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County administrator resigns

County Administrator Tom Patton resigned by telephone Tuesday night, during a two-hour executive session that followed the regular meeting of the Decatur County Board of Commissioners.

Patton was not present for either the 5:30 p.m. work session, or the 7 p.m. meeting.

The executive session lasted from 8:10 p.m. until 10:10 p.m., when the board came back into open session and announced that they had accepted Patton’s resignation.

County Chairman Dr. C.T. Stafford said it was a “negotiated resignation” that the board immediately accepted. Stafford also said Patton would receive a $29,400 lump-sum payment in the coming days, which includes accumulated unused personal and sick time.

Stafford said that this decision was best for the overall welfare of the county. Patton’s resignation is a result of the controversy surrounding his alleged failure to report a sewage spill at the Decatur County wastewater treatment plant in February 2011.

Earlier Tuesday night, the Decatur County Board of Commissioners publicly addressed the spill, which some commissioners alleged had been “covered up” by County Administrator Tom Patton and County Finance Director Carl Rowland.

The spill has been the source of controversy for the county in recent weeks. According to commissioners, there was a spill at the wastewater treatment plant in February 2011, although the exact magnitude of that spill is uncertain.

However, it was reportedly severe enough that Board Chairman C.T. Stafford, County Attorney Brown Moseley and wastewater treatment facility engineer Stacy Watkins took a trip to Atlanta last Friday to meet with officials at the Georgia Environmental Protection Division.

Stafford said Tuesday that the county would be cited for the spill, but no major fines would be levied. Stafford said he was first notified of the spill in February 2011, shortly after it occurred.

“It took some time to completely uncover the facts,” he said. “It seems to be beneficial toward the county, although there are still some issues to work through.
“Hopefully the confidence of the citizens of this county will be restored.”

However, several commissioners expressed their concern that they were not told about the spill until many months after its occurrence.

Commissioner Oliver Sellers said he was not told about the February 2011 spill until one year later.

“I was never notified by any county employee at any time during the 2011 calendar year,” he said. “The citizens of this county expect more and I demand more.”

In April 2011, the EPD ordered the county to address the issue of raw sewage allegedly finding its way into the Flint River as a result of problems at the county’s wastewater treatment plant. Decatur County Commissioners agreed to pay a $15,000 fine and take steps to upgrade the wastewater treatment plant, which is about 30 years old.

Commissioner Dr. David C. “Butch” Mosely, who served as the board chairman in 2011, said he did not know about the spill until December 2011. He also noted that Watkins had told him that the upgrades at the wastewater treatment plant were not proceeding in a timely matter.

“I was told that [Watkins] was concerned that he was getting no support from Mr. Patton and Mr. Rowland,” he said.

Mosely said there was a “cover-up” to keep the news of the spill under wraps. He also stated that both the county’s wastewater treatment permits, as well as the EPD consent order, require that all spills must be reported, regardless of severity.

“This leads me to believe there was a cover-up,” he said. “If I had been told initially, I would not have given it a second thought. I would have just said, ‘Then fix the problem.’ My concern is that we were not told.”

Commissioner Frank Loeffler said the county was lucky to avoid harsh penalties.

“I’m just sorry we didn’t go [to see the EPD] sooner,” he said.

Commissioner Russell Smith said he did not feel there was a “cover-up,” but did admit there could have been better communication.

“Hindsight is 20/20,” he said. “I think the citizens will see that there was no cover-up, and the people responsible will be held accountable.”