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Group of commissioners press for changes atop county
But other commissioners back administrator, clerk
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A county commission meeting that was not held has become part of a swirling, building mass of allegations and possible changes in county leadership.

County Administrator David Crawley said Wednesday afternoon there was no indication to him that commissioners were unhappy or dissatisfied with his job performance or that of his wife, county clerk Patrice Crawley. He also said he has not submitted a letter of resignation.

“No resignation letter has been presented,” said commission Vice-Chairman Steve Mason. “There’s no reason at this time to expect a resignation. Some commissioners are acting prematurely from information that has been leaked from an incomplete audit.”

Chairman Wendall Kessler said he thought David and Patrice Crawley might resign but based on recent statements from other commissioners, he now believes no resignations are forthcoming.

Kessler added that when he learned three commissioners were using information that had not been presented to the entire board, he informed the Crawleys that disciplinary action may be forthcoming.

“Both the clerk and administrator informed me that they were tired of the baseless accusations,” he said Thursday afternoon. “I left with the assumption that they may resign.

“I do not now, nor have I ever had their resignations,” Kessler continued. “If these individuals were planning to resign, I believe their opinions may have changed based on statements made by one or more commissioners, in an effort to clear professional reputations of any wrongdoing and to preserve their integrity. So the facts remain quite simple — we do not have an audit, we do not have all of the information, and I remain committed to the staff until such time as information and facts dictate otherwise.”

The commissioners were scheduled to meet Tuesday at 3:30 p.m., rather than their usual 5 p.m. start time, so commissioners could attend the state Environmental Protection Division public hearing at 7 p.m. on the draft discharge permit for King America Finishing. But three commissioners, Mason, Chairman Wendall Kessler and Reggie Loper, informed county staff Tuesday they would be unable to attend.

Without a quorum, the meeting was cancelled, and no date for a special called meeting has been set. The commissioners are scheduled to meet May 21 for a regularly-scheduled session.

Among the items on the agenda was discussion to approve an engagement letter with Caines, Hodges and Company, P.C., to conduct an audit of Keep Effingham Beautiful. A full county audit has not been presented. It was scheduled to be delivered to commissioners and county staff in late November.

“To date, neither the county nor I have received our completed audited financial statements,” Kessler said.

Kessler also defended David Crawley and the county’s administration in light of allegations from other commissioners stemming from a look at the audit before it was presented to the entire board.

“Unfortunately, it would appear that some commissioners obtained information from the auditor and have used this information to make a determination that some changes were required within the county administration, namely in regards to the county clerk and administrator,” he said. “Further statements from some of these commissioners claim that there have been misappopriations stemming from a bank account.”

Kessler said information he was given Thursday showed that the account was under control of a former county employee.

“It is my opinion that this information has been misconstrued to attach this bank account to the county administrator and clerk,” he said.

“There is a problem in one department in the county,” Mason said, “and it had a hole in its financial management and that hole has been filled. As soon as the county audit, we will engage an independent, third-party auditor (for that department), and if there is criminal activity, we will prosecute.”

Floyd: No confidence in some staff
Commissioners Vera Jones, Phil Kieffer and Forrest Floyd went to the county administrative complex for Tuesday’s meeting.

“I didn’t want people coming to the meeting to be greeted by a piece of paper on the door that said ‘meeting cancelled,’” Floyd said. “We felt we needed to open the doors and turn on the lights and greet the public.”

Kieffer was on his way to the meeting when he was called and told it was cancelled.

“Since I was en route when I was informed the meeting was cancelled, it would be appropriate to personally inform any attendees of the cancellation,” he said. “I felt it would be decent for me to do that.”

Kieffer said he believes David and Patrice Crawley have not provided equal service to the commissioners.

“I believe issues are handled more quickly, if at all, for certain commissioners,” he said. “Not only has that caused problems amongst commissioners but it has left certain constituents without resolutions for issues.”

Floyd said he there was no personal vendetta against the Crawleys.

