Liberty County Grand Jury Presentments
February Term, 2007



Introduction:


This is the summary report of the Liberty County Grand Jury whose term of service was from February 12, 2006 to September 10, 2007. For those unfamiliar with the full duties of a grand jury in this county, we wish to tell you that in addition to the judgments that we are obliged to make on whether the County should proceed on with further legal action on matters concerning possible criminal activity, we are also obliged to report to you, the citizens of Liberty County, on the performance of four major governmental units within our county whose purpose it is to see to it that certain public functions are carried out for your benefit as effectively as possible while doing so at the lowest possible cost. We must also entertain concerns from citizens of this county who are able to present meaningful arguments that the public welfare of Liberty County is not being properly served. The case of Dr. Glenn Carter and the Liberty County Hospital Authority is such a case, and the issues raised by Dr. Carter are discussed in this presentment. Finally, because we believe that it is our duty to communicate our findings to the citizens of Liberty County as effectively as possible, in addition to publishing our findings in our local newspaper, The Coastal Courier, we have also elected to create a blogspot on the Internet to make these findings available to those who choose to review and comment on the findings via electronic media. We welcome all responsible comments. The address of the blogspot will be http://libertycountygrandjury2007.blogspot.com/.

The governmental units involved include the Liberty County Board of Education, the Liberty County Development Authority, the Liberty Consolidated Planning Commission, and the Liberty County Board of Commissioners. We invited those entities to make presentations to us, and they did so in shortly before or in April 2007. What we received from them, however, was apparently something similar to what they had presented to grand juries in prior years. After analyzing what we did receive, we determined that all of those agencies needed to submit revised reports in a somewhat standardized format designed to help the next grand jury better understand each agency's operation. It included the following information:

1.     A brief discussion of the significant events of the most recent business year and the outlook for the current year (construction plans, staffing changes, sources of funding, etc.).
2.     A mission statement outlining precisely what the affected agency was charged with doing along with a list of its directors, their current terms of service, and their experience record with the unit.
3.     Sharply improved financial information in a number of areas. First, we asked them to separate their operating costs from their capital costs so that we could see just what it cost to operate each agency each year, and we also asked them to give us that information for the past two years plus the current one so that we could see what the trend looked like for their operation. We also asked each agency for the compensation and benefits paid to the two most highly paid employees on their staff. In effect, we were saying that if your top staff is sufficiently well paid, we have a right to expect solid financial information from them. The top staff members in all agencies are sufficiently well compensated to be held responsible for being able to produce meaningful annual reports to this and all future grand juries.
4.     Finally, we asked for an in depth discussion of each major project that the agency finished during the past year, final contract price information including information about change orders, contract modifications, contract completion dates, how the project was financed, and other matters that we believed relevant to assessing their performance.

The response to our request was varied. One agency responded within two weeks with a report in a format which largely met our concerns, while another stated that they were an independent body, our request for information was highly irregular and certainly not in keeping with what they had submitted to previous grand juries, and they were so busy with other matters that they did not think that it was possible to meet our request for information in a timely manner. While we were mindful of their schedules, we reminded them that it was our duty and the duty of all future grand juries, as representatives of the Liberty County taxpayers, to make certain that the affected agencies were spending our tax dollars as wisely as possible. In the end, we did achieve during this term at least partial compliance from all of the agencies for which we were responsible, and we report to you our findings in this presentment. Additionally, we hope that the standard for reporting by those agencies that we have developed during our term will provide a legacy for future grand juries. Hopefully, the next grand jury will receive far more revealing annual performance reports than those with which we initially received.

Our principal findings on each agency follow, and it is our hope that every citizen and taxpayer in Liberty County will read them in detail because it is your tax dollar that is being spent, and we believe that in a number of cases it could be spent much more wisely.

Findings:

Liberty County Board of Education (LCBE)

The Liberty County Board of Education operates under the authorization of an Act of the legislature approved February 10, 1986, as amended. Its guidance is provided by a board of directors elected by the voters of Liberty County, and its ongoing operation is the responsibility of a superintendent who is appointed by that board. The board is a separate legal entity and has the power to levy taxes and issue bonds for its needs. Its budget is not subject to the approval of any other entity. The Chairman of the Liberty County Board of Education is Ms. Lily H. Baker, and the Interim Superintendent is Mr. Harley Grove.

