Fannin County Taxpayers gave (Lynn Doss) Doss & Associates a nice size advance on services in December in the amount of $5,708.34…some extra Christmas money?
On September 22, 2015 the Fannin County Commissioners amended the county charter by what is called “Home Rule Law”. This changed the spending authority of the chairman to a $4,500 limit and also required the approval of another Commissioner (for a majority). County Attorney Lynn Doss authored the new Home Rule Law. Fannin county has what is considered a CEO government. This means the Chairman is in charge of the day to day operations and County employees are to follow his/her daily work instruction.
(Read Home Rule Law below)
December 13, 2016 was the last BOC (Board of Commissioners) meeting of the year. During the meeting Chairman Bill Simonds, Post commissioners Larry Joe Sosebee and Earl Johnson approved all checks over $4,500. There was no check approved that night ( 12/13/16) for Doss & Associates.
On December 14th a check for $5,708.34 was cut for January 2017 legal services to Doss & Associates.
This check was an advance on services not yet rendered to the county. At the time of this advance, Bill Simonds was still Chairman and CEO of the County. FYN spoke with former chairman Simonds and asked if he approved the check? Simonds told FYN that when Accounts Payable Clerk, Ms. Julie Locke came to him and said Lynn Doss has asked for her check, do you want me to cut it? Simonds asked Locke if Lynn had been paid in full for the year and she replied yes, this would be her January payment. Simond’s then told Locke NOT to cut the check and wait until January and let the new chairman decide how he was going to handle the county attorney’s payments. (Accounts Payable Clerk, Ms. Julie Locke was not interviewed for this story)
FYN did an open record request for a copy of the check (see below). The check has the computer signatures of both Bill Simonds and Rita Davis Kirby, former county CFO and Clerk. Above the computer signatures was post commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee’s initialed approval.
Considering Simonds said he did not approve the check, FYN then spoke with Post Commissioner Earl Johnson to see if he was the “second approval” of the check. Johnson told FYN he didn’t know anything about the check and was not aware the county made a practice of paying anyone in advance for anything.
FYN contacted Post Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee to ask why his intials of approval were on the check. Sosebee told FYN he received a call saying some checks needed approval and could he come by and approve. When he arrived, Simonds was nowhere to be found. Sosebee said the check was printed when he got to the office and he initialed the check.
Sosebee was at the Commissioner’s office earlier that same morning. The same day the check was cut, Lynn Doss, Chairman elect Stan Helton and Larry Joe Sosebee met in the morning with then County CFO and Clerk, Rita Davis Kirby to inform her that after the first of the year, her services would no longer be needed.
FYN spoke with Chairman Stan Helton. We asked Helton that on the morning (12/14/2016) of the meeting with Sosebee and Doss, if he was aware of a check being approved for Doss & Associates? Helton said he was not involved in any checks being approved or was he aware of any checks being cut before he took office.
FYN contacted former County CFO and Clerk Rita Davis Kirby and asked the following questions. Why is your name on the check cut for Lynn Doss on 12/14?
“ My name along with Mr. Simonds appears on every check as an electronic signature”
You were the County Clerk during the last commissioners meeting of the year 12/13/16.Was Ms. Doss’s check approved at that meeting? Were other checks approved at that meeting?
“ Ms. Doss’ check was NOT approved at the December 13th meeting and we did approve several checks at that meeting”
Chairman Simonds has gone on the record with FYN saying he instructed Ms. Julie Locke not to cut Ms. Doss’s check. Did you hear the conversation between Mr. Simonds and Ms. Locke? If so, what do you recall?
“My recollection of Ms. Doss’ check being cut is that Ms. Julie Locke came in my office on December 14th and I remember it very distinctly because it was the same day that Post Commissioner Sosebee and Chairman Elect Stan Helton told me services would no longer be needed after the first of the year and Ms. Doss was present during that meeting. Ms. Locke told me that Ms. Doss had asked for her check but that she had already received her December payment and she stated. That just to make sure she went back to check to make sure she had received 12 payments and since she had this would be for January 2017. I told Julie (Ms. Locke) that she would have to get approval from Bill (Simonds) to cut the check and since it was over $4500.00, another commissioner would have to approve it as well.
I heard Mr. Simonds tell Julie that if it (the check) was for January then he wasn’t going to approve it. He said that he felt like Stan needed to be in on approving 2017 invoices over 4500”
Did Ms. Locke tell you who instructed her to print the check?
“Ms. Locke informed Ms. Doss that Mr. Simonds did not approve the check to be cut since it was actually a January payment and Mr. Simonds felt it should be approved in a January meeting. Ms. Locke then received a call from Commissioner Sosebee who at that time told Ms. Locke to cut the check for Ms. Doss and he would be in to approve it.”
Did LJS pick up the check or Lynn Doss?
