Lincoln County equipment probe continues

Forested land off Booths Branch Road in rural Lincoln County is where Augusta employees admitted using government equipment on a private job site this spring.

McKinley “Mac” Williams, the employee at the center of a city equipment controversy that prompted a department head’s resignation, “would do anything for you if you asked him to,” including free brush-clearing for his contractor friend Troy Meeks, Meeks said.

 

Williams had Environmental Services Director Mark Johnson’s permission in March to haul city equipment to property listed in Meeks’ name while on the clock, sometimes taking another employee with him, according to a Richmond County Sheriff’s Office incident report.

Meeks, a Statesboro contractor who has done work at the landfill, where Williams and Johnson worked, said he wasn’t at the Lincoln County property when Williams went there to use what he thought was a piece of equipment, a Bobcat, owned by Hugh Brown, another landfill contractor.

Brown “said we could use it any time we needed to,” Meeks said. At the remote, forested site, “they were there simply helping me out, as a friend,” he said.

The activities that led to Johnson’s resignation caught the attention of a former landfill employee, Jake Jacobson, who lives nearby and told his friend, Al Gray. Gray sent photos of the equipment to investigators.

When the sheriff’s office started an investigation March 17, the equipment was removed. The excavator, a “Mini-Ex,” had been on loan from the sheriff’s practice range, the report said. At the range, Deputy Rusty Eskew oversees military and other equipment that sometimes finds its way to the adjoining landfill. On March 20, Gray photographed Johnson at the Lincoln County site.

Williams, who didn’t return a call seeking comment, was allowed a planned retirement March 31 after City Administrator Janice Allen Jackson received what she said was an abbreviated version of the incident report from Johnson that omitted the department head’s involvement.

Jackson has come under fire from Augusta commissioners for informing them the matter was settled with Williams’ retirement. As of Friday, Johnson had not signed a release, according to city spokesman Jim Beasley, and continues to receive his salary, despite commissioners’ vote to award him three months’ severance pay.

Jackson didn’t have time for an interview Thursday or Friday, Beasley said, but posted numerous comments Friday on the Facebook group Augusta Political Watch. Beasley said the posts were Jackson’s.

“The more information I learn, the more complicated it appears,” Jackson said. “What started as one investigation by the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office has grown into a separate but related investigation by me,” with assistance from the law department, Jackson said.

Jackson said she wasn’t provided the sheriff’s report when Johnson briefed her about Williams and didn’t receive it until requesting it in late May.

“I did not do an investigation in March. At that time, I was presented with information limited to the involvement of the employee seen on site with the equipment,” she said. “Certainly hindsight is 20/20, but I was operating with the best information I had at the time.”

While the report states it was to be forwarded to the district attorney’s office, DA Natalie Paine said she did not receive it requesting it. Paine said Friday she was reviewing the matter .

Jackson praised online and employee whistleblowers who call attention to government waste and fraud. She said she hoped the Lincoln County incident will “serve as deterrent” to other employees.

The controversy will continue Tuesday when the commission will take up a request by Commissioner Marion Williams to enlist the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, in part due to involvement by the sheriff’s office.

Another commissioner said he hopes the matter will soon be settled.

“Either the man did right or wrong, whatever it is, get it cleared up,” Commissioner Grady Smith said.

 

Reach Susan McCord at (706) 823-3215 or susan.mccord@augustachronicle.com.

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Griff Griffin 6 days ago
This happened 20 yrs ago or so and it was found this is routine. So now the retiree admits again essentially this is routine. If we weren't being stolen blind by folks who are likely violating the 7th article of the RICO statutes of organized CRIME your taxes might be half of what they are. But when EVERYBODIES hands are in YOUR COOKING jar, your cookies may run out sooner than you thought. The State has already taken over parts of our schools cause RC was too corrupt to run them.... Should the state take over ALL RC money to protect it's citizens from the crooks RC just WON'T part with?????
B. M. Michales 5 days ago
Please list what the state has taken over.
Johnny Rio 6 days ago
As Griff says, it's pretty common place. I sometimes wonder if there is any county around the CSRA where employees don't use the equipment and county time illegally to help their friends? 
B. M. Michales 5 days ago
Should not happen, it is wrong.
John Booth 6 days ago
I hope everyone who is "casting stones because they are without sin" does some soul searching and brings any discrepancies to the attention of their superiors.  And Marion, the GBI has way more important things to do than to get into this little personnel matter.  What's wrong with your Sheriff's Dept?  Do you not trust them?
B. M. Michales 5 days ago
Nope one of their own is involved. The GBI has plenty of time.
John Booth 5 days ago
Do you think Eskew is more involved than just having his bucket on the backhoe?  Or, maybe he had his bucket on there to do some work for himself or others?  I guess it's possible.  My suggesting leaving the GBI out was only because it seems these days that they do not get to do their mission to help local departments solve crimes.  They are always refereeing corruption in govt, officer involved shootings and many other things not within the scope of their primary mission.
B. M. Michales 5 days ago
Why does he get to store his equipment FREE on taxpayer land? Do you think you could just show up at the landfill and store your equipment free?
John Booth 5 days ago
I guess I was and still am thinking that Eskew had a bucket that could be used at the firing range or maybe at the dump to do work for the county.  I don't believe it was a tractor and bucket, I think it was just a bucket.  Maybe I'm too trusting and was not trying to see bad in the whole thing.  You've got to realize that I probably grew up in another generation than you and back years ago if you wanted a small load of sand for your yard you just called the RCCI prison and they would bring it and dump it on the right of way.  That's why our thinking processes are different.
B. M. Michales 4 days ago
I understand and I don't really believe he has done anything wrong. There is just too much of the good old boy network in ARC and it is not fair to the taxpayers.
John Booth 4 days ago
You are right there is still a Good Ole Boy atmosphere within all governments.  Back when I was a lot younger it was just the way things happened.  Is it right?  Probably not but please don't crucify all of those involved because what they did was probably common practice.  Glad we had this back and forth (banter) about the issue and I will leave you as a friend.  Are you one of the old AC commenters?  There are some of us older commenters who have magically reappeared with another name.  I was Sweet son.  Have a great evening!

B. M. Michales 5 days ago
Something stinks here, somebody needs to be held accountable and punished.

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