JONESBORO Clayton County Board of Commissioners Vice-Chairman Wole Ralph dismissed a group of citizens criticisms over the county’s financial spending habits Tuesday night as “foolishness” as pressure over finances reached a boiling point.
A citizens government watchdog group is demanding county officials reveal the identity of a mysterious entity listed in financial records only as “Various.” This entity, or entities, was paid $2.24 million in Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax dollars from August 2011, to October 2011. The funds come from the SPLOST approved by voters in 2004.
Ralph attacked the group’s concerns when a request to the board to have county Finance Director Angela Jackson read a list of what credit rating agencies and auditors have said about the county before each financial report she gives in the future. The commission agreed by consensus to have Jackson read the statement.
“I think it’s important that we have Mrs. Jackson read that at every meeting because I would hate for citizens to come and be misled by the foolishness I heard a few seconds ago,” said Ralph to his fellow commissioners.
The pressure over how the county is spending tax dollars has been building since last month, when the citizens watchdog group began raising questions about finances at county commission meetings.
The group, led by Morrow resident Carl Swensson, has used public comment periods at commission meetings to push officials on financial record keeping, expose some of its findings and to issue open records requests for additional documents.
The pressure has also been building, in part, because of ongoing Clayton County District Attorney’s office investigations targeting Jackson, Ralph, County Manager Wade Starr and Commissioners Sonna Singleton and Gail Hambrick.
This week, Swensson criticized the county’s finance department over the “Various” issue. While several expenses list the companies to whom moneys were paid, “Various” shows up again, and again, throughout the reports. He said he discovered the existence of “Various” after he received SPLOST expense reports through an open records request.
“So the finance department wants to waste our time and money? Got it,” said Swensson. “But the commission must surely know we have no intention of giving up. We will know who’s been cashing our checks and there’d best not be any co-mingling of funds.”
He formally filed a request for detailed records which show where the monies paid to “Various” actually went.
County officials, meanwhile, retorted that they have not misspent county finances. Jackson argued several credit rating agencies have congratulated them for their accounting. She said Moody’s Investor Services has given the county a “Aa2” credit rating, and praised it for its location and “adequate reserves.” She said Standard and Poor’s reported the county has a surplus.
“This most recent surplus is driven by conservative budgeting practices, with the county recognizing a savings in almost every expenditure category,” said Jackson.
Although Jackson touted the county’s “Aa2” credit rating from Moody’s, it is actually not the highest rating the company gives out. Moody’s “Aaa” rating is the top level rating that governments aspire to acquire.