Commissioner: Believes “the evidence is there” that Sheriff’s Office violated the law

Spalding County Sheriff Wendell Beam

Spalding County Sheriff Wendell Beam

SHEILA A. MATHEWS :::

Spalding County Commissioner Gwen Flowers-Taylor on Thursday addressed her fellow commissioners and other county officials, expressing her concerns about the Spalding County Sheriff’s Office’s responses to Open Records requests in the David Gibson investigation.

Flowers-Taylor acknowledged that as a constitutional officer, Sheriff Wendell Beam has the authority to hire and fire at will, but she is concerned about media reports that have raised questions regarding his employees’ adherence to Georgia’s Open Records Act.

“He can do what he wants based on what he chooses to do, however, whenever a suit comes from any employee outside or inside, it is always made to the Spalding County Board of Commissioners. We don’t have any control over that, but in the course of action, we end up getting the blame, and my concern with that is there have been recorded conversations not only between Sheriff’s Department employees, but our staff – our legal representative, as well – that indicate that there was a violation of the Sunshine Act in that some of the records were withheld, and this evidence is, like, recorded in phone calls,” Flowers-Taylor said. “So, my concern is this. I understand that the Sheriff’s Office is responsible for their stuff, but if there is a violation of the Sunshine Law, then that means it’s going to end up at the Attorney General’s Office, and if there is a violation, who will be blamed for it? The Spalding County Board of Commissioners.”

She went on to say the Board of Commissioners is not aware of what happens at the SCSO, but she is concerned that “evidence” – telephone conversations recorded there, may indicate the law has been broken, and she feels an investigation of the Sheriff’s Office may be needed.

“We don’t have any clue what’s going on out there, so. It was enough that the Sheriff’s Office felt like it had to get an outside person to investigate that particular officer, so my concern now is if there is evidence that’s there – if there is a question that they violated the Sunshine Law – we need to be trying to get on top of it because at the end of the day when it all starts to go bad, it’s gonna be pointed at us as a board,” she said. “I mean, I know you don’t have access to that information, (County Manager) William (Wilson), but I’m telling you what I feel is something we really need to look at addressing whether it’s asking for an independent investigation to see if in fact that has happened, which I think that the evidence is there because people have requested Open Records and have found that there are these conversations there where employees of the Sheriff’s Department have discussed attempts to keep those medical, not medical records, that investigative record, from whoever it was that was requesting them. In fact, other conversations where members, staff of the Sheriff’s Department spoke with Judge Caldwell and were prompted not to give this information. So, if that information is that easy to be obtained, if we already got five people suing the Sheriff’s Office, what’s to make us not get charges for violating the Sunshine Law. So, I just think we need to cover our butts. That’s basically what I’m saying. As a Board of Commissioners, we need to know whether or not that happened, and I don’t feel like we need to ask the Sheriff’s Department to do that investigation because the Sheriff didn’t even feel like his own department could do that investigation.”

Flowers-Taylor then referenced the sentiment expressed earlier by another commissioner, and reiterated she does not want the situation to result in problems for the BoC.

“And as one of the commissioners spoke earlier, I think this whole thing is gonna get worse before it gets better, and I just don’t wanna see it dumped in our laps because we don’t know anything about this whole thing. We heard about it in a newspaper probably about when you heard about it, so, that’s my concern. I know this is hitting you in the face and you probably don’t have any answers, but I think we really need to look at what we can do to CYA,” she said.

None of the remaining four commissioners – Rita Johnson, Bart Miller, Raymond Ray or Don Hawbaker – commented on the issue.

Spalding County Manager William Wilson responded to Flowers-Taylor by stating, “I’ll speak with the county attorney.”

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