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COVINGTON — Newton County Recreation Department Director Ternard Turner on Thursday reassured county officials that bonuses that were illegally paid to several top employees have been reimbursed to the county by the Recreation Commission. Turner said the employees will pay back the bonuses to the Rec Commission over the next year.

The Recreation Commission in December voted to pay a total of $28,500 in bonuses to six senior staff members, including Turner. The payments were later determined to be illegal under the state’s gratuities clause, and the employees were told to repay the funds.

During budget discussions Thursday, conducted by teleconference, Turner told members of the Board of Commissioners that the Recreation Commission issued a check to the county to reimburse the funds, but that the employees have 12 months, beginning May 1, to repay the Recreation Commission. The amount of the bonuses ranged from $4,373 to $6,166, equivalent to 8 percent of each employee’s salary. According to documents obtained from the county through an Open Records Act request, the bonuses were “based on employee performance and the availability of funds through salary savings.” Those savings were apparently achieved through vacant positions during the fiscal year.

In response to questions from commissioners, Turner said the employees are setting up individual repayment plans with the Recreation Commission. He said there is no set monthly amount to be repaid, but that he would monitor employees’ repayment efforts to ensure that they don’t wind up with a lump sum due at the end of the 12 months. Turner said he has “strongly encouraged” employees to make monthly payments.

If an employee leaves employment with the Recreation Department prior to repaying their bonus in full, the balance owed will be deducted from any unused vacation pay due them or from their last paycheck. In letters sent to the employees, the Recreation Department states that should they fail to repay all or part of the funds during the 12-month period, the Recreation Commission will have no choice but to pursue legal remedies to recover any balance owed.

The bonus controversy prompted the Board of Commissioners in February to begin the process of placing the Recreation Department under county management. The board approved a resolution asking the county’s legislative delegation to introduce legislation in the General Assembly dissolving the Recreation Commission, the governing board of the Rec Department.

The delegation did not have time to introduce the legislation prior to recessing due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Board of Commissioners Chairman Marcello Banes said Thursday he does not know when the Legislature will reconvene, but he has been assured this bill will be introduced on the first day that it does.

Editor

I have been editor of the Rockdale Citizen since 1996 and editor of the Newton Citizen since it began publication in 2004. I am also currently executive editor of the Clayton News Daily, Henry Daily Herald and Jackson Progress-Argus.

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