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Who’s Minding Gwinnett’s Cookie Jar?

Who is providing oversight to ensure Gwinnett citizens are getting value for our tax dollars and that all money is properly spent?

Fellow Gwinnettians, do you realize our county government spends approximately $1.4 billion dollars per year?

Have you ever wondered how the County ensures taxpayers are getting good value?  How are county assets protected?  Who determines that taxpayer funds are properly utilized?  

Surely with a budget larger than the State of South Dakota someone is minding the cookie jar, right? 

Many governments, particularly larger ones, have an internal audit department to provide independent oversight of taxpayer funds.  We don’t have to look far to find examples of governments which include an audit function - the City of Atlanta, Dekalb County, and Cobb County all have an audit department.

Are you wondering yet if Gwinnett has an audit department? Well we had one, but for some reason the leadership of Gwinnett County decided it was no longer needed.

If Gwinnett did have an audit department, what happened to it?  

Check back tomorrow to find out what the heck happened to Gwinnett County’s audit department. 

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Lilburn Community Partnership November 28, 2012 at 03:12 PM
Jim, Your blog had me wondering, but having visited South Dakota, it is a beautiful state but in no way should be compared to Gwinnett. It is very sparsely populated and without many of the amenities that I have come to expect in Gwinnett: parks, dog parks, trails, swimming facilities, libraries, senior centers and outstanding public and private schools all within fifteen minutes of driving or sometimes walking distances. Additionally, the per capita income is less than Gwinnett, likely because it does not have the extras that attract employers to the area that we have here. I checked the finance page of Gwinnett County and got a very detailed view of the budget - it is down from last year, which given decreased revenues is certainly responsive to the economy. I wouldn't say that just because other governments have audit departments that Gwinnett should have one. Audit departments are expensive and state law still provides for checks and balances. The County must send its year's spent budget to the Department of Community Affairs to be reviewed and to the Carl Vinson Institute to be posted publically. Also, the spent budget is submitted to a private auditor for reivew. These rules are followed by counties and cities. I think it was a wise move to cut that department. So much is on the web that it is easy to see how our taxes are being spent.
Karsten Torch November 28, 2012 at 04:27 PM
I don't know about that, Diana. We just found out that we're paying for somebody over at the Chamber. And we don't really know why. Or how it came about. Or why it's still continuing. Just one small example....
STEVE RAMEY November 28, 2012 at 04:50 PM
Diana, Do you really think government is the answer to everything? You make it sound as if the government is our benefactor. The monies for parks, DOG PARKS? (come on), trails etc.,come out of the pockets of taxpayers and is spent willy-nilly for overpriced land purchases to make favorite developers and land owenrs wealthy. Sometimes the land is not even usable but the county buys it anyway. Speaking of expensive land deals, what about expensive investments by the county to the Chamber, the GCPS to the Chamber, Citiy tax dollars to the Chamber and so on. A lock keeps an honest man honest. A crook will find a way in and we've had our share of crooks. Do you not remeber over the last two years? A commissioner resigned so as not to be indicted, one left under indictment, one left for prison on bribery conviction and the other voted out. What positives do you glean from this scenario. Jim comments reminds us that the current situation does not inform the commission/county of illegal actions. An audit department would and possibly curtail continued activities creating mistrust of the elected..
Lilburn Community Partnership November 28, 2012 at 10:54 PM
Steve: Admittedly the County paid some inflated costs on land and unfortunately we had a few elected officials who made mistakes. However, let's don't consider all of the land decisions bad and all of the elected officials corrupt. Over the years we citizens passed referenda to build parks and libraries, etc. In the beginning we got some great deals and beautiful parks such as Tribble Mill. Here in Lilburn, Lions Club basically cost Lilburnites nothing. However, those days of cheap land passed and prices went up. I learned during the purchase and subsequent condemnation of land along Lilburn's proposed Greenway Trail, that to avoid going to court, it was preferable to offer more than the appraised value of property desired. Therefore, land being purchased for recreational use, even if it was underwater became valued more like beachfront property. I am not happy that Bryson Park cost as much as it did, but it was the only site at the time that would serve a very densely, underserved populated area of the County. There was no cloud over that land purchase, but it sure seemed like a lot to pay. However, at the end of the day, I look back at the efforts over 30 years and realize what a beautiful system of parks and libraries we have to serve our children and grandchildren and help protect our home values. Rather than be overly critical of our leaders, l am supportive of their efforts to eliminate needless expenditures on functions that are being performed by other entities.