“Commissioner Sosebee came into the office and initialed the Check and then Ms. Doss came in to pick the check up”
We sent County Attorney the following questions:
You received a check for January 2017 services on December 14, 2016
The commissioners approved checks during the 12/13/16 commissioners meeting. Your check was not in the group of checks approved that night.
Did you request the check the morning of the 13th from then Chairman Bill Simonds?
If so, what was his answer to your request?
Post Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee approved the check.
Did you request the check from commissioner Sosebee?
Who notified you the check was ready to pick up?
Why did you accept the check with only one approval?
Did you write the Home Rule that was passed requiring 2 commissioners approval for checks over $4500.
We have received no response from Lynn Doss concerning our questions.
If former Chairman Bill Simonds did not approve the check and Chairman Stan Helton was not aware of the check, why did Doss take the check? We are not aware if Helton planned to appoint Doss & Associates as county attorney in 2017 but unbeknownst to him, Doss bound the Chairman to use her firm by taking the check for 2017 services without his knowledge.
Lynn Doss has been county attorney for about 20 years. We have asked several times for a service agreement between the Firm and the County along with who set the monthly payment of $5,708.34.
The only response we received from Lynn Doss,
“There is not a service agreement between Doss & Doss, Doss & Associates, Lynn Doss or Harry Doss and the Fannin County Board of Commissioners. As noted to you on previous occasions, there is not a contract or service agreement with Fannin County. While, the County Attorney serves at the pleasure of the Chairman, according to the Carl Vinson Institute of Government, the primary functions of the county attorney are to advise the governing authority [the Board of Commissioners] and other county officers on their powers and duties under the law as well as such other task as assigned. The Chairman is free to appoint the attorney he pleases and to fix the duties, term of office and compensation.”
Doss does not submit itemized invoices to the county. Doss & Associates invoices only have the date and amount due with no description of the services rendered to the county.
I question if Doss serves at the pleasure of the Chairman, who represents the post commissioners? The fact that the county post commissioners don’t have representation became an issue in the July 2015 lawsuit when then Chairman Bill Simonds sued the post commissioners over local legislation. Last year FYN sent an open records request to the Fannin County Probate Judge Scott Kiker and received a response on the Judge’s behalf from County Attorney Lynn Doss. Did the Chairman instruct her to represent the Probate Judge?
We did not check every county in the state, however most counties make the first order of business for the new year to appoint their county clerk and attorney. Below is the video of Gilmer Commissioners appointing their county attorney for 2017 and the agenda for Pickens County to appoint their county attorney as well. Maybe it’s time for Fannin County Commission Chair Stan Helton to look into the compensation, contract for services and appointing a County attorney.
As far as the check (over $4500 to Doss and Associates) cut in fiscal year 2016 for 2017 services not yet rendered and without proper approval, just may deserve a look by the District Attorney.
Check all documents below.
“Some would rather climb a tree to tell a lie than stand on the ground and tell the truth” BKP
Monday afternoon July 18th in a Pickens County Courtroom Senior Judge Richard Winegarden signed the nolle prosequi orders dropping the charges against Fannin Focus publisher Mark Thomason and Attorney Russell Stookey.
Thomason and Stookey were arrested Friday 6-24-16. Thomason was charged with three counts; identity fraud, attempt to commit identity fraud and making a false statement. Stookey was charged with two counts; identity fraud and attempt to commit identity fraud.
Appalachian Judicial District Chief Superior Court Judge Brenda Weaver filed the complaint with the District Attorney’s office. District Attorney B. Alison Sosebee presented the charges to a Pickens County Grand Jury made up of sixteen citizens. The Grand Jury returned true bills on both Thomason and Stookey.
When the charges were dropped that made the file concerning this case open for the public to view, FYN spent Friday afternoon thoroughly reviewing the file. I listened to the witness interviews several times.
Immediately after the court adjourned Fannin County Attorney Lynn Doss did an interview with Channel 2’s Mark Winne. (Doss interview with Mark Winne.) She told Winne she has spoken with the FBI three times since March.
Mark Thomason, Russell Stookey, Lynn Doss, and Fannin Probate Judge Scott Kiker have made claims that there is currently an FBI investigation into Judge Brenda Weaver and Judge Roger Bradley. Thomason, Stookey, and Doss have made the same claims concerning the FBI during interviews. Witness interviews claim Kiker told them about the FBI investigation in detail.
Throughout the DA’s investigation one name kept coming up, County Attorney Lynn Doss. It is common knowledge in the Appalachian Judicial District that Doss does not care very much for Judge Roger Bradley. I stated in a previous article a comment Doss made to me regarding her feelings for Bradley.
Doss serves as the Attorney for Fannin County, Fannin County Water Authority, and the Fannin County Board of Education. Her husband Harry Doss is the Fannin County Juvenile Public Defender and the Fannin County Probate Judge Public Defender. The Doss’s have received a lot of money for several years from Fannin County taxpayers. Side note, FYN has researched Doss and Kiker court cases from Cobb to Towns Counties and have found several cases where Lynn Doss and Scott Kiker are co-counsel. See any conflict with that? Doss is public defender in Kiker’s courtroom. Also what happened to the promise Kiker made the voters of Fannin County that he would be a full-time Probate Judge? Far from it, Kiker has private cases in several counties. And that is a story for another day.
