PAY BACK: Superintendent to remit $2.8K for gas

Mar. 16—VALDOSTA — The Lowndes County Schools superintendent has agreed to pay the school district back $2,800 for gas he took from the district's bus fueling station.

The Valdosta Daily Times acquired video footage, through opens records requests, of Superintendent Dr. Shawn Haralson filling up his pickup truck and an auxiliary tank in the bed of the truck at the fueling station on multiple occasions.

Public records obtained by The Times show Haralson pumped at least $2,800 of gas between July 13, 2022 and Jan. 8, 2023.

In addition to the thousands of dollars of gasoline Haralson took from the fueling station, additional open records requests obtained by The Valdosta Daily Times show he had a routine practice of submitting gasoline receipts from numerous gas stations on his expense report during the same timeframe.

The Lowndes County Board of Education launched a third party investigation in January after the allegations surfaced, hiring counsel to assist with the probe.

After receiving the findings from the investigator, the school board approved a repayment plan for $2,800.

The memorandum said, "Outside counsel did not find credible information supporting the intentional use of system fuel for personal use by the Superintendent.

"However, to ensure transparency and utmost fairness to the taxpayers of the LCSD, the Superintendent has offered to reimburse the LSCD for undocumented fuel use by the Superintendent in the amount of $2,800.00 and the LCSD has agreed to accept the amount stated as appropriate reimbursement."

The Valdosta Daily Times has filed numerous open records request that were initially delayed, with school officials saying the requested documents were part of an open investigation and would not be released until the investigation had been completed.

In addition to obtaining video of Haralson filling up his pickup truck and an auxiliary tank on separate occasions, the newspaper has received copies of additional expenses and receipts from the superintendent which are being reviewed.

Both Haralson and school board Chairman Ronnie Weeks were contacted but did not respond to a Valdosta Daily Times' request for an interview.

In an unrelated case, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation on March 8 released a statement that Peach County Fire Chief/EMA Director Jeff Doles was arrested and charged with six counts of financial transaction card fraud and six counts of theft by taking (fiduciary theft). In that unrelated case, on Dec. 5, 2022, the Peach County Sheriff's Office requested the GBI investigate allegations that Doles used a county fuel card for personal purchases. That case file has been given to the Bibb Judicial Circuit District Attorney's Office for prosecution. In that case, Doles is accused of fraudulent charge of about $229. His bond was set at $10,000.

Haralson did not admit to wrongdoing in the Lowndes school system incidents but still said he would pay the $2,800 back.

Haralson was hired in May 2022, with a beginning date of July 1, 2022.

Community outcry, urging the board of education not to hire Haralson at the time, went unheeded, even after questions were raised about his performance at his previous employment.

According to the employment contract, also obtained as part of numerous open records requests, Haralson is paid an annual salary of $200,000 plus an annual 3% cost of living increase. In addition to the $1,000 monthly transportation stipend for maintaining a vehicle suitable to conduct the duties of the superintendent.

A Valdosta Daily Times review of Haralson's employee personnel file, also obtained through an open records request, turned up no reprimands, punitive action or negative comments.

This is a developing story that will be updated.