The grand jury noted when reviewing the audited LCBE financial statements for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2006 that it had on hand at that time almost $50.7 million in cash and cash equivalents, investments, and related receivables, while liabilities at that time amounted to only about $12.1 million. Further, it had no long term debt at that time. Effectively then, it had nearly $38.6 million in virtually unrestricted cash reserves. Additionally, we noted that revenues from all sources (excluding district wide capital projects fund) exceeded operating expenditures by approximately $10.2 million in that year, and barring a change of which we are currently unaware, we see no reason why we should not expect the surplus of revenues over expenditures to continue in future years. Similar information for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2007 is not yet available, but we believe that the Board's cash reserves will be even greater than at the end of the previous year.

We are aware that it is always prudent for an entity such as LCBE to have a forward-looking capital improvements plan, and, in fact, they are required by Georgia Law 20-2-260 to develop and maintain a long range comprehensive plan for those needs that is updated every five years if they are to participate in state's Capital Outlay Program. In that regard, we contacted LCBE concerning its projected needs. That entity replied that based upon information provided by the state in connection with the Capital Outlay Program, it did not anticipate a drastic increase in student population. It further added that if the current trend holds true, the school district will be able to accommodate the projected student population within its current facilities. The Board went on to say that, as a consequence, it appears that the majority of its capital spending should take the form of renovations and modifications to existing facilities, and it provided us with a list of projects which it plans to undertake in the next five years. None appear to be especially large in dollar amounts.

Accordingly, it is the recommendation of this grand jury that the Board immediately develop a plan for a reduction in the tax burden levied on the Liberty County taxpayer for education as its foreseeable needs appear to be already well met.

Members of the grand jury had also received comments from residents about the size and appointment of the new LCBE administration building which was recently completed at a cost of approximately $8.2 million. Additionally, several board members appearing before the grand jury stated that while they did see various versions of the proposed structure as the design was being developed, they were unaware of the cost until the final plans were presented to them by the Board's architect, J. W. Buckley & Associates, Inc. It was the consensus of the grand jury members who toured the administration building that it was indeed an elegant structure, but perhaps not the wisest use of the taxpayers' money. However, when the grand jury sent a letter to the Board requesting information about the planning and cost associated with this project, their response clearly stated that the architects met with management and every department head to be housed in the new building on numerous "intense" planning sessions centered around both current and future needs. The Board's response also notes that LCBE was always concerned about cost. It notes that initial cost estimates were given, and those cost estimates were updated, distributed to management and discussed as changes to the design and scope of the original project developed. Finally, the Board states that the building was designed to accommodate future growth, and by designing both common areas and offices so that they could be used by multiple individuals and consolidating departments into one central space, considerable classroom space was freed up to be used for the district's students. This grand jury sees two anomalies in this discussion. First, there appears to be a substantial lack of communication between LCBE operating management and its Board which we believe is clearly not in the best interests of a cohesive school system. Second, it is our opinion that the Board's statement concerning planning for growth made earlier in this paragraph does not square completely with the projections for growth as outlined in the preceding paragraph in that, according to the projections about student population growth made by the Georgia Capital Outlay Program, Liberty County's current facilities are adequate to accommodate anticipated student growth for at least the next five years.

It is the recommendation of this grand jury that LCBE management personnel obtain approval of the Board in the future before planning significant capital expenditures in future years to ensure the cost-effective expenditure of LCBE financial resources. Comprehensive cost estimates of the project should accompany any proposal.


Liberty County Development Authority (LCDA)

The Liberty County Development Authority (LCDA), also known as the Liberty County Industrial Authority, was created by the Georgia legislature in 1958 and implemented by the Georgia General Assembly in 1964. The Authority has seven members, two of which are automatic members by virtue of their office (Mayor of Hinesville and Chairman of the Board of Commissioners), and serve on the LCDA board for as long as they hold their respective offices. The County Commission appoints the four of the remaining members and the City of Hinesville appoints the remaining position. The Chairman of the Authority is Mr. Allen Brown and the Chief Executive Officer is Mr. Ronald E. Tolley.

