When Columbus CFO Milton Rawle was arrested in August of 2020, City Hall became ground zero for a criminal investigation, leaving taxpayers with 288,000-plus reasons to conduct a forensic audit of city finances. Such an audit could potentially recover some of the heisted funds. More importantly, it would provide closure and restore public trust.
The voters want this audit. Independent freshman candidate Keith Gaskin defeated a Democrat incumbent mayor—no easy task—on a platform of transparency. The election was a successful referendum against the past administration’s fiscal record. Columbus wanted a truly fresh start.
The call for an audit is not a bunch of Republican caterwauling with racist overtones, as some have suggested. Nor, is it intended to accuse good and innocent people of wrongdoing. If the audit concludes that no more devilment is to be found, we can all rejoice and let the findings be used for improvement purposes. But as of now, very few people I have talked to—Democrat, Republican, and otherwise—believe that Rawle was a lone ranger. We just don’t know, and that’s the problem, according to State Auditor Shad White. “Sometimes somebody will be at the center of a criminal enterprise and you can only prove a percentage of what they did,” said White to the Columbus Rotary Club, as reported by The Dispatch. “($288,000) was all we were able to prove.”
Councilman Joseph Mickens was quick to use the Good Book in Tuesday’s Council meeting. “Anyone who putteth hand to the plow and looketh back is not worthy of the kingdom of God,” The Dispatch reported he said. I would contend that sweeping dirt under a rug and continuing with the status quo would, in fact, be the prime example of looking back. If the council truly wants to keep their hand on the plow, they should invite the public to look in every desk, examine every document, and verify the integrity of every transaction. The public needs to know with definitive certainty that this new leadership will go to the ends of the earth to make Columbus the city it ought to be.
Yes, the audit is expensive. Perhaps they should start with the scaled down $28,000 surgical option, and then spend more money if necessary. But to summarily shut down the idea, as they did in Tuesday’s meeting is unacceptable. At best, it’s negligent. At worst, it means they are guilty as hell.
David M. Chism, Lowndes County