A year and a half ago, the GBI began looking into questions of whether Twiggs County Administrator Glenn Barton was running a private business from his county office, and investigators later found more than 1,300 “images of adult pornography” on his county computer, according to a recent GBI report.
A GBI agent said the agency found no evidence of any crime, but questions don’t seem to be going away. The issues surrounding Barton are expected to come up at the Tuesday night meeting of the Twiggs County Commission.
Twiggs County Commissioner Tommie Lee Bryant said Barton should be fired for the pornography on the computer, but he doubts other commissioners will vote for termination.
“Anybody else, without a shadow of doubt, he’d be gone,” Bryant said.
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A Houston County special prosecutor who reviewed the case, Amy E. Smith, said allegations that Barton was running a business from the county office “are basically unfounded.” But after investigators found hundreds of images that “were not explicitly sexual in nature,” Smith decided last month not to pursue any criminal charges against Barton.
“Whatever transactions which may have occurred at his office did not interfere or impede the work for which he was being paid by Twiggs County,” Smith wrote. The pornography wasn’t criminal, Smith wrote, but she didn’t know if they might violate county policies.
The GBI’s Craig Rotter, assistant special agent in charge of the Perry office, said the pornography hadn’t appeared through regular Web browsing.
“It was downloaded onto the computer, so whoever was using the computer, they were accessing the porno sites,” Rotter said.
No child pornography, which is illegal, was found.
“My understanding is it was nude photographs of adult women,” Rotter said.
Barton declined to comment, referring questions to County Attorney Tom Richardson. Richardson said he didn’t think the county would have the means to investigate the pornography claims, nor should it. Richardson said there has been no crime.
“I’m satisfied there is nothing else to go forward with, and anything else is just speculation, politically motivated, a contrary view,” Richardson said.
Commission Chairman Ray Bennett said the GBI report speaks for itself. He also referred questions to Richardson.
Another commissioner, Donald Floyd, said he knew there wouldn’t be criminal charges in the case, but he said he wants to know more about how the pictures got onto the computer.
Commissioner Milton Sampson said the images could have gotten onto the computer accidentally, through regular Web browsing. He said he thought the investigation was adequate.
“If the (district attorney) says there was nothing there that’s criminal or could be prosecuted, I’m satisfied with that,” Sampson said. “I’m glad that we did turn that over for investigation.”
The other commissioner, Kathryn Epps, could not be reached for comment.
The investigation began in 2009 with a complaint from Bryant forwarded through Sheriff Darren Mitchum. Mitchum asked the GBI to investigate whether Barton had been running his business, Macon Feed and Seed, from the county offices.
Laurens County District Attorney Craig Frasier decided last year that Barton’s minor business dealings from the county offices didn’t rise to the level of criminal prosecution.
Barton told investigators that Bryant was gunning for him and “has always tried to find a way to fire me by using lies and accusations.”
“Commissioner Bryant’s efforts increased substantially four years ago, after my recommendation to the board in May 2004 against Commissioner Bryant’s brother was made,” Barton wrote. “That recommendation resulted in termination of Mr. Edgar Bryant from the Road Crew for theft.”
In a letter to the GBI, Barton wrote that Commissioner Bryant’s “limited intellect is compensated by a virulent attack by innuendo and lies against anyone who opposes him and all he really knows how to do is destroy.”
Bryant said he holds himself, not Barton, responsible for his brother’s termination. Bryant said his worry now is what Barton has done.
The GBI’s case was reopened in May 2010, four months after it had been closed, after someone told a prosecutor that Barton’s computer contained potential child pornography.
Barton told an investigator that he had been “viewing chat pages from a website called Philippino Kiss.com” to help his brother find a bride once he was divorced, according to a GBI summary. Barton said his brother remarried, but the Twiggs County administrator continued “speaking with the females from this website on the computer because he had developed some friendships with them.” Barton told the investigator it was recreation for him and done mostly at home, where any conversations with any sexual overtones would have taken place.
Barton said none of the photos he’d received was pornographic, and none was received at work.
Walt Ashby, a Twiggs County resident who requested a copy of the GBI’s file, said commissioners need to punish Barton because he violated the employee handbook and broke the trust of citizens.
“I think he should be no less than reprimanded, if he’s not terminated,” Ashby said.
Ashby and Bryant said they hope to discuss the investigation at the commissioners’ meetings Tuesday, beginning at 7 p.m. in the county courthouse. Ashby appears on the agenda. There is also an agenda item for executive session, when issues involving county personnel may be discussed behind closed doors.
To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.