Upon review of information ultimately obtained from the Authority in the form of both written documents and personal appearances before the grand jury by its chief executive officer, its chief financial officer and the Authority's attorney, a number of issues of considerable concern to us were identified. The more important ones are included in this presentment for the consideration of the taxpayers of Liberty County.

While examining the documents provided to us by the Authority, we reviewed a document attached to the audited financial statement whose abbreviated name is "OMB Circular A-133 Compliance Report." This is a report which must be completed by the independent certified accountants generally where the accounting for grant funds is required. While the failing outlined in this document did not impair the ability of the independent auditors to give an unqualified opinion as to the fairness of the presentation of the Authority's financial position, we nevertheless consider the matter a material failing on the part of the Authority's operating personnel.

In March 2005 the Authority was approved for grant funding by the Economic Development Authority (EDA) in the amount of $2,000,000. We believe that the funds were to be used in connection with the construction of the Authority's Tradeport East project. Under the terms of the grant, the Authority was to submit a Form SF-271 each month for reimbursement of authorized construction expenses incurred during that period. Authority personnel did not submit the Forms SF-271 as required, and over the approximately two year period required to complete the work, it used some of its own funds on hand or money borrowed from other sources to pay for the work performed. The auditors state, and the grand jury agrees, that this lack of action resulted in unnecessary interest expense being incurred by LCDA. In the course of inquiry, we asked the Authority to provide us with the number of the amount of unnecessary interest paid, and it informed us that the estimated number was approximately $22,200. When Ms. Carmen Cole appeared before the grand jury on September 5, 2007, she was asked how this number was derived, and she informed us that it was an estimate. It is the opinion of the grand jury that her estimate is far too low. We have calculated a number which we believe that a more representative interest expense incurred number is approximately $112,000 as of this date and continues to accrue. Ms. Cole also testified that although the Authority had now spent the $2,000,000 on the project using other funds, she believed that this amount can still be recovered from the EDA. As of the date of this presentment, it is our understanding that all of the filings have still not been fully accomplished, so perhaps more important than the matter of the interest involved remains the matter of the recovery by the Authority of the $2,000,000 grant funds.

A far more disturbing issue for the grand jury is a proposed contract for the design and construction of a 2 million gallons per day wastewater treatment facility between the Authority and CH2MHill, a major engineering firm based in Colorado. The proposed facility is to be located in the vicinity of the Tradeport East development in eastern Liberty County, and the cost of its design and construction is not to exceed $30 million. The grand jury has issues with the way in which the engineering firm was selected for the work, the type of contract proposed, the type of wastewater treatment facility to be constructed, its size, the proposed cost, the way it is to be financed, and the potential financial risks involved. While this issue has been and remains a difficult technical one with which this grand jury has tried to deal, we will do our best to explain our concerns in a way that we hope provides you, the Liberty County taxpayer, some insight into the problem.

Because the grand jury only subpoenaed the minutes of the Authority for the year 2007, we can only say with certainty what we know transpired during that time period. However, some of the information contained in the discussion was obtained from other sources and some of it is second hand. In spite of those limitations, we strongly feel that it should be considered.

In the Authority minutes of February 26, 2007 there appears a discussion by Mr. Wayne Murphy of the CH2MHill firm of his opinion on the time difference required to pursue the traditional way of building a wastewater treatment plant (design, take bids and award, construct)with what is sometimes referred to as the "design/build" approach. Under the "design/build" approach, however, the engineer and the contractor can be the same entity or they may be separate entities, but work begins on the project before the final plans and specifications have been completed. While there may be a number of reasons why an owner would select the "design/build" approach over the traditional one, perhaps the most common one is that the project needs to be constructed on a fast track basis; that is, within a limited amount of time. A disadvantage of this method is that the construction contractor for the work is also selected from the start of the project. As a consequence, the prospect of receiving a more competitive price when there are a number of contractors bidding on the work is lost. In reviewing minutes referring to the needs of developers in connection with the time frame needed to construct facilities at or in the Tradeport East area, the grand jury found that one of the major ones, Midway Holdings, Inc., had indicated that it would need approximately 24 months to secure the necessary permitting and other matters before they could begin vertical construction. However, for reasons not indicated in the minutes of April 26, 2007, the Authority mandated to that group that vertical construction must begin within 18 months. We can find no justification for setting what appears to be an artificial deadline for construction. We also believe that because there appeared to be no overriding reason for an accelerated construction schedule, more competitive pricing for the work would be obtained from contractors if the traditional design, bid and award, and construct approach is used. Upon completion of that presentation, upon motion duly made and seconded, a motion to formalize the approval for "design/build" given to Mr. Murphy at the February 26, 2007 meeting was unanimously approved. In the same motion, SunTrust Bank , which had also been approved by the Authority in the February 26, 2007 meeting, was also formally designated as the financing agent for the project.

