I-TEAM INVESTIGATES: Missing Columbia County Code

Wednesday, January 9, 2019
News 12 at 6/NBC at 7

COLUMBIA COUNTY, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- Our I-Team has uncovered some ordinances in Columbia County have vanished, and it's not because the Board of Commissioners voted to get rid of them.

They just disappeared from the books.

It all started with our investigation into bad pool contractors and how Columbia County didn't know how to follow some of its own rules. Our I-Team kept digging kept digging and discovered some of the rules weren't there.

When Brandon and Lisa Wart invited our I-Team to their Construction Board Hearing in June, they hoped to help other victims of bad pool contractors. "According to Columbia County, this is the first time that anyone has ever pursued getting their money back from a lame contractor," Brandon Wart said. "Obviously, they have to do some work on their statutes on processing and how that works for people," said Lisa Wart.

We filed an Open Records Request to get the Construction Board's by-laws. What did we find?

Maybe the question is what we didn't find?

Meredith Anderson: "Chapter 18 - Article 5, Sections 18-166. And this is what we go when we..."
Matt Schlachter: "Yep. It actually was taken out."

MOBILE USERS: I-Team Full Interview: Columbia County Deputy Administrator Matt Schlachter

According to Columbia County's Deputy Administrator, there's no County Code backing up its own Construction Board. "166 was done away with. We don't know why. We've tried to figure out why 166 was taken out. We can't figure out why," Schlachter said.

Matt Schlachter believes he knows when it happened, though. In 2014, the Construction and Engineering Boards combined to form the Development Advisory Board. That was likely when the code was deleted. Two years later, the county brought the Construction Board back but left off the code outlining its authority. "We're back on track now. We've had meetings," Schlachter said. "The last 4 to 6 months, we've had meetings."

According to its by-laws, the Construction Board "shall hold regular monthly meetings" as well as hearings. That would mean, at the very least, 12 meetings a year.

This past year, there were two meetings. We took you to the one in June and the one in August.

The Construction Board did not meet a single time in 2017.

Schlachter says the current Construction Board, mostly made up of those involved with the construction industry in Columbia County, is now helping the County re-write the missing code.

Meredith Anderson: "Some say it could be a conflict of interest if they're advising the Board on policies and even rewriting a code that would directly affect them."
Matt Schlachter: "Yeah. That's kind of what happened with the Development Advisory Board. 'Make our lives easier by doing this.' Well, the residents were over here saying, 'make our lives better by doing this.' Lot of butting heads. That's when the meetings became very unproductive. But, yeah. I see your point. It could be a conflict - a perceived conflict of interest - that you have a home builder trying to make the rules of what home builders have to do."

It's safe to say, as one of the fastest growing counties in the state, some oversight is needed. The I-Team has uncovered a pattern of problems when it comes to shoddy work or no work at all when bad contractors are left unchecked. Meanwhile, that deleted code is currently being written. It will have to go through several readings before commissioners approve it. This isn't a quick process. We'll be watching.