By Tia Lynn Ivey managing editor
A recent financial investigation into the Joint Development Authority (JDA), initiated by the Newton County Board of Commissioners, was prompted by accusations of financial secrecy and deception from the Taxpayers Watchdog Group and the JDA’s recent request that the four counties contribute future tax revenues to pay off the newly restructured overdue loan with the Bank of Madison. The JDA is the four-county board tasked with overseeing the development of Stanton Springs, which is the site of Baxalta, the new $1 billion biopharmaceutical plant. Morgan, Jasper, Newton and Walton counties are represented on the JDA.
The Taxpayers Watchdog group headed by Mary Patrick, a former Jasper County Commissioner, leveled accusations that the JDA secretly and deceitfully acquired over $1 billion worth of bonds for Baxalta, furthering the costs and potential obligations of local taxpayers. But according to the “Newton Citizen,” an audit completed by Atlanta–based Attorney Roger Murray deemed Patrick’s claims as “unfounded.” “Murray, who specializes in public finance, told commissioners that he had reviewed Mary Patrick’s blog, entitled ‘Nine men lied and deceived the four counties of Jasper, Newton, Morgan and Walton;’ the response from the JDA; and emails from concerned citizens in the county,” reported Alice Queen for the Newton Citizen. “He said he’d also spoken with Wayne Tamplin, the JDA’s auditor, Andrea Gray, the JDA’s attorney, and reviewed numerous documents, the bond resolution and the trust indenture.
Following a ‘very thorough’ review, Murray said he found that Patrick’s accusations were unfounded — that the bonds were legally issued, that the four counties were not financially obligated by the bond issue and that adequate public notice was given of the bond issue and bond validation hearing.” Morgan County Commissioner Andy Ainslie, who also sits on the JDA board, was unsurprised by Murray’s findings. “This is exactly what I anticipated,” said Ainslie.
“The bonds are just the funding mechanism to allow the tax abatements [for Baxalta] to occur. “ Ainslie insists that all the JDA’s dealings have been above board and properly executed. “I think the community should know that they have really good representatives form all four counties who are working very well together for the sole purpose of trying to develop Stanton Springs for the benefit of the whole region,” said Ainslie. Mary Patrick has issued a partial retraction, taking down the names of the men she accused of lying and deception, but stands by her original claims that the bonds issued were not adequately explained to the public.
Patrick contends that while numerous meetings and local newspaper articles discussed the Baxter/Baxalta development and tax abatements, she can find no record of the $1.3 billion worth of bonds acquired by the JDA specifically mentioned, let alone thoroughly explained. “For some reason, the revelation of these bonds and the lack of their public knowledge and advertisement in all of the four counties, so the citizens (who continue to fund JDA) would be aware of all of the incentives given to Baxter, has set JDA on a quest to discredit the TWG and me personally,” said Patrick. “ I must continue to ask one question—if everyone knew about these bonds and they weren’t done secretively, then why is JDA having to explain them to everyone now?”