Big numbers, big difference
During testimony in Tuesday’s tribunal hearing regarding former Liberty County School System Chief Financial Officer Roger Reese, independent auditor Jacqueline Mells said the system’s bookkeeping was off. And not just by a little bit. Mells said financial reports done by Reese for the state differed from those given to the school board and discrepancies ranged anywhere from $1 million to $79 million. The Courier is following up on this story Sunday.
Former Liberty County School System Chief Financial Officer Roger Reese and his attorney were no shows at a tribunal hearing on his employment status Tuesday at the Liberty County Board of Education office.
In an email to the Courier, Reese’s attorney, Matthew Billips, said his client plans to move forward with a lawsuit and questioned why the BoE, apparently under the advisement of Atlanta attorney Phillip Hartley, had the hearing despite its status as a charter school system, which means it is exempt from the Fair Dismissal Act.
“We questioned the board’s authority to hold such a hearing, since it has opted out of the Fair Dismissal Act and, as an arbitration pursuant to contract, the procedures were substantively unconscionable,” said Billips, who previously called the tribunal, “a hand-picked kangaroo court.”
Billips claims LCSS can’t hold a tribunal hearing because it’s a charter system. But the school board voted to allow such hearings on personnel matters despite its charter status.
And despite Reese’s absence, the hearing went on, with former school superintendents Sam Allen, Terry DeLoach and Beauford Hicks serving as the tribunal panel and Lee Holiday acting as the hearing’s officer.
Reese was placed on administra ative leave by LCSS Superintendent Dr. Valya Lee in January. He has since threatened the school system with a lawsuit claiming Lee and the BoE violated the Georgia Whistleblower Protection Act
Reese alleged he was retaliated against for claiming Lee violated policy in regard to requests for proposals of banking services. He also claimed he was under paid.
Hartley opened the hearing, questioned witnesses and presented documents to the panel as evidence.
The panel heard testimony from Jacqueline Mells, a Brunswick-based certified public accountant who audited LCSS books, interim Finance Director Janine Graham, Executive Director of Maintenance and Operations Jason Rogers and Lee.
But the bulk of the testimony came from Lee, who spent 90 minutes alleging more than a dozen instances Reese failed to do his job.
Lee began by saying she worked with Reese in the past in Clayton County, knew of his extensive work experience as an auditor for education systems and said Reese performed audits for the LCSS before he was hired by the system.
Lee said she recommended Reese to the BoE when the position for CFO became open because he was the most qualified applicant. She said the BoE went with her recommendation after reviewing all the applicants.
Lee said she started becoming concerned about Reese and his job performance in September. She noted things got progressively worse when a LCSS accountant resigned for unknown reasons and Reese began taking over additional tasks.
Lee said Reese failed to follow through on a number of personnel issues involving the appropriate salaries or supplements being paid to employees. She said he failed doing his job regarding grants, had not reconciled bank statements for a long period of time and did not properly account for spending.
Lee said Reese delayed requesting proposals for banking services and failed to reach out to numerous local financial institutions despite her request that he do so. She claimed Reese highly recommended Ameris Bank during their first discussion, then suddenly changed his position, but cited what to her were unprofessional and inappropriate reasons for the sudden change.
Reese has claimed Lee wanted Ameris Bank to get the contract because her husband works at the bank, a charge she and the bank denies.
Lee said she was also worried Reese was failing to account for LCSS funds appropriately. She said Reese’s inability to produce accurate accounting reports led her to request an internal audit, performed by Rogers.
Rogers’ review found budget and accounting reports presented to the board that did not match reports presented to the state. It also found that Reese failed to provide monthly financial reports to the BoE, and that the last report on the system’s fund balance given to the BoE was in June or July of 2015.
Reese’ attorney, Billips, called Rogers’ report, “a bogus internal audit,” adding that it was “inaccurate and inconsequential.”
Lee then ordered a second, independent audit in February, performed by Mells.
She said Tuesday there were numerous errors in the accounting and reporting procedures, and said some funds were misallocated.
She noted financial reports were off by millions of dollars.
The remainder of Rogers, Mells and Graham’s testimony corroborated Lee’s statement on what she said were inconsistent accounting measures done by Reese.
Rogers and Graham both said they were concerned about getting the school systems’ financial reports corrected and balanced in time for the next budget cycle.
Lee also testified Reese gave himself a raise of approximately $11,000 without the approval of her or the BoE. Reese was being paid $141,168 before he was suspended without pay.
Once all the evidence was presented, Hartley gave a brief closing statement saying he was certain the tribunal would recommend Reese’s termination.
Once the public tribunal was adjourned the panel convened in private.
The tribunal will review the evidence and make a final written determination and recommendation to the BoE. The board will then vote on the matter in an open meeting.
Look for a follow up to this story in Sunday’s Courier.