For about a year and a half now, Renee Godwin has been the elected coroner in Douglas County. And for almost as long, her spending has raised questions.
We spent weeks pouring over county finance reports and meeting minutes.
Since taking office, the coroner has hired extra bodies--no pun intended--to help her do her job. And her budget has increased by tens of thousands of dollars. She's spending far more than her predecessor. She points to an increase in death calls as justification.
Numbers provided to us show the average number of death calls, nearly tripled after she took office.
"I asked for an internal audit of her office," says County Commissioner Ann Jones Guider.
Some on the county commission have questions for the coroner, as did we. Like, why so many more calls? And, how many of those calls is the coroner going to herself?
Remember, she hired two others to assist.
The coroner sent us a statement, staying:
I do not keep a log on the number of calls that I respond to.
And the sudden rise is death calls?
"I have no control over death. I only respond to it."
A recent audit, requested by the county commission, raised question too. Among them:
The coroner responding to calls outside the county but billing Douglas County. Seventy-seven incidents where she showed up to a scene but delegated the work to a deputy. The county saying "this is the most costly issue" facing her office.
In responses to the audit, and us, she defended both.
"She is already running over her budget for this year," says Ann Jones Guider.
The commissioner isn't satisfied with the answers she has gotten. And neither were we.
After initially agreeing to sit down with us, once we started asking more detailed questions, Godwin backed out, saying in an email, she 'doesnt do on camera interviews'.
So we decided to visit her office to see if we could change her mind. We visited on three separate days. Two of which, we found the office locked and the lights turned off. And no one returning for hours on end.
It's important to point out, the coroner and her staff are part-time positions, according to the county. It's also important to point out, the coroner has worked other jobs while performing her duties here.
The City of Hapeville, which is about 30 miles from Douglasville, confirmed they employed Godwin up until this past March. Something she confirmed in a statement, when we asked if that conflicted with her ability to personally respond to calls.
"It did not affect the operations of the coroner's office. All responsibilities were met in a timely fashion."
Still, some on the board of commissioners wonder, did she ask for the extra deputies, who are paid per call, so she could remain employed elsewhere and collect her full time salary here.
"It's on public record, I just don't believe she is doing her part of the work," said Ann Jones Guider.
On the board of commissioners, she does have her supporters, however, including the chairwoman.
"I don't have any concerns," said Dr. Romona Jackson Jones.
It appears it will be up to the tax paying voters of this county to decide whether there is something to be concerned about.
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