Lynn Doss thoroughly understands attorney/client privilege so why would she risk losing a client like Fannin County Board of Commissioners who pays her $5,708 per month, $68,496 a year? I asked Chairman Bill Simonds if he knew that Fannin County was being investigated by the FBI and also if he knew Doss was speaking to the FBI? Simonds told us he just found out in the last couple of weeks and was not aware of any conversations Doss was having or may have had with the FBI.
Remember the checks from the Judge’s account which Thomason claimed appeared to have been illegally cashed? Who gave the checks to Stookey or Thomason? During an interview with DA Investigator Greg Arp, Simonds told Arp he understood that Doss said she thought the FBI would be contacting her and so Doss wanted the checks. Simonds went on to say, his understanding was that Doss gave the checks to Stookey who in turn gave them to Thomason.
So if Doss told Simonds about the FBI possibly contacting her why did she not come back to her client (Fannin County) and confirm her involvement with the FBI investigation once she was actually contacted?
Investigator Arp asked Simonds if Doss ever admitted to him who she gave the checks to? Simonds replied “Oh Yeah! She gave the checks to this Stookey guy. She is the county attorney. She has no F****** business giving checks out to nobody especially another attorney. She said ‘I do that all the time, I give out numbers.’ Simonds said, ‘Lynn this is a lot different than a F****** telephone number, this ain’t no telephone number.’ She lied about it. I think this is a d*** vendetta. Lynn is vindictive.”
The DA’s investigators Greg Arp and Christy O’Dell interviewed Rita Davis Kirby. Kirby is Fannin County’s CFO. Kirby told investigators that she gave the check in question to Doss and only Doss.
“She is the only one who had the checks. The only person who had copies of those checks. It’s obvious that Lynn is the only one with copies of the checks from Fannin County. If Mark Thomason has a copy of them it came to him from Lynn Doss. In March Lynn comes in and asks me for a copy of the third quarter, second, third and fourth quarter of 2015 and the first quarter of 2016 of Judge Bradley’s checks. She said I have gotten word the FBI is going to be looking into this and they will probably call me so if you will just go ahead and get those for me I will have them when they contact me. I got her the copies and sent them to her. She sent me an email and said could I go ahead and give her the other two judges just for the sake of not singling any one judge out. Something to that effect. She emailed me. Kirby said Doss never came back and said anything about the FBI investigation. “
Kirby was asked if the FBI had made any requests to the commissioner’s office?
“No, and that is what’s strange to me as well.”
Kirby recounted a meeting with investigators between Doss, Simonds, and herself concerning who Doss gave the checks to and how she knew they had been cashed. “ When Bill got a copy of the Open Records Request that Thomason sent Chairman Rob Jones in Pickens County, Lynn came in and was in Bill’s office. Kirby went into Bill’s office and sat down. Lynn read a copy of the email and told Bill she needed to talk to him about this. She needed to explain. She said this is crazy (Lynn), I could kill Mark Thomason (jokingly). All I know about this is ‘Mark Thomason received copies of these checks from Rita,’ and I (Kirby) stopped her. I said “No, Lynn, No he didn’t.” “I thought I had given him those checks but I didn’t. I went back to verify that. I did not give those checks to Mark Thomason, you are the only one I gave those checks too. She said (Lynn) I’m not sure how he got them.”
The reasoning behind the investigation is there is a problem about ‘if’ the checks have been cashed and they’re not supposed to be cashed. Lynn said on the back of the check in the upper left hand corner on Judge Bradley’s checks there are numbers that go across and we understand and were told it was a teller override. (Rita said) I told her that was not a teller override and Lynn said, I spoke to Ruth Jordan and she told me that it was a teller override.
Kirby said she was in the room when Simonds asked Doss who she gave the checks to. “Doss told Bill she gave the checks to Stookey who is Mark Thomason’s Attorney. At that point Bill looked at her and said, “you did what?” She said it’s open records and I gave them to Stookey. She said it’s no different than me giving a phone number to an attorney without asking if she could give the number out. Bill said that ain’t quite the same thing.”
Kirby implied throughout the interview that she feels that Doss shares county information with Thomason.
Did Ruth Jordan tell Lynn Doss that the checks appeared to have been cashed because of the numbers on the back of the check? Jordan is the Blue Ridge Branch Manager of Community & Southern Bank.
DA Investigators O’Dell and Arp interviewed Jordan. Jordan immediately let them know she could not answer questions for the bank but she could talk about procedural issues.
If we show you the back of the check could you tell us if it’s a teller override?
Jordan, “You would not be able to tell anything about the back of the check, I think that is the whole issue somebody doesn’t understand.”
So you couldn’t look at the back of the check and tell if it’s a teller override?
