A challenge has been filed against an Effingham County commissioner seeking re-election, accusing her of withholding money that should have been refunded to the county.
The challenge, filed last Friday by Andrew Daniel Brantley and Jocelyn Brantley of Guyton, claims 2nd District Commissioner Vera Jones has not returned $739,844 erroneously paid to her by the county.
The Brantleys ask for the opportunity to present evidence to the county elections superintendent at a hearing.
A Web site also has started, urging Jones to return the money, called payitbackvera.com.
Jones responded Wednesday night, stating the money was owed to her and her husband’s company, DM Jones Construction.
“It was always our money due to us,” she said. “We are not holding taxpayer money. They repaid DM Jones its money. We were the lender.”
According to the challenge and the Web site, Jones and her husband’s construction company “personally provided several writings to the Effingham County Finance Department and Public Works Department” that falsely claimed the county owed her company $739,844.
The challenge further states the payment was not approved by the commissioners, either in an open meeting or in executive session. Under state law, commissioners must vote in open session. The Brantleys’ challenge said Jones knew of the commissioners’ refusal to authorize the payment.
“At no time has the Effingham County Board of Commissioners authorized payment of the amount of $734,844.86 to Vera Jones or her company, DM Jones Construction, Inc.,” the challenge continues. The Brantleys also charge that the county finance department, without authorization, issued a check to Jones for $739,844.86.
Commissioners learned of the check issuance within days and notified Jones that the check was in error, according to the challenge. The Brantleys also state that Jones refused to return the money and her continued holding of the money is at the “detriment of the taxpayers and citizens of Effingham County, Georgia which has suffered the loss of many programs dedicated to the well-being of mentally and physically challenged children and young adults, the loss of revenues used for the nourishment and care of needy children, and the loss of funds for roads, schools, hospitals and recreational improvements.”
In her response, Jones reiterated her stance that the county breached its agreement with her company.
“The agreement had no amount,” she said. “I could have billed the county $2 million. The agreement had no fixed payment items but contemplates repayment as impact fees were collected. It had no provision that it could not be paid early. I provided a bill that clearly stated that I felt they should pay it in full because they breached their first contract, but it also clearly stated that I understood I could get the first payment at that time. When they paid me in full, I had no way to know that they had not done that intentionally. I paid off the debts that I had incurred in order to run (the county’s) project. When they call weeks later, I had no way to go and borrow money for ‘their infrastructure.’”
The county board of elections will have a special called meeting Monday morning.
Jones has been notified of the challenge, and the elections board will have both parties in for a hearing on the challenge and will make its determination later on the validity of Jones’ candidacy. A date and time has not been set for that hearing.