Mr. Murphy (CH2MHill) again spoke to the Authority on the various treatment methodologies available for the proposed wastewater treatment at the Board meeting of April 2, 2007. After discussion of the alternatives, according the minutes, there was a consensus of those in attendance that the "membrane" treatment, as the process for treatment was called, was the most desirable choice. However, because not all board members were in attendance at that meeting and the "membrane" treatment was easily the most expensive alternative, further consideration of the matter was deferred until the next available meeting date. However, there was apparently a desire by the board members to keep moving forward with the project, so on a motion directing CH2MHill to move forward toward the membrane treatment design approach was made by board member Mr. Arnold and seconded board member Mr. Ratcliffe. Upon vote, it was unanimously approved.

The Board next met on April 23, 2007 where the various approaches to wastewater treatment was again a significant item on the agenda. At that meeting Mr. Murphy outlined the various treatment facility processing options available (conventional, sequential batch reactor, and membrane batch reactor). He further noted that all three methods could currently meet or exceed state discharge standards, but the sequential batch reactor and the membrane batch reactor methods could meet higher standards than the conventional method, and the membrane method meet the highest standards and was the most environmentally friendly. However, he also noted that the construction of a treatment facility using this method could cost as much as $10,000,000 or 50 percent more than the next best method. After discussion, on a motion was made by board member Mr. Arnold and seconded by board member Mr. Smith directing CH2MHill to move forward with the design of the new facility using the membrane batch reactor approach and authorizing Chairman Mr.Brown to execute the necessary documents with SunTrust Bank for the financing of up to $30,000,000 for construction of the proposed facility. The motion passed on a vote of 6-1 with board member Mr. McIver opposing.

In the state of Georgia it is not required that a governmental entity bid work for professional services, but when a construction contract exceeds $100,000 in amount, we believe that solicitation of bidders is required under state law. Therefore, because the $30,000,000 amount included construction and was clearly in excess of that minimum, a Request for Proposal (RFP) was required. On April 27, 2007 an RFP which we believe was prepared in large part by CH2MHill was, according to Ms. Cole, the contracting officer for the project, posted on the Authority website. It should also be noted that the scope of the RFP had been expanded from a "design/build" to a "design/build/operate." This was a significant change, not only because the Board had voted to award only a "design/build" effort, but also because the expansion of the scope of work to "design/build/operate" further restricted the number of potential responders who might know to look for the RFP on the Authority's website. According to her testimony, the project was not advertised in any other way. The deadline for the response to the RFP was May 28, 2007, subsequently extended to May 30. According to Ms. Cole, only one bid was received, and it was from CH2MHill.

The handling of the RFP was not the grand jury's only concern. It was also concerned that the Authority would support a plan that, while achieving the highest standard of treatment, would cost possibly $10,000,000 more, or half again as much as the next most expensive method which would also easily meet and exceed current standards. As a result, we began consulting with other engineering firms about the costs and treatment standards discussed earlier herein. The numbers cited were largely verified in that inquiry. However, in the search for additional information, we discovered that approximately five years ago, the Authority had employed Thomas & Hutton, Inc., consulting environmental engineers in Savannah, Georgia, to prepare a wastewater master plan for the Tradeport East area of Liberty County. That firm prepared the plan for a fee of $5,000. Their study recommended the construction of a conventional or traditional wastewater treatment facility with a 500,000 gallons per day capacity which would meet all existing state discharge requirements and could be readily expanded. It could be built at an estimated cost of approximately $5,000,000. It is also our understanding that the Authority recently commissioned CH2MHill to perform a similar study which resulted in the treatment plan already discussed herein. The CH2MHill fee for that study was reportedly in the vicinity of $322,000.