Jordan, “This is what I told everyone I did have a conversation with but I have not had a conversation with any attorney.”
So you haven’t talked with Miss Doss?
Jordan, “Concerning the back of the check in question, “this is a routing number, that is all that is.”
Investigator Odell, is there anything on the back of the check that you can tell that it’s been
cashed, deposited, whatever….?
“Procedural-wise, as far as Community and Southern’s bank policy, a check like that should never be cashed. That’s a business check. It’s a business check. One person does not have ownership of that check. So that check should have been deposited. Now, there is a For Deposit Only here. There is nothing on the back of this check that can tell you the check has been cashed, deposited, you can’t tell anything. There is nothing back there to tell that. It’s a routing number, branch number and teller number.”
Investigator, The only reason you are here is because your name specifically has come up as having a conversation with a certain attorney that has indicated that you were able to tell them from the back of that check. You have not had any conversation with Mrs. Doss regarding any of this?
Any conversation with Mrs. Doss regarding teller overrides? “No”
Jordan, “I have not spoken to Lynn Doss. I will not disclose anyone’s personal information. It’s not going to happen.”
When discussing the subpoena Jordan said, “I was shocked and amazed. I have never gotten a subpoena that was not served by an officer. If a deputy would have showed up with that subpoena it would have been filled out by someone before they got here with it. Generally when I get one on something like that they serve notice and generally they want someone to sign showing I received it. They were here literally wanting us to give them something and I’m like what, we don’t do that. I don’t think they understood. I was shocked that they had what looked like nearly a blank subpoena and I just said I don’t know anything about this. I don’t know what you’re looking for. You’re going to have to give me some information.”
Investigators showed Jordan the check that supposedly had been cashed illegally. Jordan said there was nothing on the check that indicated a teller override or that it had been cashed.
A check when deposited with a teller show the teller’s number so why not just go to the teller and ask if they cashed or deposited the check?
So why did Doss tell Simonds and Kirby that Jordan said the check appeared to be cashed? Who told Thomason the check appeared to be cashed? Remember that is what Thomason said in the email he sent Pickens County Commissioner Rob Jones. The email to Jones was an for an open records request. Who gave Thomason his information?
What about the FBI Investigation? In one witness interview with “Mr. X” he tells Arp and O’Dell that there are two FBI agents doing the investigation. FYN has learned the name of one FBI Agent, Jamie Harter.
Mr. X told Arp and O’Dell the following: Scott Kiker told me that a whistleblower came to Mark Thomason. Kiker would never tell me who the whistleblower was. Only thing Kiker told me was that the whistleblowers had been granted immunity from prosecution. There are two FBI agents.
Kiker said the reason he got involved was he and Thomason had to sign a paper before the FBI would investigate. They had to sign a paper saying that Mark had asked them to come up here. Thomason told Kiker he was afraid to sign it without some legal representation so he requested Scott Kiker to be his legal representation and then he signed the thing and gave it back to the FBI.
So if Scott Kiker is Thomason’s legal counsel concerning the FBI investigation does he know who the whistleblower is? Does he know whom the FBI offered immunity? FYN has reached out to Lynn Doss and Scott Kiker with a list of questions. At the time of this article they have not responded. At the bottom of this article you will see a list of questions we have asked both Doss and Kiker. We will post their answers as soon as they respond.
Remember the attempt to commit identity fraud in the indictment of Thomason. We found something very interesting in the DA’s file. It may be irrelevant but we feel it’s worth mentioning.
In this letter from Assistant District Attorney Chase G. Queen of the Enotah Judicial Circuit, Thomason may have committed identity fraud.
FYN would like to be clear regarding the allegations of “cashed checks” there hasn’t been any proof presented at this time which supports the claims of checks being cashed.
Below is the list of questions for Fannin County Attorney Lynn Doss and Fannin County Probate Judge Scott Kiker.
I have reviewed the entire file including listening to all of the witness interviews in the case that was dropped last week against Mark Thomason and Russell Stookey.
- One witness stated that Thomason had to sign a form and send it back to the FBI before they would look into Thomason’s complaint. The witness stated that he (Thomason) brought the paperwork to you and I understand you signed as Thomason’s Attorney. Did you sign a document along with Mark Thomason that was sent back to the FBI?
- Have you spoken to or met with the FBI?
- Have you and Lynn Doss ever spoken with or met with the FBI together?
- Did Lynn Doss tell you she was speaking with the FBI? When was the first time you knew that Lynn Doss was involved with the FBI investigation?
- One witness said that you told him there was a whistleblower at UCBI and the FBI has granted this person immunity from prosecution. How are you aware of this information? Who told you (Mark Thomason, Lynn Doss, FBI…)? Do you know the identity of the whistleblower?
- One witness said that when he confronted you about the whistleblower and UCBI you said it was a rumor Mark Thomason started. Is it a rumor?
- Did you represent Greg Joseph Staffins in a shoplifting case in Union County?
