Coroner steps down amid questioning
by The Associated Press
December 31, 2012 01:11 AM | 467 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
SAVANNAH — Documents show auditors for Chatham County were questioning more than $200,000 in expenses filed by the Savannah area’s longtime coroner when he resigned earlier this month just weeks after winning re-election.

Dr. James C. Metts Jr., 81, had served as Chatham County coroner for roughly four decades when he resigned from the office Dec. 14. He cited his age and personal circumstances for his decision to leave office, though Metts had just been re-elected to a new four-year term in November.

The Savannah Morning News reported Sunday that a draft report of an audit dated last month shows county officials were looking closely at expenses Metts had billed to county taxpayers since 2003. Memos obtained under Georgia’s open records law show County Manager Russ Abolt ordered the audit in June, the newspaper said.

Roy Hinely, the county’s internal audit director, told Abolt in a Nov. 9 memo that expenses charged to the county by the coroner’s office appeared to be overstated and misleading.

A draft report on the audit results said Metts was reimbursed $46,930 during an 18-month period to cover the salary of a secretary, though no such position existed. Auditors said they were told the money was used to supplement the salary of Metts’ deputy coroner. But auditors said an examination of the coroner’s payroll account revealed the deputy was paid only $25,508 during that period.

Auditors reported that Metts had claimed more than $215,000 in additional reimbursements for a secretary’s salary since 2003. Other coroner’s expenses auditors found questionable included $4,775 paid to a private accounting firm, $3,707 paid for auto insurance on private vehicles, $2,549 for personal cellphone expenses and a $1,638 payment to the Chatham County Republican Party.

The newspaper said Metts declined to comment when reached at his medical office Friday. The Associated Press could not find a listed home number for Metts on Sunday, when his medical office was closed.

County Commission Chairman Pete Liakakis and other county officials declined to discuss the draft audit report, the newspaper said.

In addition to his work as coroner, Metts has worked as a physician in private practice in Savannah for more than 30 years and has long served on the local Community Cardiovascular Council.

“I’ve worked with him for 36 years and found him to be one of the most honest people I know,” said Charles Powell, who recently retired as the cardiovascular council’s executive director. “I just think this is so sad because he has devoted his whole life to the community.”
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