Conflict-of-interest allegations at BOC meeting

By Monroe Roark
Times Correspondent

During the latest in his repeated attempts to have state Sen. Rick Jeffares removed from the Henry County Water Authority’s board for ethical reasons, Bill Toney found his own ethics being questioned.

Toney, who ran unsuccessfully in 2012 and 2014 for the District 3 seat on the Henry County Board of Commissioners, has been a regular participant during the public comment portion of board meetings the past several months.

Toney said previously that he had met with state Rep. John Yates at the Capitol, where Yates told him he felt Jeffares’ position on the water authority is a conflict of interest. Jeffares runs an engineering firm that does business with a number of municipalities and water authorities.

Last month county attorney Patrick Jaugstetter produced a pair of letters, one from Attorney General Sam Olens’ office and the other from state legislative counsel, with opinions that Jeffares’ dual service is not a conflict of interest.

Toney began his comments at the June 2 Board of Commissioners meeting by discussing those letters and saying not all of their contents were read. He said that while Jeffares’ service may not be illegal, the ethics are another matter.

“I’m asking you to do the honorable thing and take him off the Water Authority,” said Toney.

Commissioner Gary Barham asked Toney is he had any proof that Jeffares’ private business has profited from his service on the Water Authority. Toney did not answer that question but handed Barham some papers that he said contained Jeffares’ financial information, which made Barham visibly frustrated.

Commissioner Brian Preston then read a letter from Yates after handing a copy to Toney. In that letter, Yates stated that he did not recall ever meeting Toney and would never had suggested that Jeffares had a conflict of interest.

After stopping Toney’s attempt to interrupt, Preston went on to read from Olens’ opinion that showed this issue had been addressed in 2011, as well as the information from the Legislative Service Committee that concurred with Olens’ office. He also read a letter from Griffin attorney Andrew Whalen, who backed Jeffares legally against “unfounded allegations against you by a Henry County citizen.” Whalen’s letter stated that if Toney continued to make these allegations, Jeffares should consider a defamation lawsuit.

District 2 Commissioner Preston asked Toney why, as a District 3 resident, he cared so much about a District 2 appointment. He then offered his own answer to that question.

“You’re on shaky ethical ground because you’ve made it known that you’ve considered running against Sen. Jeffares,” Preston said. “You’ve also made known that your brother will run against me if I run for re-election. Both of those actions put you on shaky ethical ground when you come up here to even talk about who I appoint in District 2.”

Toney later acknowledged that he is still considering a run against Jeffares, but he did not debate Preston about whether his own actions were ethical. He spent the remaining time during this discussion asking how Preston got the letter from Yates while claiming he had never seen it and it was not true.

“For you to continue this just shows that you have an agenda here,” said Preston.

Toney called the letter “a lie” and speculated about whether Jeffares “conned” Yates into writing it. He said repeatedly that he had four witnesses to the meeting in Yates’ office and could produce them at a future board meeting if necessary.

Chairman Tommy Smith was not present at the June 2 board meeting. He is the only commissioner to vote against Jeffares’ appointment to the Water Authority the past three years.