Former county attorney Tommy Craig responds to audit allegations

Editor’s note: Following is a response from former Newton County attorney Tommy Craig to allegations against him contained in a forensic audit conducted by David Sawyer of Frazier & Deeter. In the audit report, Sawyer claims that Newton County suffered financial losses of more than $25 million, much of it attributable to Craig’s representation of the county related to the Bear Creek reservoir project and other issues. In this response, Craig says he has refuted about $10 million of the losses that Sawyer claims the county suffered. Craig said he will have additional comments as he continues to review the audit.

December 2, 2016

A Reply to the Newton County Board of Commissioners’ “Forensic Analysis”

regarding the Bear Creek reservoir project

By Tommy Craig

On Monday evening the Newton County Board of Commissioners, County Attorney Megan Martin of the Jarrard & Davis law firm, and forensic investigator David Sawyer of the Frazier & Deeter accounting firm, released a report saying I have caused Newton County to suffer financial losses of over $25 million dollars tied to the Bear Creek reservoir project the Board abandoned in October 2015. They further allege I am responsible for the loss of $17,039 paid for legal work I performed over a 3-year period for Nelson Heights Community Center.

The report also assigns responsibility for losses to other County operations: the Recreation Commission ($11,853), Nelson Heights Community Center ($42,648), the county’s Finance Department ($4,123,474).

David Sawyer lacks impartiality and objectivity. He admits he met with some commissioners and they picked the targets of the investigation: black Commissioner J C Henderson, black Recreation Director Anthony Avery, Junior Hilliard, the Finance Department, and me. Interestingly, these same commissioners have shut down the investigation before it gets to them, and their activities related to solid waste and transportation projects. County Manager Lloyd Kerr says the County does not have enough money to complete the investigation by reviewing all County operations.

The Board has carried out this investigation as part of a Board scheme intended to destroy my life and my career, and hurt not only me, but my wonderful wife and children.

My Reservoir Experience

Over the past 28 years I successfully permitted these lakes and reservoirs:

• Lake Varner for Newton County

• Lake Poynter for Rockdale County

• Lake Horton for Fayette County

• Hollis Lathem Reservoir for Cherokee County

• Bear Creek Reservoir for Athens/Clarke County, Oconee, Jackson and Barrow Counties

• Yahoola Creek Reservoir for the City of Dahlonega / Lumpkin County

• Hickory Log Creek for the Cobb County-Marietta Water Authority and Canton

• Hard Labor Creek Reservoir for Walton & Oconee Counties

• Lake McIntosh for Fayette County

• Tired Creek Lake for Grady County

• Parks Creek Reservoir for the City of Jefferson

David Sawyer is Unfit to carry out this Investigation

A careful review of the 112-page report reveals David Sawyer and his staff, and, to the extent she reviewed his work, the County Attorney, are BREATHTAKINGLY INCOMPENT to review the Bear Creek water supply project.

They lack basic knowledge about both our community and the project. Because he lacks the knowledge and experience needed to review professional activities connected to a water supply project. He is ignorant of (1) the Federal and State laws and regulations, like the Clean Water Act, governing the water supply permitting process, (2) he has no firsthand experience with the federal and state permitting process, (3) environmental mitigation for wetland and stream losses, (4) Georgia law governing the real estate appraisal and land acquisition process, including the process of negotiation and condemnation. Sawyer’s report expressly admits he conducted no audit, and that he relied on incomplete information in forming his opinions. And he fails to support his findings and conclusions with facts and evidence. Ask yourself if your conscience would allow you to destroy people’s reputations by relying on work of this quality.

David Sawyer Is Not Interested in the Truth

Board members tell me David Sawyers fees so far total somewhere around $350,000. I am not sure whether that figure includes money paid to the private investigators who secretly carried out surveillance on Commissioner JC Henderson.

David Sawyer is not interested in the truth; finding the truth might interfere with his ability to carry out the Board’s smear campaign. As of today, I have not been interviewed or questioned regarding the Bear Creek project by any member of the Board of Commissioners, the County Attorney, or David Sawyer (and neither have any of the other officials or employees targeted by the Board). (Under our system of laws, since the Magna Carta was signed by the king of England in 1215, any individual accused of wrongdoing has the right to notice of the charges being made against him, and the right to an opportunity to respond to the charges. The report was immediately turned over to news media on Monday night, but neither the Board, Megan Martin, nor David Sawyer has seen fit to provide me with a copy the report. Fortunately, a friend forwarded me a copy on Tuesday morning.

