Stone addresses council

Greg Stone addresses Blackshear City Council regarding allegations of ‘double dipping’ within the police department, with documents he obtained via an open records request last Fall.

Greg Stone, candidate for Pierce County sheriff and retired state trooper, has called for an outside investigation into what he describes as ‘double dipping’  — law enforcement officers receiving pay from the Blackshear Police Department (BPD) and Pierce County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO) simultaneously.

“As a police officer of 33 years, this needs to be looked at by the FBI or the GBI,” Stone told Blackshear council members and Mayor Kevin Grissom at a council meeting last Tuesday night.  “We got a mess here folks.”

For several months, Stone has reportedly been reviewing 876 pages of payroll documents he received from the city via an open records request last fall. Stone told council members he and an accountant assisting him in the search, Angie Fussell, had found three instances  on three separate time periods of this double pay. The records Stone requested reportedly span a period of seven years.

“The more this young lady (Fussell) dug in this paperwork, the more stuff she found,” Stone said. “At least three, on three different time sheets of double dipping  — being paid by the city and being paid by the county at the same time.”  

Stone also claims time sheets are missing from the records he requested. He later told The Times more than 50 were missing.

“There are still several time sheets missing. Why are they missing?” he asked.

City officials told Stone to contact city hall about the missing time sheets and they would make sure he received them.

Several council members and the mayor appeared to be surprised by Stone’s allegations last week, and questioned why he would make these allegations public without first bringing his concerns to the mayor or City Attorney Adam Ferrell.

“Whenever something comes out to announce to the public, I think that we (the council) should not be blindsided,” Councilman Charles Broady told Stone.

“If there is something that is done wrong, of course, I’m the first one to want it to be done right,” Broady continued. “Let’s set up a time, get with the attorney.”

A council meeting isn’t the appropriate time for dealing with an issue that has the potential to damage someone’s reputation if not properly investigated, Broady explained.

Stone replied he was told to address the council first.

“Who told you that?” Mayor Grissom queried. “I have an open door policy anytime.”

Grissom then turned his attention to the room full of locals in attendance, asking the public to understand “we were blindsided.”

“We will get to the bottom of it, and we’re not covering anything up,” he told the crowd.

He repeated that statement at the close of the meeting.

“Let us work on it. I pledge to you that I will, with our attorney, get with Mr. Stone and figure out what exactly he is talking about,” Grissom said. “We’ll be very transparent I promise you. You’re the taxpayers, you’re the community, and we appreciate you very much.”

Stone continued to make his case.

“This is a felony,” he said.

Another council member then expressed his frustration with Stone’s allegations.

“You have no evidence anything has been done, sir!  — 876 pages and you have three things?,” said Councilman Corey Lesseig. “You have no definition of double dipping.”

“You wanted to make a political statement in front of everybody,” Lesseig added.

Stone also complained to the council about how heavily redacted the records he received were  — holding them up for the audience to see  — and because he was asked to bring the records back for redaction.

When Stone first received the records from former City Clerk Suzanne Manning they had reportedly not been properly redacted to remove police department employees’ tax information, withholdings information or Social Security numbers. Stone says he spoke with Ferrell and with Police Chief Chris Wright who both asked the paperwork be brought back for proper redaction.

Stone complied with their requests, but says he specifically wanted Ferrell to handle the redaction process and claimed Wright was also involved in redacting the records. Stone further claimed the documents were “in disarray” when he received them the second time.

Ferrell, Grissom and Wright refuted Stone’s claims.

“Ferrell is the one who reviewed those personally before we gave them back to you,” Grissom said. “Everything was properly redacted as far as personal information  — payroll accounts, certain things they had taken out of their check, personal issues.”

“I feel like I ought to have a chance to defend my department and myself,” Wright said. “The records you have  — I didn’t give them or redact them, didn’t take any of them back. That was all handled through city hall.”

“I went through those documents with a black marker … I highlighted specifically the information Georgia law requires be redacted,” Ferrell confirmed.

Ferrell says he then instructed city hall employees to continue that redaction process for all 876 pages of records. Stone was subsequently charged for the time it took employees to redact the records  — a provision allowed for by Georgia’s open records law.

“I brought my paperwork back and then you charged me for it!” Stone said.

Councilman Broady asked Stone three times to set up a meeting with Ferrell to address the issue before Stone concluded his comments and left the podium.

“Sir, this is not the time tonight,” Broady urged. “I would appreciate it if you just get with Adam after this. We’re wasting our time and the public’s time. This is not what this meeting is about.”

Stone did not stay for the remainder of the meeting, but did grant The Times a phone interview Friday afternoon (See related story).

Some city police officers work full time for BPD and part time for PCSO or vice versa, but a situation of double pay like Stone describes would be more likely to happen for officers who are members of the  Aggressive Crime Enforcement (ACE) Unit, a joint task force of Blackshear PD and PCSO.

“If there is some kind of error the greatest chance would be with the ACE Unit guys,” Wright says.

“It might be that there was a discrepancy in the time sheet, an error, not a malicious thing, but it’s hard to say without him saying how many hours it is,” Wright says. “I am confident that all of the officers put in way more time than they get paid for.”

Officers assist with fundraisers and volunteer for other community functions without claiming their time, and often spend hours on the phone with an informant while off duty or assisting another officer with a case, Wright says.

BPD’s only detective currently working on the ACE Unit is Jacob Royal. Major Robby Boatright was employed with the unit until he announced his bid for Sheriff last year.

As of Friday, no meeting had been set up between Ferrell, Stone and Grissom to look at the issue in more detail.

“While I am waiting for our city attorney Adam Ferrell to contact Mr. Stone and get any information that is needed to proceed, I feel his coming to the council meeting and speaking about this was simply a political move on his part, because it was not the time or the place for that type of situation to be heard. I believe there should be due process in everything and I will be certain that follow through will be given about this matter,” Grissom told The Times.

Editor's Note: Additional coverage on this issue is available in the March 18, 2020 print and e-edition of The Blackshear Times.