Lilburn Community Partnership November 28, 2012 at 11:03 PM
Karsten: As a Council member and later as Mayor, I supported Lilburn contributing a portion of its tax revenues to Partnership Gwinnett. PG is a coordinated effort that markets Gwinnett as a desirable location for major employers. It also works on advising governments on what changes might need to occur in procedures and ordinances in order to be competitive in encouraging business to locate in Gwinnett rather than going elsewhere. The effort has had a huge impact on Gwinnett already in that NCR, Suniva, Meggett, Mitsubishi, Primerica and Ricoh have either relocated or expanded their operations here. Additionally, PG sponsors trips for investors to tour various areas in Gwinnett. Lilburn has realized benefits from being an investor in that PG markets Lilburn with resources that Lilburn could not afford by itself. I am sure that the County and the School Board invest in Partnership Gwinnett for similar reasons. Lilburn does not have a large commercial tax base. A strong commercial tax base helps to keep residential taxes low. In the same way as the commercial tax base improves, so improves the revenues in the County as well as for our schools. As Mayor, I used to attend the quarterly meetings which focused on goals that were being worked on by various Chamber officials and their departments. If you go to PartnershipGwinnett.com, you will find Report Cards for several years. I hope this information is helpful.
Jack Kobaba November 28, 2012 at 11:39 PM
If you really want to muddy up the water just Google "Sparty Hammett consultant Gwinnett." Nonetheless, that is water under the bridge and our current Commissioners, especially Chairman Nash, has experience and will do the right thing in this regard.
STEVE RAMEY November 29, 2012 at 03:59 AM
Diana: I did review the Report Card of Partnership Gwinnett. It included statements like the following, which shows that Partnership Gwinnett lobbied for TSPLOST. It is illegal to use public funds to lobby for a tax measure. When you used to attend quarterly meetings, did you approve of this? #118. The Gwinnett Chamber/PG was one of the key players to pass HB277; the “Transportation Investment Act of 2010” regional plan. As a major proponent of regional transportation funding, a representative from the Chamber/PG was selected to serve on the Atlanta 10 county region transportation investment referendum education and advocacy “Working Group”. The purpose of this group is to develop and implement a 2012 referendum campaign. Others involved in this group are Central Atlanta Progress, Council for Quality Growth, Georgia Engineering Alliance, League of Women Voters, Livable Communities Coalition, Metro Atlanta Chamber, and the Regional Business Coalition. The “Working Group” leaders the “First Fridays” group that includes more than 150 regional stakeholder associations and key leaders. We have hired the campaign managers, polling firm, and professional fundraisers and will raise $6 million to fund grassroots to media campaign goals in the 10 counties. The Gwinnett Chamber/PG will lead local efforts to educate and advocate for the one cent sales tax for transportation through communication, a speakers bureau, and public meetings.
STEVE RAMEY November 29, 2012 at 04:39 AM
Additionally Diana, the Report Card lists this activity regarding Gwinnett County Public Schools (GCPS): "Partner with the Gwinnett County school system to lobby state elected officials to increase the district's flexibility to self-govern rather than be held accountable for certain state mandates. Supported GCPS in their legal action involving constitutional local control of charter schools. May of 2011 Georgia Supreme Court rules in favor of the seven school districts bringing suit. GCOC 2012 Legislative Agenda continues to oppose any legislation that usurp the authority of the GCPS Board to govern Gwinnett's public schools." Diana: Did you know this is illegal? Should taxpayers support an organization that states on their report card that they are engaging in illegal activities?
R++ One of the Famous Dacula Crew November 29, 2012 at 05:38 AM
"The effort has had a huge impact on Gwinnett already in that NCR, Suniva, Meggett, Mitsubishi, Primerica and Ricoh have either relocated or expanded their operations here." And to this end, it all started when someone asked to see exactly HOW these claims could be supported - meaning how where these numbers actually determined? Just a rather routine ROI exercise, resulting in 6 plus months of no response, repeated talking points on value and a citizen lawsuit just to get THE start of an answer... No need to audit? Perhaps no need to hire outside consultants, but in light of operations since 2006 and the Grand Jury report, it's time to get back and prove the basics are executed. Top level summaries are grea,t but honest leaders have NO problem providing "backup detail" for their work or reasoning usedfor all to see, no court case required...
GregRodgers November 29, 2012 at 02:07 PM
Thanks Steve...I was going to bring this up.. In a nutshell, why was public money being spent on something that the PUBLIC shows it did not want!? Thats like pulling money out of my pocket to give to people that are trying to rob me even though I really don't want them to rob me? Taking public money to lobby against the will of the people is wrong no matter how you slice it. -Greg
