31 December 2017

The Sunday Edition: December 31, 2017 - Talkin' NCSO, Wm Thomas Craig & Letters to the Editor

[State of GA]
[Newton Co.]

(Covington, GA * 12/31/17)

Greetings, fabulous readers, and we hope this post finds you well.

A lot going on this New Year's Eve. Let's get right to it.

So the most recent Letter to the Editor over at the Citizen was penned by Archie Shepherd and is a response to a previous letter tendered by Larry McSwain & Barbara Morgan, two fellow community advocates that I hold in very high regard, in which they questioned the escalating legal expenditures being paid to Wm Thomas Craig, Esq. (WTC) by the Newton County Sheriff's Office (NCSO). As you may remember, this publication wrote about this very issue almost a month ago.

I have a few issues with Mr. Shepherd's letter. First off, no real facts seem to be given; rather, it is made clear that Shepherd just had a conversation with Sheriff Brown and simply regurgitated the information given. His argument that how the monies paid for legal expenses by the Sheriff used to come out of the "same pot" when WTC was county attorney doesn't appear to hold water. Based on the facts - county records - legal expenses for the Sheriff was always a separate line item. See graphic below:

As you can see, money was being paid directly from the NCSO to WTC prior to his termination from the Newton County Board of Commissioners (BOC), as, as we understand it, it always had. So if the assumption of Shepherd, and apparently confirmed by Sheriff Brown, is correct, then that would mean that WTC was over-billing the BOC for legal expenditures that should have been delineated and separated out for a Constitutional Officer. If that is indeed the case, then one would have to wonder if WTC was guilty of an offense that can cause reprimands or surrender of license by the Georgia Bar. Interesting...

With all of that said, it is our understanding that there was a major legal situation with the NCSO related to the death of an inmate at the county detention center. Certainly that would cause an increase in legal expenditures; however, there have been many legal situations for the NCSO over the years. Are we correct in assuming that the BOC was improperly paying for this?

Sheriff Brown shouldn't have it both ways. He can't puff his chest about how he's a Constitutional Officer with sole oversight and discretion on his legal spending now, if - as Shepherd's accounting of their conversation seems to imply - he was utilizing legal expenses on the BOC's dime before.

And finally, this entire situation seems similar to the Rec. Department Director's situation. It seems as if a certain card is being played and an implying of  motives being at the core of both of issues.

Well, frankly, that's bullshit. It's the old divide & conquer strategy we've seen here for the last several years. It's not going work anymore.

Thanks for reading & I hope 2018 is the best year yet for all of us!


P.S. - One of my New Year Resolutions is putting the Newton Co. Hospital Authority back on the top of the to do list. Look for an expansive piece on this in early January.

P.P.S. - GO DAWGS!!!

23 December 2017

Happy Festivus: TPC's Airing of Grievances

It's the 23rd of December so it's time for The Chronicles' Airing of Grievances. 

This year's list: 