We think that the difference between a facility costing $5,000,000 and one costing $30,000,000 is very substantial, and we believe that the taxpayers of Liberty County will agree. However, it should be noted that there are a number of differences between the two proposed facilities. The plan approved by the Authority provides for the highest level of waste treatment and would have four times the treatment capacity of the Thomas & Hutton plan which would meet current discharge standards, but might not meet those which could be set in the future. Although it is not probable, it is possible that the membrane batch reactor method selected by the Authority might not meet all future criteria either.

Yet another very important consideration in designing a wastewater treatment facility is the demand that is expected to be placed upon it. The proposed treatment facility is intended to be constructed in an area that is not currently served. As a consequence, there is no immediate demand for sewer service. Moreover, because of the nature of the commercial/industrial customers in the area and those likely to come there, those accounts are not expected to make significant demands upon the proposed wastewater system. Demand, therefore, will grow up largely from the residential development that should necessarily follow. A logical question which follows from that observation is one of how much residential development can each of the proposed wastewater treatment facilities handle? Assuming average residential water demand of approximately 300 gallons per day, a usage figure which generally approximates the number accepted by the American Water Works Association, the Thomas & Hutton facility could serve perhaps 1,700 homes, while the CH2MHill facility could serve approximately 6,700 residential customers. However, because the Thomas & Hutton facility design plan called for it to be readily upgradable, it can be assumed that additional daily treatment capacity, possibly in 500,000 gallon increments, could be readily added as its current capacity was approached, thereby avoiding the commitment of additional construction cost funding until the capacity was actually needed. Additionally, the incremental approach to expanding waste treatment capacity would allow the engineers the option of incorporating the then existing best available technology into the expanded facility to insure that the facility was as environmentally friendly as it was affordable.

Finally, the most important consideration, we believe, is not the cost of constructing a proposed wastewater treatment facility, but the cost of operating it as the plant must continue to operate at least for the length of its design life. A generally recognized benchmark in the wastewater treatment design field is 20 years. On this point we believe that there are two very important considerations. First, we do believe that if you build it, so to speak, they will come. We firmly believe that with waste treatment facilities available, development will begin to occur. In the beginning, however, it will literally be only a trickle at the wastewater treatment plant, and that is a problem because to operate properly, a facility of that type requires flow through it. If it does not have adequate flow, which flow must be supplemented, and it follows further that the minimum flow through a 500,000 gallons per day facility will be less than that for a 2,000,000 per day capacity. Additionally, because of the way in which a membrane batch reactor facility must process the waste coming to it, the power consumption of the pumps required to push or pull the waste through the membranes will not be inconsequential. Moreover, based on discussion with the consulting engineers with whom we discussed the matter, the consensus of opinion was that the membranes themselves would probably have to be replaced approximately every 7 to 9 years. And those membranes are expensive. Mr. Kelly Davis, attorney for the Authority, told the grand jury in his appearance on September 5 that Mr. Murphy had told the Board that replacement of the filter media and possibly other equipment such as the pumps could be very expensive, possibly as high as 50 percent of the plant construction cost. Therefore, the possibility exists that there might not be more than 300 homes constructed per year (effectively, one home per day), so the initial capacity need might not be more than 500,000 gallons per day would be adequate for at least five or more years.