Lilburn Community Partnership November 29, 2012 at 02:53 PM
Steve, I think you are rushing to a conclusion of illegal activity when in fact a court will decide if laws have been broken. Chambers of Commerce can and do lobby by setting up separate funds to allow them to do this. Advocates for legislation affecting local education do the same. After the dust settles on these issues, the lawyers will benefit as they always do and the important business of supporting economic development and strong education temporarily takes a backseat to defending our ability to control our County's destiny. Whose side are you on?
Karsten Torch November 29, 2012 at 03:07 PM
I'm confused on a point here, though - if it is, in fact, illegal to use public funds to lobby for a tax measure, then shouldn't it be illegal for an enitity that takes public funds to lobby for a tax measure? To say they have a seperate account that doesn't use the public funds is nothing more then moving money around. The money is there in their coffers, saying that they're not using that particular money really doesn't mean anything, does it?
STEVE RAMEY November 29, 2012 at 09:32 PM
Diana: I noticed you did not leave an opening for response but I am on the side of the taxpayers who have asked legitimate questions about how taxpayer money was used. Whose side are you on? Do taxpayers not deserve to know how their money was spent? Why don't you tell us the names of the 280 businesses that Partnership Gwinnett brought to Gwinnett County? Partnership Gwinnett said they created 12,000 jobs. Why don't you tell us the names of the companies who hired the 12,000 employees? Why don't you explain to us how Partnership Gwinnett generated $800 million in economic activity? You said you gave taxpayer money to Partnership Gwinnett when you were mayor of Lilburn. If you are on the side of taxpayers, why don't you tell taxpayers what they got in return for the money you gave by answering these questions?
Shelly Nix November 30, 2012 at 12:26 AM
Diana: Steve Ramey has some excellent questions. Please answer them. While you're at it, please answer these questions: 1. What are the names of the 280 businesses Partnership Gwinnett claims to have brought to Gwinnett? 2. Partnership Gwinnett claims they created 12,000 jobs. Can you name the companies that hired these employees? 3. How did Partnership Gwinnett determine that they generated $800 million in economic activity? Is this a top secret? Is there some reason why taxpayers are not allowed to know the answers to these questions? Aren't we the ones paying for it? If county commissioners can't answer these questions, why did they just vote to give Partnership Gwinnett more money? Diana, do you remember when all county commissioners pledged to restore public trust? Please explain to us how you believe they have done that.
John Cook November 30, 2012 at 08:04 AM
Oh, Steve, you say the monies for parks belongs to taxpayers. But our elected officials act like that is free money because it comes from the SPLOST. Yes, that 1% sales tax is free money in their opinion that "must be spent." So they dream up frivolous projects, such as dog parks--and realignment of Lilburn's Main Street--in order to spend that free money.
John Cook November 30, 2012 at 08:32 AM
Karsten, it appears to be a scheme of money laundering. Since the dozen or so cities and the County government cannot legally use public funds to advocate for the ballot referendums regarding any Special Local Option Sales Tax, the Chamber seems to have created a division that is willing to perform these activities so the City and County governments don't "get their hands dirity" by spending money directly for such illegal purpose. Originally Progress Gwinnett was registered with the Secretary of State as a corporate entity, but then they dissolved that entity within a matter of days. Why? I can only assume that a co-mingling of funds is much more easily accomplished without the separate corporate delineation. For quite a few years, the same employees were listed with the same titles with both the Chamber and with Partnership Gwinnett. Rather curious, eh?
John Cook November 30, 2012 at 08:37 AM
But, Diana, you forgot to mention that Partnership Gwinnett's report cards also indicates that they have spent funds that the City of LIlburn contributed for a purpose which is an illegal use of City taxpayer funds--the advocating and advertising in favor of the SPLOST referendum. That's illegal for the City to use taxpayer funds for that purpose, isn't it? It's also illegal to contribute funds to an entity that combines Lilburn's funds with the funds of the other municipalities within Gwinnett to accomplish that prohibited task.
John Cook November 30, 2012 at 08:50 AM
Diana, the Grand Jury indicted Kevin Kennerly, but I have not noticed any announcement of trial to date. Did I miss it? You say the courts will decide, but pardon "we the people" for being cynical regarding proper outcome. The term "unindicted conspirators" was used. I sometimes wonder whether we should coin the term "unconvicted felons."
Jim Regan November 30, 2012 at 05:30 PM
If you share our concern and would like to express your opinion directly to the Board of Commissioners please sign our petition, it will automatically generate an email to each commissioner. http://www.change.org/petitions/gwinnett-county-board-of-commissioners-establish-an-independent-audit-department

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