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Monthly Archives: February 2012

WSB-TV reports, “Audit finds GDOT financial mismanagement”

Obviously this comes as no surprise to Coalition for the Right Road, as we reported on GDOT’s financial mismanagement in 2010 and its wasteful 411 Connector, Route D-VE (see below).

“GDOT’s History of Financial Mismanagement Evident In Plans for U.S. 411 Connector.”

Also, please note the audits/reports are listed in the below story.

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Audit finds GDOT financial mismanagement

By Richard Belcher

ATLANTA —

The Georgia Department of Transportation spends more than $2 billion in taxes every year, but the agency’s financial management has ranged from terrible to poor for years, according to auditors.

Every year, GDOT spends hundreds of millions of dollars, nearly all of it from state and federal fuel taxes. Residents buy gasoline, and the DOT gets money for roads and bridges. Channel 2 Action News investigative reporter Richard Belcher discovered that state auditors have just given GDOT their fourth straight scathing report.

“I started with 2008, the audit report, and I was surprised. It was terrible,” said Laurie Dyke, a forensic accountant who Channel 2 Action News asked to review the most recent GDOT audits.

“Millions and millions of dollars of things were found and needed to be corrected,” said Dyke.

Back then, GDOT’s money management became a political issue.

“People went to jail over similar things in Enron and other corporations, and those were private corporations,” said former Gov. Sonny Perdue in July 2009.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the state attorney general conducted a criminal investigation of the DOT’s former treasurer, but no one was charged.

“They are better now, but they still don’t have adequate financial controls to prepare and present materially accurate financial statement in accordance with the law,” said Dyke.

GDOT officials said they’re working on it.

“We have some work to do in that area, too. We’ve admitted that. I think we’ve been working closely with the state accounting office and the state auditors and the governor’s to come up with, overcome those,” said GDOT Commissioner Keith Golden .

Golden and the GDOT treasurer told Belcher that software problems have contributed to the financial mismanagement, but Dyke agrees.

The most contentious issue is that GDOT has moved money among its 15 or 18 separate programs without the approval of the legislature, which is illegal.

Auditors said the confusion over the various programs is so great that neither GDOT nor the auditors can say whether the agency spent its money as the legislature intended last year.

Dyke said the current situation is probably beyond repair.

“It can’t get better. There is no way it will get better,” said Dyke.

The amount of unspent cash in GDOT accounts has risen from none in 2008 to well over $1 billion last summer.

Highway contractors complain GDOT’s financial mismanagement has kept it from letting contracts and creating jobs as quickly as it should.

State auditor Russell Hinton called the last few audits of GDOT’s finances scathing.

“I don’t know if it is scathing, but I know that we have work to do,” said Golden.

Belcher asked Dyke to grade GDOT’s financial management.

“Originally, I would say it was an ‘F.’ It’s probably come up to a ‘C’, if you just look at the improvement, but there is still a long ways to go,” said Dyke.

Dyke told Belcher real progress will require that GDOT, in effect, zero out its old accounts and start over.

Commissioner Golden and his staff said the governor, the legislature and the attorney general are all on board to try to correct the problems, and put those Enron insults in GDOT’s rear view mirror.

Diverse Wildlife Discovered At Euharlee Conservation Easement (future location of GDOT’s proposed route for 411 Connector)

2011 Field Surveys Validate City’s Designation of Easement as a Significant Wildlife Refuge

At the recent Euharlee City Council meeting, Henry Parkman, an attorney for Cartersville Ranch, LLC, presented results about the diverse wildlife discovered during 2011 field surveys at the Euharlee conservation easement on Dobbins Mountain.

According to the reports, the City of Euharlee has a direct surface water connection to the conservation easement at Dobbins Mountain. Numerous Cherokee darters (on the federal Endangered Species List) were found in a stream flowing from the lake at Cartersville Ranch into Pettit Creek. In addition, bald eagles are observed at the ranch approximately 35 times a year, and were seen several times during the 2011 wildlife surveys.

“The overall success of the 2011 field surveys completely validated the City of Euharlee’s designation of the conservation easement as a significant wildlife refuge,” said Parkman. “The protected hardwood forest of more than 100 contiguous acres provides habitat for an incredible variety of native plant and animal life, and is an important stopover location for migratory birds. Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources correctly recognized the conservation value of the Euharlee wildlife refuge because it protects high priority species and habitats.”

A wildlife diversity study conducted by Quality Timber and Wildlife Management during a three-week period in March documented the presence of numerous deer, raccoons, coyotes, red-tailed hawks, gray foxes, wild turkeys and a bobcat. Most of the gray foxes, coyotes and red-tailed hawks were observed within the Euharlee wildlife refuge boundaries. The report also confirmed the greatest movement of wildlife was inside the conservation easement in a north-south direction, a natural travel corridor between the westernmost Dobbins Mountain ridge and I-75 to the east.

The author of the report, Matt Haun, president of Quality Timber and Wildlife Management, said, “The conservation easement represents an important refuge for wildlife. Not only does it provide habitat for a great range of mammal diversity, it protects over 100 acres of contiguous, diverse hardwood cover (including both overstory and understory habitat types), plants and smaller animals that provide food for the wildlife.”

Numerous Cherokee darters (on the federal Endangered Species List) were found in a stream flowing from the lake at Cartersville Ranch into Pettit Creek. (photo: Tracy Rogers)

Joshua Spence, who has 16 years of experience in bird identification in north Georgia, made 24 trips to the Euharlee wildlife refuge during 2011. During his visits, he documented the presence of 89 different bird species within the wildlife refuge, more than half of which are neotropical migratory birds that breed in the United States and during the winter in Mexico, Central America and South America. One of the rarest bird species not on the Endangered Species List, the Cerulean Warbler, was found in the wildlife refuge. The sky-blue warbler is known to spend the winter in South America. Of the 89 species found within the wildlife refuge, 10 are of special conservation status, and 46 were found nesting or exhibiting nesting behavior.

Spence stated, “The Euharlee conservation easement provides an important refuge for migrating birds to rest, feed, and nest before resuming their travels. The discovery of Cerulean Warblers on the property is a significant find, as breeding populations are declining faster than any other warbler species in the U.S. Its population is less than one-fifth of what it was 40 years ago.”

Further, Jim Allison, a leading expert on Southeastern wildflowers and botanist for 13 years at the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, conducted plant surveys during 12 separate visits to the Euharlee wildlife refuge in 2011. His most important find was the Georgia aster, discovered in bloom at Dobbins Mountain last fall (October 29, 2011). The Georgia aster is a state-protected and federal candidate species, and the population found at Dobbins Mountain is likely the largest in Georgia. Allison also discovered a population of native orchids – the state-protected Pink Ladyslipper – within the borders of the refuge. He also observed and photographed a total of 88 diverse native flowing plants within the refuge.

About the Coalition for the Right Road

The Coalition for the Right Road (CORR) is an organization of Georgia citizens committed to making sure the U.S. 411 Connector is built with minimal environmental impact and at the lowest cost to taxpayers. CORR is opposed to the Georgia Department of Transportation’s current plans for the 411 Connector – Route D-VE – because of its exorbitant cost, inefficient interchange and environmental destruction. The coalition is committed to raising awareness of shorter, cheaper and less destructive routes, and is open to anyone who shares these concerns. For more information, visit www.coalitionfortherightroad.com or find us on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube.

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