Conflict in Columbia County?

Would y’all just look what we have here! In April 2010 the award of Columbia County’s Major banking agreement was on the Columbia County Commission agenda. Uncomfortably, three Commissioners had stock in Georgia Bank in Trust at the time of this vote. The county attorney seemed concerned about the whole area of ethics but it looks from up here in the pine woods that the entire commission was prepped to put on ballerina slippers and tiptoe through the minefield of awarding the county’s mass banking agreement to, well, Georgia Bank and Trust.

District One Commissioner Ron Thigpen was Chief Operating Officer of GB&T (very recently promoted to President). The county attorney found he could avoid the technical definition of a “Conflict of Interest” by recusing himself from this, an official vote of the commission. The county attorney found that the other GB&T shareholders Ron Cross and Charles Allen, Jr., held less than 5% of the bank’s shares and the bank being publicly held fit another exception in the Ethics Ordinance. The final step in the fanciful footwork that carried them to apparent safety was getting the not-ensnared commissioners Scott Dean and Trey Allen to bless the choreography and allow Cross and Charlie Allen to vote, which they did, awarding the banking deal to their bank.

Did the commission gracefully tiptoe across the ethics minefield on gilded slippers, as they would have us believe? Or were they really tap-dancing across it wearing snowshoes?

One of the Rons sure looks like he stepped on one of those Vietnam -era “bouncing betty” mines with a slow trigger. After all, it has taken 4 years for the damage to pop up and show itself to the taxpayers of Columbia County.

The mine had “Appearance of a Conflict” written all over it. The shrapnel might just now be striking. Wasn’t the key issue for Cross and Allen really how much their stock made up of their total assets and how much they stood to gain? How could Thigpen make myriad impartial decisions, beyond just that commission vote, like whether to increase or pay down debt when his bank stood to gain or lose revenue from the county’s deposits there?

Coming up next in the series is “Blame it on the UFO!”

-AF

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