“I do not have an axe to grind,” he said. “I have watched, listened and questioned the business  of the county since my swearing in. I sat with Mr. Crawley and explained my expectations — that I want facts, nothing skewed, and I’ll cast my vote based on that.

“There is no conspiracy, there is no vendetta, I’m not even mad,” Floyd said. “I do not have confidence in some of our staff.”

Crawleys get support
Mason said he is behind the Crawleys.

“I think David has done a good job and I think Patrice has done an excellent job,” he said.

Former county commission chairman Dusty Zeigler also praised the work the Crawleys have done. Zeigler was chairman during the time that is supposed to be covered by the pending audit.

“I can tell you with certainty that David and Patrice have been great employees for the county,” he said. “Furthermore, David has done a super job as an administrator, especially considering his exposure to the political quagmires and quirky personalities of us commissioners. David is a professional and is excellent at presenting issues to the board and then informing and educating the board on important details. I always found David to be both transparent and neutral. He did a good job avoiding the very frequent challenges and persuasions of Effingham’s ‘small-town politics.’"

Kieffer said it was his understanding that Kessler met with the Crawleys last Wednesday and asked them both to consider resigning.

“He certainly led me to believe that letters of resignation would be offered at Tuesday’s meeting,” Kieffer said. “Given the issues that have been surfacing, I’m not surprised at all they would offer their resignation.”

Floyd said he talked with Kessler and made the chairman aware of his concerns.

“When hints of problems that the audit may not bode well for the county, I thought we were in agreement that the best scenario would be resignations,” he said. “The goal here was to make this in the best interest of all involved and move forward. I assumed this would happen at Tuesday’s meeting.”

Floyd added he made arrangements to meet with the county’s auditor, Donald Caines, to review the findings on his own.

“We could have spent a day in the details and supporting documentation, but after an hour and a half, I was clear in my opinion that resignations were in order,” he said. “The citizens of Effingham County elected this board of commissioners to represent their best interest. The citizens expect leadership, they expect honesty and for their government to be above reproach.”

Should both the county administrator and county clerk resign, Kieffer said the day-to-day operations of the county would not be upset.

“Effingham County has 300-plus employees. ‘Surviving’ without them would not be impossible nor difficult,” he said. “I hope that we will be able to have this discussion as a board and initiate an interim plan. We all must first attend a meeting to discuss various options.”

Relationship at issue
Floyd also said he thought there was a conflict of interest issue for the Crawleys. They were already in their positions with the county when they married.

Zeigler, though, said their relationship was never an issue while he was chairman.

“Having a circumstance where the administrator is married to the clerk is a matter that does require transparency,” he said. “David and Patrice’s relationship has always been just this, transparent. In regards to auditing the county’s books, this matter should be noted but not a focal point. The board of commissioners has always been aware of David and Patrice’s relationship and in fact said grace and gave blessing to their matrimony. Besides, these things are bound to happen when people work together. I believe it was Phil Kieffer who once said to me in regards to kinship and relationship to many residents ‘…we are a small community and things like this is just going to happen.’”

The issue of the Crawleys’ relationship, according to Zeigler, has another purpose.

“The focus on this marriage is just a new angle of attack toward removing people who are in the way,” he said. “I maintain my sentiment that there is a faction of commissioners who are collusive to steer the board toward their ulterior motives. Meanwhile, which of our commissioners is focusing on issues that really matter to Effingham County?”

Kessler has requested the auditor provide the findings to the county no later than today so the county can prepare management’s responses.

“I would caution the public and employees of the county against making any presumptions in this matter until the information is presented and the facts are known,” the chairman said. “I assure the citizens of Effingham County that I am committed to the truth and value due process. I have been troubled by the way in which this situation has been handled, and I am concerned for the county’s best interest. However, I cannot stand idly while accusations are being leveled without due process. I remain in hopes that cooler heads will prevail and this necessary process can be concluded.”