  • William Thomas Craig, Esq. 
  • The total lack of action with anything pertaining to last year's $300,000 forensic audit performed by Frazier & Deeter. 
  • The traffic light at Elm & Floyd. 
  • This entire [expletive deleted]-show related to the Rec Commission situation. If the termination process was indeed possibly mishandled, then that is unfortunate; however, the mickey mouse show/planned attack that was put on at the city of Covington's last council meeting was beyond the pale. A total joke. Absolute clown shoes...
    • And didn't one of those self-righteous, indignant council members vote to terminate the Main Street director last year without consulting the rest of the council? 
    • It's just unfortunate that everything has to be about race. It's 2017 - racism should have no place in our society. And these recent antics benefit no one. 
  • J. Pye's propensity for arrogance and occasional tendencies to get annoyed + D.C. = Trouble? 
  • The rising legal fees of the Newton Co. Sheriff. Constitutional officer or not, there's needs to be an explanation for a tenfold increase in payments to Attorney Craig over the last two years. 
  • That Covington/Newton Co. still doesn't have a Krispy Kreme, Steak & Shake, or a Cracker Barrel (thanks Randy Vinson). 
  • The fact that we basically have 27 McDonald's & a hundred dollar stores. And we just need a few more pawn shops. 
  • The landfill situation. 
  • The fact that there are still people pushing for Bear Creek. 
  • Georgia Tech, Florida, Tennessee & Auburn (but hey, at least we beat all of them this year. GO DAWGS!)
  • Democrats (most of them).
  • Republicans (most of them). 
  • Those that would take advantage of their power, position or influence for personal gain. 
  • The fact that medicinal marijuana and CBD oil are not fully legal in our great state, and the lack of in-state growing. And the fact that saving lives & easing people's suffering has to take a back seat to profits and/or the irrational fear of ignorant people. 
  • Bloated budgets at all levels of government. 
  • Several other traffic lights in and around the home city & county. And many traffic laws. 
  • The old model/revenue-based system of government. 
  • The ju$tice system. 
  • The "war on drugs" (see previous two bullet points). 
  • Those in our society who do not appreciate Freedom. Liberty, Justice, Equity & Wisdom. 
  • Loud cars, trucks & motorcycles. 
  • The "there ought to be a law" crowd. 
  • The "they" in "that's what they say."  
  •  The NIMBY (not in my backyard) crowd. 
  • A.B. (see the previous bullet point in re Pye. At least he's not spending too much time in DC....yet?)
There's probably a few dozen more, but that'll do for now.

Happy Festivus, everyone! 

19 December 2017

Stanton Springs/JDA 1st Report: Some Definite Concerns

[State of GA]
[Newton Co.]

(Covington * 12/18/17) -

The long and winding story of the Stanton Springs development & the Joint Development Authority of Jasper, Morgan, Newton & Walton counties (JDA) goes back almost 20 years to the late 1990s. The original vision was a grandiose plan of creating a four-county authority and purchasing 1500 acres of land right next to I-20 in an area where those four counties converged to create, as an AJC article mentioned in 1999, high-tech companies with high-wage jobs. Having four different taxing jurisdictions coming together could spread the cost and risk and would help make a reality of a dream that maybe couldn't have come together otherwise.

It sounded pretty good. But...

The problems with this project, which has officially put hundreds of thousands of taxpayers throughout these four counties on the hook for over $1.2 billion* and has been described as a boondoggle by many, began almost immediately.

The aforementioned land was owned by a timber trust and was at the time offered for approx. $3.7 million ($2400/acre) based on information at the time. Two different appraisals ordered during this period put the value somewhere between $2.8 million & approx $5 million. So the asking price actually seemed to be fairly reasonable. So what did the property end up selling for? $7.5 million according to our information. So, to recap, the land was offered for $3.7 million, appraised for somewhere between approx three to five million, but then sold for almost twice the asking price. Why the inflated sales price? And who profited from this? So, a major money concern right there at the beginning.

Also, the original bond offering at the time - the one that friend-of-the-program Samuel Hay tried to stop in court  - was for $9 million. There were many grumblings and concerns with all of this at the time. Money, it was said, was needed for consultants, attorney fees & operating expenditures.

Fast forward a few years and the JDA ended up selling a parcel of land, described as parcel # C1590001C in the Walton Co. tax records, to JC Flex, LLC. This entity, a subsidiary of the TPA Realty Group that has had the exclusive listing rights of Stanton Springs, bought the land for approx $1.6 million in 2005. But then in 2012, the Authority bought that parcel back for $2.9 million. A gain of approx $1.3 million. This is the parcel where the Baxter Baxalta Shire facility was actually built, so in order to be eligible for the tax abatements, the land had to be owned by the Authority, which, as mentioned, it originally was, but was sold and bought back for reasons that no one has been able to explain to this publication. Again, this seemingly unnecessary flip cost the Authority - and by extension, the taxpayers of the four counties - approx. $1.3 million 

But really, in the grand scheme of things, this would all almost seem like chump change. Let's not forget that the JDA issued $1.137 BILLION in bonds in 2012 for the construction of the Baxter Baxalta Shire facility, or the $85 million in "phantom bonds" that the authority issued last year. And remember when Mort Ewing resigned from the JDA in 2015? He said in the newspapers at the time that he felt like he needed to do that in order to "protect [his] assets."


