Pike County Times

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PO Box 843, Zebulon, Georgia 30295.
Editor Becky Watts: Phone # 770-468-7583 editor(@)pikecountytimes.com
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Evidence above was given to commissioners at the May 15, 2024 meeting.

These two pictures from Animal Control were sent to Pike County Times from an anonymous source (not a county employee though).

The boxes that can be seen in this picture include Workers Comp Claims, Retirement Records 2011-2016 (CONFIDENTIAL in red), Finance Department files, Old County Manager files, ACCG Insurance policy, Old BOC meeting info, etc.

The picture below shows where the boxes of documents had been placed in a kennel at Animal Control next to the incinerator to be burned by order of County Manager Brandon Rogers.

Evidence sent to Pike County Times by an unnamed source at this time.

Evidence sent to Pike County Times by an unnamed source at this time.
BREAKING NEWS: Pike County Times Requests an Investigation Into Improper and Possible Illegal Destruction of Public Records
By Editor Becky Watts

ZEBULON - Pike County Times Editor Becky Watts spoke before Commissioners at the May 15, 2024 meeting and requested an investigation into the improper and possibly illegal destruction of public records.

Many large boxes of records had been sorted and set to the side at a secure location by County Clerk Angela Blount in preparation for destruction according to state law. Blount is the Records Custodian and is in charge of public records here in Pike County.

Someone gave the order for records to be moved from this secure location and taken to Animal Control to be burned in the incinerator. Watts asked for documentation showing that the records were destroyed according to state law and was advised that there was no documentation to provide for this request.

Watts was also advised that the County Clerk had not been a part of the destruction of these old county records, and that Blount had been working on having Shred-X come to the county to dispose of these records properly according to state law.

Watts was supposed to speak at the April 30, 2024 meeting which ended up being canceled due to a conflict with a court case that lasted more than a week.

What Is the Big Deal About Destroying Old Documents?

According to OCGA 50-18-99, “All records created or received in the performance of a public duty or paid for by public funds by a governing body are deemed to be public property and shall constitute a record of public acts.” State law requires that we have a person who follows state law with retention, security, and destruction of public records. law.justia.com/codes/georgia/2022/title-50/chapter-18/article-5/section-50-18-99

Here in Pike County, our County Clerk is our Records Custodian. She has been trained on how to store public documents as well as how destruction should be handled.

Earlier this year, a large number of boxes of old public documents from the Pike County Commission had been set to the side at a secure location in preparation for destruction according to state law. Pike County Times became aware of a possible problem when a picture of smoke coming out of the incinerator at Animal Control went on social media. The March 21, 2024 post basically stated that we don’t have animal control so whose animals are we putting down and burning?

Watts did not understand the depth of the problem until she walked into a public meeting on April 10, 2024 and saw that the 25 or 30 large boxes of old documents had been removed from where they had been placed by the Records Custodian in preparation for shredding.

On that day prior to a county meeting in that facility, Watts asked County Manager Brandon Rogers about the old records, confirmed that the records had been removed for destruction, and advised him that she would be placing an open records request showing that state law had been followed with the destruction of these documents.

When the open records request was made, it was obvious that state law had not been followed and that the confidentiality of these records had been compromised.

Confidential Records Were Not Handled According to State Law Requirements

“When I began filing open records requests, I found that these public documents had been destroyed without the knowledge of the Records Custodian which means that state law was not followed, there was an invoice for $311.06 where a representative had come to the county to show how to operate the incinerator, and there were emails including a proposal from Shred-X that showed where the Records Custodian had been involved in a discussion since earlier this year to have these records destroyed,” Watts said to commissioners in the May 15 meeting. “Shred-X provides a certificate of destruction and has a special insurance that is required to handle the destruction of documents that contain confidential information.”

“Someone broke the chain of custody on our public documents and gave orders to have these boxes moved from their secure location with the intent to burn them in the incinerator at Animal Control,” she continued. That may not sound like a big deal until it is understood that these old documents likely included confidential information contained in boxes of worker’s comp, retirement, and financial records.

Watts made the request on April 23, 2024 to be on the agenda for the April 30, 2024 Board of Commissioners Meeting and give a public comment asking for an investigation into the improper and possibly illegal destruction of public records. At that time, all of the records had not been destroyed, and those records that had been destroyed had no documentation noting what boxes were destroyed.

[Note from the Editor: My public comment to commissioners said that I signed up to speak on April 10. However, that was the day that I spoke to the county manager at a county meeting about the documents with the sign up to speak being on April 23. Pike County Times regrets the error that was found when spending an hour putting together a detailed timeline today in preparation for publication of this article -- or if law enforcement is asked to look into the matter.]

