Originally created 08/13/97

Official requests pay records



Augusta Administrator Randy Oliver - rebuffed twice in his effort to see city records detailing pay raises from an undisclosed bank account - made a formal request for the documents Tuesday.

Mr. Oliver wants to see more copies of checks written on an account the Augusta Judicial Circuit Indigent Defense Committee opened in January with state grant money that previously went into a city account.

City taxpayers pay more than $500,000 a year for legal defense for people who can't afford a lawyer. The indigent defense office coordinates that work under direction of the six-member committee.

After opening the account, the committee used $26,811 of the $129,871 deposited through March to boost salaries of indigent defense director Eddie Goode and his staff - pay raises from which no taxes were deducted or reported by the committee, according to city and committee officials.

Mr. Goode received a 50 percent raise, which boosted his pay to $41,937 a year from $28,130, records show. In addition to Mr. Goode's $13,807 raise, four other staffers received 15 percent bonuses ranging from $2,585.70 to $4,332.99.

Committee officials said the employees should have filed federal tax Form 1099 with the Internal Revenue Service to report miscellaneous income. But Mr. Oliver, a certified public accountant, said that was illegal.

Indigent Defense Committee Chairman Sam Cruse said, "Nobody's given an opinion we can't do it." But Mr. Oliver predicted the IRS would do so.

Meanwhile, Mr. Cruse denied that Mr. Oliver's request for the financial information was turned down. Mr. Cruse said he wanted the request to come through him in writing so he would know specifically what was being requested.

"This is not a complicated request," Mr. Oliver said.

Mr. Cruse said he would make the information available today.

Tuesday, Mr. Oliver asked city finance officials to obtain copies of checks and bank statements from the account since May. An employee made two requests - the first by telephone and the second in person - and both were denied, according a memo to Mr. Oliver from Assistant City Comptroller Glenn Greenway.

"We were told they would not release them to us and that a written request must be made to Sam Cruse indicating what records we would like to obtain," according to the memo.

Mr. Oliver said he hoped for a "better spirit of cooperation" between city officials and the committee.

"We're entitled to look at them. We have every right to look at them, as does every citizen of Richmond County," he said.

Mr. Goode and his staff are on the city payroll and are treated as city employees, although Mr. Cruse described indigent defense as "a hybrid system."

Commissioner Moses Todd said the employees are "Richmond County employees, and Richmond County is responsible for indigent defense."

The indigent defense committee bank account was discovered during the annual city audit this year, Mr. Oliver said. However, Mr. Cruse said officials in the "upper tier" of local government knew about the account from the beginning.

The full story will come out when the committee gets all the records together and decides on a course of action, Mr. Cruse said.

While some city officials say the raises are unfair to other city employees, Mr. Cruse said the committee has been trying for years to get salaries increased.

"Several years ago, (the Richmond County Commission) voted to give Eddie a $6,000 raise and he never got it," said Mr. Cruse, adding that he does not know why. The former county government merged with the city of Augusta last year.

Mr. Goode makes less than other managers who have less responsibility, Mr. Cruse said.

"The assistant county manager is making over $50,000 supervising nobody," Mr. Cruse said. "The list goes on and on."

Mr. Todd said he always supported raising Mr. Goode's pay because he knew Mr. Goode ran a good office and saved the county money. However, if the committee intends to continue receiving city money, he suggested "they start acting reasonable."

Mr. Oliver contends proposed salaries for Augusta's indigent defense employees under a recent salary study are close to those paid in Bibb County, which the defense committee used for comparison.

"The salary grades aren't an issue," Mr. Oliver said.

"The $31,100 to $44,300 is what they said Bibb County paid. The consultant who did our classification and compensation study came up with $26,600 through $39,900 and that's pretty close. There really isn't any question here," the administrator said.

The idea of supplemental pay came during discussions with the state's indigent defense council director, Mike Shapiro, according to committee member David Watkins.

Since the local committee is autonomous, the state money belongs to the committee which has discretion on how it is spent, Mr. Watkins said.