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Audit of Covington probation services results in policy changes

COVINGTON -- The city of Covington has received the results of an audit performed on probation services and implemented policy changes as a result. But there's still no firm answer as to whether funds were mismanaged by the prior probation services provider.

An audit was initially recommended by former Interim Municipal Court Judge Ben Hendricks and, later, when the council did not take action, by former Municipal Court Judge David Strickland. Steven A. Hathorn is the current Municipal Court judge.

After he was not reappointed, Strickland wrote to the city alleging several infractions by East Georgia Correctional Services, the former provider.

But the audit performed by Wade Sansbury of Mauldin and Jenkins CPA, did not cover records kept by East Georgia Correctional, Finance Director Leigh Anne Knight told the City Council Monday night.

"The auditors don't have the authority to ask for that information. That would have to come from y'all," Knight said.

"So we still don't have a clear picture of whether there was mismanagement of funds," said Councilman Chris Smith.

Smith asked City Attorney Ed Crudup if the city could subpoena records of East Georgia Correctional, and Crudup said yes.

City Manager Steve Horton said the audit was useful in that it identified some changes the city needed to make.

The audit recommended the city establish guidelines for the probation company to use for all community service cases. The prior probation services company had the ability to request fine suspensions without any guidelines, according to an email from Sansbury to Knight, and the judge reviewed and approved those. The auditor recommended establishment of guidelines and "a responsible party monitoring the situation to ensure the cases meet the guidelines prior to submissions to the judge for final approval."

Also at the recommendation of the audit, the court now has access to the probation company's data on their software allowing them to look at individual cases as well as totals, Knight said. The probation company provides a monthly report detailing by receipt each collection made and total dollar amount collected that can be traced back to a receipt given to the probationer.

Also, the court can now spot check individual accounts when payment is received to make sure the city is receiving 50 percent of all collections, as agreed upon in the contract with the new probation services provider, Judicial Alternatives of Georgia.

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 was not reappointed following complaints about him to the city, including 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.

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.

"As far as closing the door and seeing what really happened, we still don't know to this day," Smith said.

Comments

momofone 1 year, 11 months ago

This just sounds like someone was being allowed to do whatever they wanted whenever and however they wanted to do it. The fact that it went on so long before someone did something about it speaks badly about the City of Covington. Why did the City not already have guidelines in place for how they wanted the cases handled? It seemed to me that they threw people on probation and then "hoped" that the company was doing what they were supposed to. Perhaps revenues will increase now that there is oversight and people will get credit for the fees/fines that they are actually paying. Maybe now when someone recommends an audit of an outsourced area, the City will listen the first time. This could have been caught years ago if they had done the audit when it was first recommended.

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