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April 4--  A Magistrate Judge has denied a request for a criminal warrant against a Treutlen County Commissioner.

After an hour-long probable cause hearing Wednesday morning in Soperton, Magistrate Mary Jo Buxton of Johnson County ruled there is insufficient evidence of criminal intent to bring charges against District Two Commissioner Homer Rivers.

Treutlen resident Ronnie Strickland requested that Rivers be charged with doing business with the county sheriff's office while in office.  A 1935 state law which created the Treutlen County Board of Commissioners made it a misdemeanor for elected county officials to do business with the county.

Strickland requested the warrant last month after attending a county commission meeting where he heard Commission Chairman Lance Hooks bring up the subject of Rivers doing business with the county.  He presented Judge Buxton with a list of 16 county checks made to Rivers Air Conditioning and Electric of Vidalia for work done at the county jail.

Rivers defended himself by telling the judge he was doing work for the sheriff's office before he was appointed to the Commission in August, 2016 and that he made that known to the board  before he was appointed.   He was appointed to fill the unexpired term of Commissioner Forrest Edge.  

Two Commissioners, Cashaunda Smith and Cali Hollis, testified for Rivers and confirmed the Commission had told him his company's work would not stop his selection as long as his prices were competitive with other heating and air contractors.

"I did my due diligence before accepting the appointment and now I feel like my honor and integrity are at stake.  I would not have accepted the position if I had known  this would happen," Rivers said.

Rivers testified his company had  billed the county $12,029.80 for 25 calls over a 31-month period.  He said another company billed the county $13,867 for 13 calls before his company signed a maintenance contract with Sheriff Tommy Corbin in October, 2015.  The sheriff testified he was unaware of the 1935 law, that Rivers' company did a good job, and there was no intent to break the law.  Rivers cancelled the contract after Chairman Hooks brought it up at the Commissioner's March meeting.

Strickland said public officials need to be held accountable and that the commission's approval of the situation did not make it legal.  However, Judge Buxton noted a provision in state law allowing a commissioner to do business with a county as long as "it is condoned by the Board of Commissioners."

After his appointment, Rivers ran for the office in a four-man race in November 2016.  Strickland's son, Kyle, also ran for the office and came in fourth place.  The November vote forced a runoff in December which Rivers won by one vote over Clint Brantley.  He is running for reelection in next month's primary.


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