The Columbia County Commission voted Monday morning to send an official letter to Gov. Nathan Deal reporting “possible malfeasance” on the part of Tax Commissioner Kay Allen.
Commission Chairman Ron Cross said he and all the other commissioners were obliged to notify the governor under state law.
“The action taken here today brings no joy to this commission. It neither supports nor condemns the alleged conduct of the tax commissioner,” said Cross in a statement following the vote. “By law each of us is required to report any suspicions of misconduct to the governor.”
The malfeasance cited in the letter refers to Allen’s fees from the cities of Grovetown and Harlem to collect taxes “which she retained as personal compensation that should have been remitted to the county.”
According to records acquired by The Augusta Chronicle, since 2009, Allen collected more than $160,000 in personal compensation from the two cities for those services. Allen has acknowledged those payments were fees she kept for herself. Her total compensation for 2013, including $36,000 from Harlem and Grovetown, was $171,597, according to county documents.
The commission’s letter states that practice is a “clear violation” of state law, which says “the governing authority, not the tax commissioner, may contract with municipalities to accept, receive and retain compensation if the county had more than 50,000 parcels.”
Columbia County passed the 50,000-parcel threshold in 2009, two years after the law went into effect.
The letter also says Allen was made aware of the changes in the law in a 2007 state training for tax commissioners conducted by the Georgia Department of Revenue.
Grovetown and Harlem officials have said they thought the payments were going to the county, not to Allen’s personal bank account.
The Columbia County Sheriff’s Office wrapped up its investigation into the matter last week and forwarded its files to District Attorney Ashley Wright.
According to the commission’s letter to the governor, “no less than two federal law enforcement agencies” are also investigating the tax commissioner’s side deals with the two cities. Cross said it was his understanding that investigators with the FBI and the IRS are involved.
Commissioner’s approved the letter unanimously, except for Commissioner Charles Allen, Kay Allen’s husband, who recused himself from the vote.
Allen was in her Evans office Monday, after being absent from work most of last week.
She directed a reporter’s questions to the Atlanta area attorney she has retained, Douglas Chalmers Jr., of Political Law Group.
“Any questions, you will need to talk with my attorney,” Allen said Monday.
In an e-mail Monday, Chalmers said Allen had also retained attorney Pat McDonough of the law firm of Andersen, Tate & Carr. McDonough heads up the firm’s criminal defense division, according to the firm Web site. Chalmers said they also will be working with Augusta attorney, Jack Long, a longtime friend of the tax commissioner.
Chalmers said Allen will not be making any public comment on the situation.
“She will not make any statements while there is an investigation is going on,” he said. “I will speak for her when she needs to make a statement.”
Chalmers said his client was a dedicated public servant and disputed the idea that Allen had violated any state laws in her agreements to collect city taxes.
“Georgia law has long provided, and it still provides, that county tax commissioners are authorized to accept extra compensation when they do extra work by helping townships collect local taxes,” he said. “We look forward to vigorously defending Kay against any incorrect, politically-motivated allegations to the contrary.”