To this point the focus of this discussion has been on which treatment process would best meet the needs of the Tradeport East service area for the amount of money spent, but there is the equally important matter of how we are going to pay for this undertaking as well. Based on correspondence to the Authority from the potentially major developers for that area and the Authority's response to them, a major source of funding was to be from sewer impact fees collected. Although the total amount expected to be obtained from this source is unknown, based on the data that we do have, that number could have been expected to exceed $10,000,000. Collection of an amount of this size would significantly reduce the amount that the Authority would have to borrow to finance the project. However, terms relating to payment of impact fees, as originally proposed, were deemed so prohibitive, restrictive and unfair that at least two of the four possible major developers have postponed indefinitely their plans for projects in the Tradeport East area, one has apparently developed a more equitable arrangement with the City of Midway, and one has said that she will not deal with the matter. Instead, she will simply sell to a developer and not worry about the problem. Unfortunately for her, any potential buyer will worry about the problem, and his or her concern will be reflected in the purchase price. The Authority has subsequently amended its terms for the payment of impact fees, but this may well be too little, too late. Should the $5,000,000 project be constructed and the developers do not follow through with their plans, a load will be placed on the shoulders of the taxpayers of Liberty County to amortize that debt; should the $30,000,000 project suffer the same fate, we think that the burden to the taxpayers of Liberty County could be considerably greater.

With the considerations outlined herein in connection with the proposed wastewater treatment facility financing in mind, we, the grand jury offer the following recommendations in connection with this endeavor:

  • If the contract with CH2MHill has not yet been finalized, immediately cease all efforts to do so. If it has been finalized, rescind or terminate it even though it could result in the payment of a contract termination fee by the Authority. While this action could prove expensive, it will certainly by less than the $30 million solution currently proposed.
  • The Authority should immediately contact the City of Midway to discuss the availability of capacity at their waste treatment facility for its needs. Based on information in the Authority's minutes for the year 2007, the currently projected treatment capacity needed by the large developers with which it has been dealing is approximately 132,000 gallons per day. The City of Midway facility is already permitted by the state and operational. We do not see the need to reinvent the wheel unless the City of Midway has no interest in entertaining a reasonable proposal from the Authority.
  • If an offer by the Authority to the City of Midway is not sufficiently attractive to develop a workable arrangement, or if the City of Midway does not want to deal with the Authority, then the Authority should then send out Requests for Proposals to a number of qualified engineering firms. There are several of them in the surrounding counties. Additionally, because there is no time constraint on when the facility must be operational, the traditional approach; that is, design the project, take bids on the construction of the waste treatment facility, award the construction contract to the most responsible, responsive contractor, and then have the engineering firm selected for design oversee the construction of the facility in conformance with the plans and specifications which it prepared for the project.
  • The waste treatment facility to be constructed should be designed so as to be readily expandible in approximately similar increments. We do not know what the optimal increments might be, but we suspect that additions to capacity of 500,000 gallons per day would probably be a desirable number. The advantages of designing a facility so that it could be readily expandable are many: (1) it saves the Authority from committing money for capacity that it might not need for as much as 20 years; (2) it enables the plant to operate at a lower cost because it will not have to supplement the wastewater flow that would be required by a larger plant to operate efficiently; and (3) the use of the incremental expansions approach would enable the engineers responsible for the expansion to use the best available technology existing at that time to treat the wastewater coming into the plant.
  • Because there is not a tight time frame for the construction of the project, we also recommend that the proposed financing arrangement with SunTrust Bank also be terminated. Moreover, we are also very dubious of that bank's claim that it would be able to finance the project at a lower interest rate than could GEFA (the Georgia Environmental Financing Authority) which normally has the advantage of a subsidized interest rate.
  • Future grand juries should follow up with the Authority in their annual reports to ensure that the $2,000,000 in Economic Development Authority grant funds is ultimately recovered and properly used by it.


Liberty Consolidated Planning Commission (LCPC)

The Liberty Consolidated Planning Commission is a relatively new organization, arising out of the consolidation, on January 1, 2005, of staff members from the Hinesville Metropolitan Planning Organization, the City of Hinesville, and Liberty County. LCPC is led by its director, H.E. "Sonny" Timmerman, P.E., AICP. This entity replaced the Hinesville Planning and Zoning Board and the Joint Planning Commission which handled a similar function for Liberty County and the municipalities other than Hinesville.

