At least two Hall County commissioners are calling for a detailed audit of the county’s finances following an admission Monday from Chairman Tom Oliver that he had been authorizing payment of county funds to former Gainesville City Manager Carlyle Cox as a consultant.
Oliver said at a work session Monday that Cox had been paid between $1,500 and $1,800 per month since 2006 without full board approval. His admission came following an Open Records Act request from The Times into the matter.
Commissioners Steve Gailey and Bobby Banks said they want an independent investigation of county finances to uncover any other payments that may not be out in the open.
“How many other procedural things do we not know of?” Banks asked. “I believe we need to have the GBI do a forensic audit of the county.”
Oliver denied any other payments exist, and he accepted blame for not bringing the consulting fees to the full board.
“I did this on my own,” Oliver said. “I just think it was a procedural thing, and it’s my fault.”
Assistant County Administrator Phil Sutton said the county administrator can authorize a purchase of up to $10,000 without seeking board approval. Sutton said he believes the chairman has the same right, but he could not immediately confirm that.
Oliver has exceeded that amount by between $8,000 and $11,600 each year since 2006.
Cox and his company, Omega Consulting, first received $1,500 per month to advise primarily on water and sewer issues. That figure later increased to $1,800 about a year and a half ago, Oliver said.
None of the other commissioners had approved Cox’s employment with the county.
County Administrator Charley Nix, who took over following Jim Shuler’s retirement in 2008, said Oliver has been handling the payments since he became administrator.
“It was my understanding that Tom (Oliver) had the authority to sign off on these invoices,” Nix said. “I was operating under that assumption.”
Cox has been compensated through the county’s sewer enterprise fund, which set aside $100,000 for consultant work in 2010.
Nix said it appears no formal contract exists between Cox and Hall County.
“I haven’t been able to find one,” he said.
The charge on the consulting invoices is for “waste water services.”
“I think that’s Carlyle and Omega’s specialty,” Nix said. “I know that the county did not have anyone representing their interest on things like the South Hall sewer and the Glade Farms and all that kind of stuff at the time.”
Cox, who also serves on Hall County’s library board, said he was contacted by Oliver to advise county projects.
“I was employed to provide consultant service to him,” Cox said. “It was county projects with Mr. Oliver, and I think he made that clear.”
Cox said he was unaware that the other commissioners did not know of his work with the county.
“(Oliver) employed me, and that’s as far as I know,” Cox said.
Oliver said at the commission’s Monday work session that he hopes to get approval from the other commissioners to keep Cox as a consultant while Hall County is applying for a federal permit for Glades Reservoir.
“It’s somebody who has hands-on experience dealing with government issues,” Oliver said. “His ability to interact with the Environmental Protection Division, the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District, his ability to understand the challenges. ... The Magnuson ruling has made Carlyle more valuable than ever.”
Gailey and Banks suggested they aren’t likely to support continuing to pay Cox.
Gailey said he didn’t think Cox was necessary because there are many other qualified consultants working on the Glades Reservoir project.
“I’ve sat in with several meetings with you on the Glades Farm stuff, and I don’t know where we would utilize him at all,” Gailey said.