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Investigation finds no wrong doing on Vera Lane road improvements

    An investigation has cleared three Bulloch County employees from any wrongdoing regarding road work performed on a portion of Vera Lane, a remote dirt road stretching between Ga. 46 and U.S. 301 South.
     Questions arising from public complaints led to the three-day suspension with pay for County Engineer Kirk Tatum, Transportation Director Eddie Smith and Area Road Superintendent Mike Boyett while Bulloch County Manager Tom Couch investigated the situation.
    Road improvements were made to a section of Vera Lane, but abruptly ended  at a developer's property line. The improvements were done after a request by Craig Sharpe, who owns a "spec" house on the road. No one currently lives on Vera Lane.
    Couch's investigation revealed no wrongdoing and Bulloch County Commissioners learned the reason the road work ended where it did was because the county was unable to secure right of way from another property owner. The county obtained right of way for the portion of the road where the improvements were done in 2000, said Bulloch County Commissioner Robert Rushing.
    In a statement released late Wednesday, Couch said " Having thoroughly reviewed the facts surrounding the work performed by the County Transportation Department  ...  on Vera Lane  ... I have concluded the following: The work activities  ... are inconsistent with accepted historical customs and practices by the Transportation Department indicating that the use of sound judgment was compromised in the decision authorizing the work by the Transportation Director.
    "However, there are no facts or evidence that suggests any wrong-doing. "
    Tatum said he knew the investigation would reveal no unacceptable actions.
    "The road department was working according to how the policy was interpreted," he said. "We knew all along we did nothing wrong."
    "I knew (it was acceptable ) when we did it," Smith said. "I stand behind my decision. That road was real dangerous, real narrow." The work was done to the extent that it would accommodate future traffic and " ... cut off a problem down the road."
    But Couch said the county's policies and procedures regarding road work will be examined and possibly changed.
    "The Bulloch County Board of Commissioners and (I) concur that the work performed departs from what is acceptable as a community norm," he said. "Recommended corrective actions will be considered in the form of more detailed policies and procedures by the Board of Commissioners that will ensure that there will be no reoccurrence."
    Couch said he obtained copies of the road department work logs and questioned other employees, and there was "no evidence of wrongdoing or violation of work rules."
    "We should all be pleased that our county manager found no actions, illegal or unethical, were done on the Vera Lane project," Rushing said. "It should demonstrate to the county manager and commissioners that proper policies  and procedures be enacted to prevent this type of misperception again."
    Rushing said he did not  think any of the current commissioners knew about the right of way along the property belonging to Nicky Powell Construction before the investigation began.
    Bulloch County Commissioner Roy Thompson said he did his own investigation when citizens began calling him about the suspicious appearance of the road improvements.
    "I talked to employees ( and others involved) have not come up with anyone who stated these men did anything out of the ordinary," he said. "It might not have been the wisest decision."
    He said he understood why the decision was made to improve the portion of the road "to make it safer."
    "I'm satisfied," he said. "I know Tom did a thorough investigation himself, and nothing had been done that should not have been done. But, had we found something (inappropriate), I assure you disciplinary action would have taken place."
    Smith said the degree of road work was done with the future in mind, when more homes may be built along the road and traffic increases. As for the abrupt end to the inprovements halfway down the road, " we had no right of way to go any further."
     A single cross drain that was replaced on the section of road that was improved upon was installed because the old drain had collapsed, he said.
    Smith, Tatum and Boyett returned to work Wednesday.

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