Recorded Call with Senator: Kemp Was “Leaning Pretty Hard” on Bulloch Commissioners for Mega Site Wells

A recorded phone call between a state senator and a county commissioner-elect sheds light on the wide array of players involved in the recent approval of water agreements between Bryan and Bulloch counties for the Hyundai Mega Site. It also highlights the lack of communication between the different layers of government.

On the audio of the recorded phone call, David Bennett, Bulloch County Commission Chairman-Elect, and State Senator Billy Hickman can be heard discussing the nuances of Bulloch County providing water to Bryan County. The conversation reportedly took place ahead of the special called commission meeting on June 27th in Bulloch County. The meeting, which would happen a few hours after the call, is where officials formally voted on a mitigation program for people adversely impacted by the wells for the Mega Site and a contract to provide both water and sewer services to the Mega Site in Bryan County.

In various parts of the discussion, the pair discussed the influence of the state on the decisions made by commissioners as well as the threats by the state to take the lead on the well matter in Bulloch County and ensure water is provided to the Mega Site. Several of the comments made by Hickman rebut what was said in the county commission meeting that occurred later the same day. 

The audio recording, which was provided to by a third party, is in its entirety at the bottom of this article. 

During the conversation, Hickman can be heard telling Bennett what he knows about the state’s role in the process and the reasoning behind it.

“This is the Governor’s pet project down there with that plant and he’s got two more years in office,” Hickman said.

He mentioned Bennett’s opposition to what was, at the time, the proposed agreement. 

“I want you to be aware of my concern…and I just don’t want him (the Governor) to hold any gru…we got so many great things going on down here and I just don’t want him to hold any grudges against you or any of our crowd,” Hickman told him as he explained that he wants Bennett to be successful.

Hickman said no one from Atlanta had called him, but he knows “for a fact” that “Roy [Thompson] received a call” and that the governor was “leaning on that crowd pretty hard to get this thing done.”

That statement corroborates what two county commissioners have been telling Bulloch County citizens in private, but contradicts what Chairman Roy Thompson said in Thursday’s county commission meeting. Ahead of the vote to approve the water agreements, Thompson told a packed room: 

“I’ve been accused twice tonight of having talked with the Governor about this. I’ve never talked to the Governor. Never had a telephone call. Smile if you like. You’ve got a beautiful smile. Never talked to the Governor about this. Never been approached by the Governor about this. Never have spoken to him over the telephone. Never have talked to him privately. Publicly. Had one picture made with him out At Anderson’s Dollar General out there when he was running for, and it offends me for people to say I’ve talked to the Governor over the telephone. On that Bible right there, I swear to God that I have not talked to the Governor.”

Earlier in the meeting, after citizen Cassandra Mikell said in an open meeting that Senator Hickman had said Thompson received a call from Kemp, Thompson told the crowd he “didn’t give a damn” what Billy Hickman said. 

On the call with Bennett, Hickman can also be heard telling Bennett that he doesn’t want Kemp to slow anything down that Bennett tries to work on [once he’s sworn in] and that all politicians have a way of keeping numbers and names. He also emphasized how much money Bulloch County receives from the state. 

Bennett replied by telling Hickman he appreciated his concern about his political career but that he had “legitimate concerns” about what’s going on with the water agreements. Bennett, who lives in the area that, based on EPD reports, is expected to be impacted by the well placement, explained to Hickman that his main concern is ensuring that a mitigation plan “of substance” is in place and “provides protection for the people of Bulloch County.” Bennett said he understood that whether he wants them or not, the wells will be put in and making sure people are protected is where his focus remained.

Bennett then asked Hickman if he had read the proposed mitigation plan, to which Hickman replied that he had not.

“What they did is they took the draft amendment to the permits and they copied it almost word for word and there’s nothing of substance,” Bennett told him, noting that there’s nothing certain about the funding and there’s no process for people who are concerned or slated to be impacted. He also told Hickman that a big problem is that the people don’t currently trust their local government to follow through on what they’re supposed to do. “They want to see something in black and white.”

Hickman then asked Bennett “Can’t you, when you get into office, implement this mitigation plan? David Bennett could be like the hero going forward.”

Bennett repeated his concerns and went on to belabor that the statutory process is not being followed. 

“With these permits, there is a statutory process that is laid out..why are we, all of sudden, because Governor Kemp decided this needed to be decided this week. And now everybody’s going to jump through hoops to make this happen. The statutory process is not complete,” Bennett said. He went on to say this issue can’t wait six months until he’s in office, that the plan needs to be solidified before the drilling begins. 

“99% of what you told me, I was not aware of,” Hickman replied. Hickman then stated that he agreed with Bennett because he thought the plan was already in place. 

“Brian Kemp will get his wells,” Bennett said. “Why doesn’t he let the process just work? Instead of trying to come in here and be heavy handed and “encourage” local government officials to make this happen, why doesn’t he be a leader and come up with a solution? If the state provides the funding to indemnify the wells, all the issues go away.”

Hickman said “I’m sure his concern is that all papers say the first cars are going to come off that plant in October – November and he’s thinking that ‘hey it’s July 1. We’ve got to dig a well and run a line.”

Bennett said the plan was started in 2018 and has been underway for six years with no plan for water. “Why is that the people of Bulloch County’s problem now?” 

“Well, yeah. Well, I appreciate you calling me back,” Hickman replied. 

Bennett also told Hickman that he doesn’t believe the state wants to manage the wells because they don’t want to pay to drill them, manage them, and monitor them. 

The call ended shortly thereafter with Bennett sharing with Hickman that he hoped he would pass his concerns along to Kemp, that he would be glad to share his concerns with the Governor himself, and that he would send the mitigation plan proposal to Hickman for him to review. 

You can listen to the audio in its entirety below.

Jessica Szilagyi

Jessica Szilagyi is Publisher of TGV News. She focuses primarily on state and local politics as well as issues in law enforcement and corrections. She has a background in Political Science with a focus in local government and has a Master of Public Administration from the University of Georgia.

Jessica is a "Like It Or Not" contributor for Fox5 in Atlanta and co-creator of of the Peabody Award-nominated podcast 'Prison Town.'

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