JONESBORO A resolution that would have authorized Clayton County District Attorney Tracy Graham Lawson the power to supervise a forensic audit of county finances was pulled from consideration at the last minute, Tuesday.
However, Commission Chairman Jeff Turner told the Clayton News Daily the measure is not off the table. Instead, he explained that the language of the measure is being tweaked for reconsideration and it is expected to come up for a vote next week.
County leaders have maintained the audit is not tied to Lawson’s ongoing investigation into corruption.
Lawson’s office has been investigating Commissioners Sonna Singleton and Gail Hambrick, as well as former Commissioner Wole Ralph, former County Manager Wade Starr and Finance Director Angela Jackson for more than a year.
However, Commission Chairman Jeff Turner, a major proponent of the forensic audit, said the idea of involving the district attorney was done more to lend credibility to the audit than to further any investigations.
He stressed that he did not want to call the audit an investigation of any kind.
“We just want to protect the integrity of the audit,” Turner said.
Some members of the commission have said they want a structure for the forensic audit that would prevent information from leaking out while it is under way.
The audit is expected to be a review of past county finance dealings, which had become a target of residents’ ire last August. Documents show the audit will be conducted by White Elm Group, LLC, and it will focus on how past commissioners dealt with county finances.
The audit was part of the campaign platform for Turner and new District 3 Commissioner Shana Rooks last year.
“We wanted to make sure information isn’t leaked out that might lead people to make assumptions about the audit,” Turner said.
The commission is expected to earmark $300,000 from the general fund to cover expenses from the audit, but Turner said it is possible the fiscal review may cost far less than that amount.
The chairman explained a large sum is being designated early on so the commission does not have to continually approve budget amendments to cover cost overruns. Because of the detailed nature of the forensic audit, there is a possibility that it could end up being costly, he added.
“If it turns out to be much less, then we’ll just put the remaining funds back to the general fund,” Turner said.
If the commission does not vote to assign supervision of the audit to Lawson, or if it would remain under the auspices of the county’s finance office.
Turner said there were concerns that Lawson’s involvement might give the impression the audit was really a criminal investigation, especially in light of her office’s ongoing investigation.
“There is a possibility it might stay in the finance office,” said Turner mid-afternoon Tuesday. “It might not protect the integrity of the investigation, but it is what it is.”
But, regardless of who oversees the audit, there is always a chance the findings will end up in Lawson’s hands eventually.
That depends on whether any criminal acts are found to have taken place, though.
“At the end of the audit, if there is anything that does not look right, then it would go to the DA’s office,” Turner said.
Clayton News Daily editor Jim Zachary contributed to this report.