- Does the Fannin County Probate Court have or use investigators?
- Has Mark Thomason ever worked for the Probate Court as an investigator?
- Are you aware that allegedly Mark Thomason went into the Blairsville Wal-Mart and identified himself to Wal-Mart employee Jeff Griffin as an investigator for the Fannin County Probate Court specifically Judge Scott Kiker’s Investigator?
- According to Jeff Griffin, Thomason asked to see Wal-Mart case reports on the shoplifting case against Greg Joseph Staffins. Was your office ever contacted by the Union County DA’s office inquiring about Thomason’s relationship to the Probate Court and yourself?
I am working on an article concerning a possible FBI investigation you discussed in a recent interview. I have listened to the witness interview from the Mark Thomason-Russell Stookey case and have several questions.
- You said you have communicated with the FBI 3 times. Were those phone conversations or meetings?
- Did you provide the FBI with any Fannin County documents?
- At any time did you make the Fannin County Chairman Bill Simonds aware of your involvement with an FBI investigation?
- Who (name) did you talk to at the FBI?
- Did you give the checks in question to Russell Stookey or Mark Thomason?
- Did you contact the FBI first?
- Did Ruth Jordan tell you the numbers on the check showed the checks had been cashed?
- Did you tell Chairman Simonds, with Rita Kirby present, that you gave the checks to Stookey and that Ruth Jordan told you the checks had an override number on them indicating they had been cashed?
- Did you tell Mark Thomason the checks appeared to have been cashed?
- Have you ever had a conversation with Scott Kiker concerning the FBI investigation in this matter?
- Has Scott Kiker or Mark Thomason shared with you the name of the whistleblower?
- Have you signed any paperwork with the FBI?
At the June 14th Fannin County Board of Commissioners meeting, Commissioners began making their proposals about what should appear on the SPLOST 2016 ballot in November. SPLOST is the Special Local Option Sales Tax that citizens vote on every six years. Fannin County uses the current SPLOST to fund projects such as the Fire Station, road paving, Water Authority, improvement of county infrastructure and municipal projects in Blue Ridge and McCaysville. Commissioners must set the SPLOST items by mid-August.
In Commission meetings and out-and-about, Commissioners listen to many ideas about what are important projects for the SPLOST 2016 ballot. One project goal Commissioners have chosen to closely listen to and act upon is improving parking downtown, especially the Courthouse area on West Main Street.
On June 14th, Post-Commissioner Earl Johnson floated his solution to parking on West Main Street – move resident services from the Courthouse to a satellite building in Fannin county. Mr. Johnson sees two options to solving the parking dilemma. One is spending around $2 million building a parking deck on the soon-to-be-vacant Fire Station #1 property. The second is spending the same sort of money to acquire a building outside of downtown to house county offices like Tax Commissioners, Board of Commissioners, Tax Assessor and Land Development. Mr. Johnson pointed out that both Union and Gilmer counties have satellite county offices. Mr. Johnson emphasized his reason for moving the resident services offices and not the library out of the courthouse as “Everybody has to pay taxes. Nobody has to go to the library.”
During the public comments section of the meeting, several Fannin citizens disagreed with Mr. Johnson. They stated that everyone pays their taxes online and not in person.
FetchYourNews wanted to find out whose observation best describes the amount of foot traffic at the Courthouse. So, we visited resident service offices in the Fannin County Courthouse to determine how much foot traffic passes through the offices. On a whole, the offices couldn’t really say what the average number of visitors per day is because different times of the year see increased traffic. For instance, the Tax Assessors has more people during assessment notices period. All offices gave an answer similar to Sandi Davis in the Board of Commissioners office. When people come to the office, we spend our time and attention providing quality service to people not counting how many people come into the office that day.
One concern that every office expressed was that a significant percentage of visitors to the office are elderly. The courthouse parking situation makes it difficult for people with limited mobility to take care of business at the courthouse. And, this age group prefers doing business in-person and not online. As Chuck Cook of the Board of Elections points out, even without parking problems, the Courthouse is difficult to get into. People have a choice of a flight of steep stairs or a long walkway. Just making it to the end of the walkway is difficult for people using walkers.
Interestingly, new library supporters have used the same reasons for why the county should move the library out of the courthouse. At every Commissioners meeting since January, library supporters have said that a new library would solve many parking problems and lack of space inside the Courthouse. According to Fannin County Library Branch Manager, Claire Barton, the library has over 4000 visits a month. Like the other county departments in the Courthouse, a large percentage of library visitors are elderly and West Main Street parking conditions hinders their ability to use the library. Library supporters have even suggested that the county should construct a large building that houses both the library and county government resident services offices.
In previous Commission meetings, Mr. Johnson has said that the library needs to move out of the Courthouse to help solve parking problems. However, Mr. Johnson did not include the library when talking about moving resident services out of the Fannin County Courthouse.
