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Horace Pippin of Redbone makes a point during last week’s meeting of concerned citizens held at the courthouse.

Citizens vow to demand forensic audit after gathering to discuss solid waste authority debt

Some 70 citizens were on hand at a meeting to discuss the Lamar County Regional Solid Waste Authority (SWA) held Aug. 24 at the Lamar County courthouse. The meeting was led by Mike and Dianne Perry, Elaine Hallada, Truman Boyle and Harold Jackson.

The organizers had a large cache of documents acquired through freedom of information requests that they admitted not having completely examined due to the sheer volume of the data.

What did emerge was not a pretty picture for the SWA which took out a $27.5 million GEFA loan in October 2014. Payments on that note must begin next April at a rate of about $100,000 per month. The loan was taken out to design and build a waste to energy operation for which the SWA does not yet have permits.

Mike Perry said the SWA has already asked for seven modifications on the loan and when payments must begin.

“We are concerned the taxpayers will be on the hook to pay off a huge loan for a system that is not going to work. This thing was supposed to be finished on Feb. 12, 2017. The taxpayers could have to pay off $30 million and not own anything when all is said and done,” Perry said.

Perry also alleged the SWA never took bids on any of the equipment it has purchased over the years.

“There are two big pieces of equipment they purchased that are still sitting at the port in Savannah. That equipment came from The Netherlands. The authority is paying storage fees on it,” Perry said.

He also said the SWA made multiple trivial purchases charged to the loan like over $500 for coffee mugs.

The group leaders noted regular monthly or twice monthly payments to Paradigm Manufacturing and R&R Consulting with no indication of what those payments were for.

The registered agent of R&R Consulting is SWA contract manager Johnny Poore. Paradigm Manufacturing lists its address as that of the landfill. It’s registered agent is R. Seaborne Crosby of Macon.

“The same people are getting three or four or five thousand dollars a month,” Hallada alleged. She said a cursory review of the records indicated sloppy bookkeeping by the SWA and little to no oversight by the members of the authority whom she said seldom meet and take no minutes when they do meet.

“As near as we can tell, they have met three times in five years but the board members keep getting their $150 per month,” Hallada said.

Former Milner city councilman Michael Floyd confirmed those allegations. Floyd said he was a member of the SWA for about seven months and was paid $1,050. “I never got a W2 or W9 (tax forms) and I never went to a single meeting,” Floyd said.

After the meeting Floyd confirmed that he did not attend any meetings because none were called. “If they had any meetings they didn’t tell me or (fellow member) Skip Seda about them,” he said.

Concerns were also raised about the large amounts of household waste and construction and demolition debris being hauled to the Cedar Grove landfill here which the authority owns and leases to Amwaste.

“Amwaste is taking trash from everywhere but not from Lamar County,” retired state trooper Mike Maynard alleged.

Another man opined, “By the time we get our landfill back, it will be full and we won’t be able to use it.”

The consensus of the group was to demand the county commission conduct a forensic audit of the SWA. Sheriff Brad White said he was going to meet with district attorney Jonathan Adams about that possibility.

“Keep in mind that, if we ask the GBI to do it, it will take at least a year and a half. If you can raise the money and get a private firm to do it, it will cost $15-$25,000,” the sheriff added.

Some at the meeting suggested an online fundraiser. Others favored demanding that the county commission do the audit as soon as possible and pay for it.

“We all need to get on the phone with our commissioners and tell them that we want this audit,” Redbone resident Horace Pippin concluded.

(Notes: There was some indication Friday that the SWA would be issuing a statement to the Herald Gazette but none was received. Additionally, an accompanying story outlines exactly what the SWA’s debt is to GEFA.)

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