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City to audit former probation provider

COVINGTON -- The City Council unanimously approved Monday night an audit of the city's former probation services provider, East Georgia Correctional Services.

The audit was initially recommended by Interim Municipal Court Judge Ben Hendricks and, later, when the council did not take action, by former Municipal Court Judge David Strickland.

After serving as judge for 16 years, Strickland was not reappointed by the council earlier this year. The city received complaints about Strickland from a former employee of East Georgia, who alleged "unethical and unprofessional" behavior by Strickland, citing a personal relationship with another former employee as well as alleging retaliation against the company after that employee was fired.

In a letter to the city dated April 13, Strickland said he was "blindsided by the personal attacks from people I formerly worked with and thought were my colleagues and friends, immediately prior to my reappointment vote earlier this year."

He said that on the night of his dismissal he came armed with "questionable documents" related to EGCS to show the council but was "not even shown the courtesy of being spoken to by the Council prior to my being dismissed -- formally or informally -- in or out of executive session."

Strickland obtained more than 150 pages of documents through Open Records requests to the Georgia County and Municipal Probation Advisory Council and the Georgia Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, which he turned over the city.

Information obtained by Strickland and provided by the two agencies shows that EGCS paid about $21,000 less in fees than it reported to a state agency.

The law requires probation providers to collect $9 per month from active probationers and submit that to the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council. Based on documents from 2010 and 2011, EGCS did not send any money or required reports for eight out of 24 months, and, from the records it did send in, what was paid was $20,946 less than EGCS reported it had paid to the city of Covington and the Georgia County and Municipal Probation Advisory Council.

Strickland also points out in his letter to the city that in reports to the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, during 2010 and 2011, in not one instance did the number of probationers reported for the beginning of one quarter equal the number reported for the end of the preceding quarter, "despite the fact that the new period must certainly start the instant the prior quarter concluded."

Also, the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council's January 2012 audit of EGCS reported that cases were inexplicably switched back and forth from active to inactive and back again, without a court order signed by Strickland.

"Is there any correlation between these fluctuations between numbers of active probationers reported to the city, number of active cases reported to (the Georgia County and Municipal Probation Advisory Council ) and the number of active probationers reported and paid to (Criminal Justice Coordinating Council)?" he asked.

Strickland said he has been trying to bring these concerns to the council for four or more years. However, Monday night, Councilman Chris Smith refuted that.

"I just wanted to clarify that for everybody in the public, that has not taken place, that he has not come to the council prior to not being reappointed," Smith said.

Mayor Ronnie Johnston also noted that the judge had the authority to order an audit at any time, and never did so. However, Johnston said he believes the city owes it to the citizens to make sure EGCS does not owe the city money.

Councilwoman Janet Goodman said the audit "could clean everything up and we can move on."

After complaints by the former employee of EGCS that the company did not have a fair chance to bid on a new contract, the city rejected bids it did receive and opted to extend EGCS' contract for another year. However, EGCS declined the extension and is no longer the probation service provider. The city is now contracting with Judicial Alternatives of Georgia.

City Attorney Ed Crudup said the city can hire its regular auditors to conduct a financial audit and if EGCS does not cooperate, it can request the Georgia Bureau of Investigations to conduct a forensic audit.

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