Another SPLOST project that Mr. Johnson suggested is building a truck bay at Animal Control. Currently, animals are unload from Animal Control trucks in the same area as the kennels. Animals who are already stressed from being picked up by animal control are further agitated during the intake process by seeing and hearing other barking dogs.
Chairman Bill Simonds suggested dividing the County’s share of SPLOST into categories with 10% going to the Fannin County Water Authority, 10% to capital outlay, 12% to public safety and equipment and the rest going to maintaining roads and bridges. Aside from continuing building Fire Station #1 on Windy Hill Road, Mr. Simonds did not offer specific projects to fund with SPLOST money.
County Clerk Rita Kirby reminded the Commissioners that the County needs a new jail soon. Current medical quarantine and sick bay space needs renovation. Also, as the county increases its population, the jail will need more bed space.
During the summer, the Board of Commissioners will continue to hold workshops to discuss what to put on the SPLOST ballot. They will also meet with Blue Ridge and McCaysville city governments to discuss what infrastructure projects they want on the ballot.
Fannin County Board of Commissioners meets again tonight June 28th. At the beginning of the meeting, Commissions will spend time discussing potential SPLOST 2016 projects.
At the May 2 meeting of the Fannin Board of Commissioners, checks totaling $208,000 were at the center of a controversy within the Board of Commissioners (see “Bill Simonds Admits to Signing Checks Totaling $208,000 without Commissioners’ Approval). The checks were signed and sent to Association of County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG) on April 15, 2016. ACCG is a para-governmental organization which handles liability insurance for the Board of Commissioners. On April 18, 2016, the insurance company reimbursed the Board of Commissioners the full amount of the checks.
According to City Attorney Lynn Doss, the $208,000 checks had to be written because ACCG could not process the back wages awarded to the four former county employees who had brought the civil lawsuit. (for more details read “Attorney Lynn Doss Explains EEOC Lawsuit”). Ms. Doss stated that the money paid to ACCG and then forwarded to the former employees included payroll taxes of the former employees as well.
$208,000 seems like a very large sum for a years’ worth of back wages to four county employees, so FetchYourNews, through an open records request, obtained copies of the checks. The net amount of wages received by the four former employees were $24,995.69, $21,327.90, $23,113.64 and $25,070.89. Each person received one check.
However, the checks written to cover the one-year’s worth of back wages were $47,500.15, $43,165.19, $51,694.55 and $51,089.88, a considerable difference between what each employee received and what the Board of Commissioners paid for each employee. The differences are approximately $20,000 to $25,000.
FetchYourNews spoke with County Clerk and Finance Director Rita Kirby to find out why there are such large differences between what the county paid out per employee and what the employee actually received. Ms. Kirby stated that the differences are due to payroll taxes. Taken to its conclusion, it means that the employee making $21,327.90 a year had approximately $20,000 in payroll taxes that same year.
Since the $208,000 in checks caused such controversy at the Board of Commissioners meeting, Ms. Kirby wants to emphasize that the money paid to ACCG to cover the back wages was reimbursed penny-for-penny by the ACCG. Also, Ms. Kirby emphasized that the lawsuit for back wages was not settled by the county. Rather it was settled by ACCG. At the Board of Commissioners meeting, Ms. Doss was very clear in stating that ACCG, not the Board of Commissioners, decided to settle the lawsuit. In fact, each of the four plaintiffs signed a statement that they were settling with ACCG and not with the Board of Commissioners.
In the end, Ms. Kirby says, that Fannin County did not pay any money whatsoever to settle the civil lawsuit. She does not know how the $208,000 civil lawsuit settlement will affect the insurance premiums for the county for two reasons. One, the county has not had any large sum claims against its policy in the past. And, the structure of the liability insurance spreads liability costs across all counties using ACCG insurance since it is a mutual insurance fund. Although she is not sure, Ms. Kirby can foresee that there may be a slight increase in insurance premiums due to the payout.
Fannin County Board of Commissioners held a special-called meeting on Monday, May 2nd to so that Fannin County Attorney Lynn Doss could explain how the county lost a civil discrimination lawsuit when previous trials about the same case had resulted in favorable rulings for the county.
The civil lawsuit settlement at the center of the meeting is the end of a string of cases dating back to 2011 when Fannin County was sued by employees (read article here) who said that they were fired because they were over 60. The employees filed a discrimination case with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
According to Ms. Doss, the case went through several rounds of rulings. First, the EEOC stated that the plaintiffs had no grounds. Then the EEOC itself brought a discrimination suit against the county. Ms. Doss did not explain why the EEOC decided against the plaintiffs’ case going forward and instead decided to bring the lawsuit itself. After the initial judgement that the EEOC has sufficient reason to sue Fannin, the county asked for a rejudgement which was ruled in Fannin’s favor. Additionally, the court said that the EEOC must pay for legal costs.
Much to Ms. Doss’ dismay, the civil lawsuit, brought about by four plaintiffs in the EEOC case, succeeded. Ms. Doss explained that the County prepared over 33,000 documents to support their rejudgement case and several levels of courts had ruled in the county’s favor which, she had felt, made a very strong case against the civil lawsuit plaintiffs.
