Register Town council members suspended Mayor John Williams and another town employee Tuesday night in the wake of Williams' admission that he improperly disposed of evidence held in the town’s evidence room by pouring out several bottles of confiscated liquor.
However, the mayor’s suspension was also due to allegations of mishandled funds, an issue the council is still investigating, said mayor pro-tem Barbara Rushing.
The allegations stem from a months-long query by council members, and will require further work sessions “to gather documentation and form a timeline,” she said. Then motions will be taken to have an investigative hearing.
The issue will be discussed during a work session Thursday, Feb. 18, at the Register Town Hall at 1 p.m., she said.
The allegedly mishandled funds involved unauthorized expenditures that were not approved by the council and had “nothing to do with the police department,” Rushing said. The Register police department was suspended in December after Williams called for it, citing problems with the police department costing more than revenue covered.
The council adopted a resolution Tuesday to suspend Williams' authority following the discovery of “questionable expenses,” she said. The discovery was made during scrutiny of town records in trying to help pull Register out of a negative financial situation, she said.
The resolution states that many of the unapproved expenditures involved funds from Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) monies.
The town has faced financial woes for months – the cause of which Williams claimed in previous town hall meetings was the inefficient and cost of the police department.
With a statewide reputation as a speed trap and listed by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution as ranking third in the state for per capita revenue collected, the town of about 170 residents is in financial distress. Williams said higher numbers of citations placed the town into a higher accounting cost bracket that was more than revenue could handle. Now, Rushing said there could be more reasons the town is in debt. A Georgia Municipal Association accountant is assisting the Register town council in correcting bookkeeping issues.
As for improper disposal of evidence, Williams reportedly admitted having poured out several bottles of alcoholic beverage that was evidence in several Register police cases, seized by officers when the department was in effect, Rushing said.
Williams did not return several phone calls in attempts to reach him for comment Wednesday about his reasons for dumping the liquor.
Rushing said he also admitted changing locks on the evidence room. Williams told the Statesboro Herald in December he witnessed Rushing and former police chief Tom Kile removing items from the evidence room after Kile and the department was suspended. Rushing said Tuesday those claims were unfounded rumors.
Council members notified law enforcement authorities of the alleged improper disposal of evidence, which is a felony, Rushing said. Bulloch County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Jared Akins said Wednesday he was aware of the situation, but any investigation would be up to the Ogeechee Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
The sheriff’s department “will handle any patrol calls the town may need, and will” hold future evidence for the town if requested. The sheriff’s office will also log and hold existing evidence from past cases if the council wishes, he said.
Williams reportedly said during the meeting that he photographed the disposal of the alcohol,, and that maintenance employee Lamar Thigpen assisted him, Rushing said. Thigpen did so “at the mayor’s direction” and was also suspended temporarily.
Council member Tonya Boyd said Wednesday she could not comment on the mayor’s actions regarding the liquor, but confirmed the council will meet to discuss that and the allegedly mishandled funds. Rushing said as mayor pro-tem she asked council members to not discuss the matters publicly until further investigation can be made.
She said there are no funds missing, just questionable expenses that council members “were not made aware of and did not approve.”
Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912 489-9414.