According to the agreement, the three employees received payments in return for waiving their rights to sue the county over the loss of their jobs. They also agreed to serve as consultants when called upon by Chappell or other county officials.
Herman Ayers, who resigned as a commissioner earlier this year to run for chairman, questioned the legality of the moves at a candidates’ forum Tuesday sponsored by the Carroll County Farm Bureau.
Ayers said he could understand the county paying Joe Shaw, the former Public Works director, out of funds earmarked as SPLOST DOT reimbursement, but said former recreation department employees Julie Ivey and Kenneth Farmer should not have been paid from that fund. Shaw and Farmer received payments of $20,000 each, and Ivey $15,000. Shaw will also receive a $50,000 payment in 2009.
“On this instance, I think the law was sort of skirted,” Ayers said. “I think that it is illegal, in my opinion. ... If you look at SPLOST, it is a headache. But I’ve got my doubts. When all this happened it never went to the Board of Commissioners and they never voted on it.”
Chappell defended the expenditures as necessary to ensure the success of future SPLOST projects, specifically in reference to the decision to retain Shaw for future consultant work.
“I eliminated [Shaw’s] position but I had wanted him to be on call for two years. We had been using him. [Public Works/Solid Waste Superintendent] Charles Pope had called him numerous times,” Chappell said. “[Commissioner] Randy Simpkins suggested we should do a little bit for Farmer and Ivey. There’s not a thing wrong with it, and we’ll call on them for their expertise.”
Sparked by an audience question Tuesday night at the candidates’ forum, the question of whether SPLOST funds should go to pay county consultants was also posed to candidates for the District 6 and District 3 seats on the Board of Commissioners.
The Democratic candidate for the District 3 seat, Mac Pilgrim, said there are instances where such funding should go to pay independent contractors and consultants, though the instance in question was a misappropriation of SPLOST dollars.
“In this matter I do not believe in using SPLOST money for that. However, I do believe that if we were to hire a special consultant of say, the new courthouse or the new reservoir, I do believe SPLOST was designed to give the commissioners some latitude in where to spend it,” Pilgrim said. “In regards to the recent development ... as far as the people who were paid after being fired so they would not sue the county, that I disagree with.”
His opponent, Republican Ashley Hendrix, said consulting contracts should be drawn and budgeted from an account not tied to SPLOST.
“I don’t think we should use SPLOST money to pay consultant contracts,” she said. “I believe that should come out of the budget. That is for special needs, special purposes and infrastructure and the courthouse and for things like that.”
Republican George Chambers, running for the District 6 seat against Republican Billy Hyatt and Democrat Tommy Robinson, said as long as those consultant positions are a necessary part of a specific project, they very well could be paid out of SPLOST.
“Mr. Chappell alluded to the fact that hiring consultants for the courthouse and that sort of thing,” Chambers said. “Well I’m no developer and I’m not an architect but there are people who specialize in that sort of thing. If it’s in the best interest in the long run to save money to the taxpayers or Carroll County that [SPLOST funds] be utilized in that manner, I don’t have a problem with it.”
Arguing that the recent SPLOST expenditure is only the latest example of SPLOST money going to fund things which it was not intended, Hyatt said he did not support the renewal of the tax.
“First of all, to me SPLOST is the fairest tax of all but I’m kind of concerned about what we’ve done with the SPLOST tax from what it originally started out to be,” Hyatt said. “I look at it now, and it goes everywhere. I have never voted for a tax just like SPLOST.”
The sole Democrat running for the District 6 seat, Robinson said the government needs to do a better job clarifying where SPLOST dollars end up.
“I think that’s kind of shadowy. I don’t understand it just like many people in this room, what that money is supposed to be spent for,” Robinson said. “I’m sure if the chairman and the commissioners agreed on spending money on this, I would think that it’s probably legal but I think it should be defined a little more what the SPLOST money is supposed to be spent for.”
The District 6 race will be decided along with the referendum on the 2009 SPLOST on Sept. 16. The District 3 and chairman’s race will be on the Nov. 4 ballot.