Instead of going to court, the civil lawsuit was dealt with in mediation conducted by the risk management company hired by the county. As Ms. Doss explained a couple of times, it was not the county that actually settled the lawsuit in favor of the four former employees, it was the risk management company. In fact, as part of the mediation, the plaintiffs all signed that it was the risk management company’s decision, not the county’s decision to settle the lawsuit through mediation. She said the county had been well-prepared and anticipated going to trial, not mediation, for the civil lawsuit.
Attendees at the meeting learned through Post-Commissioner Earl Johnson that Commission Chairman Bill Simonds signed checks totaling a lump sum of $208,000 to the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG). It collected the original checks and provided reimbursements. ACCG is a para-governmental organization which county commissions throughout Georgia belong to. An ACCG division handles liability insurance for county commissions belong to the organization (see related story “Chairman Bill Simonds Admits to Signing Checks Totaling $208,000 Check without Approval”). Fannin County Board of Commissioners checks’ were sent to ACCG on April 15. Fannin County received reimbursement ACCG on April 18.
Ms. Doss did not say what the complete sum of the mediation settlement would be although she said that the attorneys for the plaintiffs would make much more money than the plaintiffs themselves. When asked by an attendee if the settlement would increase the monthly insurance payments for the county like a car accident would increase car insurance, Ms. Doss circumvented the answer by saying that the county gets reimbursements each year from the insurance company. She did not say if the county will receive a reimbursement this year.
Ms. Doss herself did not attend the one-day mediation proceedings between the plaintiffs and the county’s insurance company. She said that the lawyer handling the county’s case had assured her than she needn’t be there. The only reason why she would need to be there is if any of the plaintiffs were to ask for their job back and there had been no indication that one would. FetchYourNews’ Brian Pritchard asked Ms. Doss when the mediation took place. She couldn’t give the exact dates, only sometime in late March. The Board of Commissioners, however, waited until May 2 to give Fannin residents a status update. Ms. Doss did not give an explanation as to why she didn’t attend the one-day mediation.
The meeting agenda was topsy-turvy. At the beginning of the meeting the Mr. Simonds items 1 and 2 on the agenda and went to discussion requested by Mr. Sosebee, who was the Commissioner who initiated the meeting. Mr. Sosebee called for Executive Session and the Commissioner left to talk behind closed doors, just 45 seconds after the meeting began. They were gone for almost two hours.
Executive Session, according to every agenda, occurs after Commissioners’ Comments and Public Comments. Also, Executive Session is to only cover personnel and current legal matters, not ones that have been settled. James Wolf of The News Observer asked if other topics were discussed in the Executive Session. Mr. Simonds remained silent.
Upon return to the bench, Ms. Doss began her ten minute explanation of the lawsuit settlement. Then the meeting turned to $208,000 worth of checks that Mr. Simonds had signed without the approval of the Post- Commissioners (see related post). Finally, after waiting two hours, the die-hard library supporters presented, once again, their case for a stand-alone library in Fannin County.
This article has been updated to reflect new information.
In the Board of Commissioners Chairman race, the emphasis in answers was we don’t need a fix versus Fannin county government needs more transparency, accessibility and forward motion.
Mr. Simonds point was, “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” His examples of how the Board of Commissioners isn’t broken is that the county has stayed in the black during his term. Mr. Simonds reminded the audience about the new 911/EMS center and an industrial park that the Fannin County Development Authority is building. When asked about what he wanted to accomplish over the next four years, Mr. Simonds replied that he would keep doing what he is doing: paving roads, constructing the 911/EMS center, bettering the courthouse parking situation and chasing grants for funds which will keep the millage rate low, as it has been for the last eight years.
Helton offered concrete examples of how he would fix things in the county. One is keeping people up to date on how road improvement projects were going with the simple fix of keeping the projects and their progression readily available on the county website. Mr. Helton’s vision for tightening up Fannin county’s budget is to examine the $886 per citizen per year that the county government spends whereas counties surrounding Fannin spend 37% less per capita than Fannin does. He also wants to move the Water Authority towards more self-sufficiency so that all of its revenue will come from billing customers. Currently, the county financially supports parts of the Water Authority until the Authority’s income is greater than its expenses in setting up a new public utility. Other items on Mr. Helton’s to do list are more competitive garbage pick up contracts and improvements in recycling and a 10,000 sq. foot stand-alone library.
When asked about the challenges the county will face in the next four years, the two looked at different themes. Mr. Helton cited the doubling of Fannin population from a decades long steady number of approximately 14,750 to its current amount of 25,000 calls for managed growth. He wants the Commissioners to anticipate changes that a large influx of new residents will bring while working to maintain Fannin’s culture and traditions that brought people here. Mr. Simonds said the challenges would be to: manage the budget, keep doing what we are doing, pave roads, take care of local charities; look at courthouse and new jail needs.