One common thread in my discussions with folks both on and off the record is that the Stanton Springs project has had many problems and issues. Even its biggest cheerleaders will tell you that major mistakes have been made. And it seems to be a consensus view by many that you can lay most  of the blame at the feet of William Thomas Craig, Esq. Craig was involved with the project from its conception, and served as the attorney for the Authority, as we understand it, for the entirety of its existence up until a couple of years ago. "Hell...we figured Tommy knew what he was doing," was a line from one person when explaining a mistake that was made several years back pertaining to a particular situation. So I guess Craig can add the JDA to the Newton Co. BOC & others as those who have made him their "whipping boy." At this point it seems to be getting pretty convenient and is happening more frequently - just blame it all on Tommy Craig. Well, just like with Newton Co., I think there's a lot of other blame to go around. And, yes, it does seem pretty convenient to just blame it all on Tommy Craig. Too convenient almost. Is that just the way it is? Or is it by design?

Another emerging theme I've encountered is that some folks think it's time to just let the past be the past. That the time has come where we should just accept the fact that perhaps things weren't done as they should've been, but now we need to look forward to the future with a common goal and a shared vision. That we just need to hang in and that all of this will be worth it once everything comes to fruition.

I'm of the opinion that more attention needs to be given to Stanton Springs and the JDA than ever before. Look for future write-ups on this topic.

Until next time.


*updated corrected figure

09 December 2017

[TPC] - Wm Thomas Craig on pace to make upwards of half a MILLION dollars from Newton Co. this year?

[State of GA]
[Newton Co.]

(Covington, GA * 9 December '17) - Greetings.

Based on our information, The Chronicles can report the following:

Wm Thomas Craig, Esquire, though fired as legal counsel for the Newton County Board of Commissioners some two years ago, is on track to make hundreds of thousands of dollars for fiscal year 2018, paid for by the taxpayers of Newton Co.

How is this possible? While the Newton BOC is no longer using Craig for legal services, the Sheriff of Newton Co., Ezell Brown, is.

Also, ever since Craig was relieved of his duties by the Board, a very concerning trend with the legal costs of the NCSO has been occurring. Take a look at these escalating legal expenses of the Newton Co. Sheriff's office:

  • $24,841 for legal services in FY (fiscal year) 2015
  • $88,078 in FY 2016
  • $280,092 in FY 2017
If that isn't bothersome enough, based on data we have in our possession, it looks as though Craig is on track to get paid approx. $400,000 in FY 2018. But if we look at the rate of appreciation of Craig's legal fees over the past three years, then that would put the amount at more like ONE MILLION DOLLARS (calculated by deriving an average rate of appreciation over the last two cycles and applying that rate to FY 2017's expenditure)!!!

Of particular concern is an invoice from Craig that shows 78.75 billable hours for an amount approaching $20,000 for a 13-day period in July of this year. I'm not even sure if that's possible.


Jeez...good work if you can get it, huh? But seriously, this really looks bad. One might easily assume that this is the Sheriff's way of trying to help Craig financially. If you think about it, that fella has lost out on a couple million dollars worth of revenue from Newton Co over the last two years. Also, no more water consulting fees from Bear Creek, nor from some of his other projects in which he was terminated. We assume he's no longer being paid "consulting" fees from the Landfill. That's probably something to check on.

All of this begs the question - Why? What is really the "why" here? It just doesn't make sense...

In the spirit of full disclosure, I'll admit that I haven't reached out to Sheriff Brown for his side of the story. I plan on doing that next week. But I felt like this really needed to be put in the public discourse now. Also, for the record, I've always liked Ezell. He seems like a nice guy & I think he's been a pretty good Sheriff. But if these legal expenses are accurate, and I believe them to be (otherwise I wouldn't have gone to press), then the Citizens of Newton Co. deserve some answers.

So long for now, until we meet again.

