The Georgia Bureau of Investigation confirmed last week that the city of Ludowici formally is being investigated.
"We are in the early stages of the investigation, so the only thing I can do at this time is confirm that an investigation is going on," GBI Special Investigator in Charge Mike McDaniel said.
Atlantic Judicial Circuit District Attorney Tom Durden said he received information from Ludowici resident Janis Goode, who made what Durden said are "serious allegations" against the city.
"Though I can’t go into any details about what the allegations were, I can say that they were serious. For this reason, I felt that — if for no other reason than fact-finding — I ought to have the matter looked into so that the allegations could either be confirmed or dispelled. Other than that, all I can say at this time is that it is an ongoing investigation," Durden said.
Goode said that her allegations against Ludowici Mayor Myrtice Warren and the Ludowici City Council stem from suspected ethics violations.
Goode’s allegations include the following:
• Warren reportedly was paid illegally.
• Expenditures and revenues for the city supposedly do not balance out and the discrepancy may be as much as $11,000.
• No state-mandated budget for the city of Ludowici had been completed for the 2010 and 2011 fiscal years.
• The city of Ludowici allegedly abused public funds by allowing employees to make illegal purchases with city credit cards, giving employees bonuses at Christmas and inviting non-employees to the city’s annual Christmas party. Goode alleges the city spent $5,000 at Christmas, which she calls a waste of taxpayers’ money.
• The city reportedly broke a low enacted in 2002 by not adopting its Municipal Code of Ordinances.
• The city allegedly allowed some residents and Ludowici City Council members to have free water service.
"What they are doing is wrong," Goode said. "This stuff has been going on for a long time and something needs to be done about it. Hopefully now, something will be done."
Warren responded to each of the allegations, saying most of them had no basis for being called illegal. Some of the other issues would be addressed, she said.
"I have told everyone up here to do everything that they can to support and cooperate with this investigation," the mayor said. "I’m not aware of anything being done that is wrong, but if something is, then I want to get to the bottom of it as much as anybody."
Warren said that several of Goode’s allegations already have been cleared up and proven false.
"The expenditures and revenue issue was cleared up last month. Our clerk already showed Janis that our budget was right and that she was not reading it correctly. And as for the free water, as far as I know, the only time we ever gave free water to anyone was when we gave it to an elderly man who was on dialysis and he couldn’t pay his bill. Other than that, all we do is make adjustments when we overcharge customers due to leaks," Warren said.
The Ludowici City Council did approve $200 bonuses for full-time city employees and $100 bonuses for part-time employees at Christmas, according to Warren.
"There is nothing wrong with giving our employees a small Christmas bonus. A lot of cities do it," she said. "We don’t have many benefits to give them and our pay isn’t as good as many other places. And all of the people who we invite to the Christmas party work in some way with the city. They may not all be employees, but they do work with us or are affiliated with us in some way.
"Now as for illegal purchases, I’m not aware of any purchase being illegal but, like I said, we are cooperating 100 percent with the investigation to see if there is anything being done wrong."
Warren said that the 2011 budget already has been completed. If the 2010 wasn’t turned in, the mayor said, she will find out why and bring it up at the October city council meeting.
As for her pay, Warren said the mayor’s salary already had been established when she took office and the only change that has occurred was the addition several years ago of a travel allowance. Her annual salary is $9,600 and the travel allowance is $200 per month, she said.
"I don’t set my pay; the city council does. But a few years ago, the council voted to add a travel allowance because I didn’t use a city vehicle or get paid any mileage or anything like that," Warren said. "I would use my car and my gas so they changed it, but I never asked them to. They did it on their own."