The Cherokee County Board of Commissioners voted in its meeting Tuesday to raise the potential final price of the audit from the original amount of $75,000 to $269,000, with another $25,000 to $50,000 tacked on for legal counsel for the firm conducting the audit.
At the recommendation of County Attorney Angela Davis, the board also agreed to have the findings of the audit presented not to the county, but directly to District Attorney Shannon Wallace.
Davis said delivering the document to Wallace would ensure transparency and avoid any allegations of the county “guiding,” “taming,” or “changing the report.” This also would be necessary should any criminal charges result from the audit, she said.
The forensic audit was recommended by a May 2012 grand jury to investigate the RRDA dealings with Bobo in relocating his recycling business from Blalock Road near Canton to its final location on Highway 5 near Ball Ground. The RRDA was formed in 2006 to guarantee debt on $18 million in bonds for the relocation project.
Newnan-based accounting group McClendon and Associates was chosen by the commission in December out of four firms recommended by a 2012 grand jury, one of three grand juries to investigate the deal.
McClendon and Associates was also one of two firms recommended by the district attorney’s office and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to look into the deal.
Since Bobo filed for bankruptcy last year, Cherokee County has been responsible for the bond payments on the facility.
Davis informed the board Tuesday of the latest request for funding of the audit, which Commission Chairman Buzz Ahrens said has more than 40 witnesses scheduled to be interviewed.
Since the audit began earlier this year, the Newnan company was given an additional $25,000 by County Manager Jerry Cooper through a change order allowed by the contract, Davis said.
McClendon and Associates’ latest request to have another $169,000 at its disposal was met with skepticism Tuesday from Commissioner Harry Johnston, who is, along with Chairman Buzz Ahrens, one of two remaining commissioners of the originally commissioner populated RRDA.
“I have just got to tell you,” Johnston said to the board, “it’s going to take some getting used to for me to support a more than threefold increase …over and above the expanded amount that we originally approved …What’d we get for our $100,000? What would we get for $50,000 (more)? Can (they) wrap it up?” What the money spent so far has bought the county, though, Davis said, can’t be known until the audit is complete.
“I think appropriately ... she (McClendon and Associates owner, Rhonda McClendon) is not sharing with us ...,” Davis said. “I don’t have a list (saying) ‘Well, for this amount of money, I’ll interview these people, and I’ll look at these documents.’ We don’t know; and I don’t think we should know (what she’s doing).”
Johnston acknowledged that McClendon and Associates’ undertaking is a complicated one.
“It’s a puzzle,” he said.
“It’s an $18 million puzzle,” Commissioner Brian Poole added. Poole later made the motion to approve the additional funding for the audit.
On Wednesday, Poole said $300,000 for the investigation is significant, but it’s important that it be thorough and identify those responsible for the money loss.
It’s “critical,” he said, in “beginning to restore the faith our citizens have lost in their county government.”
During the board’s Tuesday night meeting, more conversation on the RRDA’s deal with Bobo was prompted by the recent release of the findings and recommendations of the January 2013 grand jury.
Ahrens led the conversation for the board about the findings of the grand jury.
In its findings, the grand jury’s stated that it received “conflicting information” on how the price for the Ball Ground Recycling facility was determined.
Johnston said Monday the final price for the property was $3.685 million but said that it was unclear how the price was determined. He acknowledged that it appeared that the county overpaid. Ahrens said Tuesday night during the meeting that the answer to this question may lie in documents from Bank of North Georgia, which the bank has denied to release to the board.
Ahrens said Wednesday that he has also asked Bobo directly for these documents, but he refused. In its report, the January grand jury said it too was unable to obtain these documents. The board also discussed the grand jury’s recommendation that in the future the county require that two signatures or more on checks from the county in the amount of $500,000 or greater. County Manager Jerry Cooper, though, said all checks issued by the county already require two signatures, “regardless of amount.” The grand jury also recommended that in the future the next grand jury appoint a citizen advisory committee to oversee any future transactions of the RRDA.
Johnston pointed out that the board has already agreed by July 1 all commissioners will be off the RRDA and it, in effect, will be a “citizens committee.” The commission plans to release a formal response to the grand jury’s findings by its May 7 meeting.