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Seized funds to benefit furloughed prosecutors

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

Since September of last year, employees in the Clayton County district attorney's office have been furloughed in order to cut back on state spending. This week, the Clayton County Board of Commissioners agreed to pay the office's employees using money from the seized property of criminals.

District Attorney Tracy Graham Lawson said that from September to February, employees in her office have been force to take one day off a month without pay to meet Gov. Sonny Perdue's request that all state agencies cut back their budgets by 6 percent. Since March, employees have been forced to take two furlough days a month, she said.

"That's causing a backlog across the state," said Lawson, who added that other district attorneys in the state are facing similar furloughs. "For every day employees are furloughed in the state of Georgia, 492 cases do not get prosecuted.

"All those employees wanted to come to work those two days, but they had to go home," Lawson continued. "Now they will be able to come back to work and get paid."

Lawson said that 10 percent of all funds seized by law enforcement agencies in the county goes into a fund to benefit the district attorney's office. On Tuesday, the Clayton County Board of Commissioners transferred that fund into the county's general fund so that the district attorney's employees could be paid directly for their lost wages.

"It was just going to be a difficult process for them ... our employees would have to send us a bill and then I would have had to send it to the [county] finance office and they would have cut them a check," said Lawson. "They would have to had to file taxes because they haven't paid taxes on it. The taxes will be taken out for them, so it's a really nice thing that they allowed us to do."

Lawson said that property forfeiture funds were being used by district attorneys in other counties to help fund the salaries of furloughed workers.

In another move this week, the Board of Commissioners gave Mauldin & Jenkins, LLC, a five-year contract to complete fiscal-year audits for the county, as well as the Clayton County Water Authority. The decision ends a previous five-year contract with KPMG accounting services, which is currently in the process of completing the county's 2008 fiscal-year audit.

Some commissioners expressed concern about the move on Tuesday, though, due to the fact that Moody's Investor's Service has threatened to lower the county's credit rating upon review of the county's finances. Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell, who said the county will have "a few months" to answer to Moody's, worried that the decision may sour relations with KPMG prior to its summary of the county's financial health.

"Is it advisable for them to give us a management letter after we fire them?" Bell asked fellow commissioners. Commissioner Michael Edmondson expressed concern that changing auditing companies so close to Moody's review may cause alarm.

Commissioner Wole Ralph said it is the "industry standard to change your auditor every five years" and the decision to hire Mauldin & Jenkins was not out of the norm.

"Moody's doesn't care who our auditors are as long as they are certified," said Ralph, who serves of chairman of the BOC Finance Committee. "The board hasn't fired [KPMG]. The contract has expired and the board has selected a new auditor.

"Mauldin & Jenkins won't deal with anything that deals with the upcoming bond rating," Ralph added. "KPMG will be asking those questions as they have been contracted to do. I hope that they wouldn't penalize us for not recontracting with them. They haven't given any indication that they would do that."