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GA: Augusta Commission won’t audit Hyde Park spending amid housing director resignation

Where is the money?

December 10, 2014

If a government project runs out of money before it can be completed, perhaps an audit is in order to see where the money went?

Well, not in Augusta, Ga. On Monday, the Augusta Commission decided against auditing the Hyde Park project, which is out of money. Last week the commission had approved the audit, but now cites a need to protect private information.

The project required residents of the Hyde Park neighborhood to be relocated so a pond could be built to reduce flooding. So far, just 30 percent of residents have been relocated, and the remaining residents are concerned about the abandoned houses.

Those remaining residents would like to know where the money–$4.5 million–went. So would Commissioner Marion Williams, the only commissioner who supported the audit after a three hour, closed-door meeting Monday.

“Are we afraid to make the hard decisions to do what’s right?” Williams said to WJBF’s George Eskola. “Nobody is accusing anybody of anything. That’s what an audit does: shows us where everything is right or if it’s wrong. Now we’re going to rescind that, I really don’t understand.”

Mayor Pro Tem Corey Johnson suggested that it would be hard to do an audit because Hyde Park is ongoing.

“With Hyde Park being an ongoing project, it’s kind of hard to do a thorough audit,” Johnson said to The Augusta Chronicle.

Instead, Johnson reassured residents and Augusta taxpayers that the city is satisfied with the spending.

“We got some information about two weeks ago in detail about Hyde Park and where the money was and where it was spent, so it would really be redundant to do an audit on Hyde Park now, especially with the project being an ongoing project,” Johnson told WJBF.

Augusta has consistently declined to release this type of information to the public, including media organizations that have made open records requests under Georgia law.

The fight over the audit isn’t the only significant event effecting Hyde Park. Chester Wheeler, Au­gusta’s Housing and Community Development director, resigned last Tuesday in the midst of complaints about his department’s spending on Hyde Park and other projects.

Wheeler gave the commission the option of keeping him through March, but members agreed he should resign immediately. He was given six months’ worth of severance pay, half of his annual $102,933 salary.

It was in the wake of his resignation that the audit was initially approved.

What is Augusta’s government hiding from the public? Are commissioners really just protecting private information, or has the money been misspent? The remaining residents of Hyde Park–many of whom live below the poverty line and can only dream of getting a $50,000 severance–would like to know.

Click here for all our stories on Hyde Park

Featured image: Shutterstock.com 

Josh Kaib

Josh Kaib is the Assistant Editor of Watchdog Wire. Twitter: @joshkaib

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