Pike County Times easily found certificate of destruction documents from various city and county entities with a quick search online. This certificate of destruction linked here states that the destruction of public records was handled in accordance to the Georgia Records Act and the Georgia Archives Retention and Disposal Schedule which can be found at www.georgiaarchives.org.

Click here to see how a public entity ensures its citizens' trust by treating confidential documents with the respect that employees and anyone's information related to county matters should be treated. Good faith is shown by documenting the name and the general description of the documents in an overall document that should be retained from here on out.

Who Gave the Order to Destroy Records?

Pike County Times made the accusation in the May 15, 2024 meeting that County Manager Brandon Rogers gave the order to remove and destroy the records without the knowledge of the County Clerk/Records Custodian.

“Now as volatile as things are in our county with a county manager who is hands on about everything these days, I am going to make an educated guess that employees from other county departments are not going to take it upon themselves to step into county commission business to move old county documents from their secure location over to Animal Control to be burned,” Watts said to commissioners in the meeting. “And everyone doesn’t -- and shouldn’t -- have keys to the location where these documents were stored. My guess is that the county manager decided that he wanted to handle this himself… though I can’t imagine why.”

She went on to say, “Let me ask something from a taxpayer’s point of view. Does it make any sense that multiple county employees spent time moving and then burning probably more than 25 or 30 large boxes of documents when it would have been fewer tax dollars to simply follow state law and use a certified company to do the job? This has cost the county much more than just a service call from the incinerator company. Don’t our employees from Building and Grounds and Animal Control have better things to do with their time?”

She then asked a question and made a statement regarding current County Manager Brandon Rogers, “And why would these documents be destroyed without consulting the Records Custodian or the County Attorney? I’ve been talking to this Board for more than a year about the blatant disrespect from the county manager to the public, employees, and to this Board, and yet here we are again. This is yet another example of behavior that the Pike County Board of Commissioners should not be tolerating.”

“It makes me wonder what else is being done that no one knows about. This Board IS responsible for the behavior of your employee -- including what he does that you don’t know about,” she said.

Request for an Investigation by an Outside Entity

Watts closed out her less than five minute public comment to commissioners by saying, “I am asking for an investigation from an outside entity to find out who gave the order to move and destroy these public documents. I am also asking for an investigator to go to Animal Control to 1) ensure that all of these documents have been destroyed and that nothing is left in the incinerator, 2) determine the whereabouts of these documents if they have been moved to yet another location, or 3) oversee the removal of any remaining documents back to the secure location where these documents can be destroyed under the sole authority of our Records Custodian as is required by state law.”

She continued by saying, “It would also be helpful for the Pike County Board of Commissioners to be advised whether state law was broken by this action and for commissioners to act on this if state law has been broken. Again.”

She finished her comments by saying, “And I shouldn’t have to say this out loud, but I’m going to say it anyway because ethics and accountability SHOULD matter. This investigation should have a WRITTEN conclusion that should be made known to the public in one of your meetings rather than simply being talked about in Executive Session in an attempt to circumvent public knowledge.”

Commissioners went into Executive Session to discuss other matters already on the agenda that included a discussion about personnel. When they came out of Executive Session, they voted on the termination of Public Works Director Todd Goolsby but did not mention any type of investigation into the destruction of these public records that contained confidential information and were destroyed in a manner that was improper and possibly illegal according to state law.

This Isn’t the First Time that State Law Has Been Broken

County Manager Rogers also broke state law in 2022 when he gave the order for a check to be issued for fireworks without consulting commissioners or the county attorney.

In a discussion during the July 26, 2022 Board of Commissioners meeting, County Attorney Rob Morton advised commissioners that the county is not authorized to make ANY donations to a 3rd party and that it sounded like a violation of the State Constitution's Gratuities Clause (which prevents taxpayer funds being spent on pure entertainment).

In the meeting, County Manager Rogers asked for the date on the check, was advised that it was made on June 21, 2022, and then he said, "I wasn't here at that time. So I'll look at it, and we can fix it. That's not a problem."

However, Pike County Times found that Rogers was present at the April 25, 2022 meeting of the Pike County Bicentennial Celebration Committee in which this expenditure was authorized because the minutes read, "Special Guest: County Manager, Brandon Rogers." Section V New Business was a discussion of the Independence Day Celebration/Pike Pride Celebration that says, "Pike County will team with Christ Chapel this year to provide a more robust celebration." 1) The event will take place on June 26, 2022. 2) The County will represent the Bicentennial Committee in financially supporting a larger firework display and public safety/public works personnel." Readers can read the write up from Pike County Times on that meeting at www.pikecountytimes.com/secondary/BOC7.26.22.html. [Note from the Editor: It is not the church's responsibility to keep up with state law on something like this. The county manager should have consulted the commission and/or the county attorney on this expenditure prior to the check being issued to ensure that no state laws were being broken by issuing a check for this celebration. That's the reason we have a county attorney who should have been consulted prior to the issuance of the check.]