M.B. McCart
Public Advocate 

04 December 2017

[TPC] - Alcovy Telegraph: Odds & Ends; Miscellany + What-not

The Alcovy Telegraph

[State of GA]
[Newton Co.]

(North C-town Representin' * 4 December '17) - Greetings & Salutations, Covingtonians, Newtonians & everyone else. Glad to be with you today & hope it's been a great day for you. December 4th. Three weeks exactly until Christmas. My Dad always told me that time would speed up the older I got and like many other things - he was right on the money on that one.

Another week in the books and, per usual, it had its highs & lows, but as always - it was our week, and that makes it a great week.

So, what's been happening here lately?

  • On the personal tip, I was made aware by its news editor, Jackie Guknecht, that the Covington News had made a decision "to end the relationship" with Yours Truly. Yeah, I know, so sad. Poor ole Marshall...But seriously, as I've mentioned to a few folks over the years, it'd always been a dream for me to write for that publication ever since I was a pretty young fella. I had the opportunity to do that for almost two years, and it was pretty great. Besides, if I'm being honest here, it just wasn't the same after Mrs. GM left (and after they did away with the funny papers) and really - my heart just wasn't in it anymore. If I was going to do it, I would want to do it like I'd been doing it: regular weekly columns with my monthly Esoteric South pieces. There were budgetary issues involved, and the news business it pretty dang tough these days. I harbor no ill feelings towards The News or any of its employees, management or ownership. And I appreciate the folks who've let me know how much they missed my stuff. 
    • In light of these recent developments I actually considered the idea of going to the dark side - The Newton Citizen, but I just couldn't envision that. 
    • I've had some discussions with a few folks about the possibility of a print edition of The Chronicles. And that is something I'm considering. I've talked to a few folks who would like to be involved and have even had some discussions with a couple of possible investors. If I was going to do it - it'd have to be 110%, totally legit & properly capitalized. At least two editions per week & and an actual office/HQ to meet the requirements to become the legal organ of Newton Co. Once we had that type of revenue, we could really maybe accomplish some things. I think my chances of getting the vote of the three county Constitutional officers needed is a possible one. 
    • But then again, why would anybody want to get into the "real" news business. Lots of overhead; printing costs are outrageous. Perhaps spending a little more w/ my little online version and trying to incorporate some local advertising to complement my Google ads might be the way to go. IDK. Send out a smoke signal or slide me an email to give me your thoughts...
  • The Rec Commission. What a weird situation. Seems like a lot of folks are in scaredy cat/walking-on-egg shells mode. I actually had people reaching out to me after they found out I was working on covering this story to tell me, in one case, "tread lightly...you need to be careful with this one." Dafuq? Well, that's never stopped me before and it sure as hell wasn't going to this time. Truth be told, I've kind of secretly been hoping for someone to sue me for as long as I can remember. I'd raise a defense fund. I'd represent myself, naturally, and bring in some co-counsel and some consults. I just think it'd be exciting. But as I always strive to do, I think I word things and present my information in a way to avoid finding myself in an actionable position. 
    • So...anybody know what's going on with that? I finally heard back from the Newton Co. HR director with a whole bunch of nothing. 
    • I just don't get it...
  • I greatly enjoyed Larry McSwain's well-written letter to the editor of The Citizen talking about the lack of action taken on last year's $300,000 audit that showed major problems and issues. He's absolutely right. This current edition of the Newton Co. BOC is almost a full year in. I understand and appreciate that the previous edition of the Board left things in battered tatters and there were immediate things that had to be addressed by the current group, but I'm starting to get this all-too-familiar feeling that things are not going as they should. I'm willing to give this crew another three months or so; however, if they're not able to start getting some serious things done then I'm of the opinion that'll be time to turn on 'em like we did the last time. All I can really see right now is that we've swapped one million dollar county attorney for another.
  • Tomorrow I'm hopefully having at least two meetings/interviews on the JDA of the four counties. I hope to have my 1st installment of my investigative report on Stanton Springs by Wednesday. So keep an eye out for that. And, if all goes well, look for something on the Hospital Authority next week.
Okay for now, friends. Lord willin' & if the Creek don't rise, we'll see you next time.