Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Columbia County News

Columbia County Manager schemes to take care of favored employee

Columbia County's County Manager, Dale Williams, is flying by the seat of his pants, once again. In another ploy to part the working families of Columbia County of their hard earned tax dollars, the County has violated plain common sense by scheming to pay a county employee $75.00 an hour as an outside contractor to do the job he has always done as a regular county employee.

It was obvious that County Manager Williams was looking to score Mr. Manning some cash.

For years, Columbia County's IT wizard, Todd Manning, has been servicing the computers at the Columbia County IDA/Chamber of Commerce. He had been doing this during the day, during his normal working hours. There were no special billing arrangements for this. There were no charge backs or payments from the IDA to the County for Mr. Manning's time, even though there should have been. The county's external auditor and financial consultant, Richard Powell, apparently never saw any problems with this arrangement, if indeed, he even knew about it.

This past Friday, October 29th, the county's internal auditor Judy Lewis told the Observer, " I don't know of him [Manning] doing work over there when the IDA was at the Chamber. They were not into our system or anything. I have no idea what he does."

Sometime before September 28, 2009, CM Williams met with IDA director, Jim Poole to discuss the Manning arrangement. It was obvious that CM Williams, disregarding the economic hard times and the fact that Mr. Manning had already been working on the IDA computers for years, was looking to score Mr. Manning some cash.

Of course, the Columbia County Personnel and Policy Manual is not really clear on this issue, however it states: "Employee shall not have held any employment or contractual relationship with any business entity or agency which engages in business or contractual agreement with the County." The rewrite of this particular section, in which the county is now involved, is doing an end-run around ethics and just plain common sense on this issue. It will make glad-handing in Columbia even easier.

On September 28, 2009 the IDA held a special meeting. The minutes state the following: "Motion by Suzanne Norris Second by Marc Vann to hire Todd Manning to set up computer network and server during the transition at a rate of $75 per hour not to exceed 15 hours. Motion carried unanimously."

The IDA did not make a contract with the outside contractor.

There was no written contract made with Mr. Manning. There wasn't any requirement for him to show that he maintained workman's compensation or other liability insurance. If there were any questions regarding why the county tax payers were now paying Mr. Manning as an independent contractor $75.00 an hour for something he used to do as county employee, it is not reflected in the IDA minutes.

The IDA has never taped their meetings, nor do they prepare a verbatim transcript of their meetings. The minutes are prepared by the Deputy Director of the IDA, Gina Reynolds.

At the October 29th joint IDA-County Commission meeting, IDA Director, Jim Poole explained the precursor to the Manning arrangement and the IDA Board action on September 28th this way: "Dale [CM Dale Williams] and I had discussed that just to make sure that it was ok, before we did it."

According to IDA Deputy Director Reynolds, the IDA Board is contemplating hiring an outside contractor to take care of their computers and Mr. Manning is also being considered for that.

On October 29th, CM Dale Williams told the Observer, "He can have outside employment. He's not doing it on county time."

Later that afternoon, the Observer asked the county's internal auditor, Judy Lewis, "What is the current arrangement between the IDA and the County?"

Ms. Lewis' answer was direct and to the point: "We deposit their money; pay their bills; write their pay checks. They are part of the county. We treat them as a department. They are paid with county pay checks. They are paid with county money. The checks are co-signed by the Clerk of the Courts [DeWitt Cason]. The IDA is a subdivision of the county."

It doesn't get much clearer than that.