The commissioners took no action on this matter until after the Christmas Tree was assembled on the square in Zebulon and a social media post about the Christmas Tree went viral prompting calls to commissioners from concerned citizens. Both the Christmas Tree and the Fireworks expenditure were discussed in the July 26, 2022 meeting.

On December 14, 2022, Commissioner James Jenkins made a motion to place documentation in County Manager Brandon Rogers’ file to protect the county from future litigation or possible problems from the state by showing that commissioners did not authorize the expenditure. Commissioners Tim Guy, Tim Daniel, and Jason Proctor refused to give a second to the motion so it could be voted on by the entire Board of Commissioners.

This means that the county manager broke state law, and a majority of this Board with three commissioners refused to put a note in the county manager’s file or issue any type of punishment for the action. County Chairman Briar Johnson cannot vote unless a second is made on a motion and a vote is taken on any matter before the entire Board of Commissioners. Readers can read the writeup from Pike County Times on that meeting at pikecountytimes.com/secondary/BOC12.14.22.html.

What Happened to the rest of the Public Records that Were Sitting at Animal Control?

Pike County Times has obtained photographic evidence that all of the documents were not destroyed after the boxes were moved down to Animal Control.

However, an order was given to destroy the remaining evidence after Pike County Times had requested evidence regarding the destruction of public records and signed up to ask for an investigation into the improper and possibly illegal destruction of these public documents at the next public meeting.

The order to destroy what was left of the records was again conducted without the knowledge and direct supervision of the County Clerk who is the Records Custodian for Pike County.

Pike County Times made filed two final open records requests on Monday, May 20, 2024 just to be sure that there were no documents that were missed between the last request for open records on Tuesday, April 23 and today.

There are more documents that show the rest of the story.

In an email obtained by Pike County Times on May 20, 2024, County Clerk/Records Custodian Angela Blount advised that she "had no knowledge" of the destruction of the public documents. She also advised that she does not have a list of what was destroyed.

Blount reached out to Animal Control and to Building and Grounds regarding Pike County Times' May 20, 2024 Open Records Request asking for "a copy of any documentation related to the destruction to the remaining documents from the Board of Commissioners, Animal Control, and Building and Grounds" and "a copy of any documentation related to Shred-X that took place after my last open records request on April 23."

Blount advised that when she reached out to both departments to obtain documentation related to this request, Animal Control does not have any documents pertaining to the request and Building and Grounds provided an invoice showing where the remaining documents were shredded by Shred-X on April 30, 2024.

According to the invoice that was billed to the Pike County Board of Commissioners, 1,241 pounds was destroyed at Shred-X for a total of $266.82. There is no further documentation to show what was destroyed, but Shred-X certified "that all materials received for confidential destruction throughout the preceding schedule of services was confidentially handled, completely destroyed and recycled."

Blount also advised that she had provided the quote from Shred-X that was obtained from Elections Supervisor David Neyhart (mentioned previously) to the County Manager on April 29, 2024 upon his return from leave (he had been out of the office on leave from April 15 through April 26). She advised, "On the document I provided to the County Manager had a note that said David Neyhart received the quote and we needed to talk about it."

She ended the email reply to Pike County Times' Open Records Request by saying, "Please note, I was unaware of any documents being burned until you brought it to the attention of the Board and I just found out today that documents were taken to ShredX without my knowledge."

So, on the day that Pike County Times Editor Becky Watts was scheduled to speak at the regularly called County Commission Meeting at 6:30 p.m. about the improper/possibly illegal destruction of public documents, the remaining documents shown above were taken to Shred-X by an employee of Building and Grounds at the order of County Manager Brandon Rogers and shredded so there would be no remaining evidence at Animal Control in the case of a call for an investigation after that meeting.

Let it also be noted that the amount for shredding the remaining documents was less than the amount that was paid for the incinerator tech to come to the county plus the amount of county time that was paid for employees to move the documents and burn part of the boxes the first time as well as moving the documents a second time so they could be shredded on April 30, 2024.


Will this disregard for county and state regulations be discussed at a future county commission meeting?

Will there be an investigation into the matter to find out exactly what happened and ensure that county regulations and state law will be followed in the future?

And will there be any kind of punishment for the county manager if it is found that county rules and state law regarding destruction of public records has been blatantly disregarded and public trust broken?

Pike County Times will continue to attend meetings and will report if the Pike County Board of Commissioners chooses to address this matter in future meetings.

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