be a defense against concerns over consistently mismatching financial reports without answering any of the questions posed should only further concern taxpayers.