AN OPEN LETTER TO THE JDA/4CDA BOARD
September 11, 2015
Dear Joint Development Authority Board Members,
Why do you continue to support William Thomas Craig, better known as Tommy Craig, as the attorney for the Four County Development Authority? Why do you spend our tax dollars to support someone who owed and still owes the Internal Revenue Service millions in back taxes? He also owed the State of Georgia hundreds of thousands of dollars until just recently when he supposedly paid them off.
Craig refuses to let the taxpayers know how much he has been paid by you board members who approve a check to him at almost every meeting. When copies of his invoices were requested through open records to see how much he was paid during the Baxter negotiations (most likely a tidy sum), the answer by your board was “We don’t have copies of the invoices. The copies are kept by Tommy Craig in his office and to get copies of them, it would cost you $88.” It was rather shocking to know that you pay him and don’t keep copies of the invoices, especially since you pay him with taxpayers’ money.
Tommy Craig has been exposed as charging the citizens of Newton County over $1,000,000+ a year in attorney fees while losing case after case (landfill, Durden, etc.). What kind of advice does he give you, and how much does it cost? Again, it is hard for us to know since the invoices are locked away in Craig’s own office and what goes on in your meetings never seems to be discussed at public BOC meetings.
Tommy Craig has tried in vain to get the Bear Creek Reservoir in Newton County to become a reality. However, more and more people are realizing after 17 years and $22 million dollars spent, there have been many questionable statements by Craig concerning the reservoir. The population figures were and are bogus as are many of the other reasons presented by Craig to the US Army Corps of Engineers; therefore, they have yet to grant a permit for the reservoir after all this time. If you haven’t been keeping up with this issue, read the following Covington News article:
Bear Creek permit still not close
Apr 19, 2015 5:00 a.m.
Despite spending more than $21 million to date on the proposed Bear Creek Reservoir, Newton County appears nowhere close to obtaining a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers, which recently questioned the continued need for the project as well as the information presented in the county’s application.
Tommy Craig proclaims himself as a reservoir expert, but one county after another has dropped him and his firm after paying him millions of dollars for little if anything in return. (See article below) Even other attorneys in his firm have left his employ over the past year.
Isn’t it time the board members of the Joint Development Authority wised up like many other counties around the State that have dealt with Tommy Craig? Isn’t it time to replace Tommy Craig? Paraphrasing Mr. McSwain in the following article, the problems with Mr. Craig seem evident to everyone but those that continue to pay him with taxpayers’ money.
The following article may encourage you all to think about your continued support of Tommy Craig as your legal representative (reprinted with permission from Larry McSwain).
Craig replaced as reservoir project manager for South Fulton Water Authority
By Larry McSwain
Saturday, September 5, 2015
© Copyright 2015 Newton Citizen
It appears that some counties and water authorities are becoming weary of the services of Newton County attorney and water consultant, W.T. (Tommy) Craig. The latest of these is the South Fulton Municipal and Regional Water and Sewer Authority, which has been attempting to obtain a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers 404 Permit to build their Bear Creek Reservoir. Mr. Craig and his team of consultants have been unable to deliver that permit. On April 14, 2015, the authority released him as project manager, according to the minutes of the authority obtained through an Open Records request. Interestingly, he was replaced in July 2015 by his former employees, attorneys Laura Benz and Andrea Gray, as indicated by the authority’s meeting minutes.
Mr. Craig has had a tough year. First, he has been the subject of critical reports by local newspapers and by Channel 11 TV’s Catie Beck regarding his huge federal tax liens and $1 million annual pay from Newton County. Then, according to reports in the Thomasville Times Enterprise Newspaper, Craig was replaced as project manager of Grady County’s Tired Creek Reservoir after being paid $1.07 million in consulting fees. Interestingly, the county hired Laura Benz to complete that reservoir, which remains a dry lake bed pending resolution of mitigation problems. Now, we learn of a similar scenario at South Fulton. Craig has been replaced as project manager there after having been paid handsomely but failing to obtain the 404 permit.
These recent events indicate that Mr. Craig is having trouble completing water projects in a manner satisfactory to his employers. However, this should not come as a complete surprise because he has had similar problems in the past. In 2012, Craig was released as project manager of the Glades Reservoir Project in Hall County after being paid $1 million in consulting fees. Also, in 2007 Mr. Craig began the 404 application process for the Richland Creek Reservoir in Paulding County but is no longer employed there. And, closer to home, Walton County hired another consultant to complete the Hard Labor Creek Reservoir after Craig obtained the 404 Permit for it.
What should Newton County learn from Mr. Craig’s series of problems with water projects? First, it is difficult to obtain a 404 Permit under the best of circumstances and with the best of consultants. Reservoir construction has to be well justified based on a demonstrated need for a greater supply of water. Second, all other water supply alternatives must be shown to be unfeasible; and third, the environmental damages from the project must be offset by a scientifically sound mitigation plan. Mr. Craig and his team of consultants cannot get a permit if any of these conditions are not fulfilled. The more problems with a project, the longer the application process takes and the greater cost to taxpayers. Only the consultants gain from such a situation because they continue to bill for their services year after year while assuring their clients that the permit is just days away.
Most importantly, Newton County needs to recognize that despite his long, impressive resume, Mr. Craig is not infallible. He is not superman or super consultant. He may not be able to get a permit for our Bear Creek Project despite 18 years and $22 million spent so far on the project. Mistakes and misrepresentations have tainted the project, and that makes federal regulators more cautious in their evaluation of it. The Army Corps of Engineers continues to question the need for Bear Creek Reservoir and Craig’s mitigation plan has faced criticism from the start. His recent decision to relocate the dam has raised additional issues. Our Board of Commissioners must come to the realization that all is not well as indicated by their February 2015 meeting with the Corps of Engineers. If a 404 permit is still years away, or completely in doubt, let’s quit spending money for Mr. Craig’s services, let’s cancel the $2 million dam design contract and let’s get on with evaluating cheaper water supply alternatives that are evident to everyone except our Board of Commissioners and Mr. Craig.
Covington resident Larry McSwain retired as assistant director of the Wildlife Resources Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. He is a member of the Middle Ocmulgee Regional Water Planning Council and a former member of the local Soil and Water District board. He is a graduate of Auburn University with degree in fisheries and wildlife biology.
The Board members of the Joint Development Authority are:
Jasper County 10%—Steve Jordan and BOC Chair Gene Trammell (with Carl Pennamon attending some meetings as well)
Newton County 37.5%—Mort Ewing and BOC Chair Keith Ellis
Morgan County 15%—Alan Verner and BOC Chair Andy Ainslie
Walton County 37.5%—Michael T. Owens and BOC Chair Kevin Little
Each county pays into this authority based on their ownership percentage shown above. The annual amount is determined by how much the authority spends on debt payments, Tommy Craig’s invoices, and other expenses.
Citizens, be informed and stay informed! Only by being informed can the citizens understand what is being done and talked about, and then press our officials to make good decisions for everyone in Jasper County. That is our goal with the Taxdogs blog.