Beginning with a staff of five persons in 2005, LCPC added two additional employees in 2006, and plans to be at a level of ten staff members at the end of the current business year. Operating expense data per employee for 2005 was not available in the first year of consolidation which was a partial operating year, but that number for 2006 was $130,852 for a total of $915,964, and for 2007 was $107,483for a total of $1,074,830. Nevertheless, the 2007 total budget was up substantially in total dollars even though the per capita number decrease due to the sizeable increase in the number of staff members. A significant portion of the 2007 operating expense was attributable to outside engineering and other professional services for specific projects, so the budget for this agency should decrease by the cost of those services when those projects have been completed. We also recognize that the duties of that agency are still evolving somewhat, but we have requested that it report to the grand jury both in total operating budget and on a per employee basis in the future to give that body one possible benchmark to measure what it is costing Liberty County to provide this service. Like many governmental agencies, LCPC is able to carry out some parts of its mission as a result of grant funding obtained. However, we cautioned that agency to be mindful that when considering the expansion of staff, grants should not be viewed as a permanent source of funding because there is no guarantee that they will be available in future years, and the residents of Liberty County already have a very substantial tax burden that does not need to be expanded.

By the time the next grand jury is impaneled, LCPC should have evolved substantially in form and operation so that its role can be more clearly defined and evaluated. A brief summary report on its operations for its most recently completed fiscal (business) year should be available for it.


Liberty County Board of Commissioners (LCBC)

The Liberty County Board of Commissioners provides an extensive range of services including, but not limited to, county law enforcement, rural fire protection, construction and maintenance of highways, streets and other infrastructure, recreational and cultural development programs, health and welfare programs, indigent care assistance, solid waste services and other essential community services. The county operates under the commission-administrator form of government, and the chief executive officer for LCBC is Joseph W. Brown, County Administrator.

Much of the information which we were seeking was provided to us in the report presented to us by Mr. Brown's office. We did, however, question the projected figure of $20.6 billion economic impact figure for the Mid-Coast Business Center which was cited in the Commissioner's Management's Discussion and Analysis section included with its audit for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2006. Upon further analysis, it was determined that this information had been provided to them by the Liberty County Development Authority, and it was the projected number for the ultimate development of the entire Coastal Georgia Mega-Park project, not the Mid-Coast Business Center itself.

The grand jury expressed concern that information in that report appeared to indicate a substantial reliance on grant funding for both ongoing and capital needs. The County's financial officer, Ms. Kimberly McGlothlin, responded to our concern in a letter dated July 23, 2007 by noting that Liberty County had six significant operating grants, two significant capital grants, and several smaller capital grants. She noted that prior to the acceptance of any capital project, the various funding sources are always identified, so those projects should not prove to be a funding problem. However, she also noted that where operating grants are concerned, they are applied for on an annual basis. As a consequence, should the grants not be awarded, then it would be up to the Board of Commissioners to appropriate funds for the continued operation of the affected programs.

The grand jury also expressed concern in a letter to Mr. Brown about a number of operating entities within the county which appeared to require a continuous subsidy by it. Among them were the Solid Waste Authority, the Liberty Regional Medical Center, and the E-911 Emergency System.

Ms. McGlothlin went into considerable detail on the progress made by the Solid Waste Authority toward the achievement of self-sustaining financial status, but she expressed some doubt that the county would ever be able to recover earlier operating losses that it had underwritten. She was, nevertheless, optimistic about the financial soundness of the operation of the Solid Waste Authority in future years.

On the matter of the Liberty Regional Medical Center she was not as optimistic. She noted that it is a component unit of Liberty County, and as such it undergoes a separate independent audit, information is taken from that audit and included in part of Liberty County's annual financial report. Summary information available from Liberty County indicated Liberty Regional Medical Center has not been profitable in recent years and possibly since its inception, but the grand jury did not have the time to go further into the analysis of the operation of that entity, and there is some question as to whether it had the authority to pursue the matter further. The grand jury believes that this matter should, nevertheless, be of concern to the citizens of Liberty County because, as Ms. McGlothlin notes, the relationship between the hospital and the Board of Commissioners is significant due to the fact that the Commissioners level an annual millage rate on behalf of the hospital.

On the E-911 Emergency System Ms. McGlothlin noted that this fund was a special revenue fund and not self-sustaining, and she did not believe that it would ever be so. Fees collected from both land lines and mobile telephones are not nearly enough to support this operation, and the Commissioners have no plans at this time to make it so by means of an assessment or increased fees. It will continue to be supplemented by an annual operating transfer from the General Fund.

