Alex Hodge

Alex Hodge

Possible ‘payroll problem’ in department cited in State Auditor's probe

The Jones County Sheriff’s Department is under investigation by the state auditor’s office for improper payroll practices, sources with knowledge of the investigation said.

Two independent sources, speaking on the condition of anonymity, confirmed the investigation. Both said that the auditor’s investigators were looking into the way the JCSD handles overtime payments to employees.

Sheriff Alex Hodge was in the Board of Supervisors’ meeting last Monday when he and everyone else in the room, except for supervisors and board attorney/CAO Danielle Ashley, were dismissed from the room for a closed-door executive session.

When the doors were reopened, about 20 minutes later, board President Jerome Wyatt said that the state auditor was asked to “come look at a payroll problem.” Public officials are allowed to go into executive session to discuss potential litigation, personnel issues and economic development plans.

They do, however, have to tell if any action was taken while they were in executive session. No one on the board said it was the JCSD that was being investigated, but since the meeting, the Leader-Call has learned that is the case.

Supervisors also discussed the potential purchase of property and possible litigation while they were behind closed doors, Wyatt announced, but no action was taken.

Shad White, a Sandersville native and the state auditor, said it is the policy of his office to not comment on open investigations, so no one there would confirm or deny that the JCSD was being probed, spokesman Logan Reeves said.

White was appointed by Gov. Phil Bryant to state auditor last July, succeeding Stacey Pickering of Laurel, who left the office to become executive director of the state Veterans’ Affairs board.

During his short time in office, White has shown that he doesn’t mind going after officials from his home county. In November, Wyatt was indicted for embezzling and/or approving fraudulent payments totaling $2,819.70 in connection to a youth mentoring program and allowing an employee to sell a 20-plus-year-old county pickup for scrap. Since then, Wyatt has paid back $6,076.46, which includes lost interest and the costs of the investigation.

At the time of Wyatt’s arrest, White was asked what it was like to have to work cases involving people he knows from back home.

“Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if I know them, if they live next door or a 100 miles from me … ” he said. “Public officials should serve the people, not use their positions to enrich themselves.”

Last year, Jones County E-911 dispatchers received $48,000 in overtime pay that they were owed because of what were deemed “inadvertent” violations in the way the Jones County Emergency Operations were compensating them for regular and overtime hours. That complaint was handled by the Wage and Hour Board.

It’s not known why the complaint against the JCSD is being handled by the state auditor’s office instead of the Wage and Hour Board. The auditor often handles cases in which criminal activity is suspected. 

A description of the auditor’s duties, in part, is “independently assessing state and local governmental and other entities to ensure that public funds are properly received, are legally, effectively, and efficiently spent and are accounted for and reported accurately,” according to its website.

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