Probe to see if Fayette county attorney’s hard drive erasures were proper

Fayette County officials are investigating whether a recently ousted high-ranking county official erased public records in violation of state records laws.

The probe centers around information apparently removed from a hard-drive on a county-issued computer used by former county attorney Scott Bennett, according to documents obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. County commissioners voted in November to fire Bennett. His last day was Dec. 31, the day he allegedly spent having his hard-drive professionally wiped clean.

Bennett told county technology officials earlier this month he had gotten permission from then county administrator Jack Krakeel to take the hard drive out to be wiped clean of personal information, according to a memo from the county’s Chief Marshall Edward Collins who is investigating. Krakeel, who retired Dec. 31, corroborated Bennett’s story saying Bennett took the hard-drive to get it professionally wiped clean because there were no county IT employees around, the memo from the county Marshal’s Department said. Krakeel told county officials he had county information systems employees come to his office and clean his computer to get it ready for the new administrator, the memo noted.

Efforts to reach Bennett Monday were unsuccessful.

Collins was called in to investigate the matter after county officials discovered Bennett’s hard-drive missing on Jan. 3.

Bennett returned the equipment last week after being contacted by Collins’ office. The equipment was returned to the head of the information systems department.

“At this point in the investigation, no intent to illegally take or withhold the computer or hard drive was discovered,” Collins said in his memo. “But the issue of the missing data the hard drives may or (may) not have contained is still under investigation.”

An expert on records laws said the case raises concern.

“Destruction of public records may constitute a violation of the Georgia Records Act,” said Hollie Manheimer, executive director of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation, an Atlanta-based nonprofit that promotes transparency in government. “The Secretary of State’s office maintains schedules of records and any time a public agency destroys public records, there’s cause for concern.”

Last fall, then-commissioner Robert Horgan cited friction between Bennett and two board members as a reason for his dismissal from his $130,000 a year job. Bennett received about six months’ severance.

“Scott has saved the county hundreds of thousands of dollars in the work he’s done,” Horgan said. “There’s nothing wrong with his performance.”

But Fayette County Commission Chair Steve Brown who called for an investigation into Bennett’s missing computer and hard drive criticized Bennett and Krakeel’s decisions to wipe clean their hard-drives. Brown said investigators in Collins’ office have indicated that chances of recovering the erased information would be slim.

“Scott knew once he left we’d go through his computer,” Brown said. “There’s no doubt information we were looking for was being erased.”

Brown said he was intending to review the information on Bennett’s hard drive to see if any information on it was relevant to an ethics case he’s involved in. Brown faces the ethics board on Wednesday to answer allegations regarding his decision to seek advice from the attorney general’s office about Bennett’s alleged ties to the Peachtree City attorney’s decision to sue the county.

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