Finally, Ms. McGlothlin noted that the annual reporting format suggested by the grand jury for the other agencies which must report to it would not fit LCBC because its operations were so varied and extensive. We believe that the financial information provided from its audit along with the information in its Management's Discussion and Analysis section, provides adequate financial information for its purposes.


Dr. Glenn Carter & Liberty County Hospital Authority

On July 11, 2007 Dr. Carter appeared before this grand jury to ask for our assistance in resolving his differences with the Liberty County Hospital Authority ("the Authority"). He explained to the grand jury that approximately four years earlier, his privileges to practice at Liberty Memorial Hospital had been suspended. He stated that he appealed this decision by that entity and an independent review board consisting of individuals selected by the Liberty County Hospital Authority to review the matter was convened to review the Authority's decision. According to Dr. Carter, the unanimous recommendation of the review board was his practicing privileges at that facility should be immediately reinstated, but the Authority rejected the review board's finding and continued to deny him access to that facility.

Dr. Carter further states that at this point he had no choice other than to file suit against the Authority, and that is where the matter stands as of the date of this presentment. He wishes to make it known that he would be willing to terminate his suit against the Authority if some acceptable resolution of this dispute could be achieved. He additionally noted that the practice constraint was not only unfair to him, in his opinion, but it was also unfair to the thousands of his patients who are residents and taxpayers in Liberty County because they pay taxes to support the operation of the hospital and should, as a result, have the right to be treated by their physician at that facility.

The grand jury then asked Dr. Carter to provide more specific information on the issues leading to the dispute, and he explained that he had been accused by the Authority of providing improper treatment of six patients that he had placed in that facility for treatment. To provide more detail to the grand jury, Dr. Carter discussed the comprehensive treatment of one of cases in question, noting that he had treated that patient for years and had full knowledge of his/her medical history. Finally, Dr. Carter noted that while two of the six patients are no longer living, the remaining four continued to use his after the initiation of the dispute, and several are still patients of him as of this date. The grand jury then thanked him for his testimony and excused him.

The grand jury then deliberated the case based on this information and a presentation by the Authority to a previous grand jury, but it was subsequently advised by Judge Rahn that it was his belief that nothing further could be achieved as the issue was now in litigation, and we could not access the pertinent files for further consideration. The grand jury determined that further inquiry was fruitless.

To the extent that the grand jury is permitted to offer an opinion on this matter, it strongly encourages the parties to the dispute mediate their differences, if at all possible, with the assistance of the Board of Commissioners if necessary to ensure that the affected taxpayer/patients are able to readily access hospital facilities here in Liberty County to receive timely treatment from their qualified physician.

It is our recommendation that unless it can be firmly established that Dr. Carter was guilty of conduct that was illegal, unethical or immoral to a degree that would cause his license to practice to be revoked by the State of Georgia, his privilege to practice at the Authority's facility here in Liberty County be reinstated as soon as possible.


Conclusion

In closing these presentments, we the 2007 Liberty County Grand Jury, hope that the effort that we have put forth in what we believe is in the best interests of our citizen-taxpayers will provide a starting point for future grand juries which they can use to assess the performance of the entities which exist to serve them. It is not our task to provide responsible direction for the agencies reviewed herein; their own officers are civic leaders charged with that obligation. It is, however, the duty of this and all future grand juries to monitor that performance and report to you, the taxpayer, on how well we believe that this had been done. This is our report to you.

Members of the 2007 Liberty County Grand Jury:

Paul B. Krebs, Jr., Foreman
William F. Goodwin, Vice Foreman
Beverly M. Childs, Clerk
John W. Stetzer, Jr., Assistant Clerk
Franklin D. Bradford
Diane Kroell
Juan R. Colon
Dolores S. Mitchell
Lamar T. Cook
Jose A. Ortiz
Maria J. Crowe
Charlene D. Rocker
Debra Frazier
Lamar Speight
Pijit P. Healy
Cato Walthour, Jr.
Tom Holmes III
Maria C. Winnubst
Oralia Jiminez
Mary E. Woods