Letter calls attention to Swainsboro elected officials 'receiving cash funds'

Updated: Mar 17

A letter submitted by a “group of concerned citizens” has raised questions about Swainsboro elected officials “receiving cash funds in lieu of health insurance benefits” for more than two decades.

The letter in question calls attention to the fact that the elected officials are “supposed to receive $200 a month in cash,” yet they have been receiving more than that amount—currently $331 per week. (Important to note is this amount has fluctuated with the cost of health insurance over the years. However, specific costs aside, this is a practice that has been ongoing for the past 20 years.)

The document, which was submitted to city hall and all members of the current administration, asks recipients to consider the large bottom-line amount this has cost the city over time, an estimated “$1 million in the past 10 years."

The same letter questions the legality of the matter before calling for city council and the mayor to either repay the money in full or resign within seven days.

The Crossroads Chronicle received a copy of this letter as well (via mail), prompting this article.

In researching for this report, The Chronicle reached out to two others—Middle Judicial Circuit District Attorney Tripp Fitzner and Emanuel County Sheriff Jeffrey Brewer—to find out the extent of their knowledge about the matter. They, too, received the same letter. Takes from both Fitzner and Brewer follow later in this story.

The Chronicle also submitted an open records request to Swainsboro City Hall on Friday, asking for payroll records related to this matter, and a city clerk returned more than 50 pages of information on Tuesday morning.

For legal reasons, names of the recipients (along with other potential identifying information like dates of birth, Social Security numbers, addresses, and more) were redacted. However, this publication received nine separate payroll packets.

The city contends that its electronic recordkeeping only dates back to 2013. Because of this, the City of Swainsboro would need more time to research and provide similar payroll documents prior to that year (2013).

However, review of the documents that were provided indicates a total of $684,835 in insurance funds alone.

This total could come in at a larger bottom line once all non-electronic payroll records are taken into account.

Two of the nine packets received showed no insurance dollars, only salaries. Those numbers were omitted in the aforementioned approximate $680,000 total for the purpose of this report as this story only intends to address insurance payments received by elected officials.

The Chronicle sought to answer the letter’s inquiry about the legality of this matter.

In speaking with Fitzner on Friday, he stated that his office was made aware of the issue, thanks to Sheriff Brewer. The district attorney’s office is not an “originating agency,” according to Fitzner and steps in only when matters move from preliminary to charges that are prosecutable. As of Friday, the district attorney summarized the situation, stating at the given time, “it isn’t a matter of what [his] office will or won’t do but rather what it can do” right now. He then deferred to the sheriff.

The Chronicle called Sheriff Brewer thereafter. He stated that as of Friday, his office had not received an official request by any individual or group to investigate the matter. Likewise, Sheriff Brewer stated his office had not initiated any investigation as of late. In short, the sheriff stated he “did not have an opinion about the matter one way or the other.”

Swainsboro City Council held a called meeting on Thursday, March 10, and the only item of business reflected on the agenda was an executive session for the purpose of discussing pending litigation. No action or discussion took place upon the group of six council members plus the mayor once they returned to open session two hours later.

The City of Swainsboro has entertained executive session for the same purpose during the past several meetings, so the potential connection to the letter and its concerns or health benefits paid as cash (or, in other words, dollars included on a paycheck for benefits, although categorized separately from salary) are unclear at this time.

The Chronicle sought a quote from City Administrator Melissa Kirby last week upon receipt of the letter. She declined to comment at the time and has been unable to be reached about the matter as of the time of press.

Similarly, this publication looked to City Attorney Jon Levis for comment, context, or clarity on Friday as well as Monday. He could not be reached either.

Finally, Mayor Greg Bennett would not give a comment on the letter or field any questions related to it.

Also included in the open records request was documentation about any action taken to implement a policy that allows council to take cash benefits in lieu of health insurance. That was not included in the documents returned by the city. Should that change, look for an update as soon as possible.

Further, The Chronicle has been unable to definitively determine, as asked by the letter, the legality of elected officials opting for a payment of this nature.

This is a developing story. Look for The Chronicle to provide updates accordingly.

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