The Board’s Motives

In October 2015, although Newton County had already invested over $21 million in the project, our current Board of Commissioners voted to shut down the Bear Creek reservoir project. A month later, in November 2015, the Board fired me as County Attorney and hired County Attorney Megan Martin the next day. I immediately turned over the County files I had accumulated over 39 years as County Attorney: 60 yards of paper files and 48,125 digital files. So, I have been completely out of the picture for over a year now. During the past year, the Board has launched nonstop attacks on me which almost always make front-page news in both local newspapers. The Board has used me as a whipping boy for several reasons:

[1] The Board seeks to divert attention from the incompetence and poor decision-making that has plagued this Board for the past 4 years, including its foolish decision to shut down the Bear Creek project;

[2] I have angered 4 district commissioners by publicly criticizing them for discriminating against black officials and employees. Once the remainder of the report is made public on December 8, you will see I am the only white person seriously targeted by the Board’s investigation. Given the events our community witnessed (and the world) in 2015 and 2016, it is fair to say this Board does not welcome diversity.

A Sample of Sawyer’s Unfounded Claims

Since I received a copy of the report on Tuesday, I have been working on detailed, item-by-item responses to Sawyer’s charges against me. As you might imagine, it takes a while to digest and respond to a report where the writer himself acknowledges he spent over 1000 hours putting it together. Fortunately, he is only charging the County $340 per hour for his time.

For now, let me give you a few simple examples of the ridiculousness of Sawyer’s claims:

• Gaither Plantation

* Sawyer claims that because the Board of Commissioners abandoned the Bear Creek project I am personally responsible for the County’s loss of the $4,100,000 purchase price of the roughly 2,200 acres, plus $2,511,977 [$6,611,977] he believes the County would have received in property taxes had I not asked the Board of Commissioners to purchase the plantation in 1995. In calculating what he believes are the County’s financial losses from the Bear Creek project Sawyer charges me for a loss of $6,611,977.

* Had Sawyer contacted me before he published his sensational report, I would have told him to ask former Commissioner Mort Ewing to confirm that former Chairman Davis Morgan decided to purchase Gaither Plantation, not me. Davis negotiated the purchase price and Board of Commissioners voted to approve it. The Board’s decision to purchase Gaither Plantation was driven by it’s desire to protect the historic plantation from falling into the hands of a developer who might subdivide it into small building lots, and to provide a place for public recreation, weddings, etc. Presumably, when the Board authorized the purchase of the plantation, it was aware the property would no longer generate property taxes for the County.

* Sawyer’s decision to charge me with a wasting $6,611,977 for the County’s ownership of Gaither Plantation, clearly shows he performed no thorough investigation of the facts. To my way of thinking, any stranger who would attempt to carry out an investigation in a county he is unfamiliar with without paying a personal visit to local citizens with knowledge of the facts, sorely lacks what folks used to call common, ordinary horse sense.

• Legal Fees charged to Nelson Heights Community Center

* Sawyer questions the purpose, necessity, and propriety of $17,039 I was paid over a three-year period for legal services performed in behalf of Nelson Heights Community Center. On May 10, 2016, he appeared before the Board of Commissioners and stated he thought the fees were “excessive.” When questioned, he admitted he had not investigated what the Board had asked me to do for Nelson Heights, and he had not reviewed my detailed billing statements to study of what legal work was done to earn my fees. In the report Sawyer released this past Monday, 6 months after his May appearance before the Board, Sawyer still had gathered no information to support his opinion.

* Sawyer publicly insinuates wrongdoing by me and Commissioner JC Henderson without first taking the trouble to learn easily available facts. Sawyer repeats this pattern of conduct throughout his report. Personally, I believe his conduct is unforgivable, particularly when his mean-spirited, unsupported opinions cause irreversible harm to others, their careers and families.

• SPLOST / Impact Fees

* To support his claim the County has lost over $29.5 million Sawyer asserts Newton County lost $4,123,474 when the Finance Department transferred that sum from the County’s 2005 SPLOST fund to cover shortfalls in revenue needed to pay for the Impact Fee projects. To read Sawyer’s report you might be left with the impression current Finance Dir. Nicole Cross was involved in this transaction. She was not. I mean no criticism, but former County Manager John Middleton decided to transfer the funds from one account to the other.

* It is important for the public to understand that the County has not suffered a real loss here. Money was simply moved from one pocket to another, and then spent on County projects we all benefit from today.

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