The two also touched on library funding, which is a hot topic about town due to the possibility of library funding coming up on the SPLOST ballot in November. Mr. Simonds said that he would look into the library. Mr. Helton said that he would promote a stand-alone library which will also give the courthouse extra space; however, he does not think that the county needs a library that costs $4.5 million.
In closing statements, Mr. Simonds said with pride that Fannin was one of the few counties in Georgia to remain financially solvent throughout the Recession and that he is proud to live in a county that is head and shoulders above any county in Georgia. Mr. Helton asked the audience if they wanted to continue with another term of a Chairman that believes it is my way or the highway. Mr. Helton said that teamwork and training are ways to grow an efficiently run local government. He promised not to manage the old-fashioned way but to manage through he learned as a Petroleum Industry manager.
FetchYourNews is compiling voters’ questions to the candidates. If you have any questions for Mr. Simonds or Mr. Helton, submit them in the comments section at the end of the Fannin Elections Voters’ Guide. Please don’t include editorial statements in the question. FetchYourNews will be asking candidates these questions in interviews throughout the campaign season.
See Related Posts: Fannin Elections Voters’ Guide: Names, Faces and Candidate Information
Scroll down to watch video of the forum.
Fannin County Chamber of Commerce 2016 Primary Candidate Forum.
Cynthia Panter, Chairman Fannin County Chamber Board.
Rob Kaser, Co-Moderator
Fannin County Magistrate Judge
Sherri Walker (I) NP
Dannette Davis NP
Brian D. Jones NP
Fannin County School Board
Jeremy Davis R
Clarence Junior Farmer R
Chad Galloway R
Fannin County Tax Commissioner
Shirley Sosebee (I) R
Marie Woody R
Georgia House of Representatives District 7
Speaker David Ralston (I) R
Sam Snider R
Georgia Senate District 51
Senator Steve Gooch (I) R
Fannin County Commission Chairman
Bill Simonds (I) R
Stan Helton R
Fannin County Sheriff
Dane Kirby (I) R
Larry Bennett Sr. R
Johnny Scearce R
Jack Taylor R
Rusty Whittenbarger D
The Fannin County Board of Commissioners held its regular meeting on July 14th, 2015. The meeting took place just a few hours after a court decision in favor of Fannin County Post Commissioners Earl Johnson and Larry Joe Sosebee. A lawsuit filed by Commission Chair Bill Simonds against the post commissioners, seeking sole control of hiring and firing of Department Heads in the County was dismissed in a court proceeding in Fannin.
The meeting began with approval of minutes and a 1st vote on Home Rule Spending Limit Ordinance. Comments from the Commissioners appeared to show effort of trying to put the court case behind them and moving forward to do the work elected to do for Fannin County. Commission Chair Simonds response did not give a definite answer as to whether he will appeal.
Chief Appraiser Dawn Cochran and Personal Property Appraiser Yvonne Middlebrook spoke to the Commissioners concerning the personal property laws as pertains to the Tax Assessor’s office. The pair sought the “agreement” if you will from the Commissioners for the Tax Assessor’s office to follow the law and send certified letters, followed by subpoenas, in circumstances where businesses failed to respond to the request for inventory information. There was not a specific name mentioned during this time however we were left with an impression it was a sizeable business that was not in compliance. The Commission Board moved and agreed to the request showing its support. While it is not necessary for a vote from the Commission Board to follow the law, the support for the proper action to take place was shown by the vote.
Additional business of the County saw the approval of the upcoming expenditures to move from $2500 to $4500 through resolution. There was comments (opposition) if you will from someone stating this was not the legal way to change this, asking if it shouldn’t be done by an ordinance change. Lynn Doss, County Attorney, replied, in essence, the amount was under a previous higher amount, therefore it shouldn’t be a problem.
There was discussion on the 10% Splost and a motion and move to begin investigation into the a new Fannin County Fire Department. Currently the Fire Department is housed downtown in a small and difficult in and out location. The property for a new facility has been purchased and it appears early planning stages will begin. There was also a motion and a move which was passed to pay for the new facility from Splost. Mr. Johnson saying, “People like to touch how the tax money is spent.”
During public commentary concerns regarding a bonus to Marie Woody was questioned. The bonus was given by the Water Authority however it was claimed the $1200 check was written out of the Splost account. Some from the crowd said they heard from rumor and asked for transparency. Lynn Doss, County Attorney, stood and replied the meeting of the Water Authority, where the decision was made to give the bonus, was public.
Ending comments from the Commissioners seemed to show a sign of relief for having the court case behind it and Earl Johnson made the point of having 3 working on decisions was a better scenario for the taxpayers of Fannin County. Johnson referred to a list of roads to be paved he had received in the mail, explaining it would make sense for the 3 to meet on these matters since he could use his expertise in paving to negotiate better pricing for the County. Hopefully the Commissioners will move forward and work together.