County to audit Sheriff's Office

By Justin Boron

A county-administered audit approved Tuesday will likely determine whether there is any substance to Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill's accusations of gross mismanagement by his predecessor, said county commission Chairman Eldrin Bell.

The audit, which will be conducted by the county's finance department, could shed some light on the physical inventory of goods stored in the county jail warehouse, where Hill has said about one million bedsheets, 10,000 inmate uniforms, and several other unnecessary items are stored.

County officials disputed the claims and said the allegations were an attempt by Hill to draw attention away from the controversy surrounding his abrupt dismissal of 27 sheriff employees on Jan. 3.

Former Sheriff Stanley Tuggle declined to comment for this story.

In response to Hill's suggestion of impropriety, Clark Stevens, the county chief of staff, provided alternative numbers for the supplies.

He said 5,400 sheets have been purchased since July 2002 and 3,874 uniforms purchased since May 2002.

Bell said the conflicting accounts were the basis for committing to an audit.

"(The public) is thoroughly confused about what is actually there and why," he said.

Hill said he would cooperate with auditors and stepped back slightly Tuesday from the numbers he says he received from his budget staff.

Without saying his staff miscalculated the amounts, he did admit the possibility existed.

Hill said deputies in charge of the budget had written statements explaining the way they came up with the supply numbers.

The sheriff also referred to an ongoing investigation into the matter by a federal law enforcement agency. He said the agency would have to be finished before county auditors could have access.

Hill would not specify which federal agency was in charge of the investigation.

Special Agent Steve Lazarus, the public information officer for the FBI, would not say whether the agency had opened an investigation.

Bell said he had not been contacted about the sheriff's department by any federal agencies.

Hill initially called for a GBI investigation. But Vicki Metz-Vickery, the spokeswoman for the agency, said GBI officials met with Hill Jan. 19 and declined to investigate until an independent forensic audit had been completed.

The upcoming audit will not be a forensic one, which Hill said would be more detailed and the county internal audit would be inadequate.

But Bell said claims of insufficiency are premature. He also promised a full findings report that will be made public once the audit is complete.

Harry Osborne, a county staff attorney, said the audit should not come at any additional cost to taxpayers because it will be handled by county employees.