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State documents indicate Allen received training on changes to tax law

Monday, Jan. 27, 2014 6:58 PM
Last updated Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014 2:27 AM
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Columbia County Tax Commissioner Kay Allen attended training on the 2007 change in state law that affected her agreements to collect taxes for Harlem and Grovetown, according to state records.

A lawyer for Allen, who is under fire for accepting more than $160,000 in extra pay directly from these two cities, stated in a Jan. 17 letter to Gov. Nathan Deal that she was unaware of the change in law.

The Georgia Department of Revenue provided documents Monday that show Allen attended training in May 2007 in Athens covering changes that were about to take effect two months later.

Allen’s contracts with the two cities have been the subject of controversy for months and the target of investigations by the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office and the FBI. Allen has received additional compensation from the cities for decades.

The point of contention is over a change in state law that took place in 2007. The law states that in counties with more than 50,000 parcels, tax commissioners can receive additional pay from the county for such services, but not directly from a city. Since 2009, when Columbia County passed the 50,000-parcel threshold, Allen has collected more than $160,000 in extra pay directly from Harlem and Grovetown.

County Commission members contend this is a violation of state law and want the money returned. They have sent a letter to Deal seeking his intervention and the possible removal of Allen from office.

Allen, through her attorney, has said the payments do not violate the law. Her attorney, Douglas Chalmers Jr., also said she was not aware of the change in the law.

“Setting aside questions concerning the proper interpretation of the amended statute, to the best of Commissioner Allen’s recollection she was not aware in 2007 that this law had been amended,” Chalmers wrote in his Jan. 17 letter to Deal, responding to the governor’s inquiry and demand to show cause why she should remain in office.

Department of Revenue records, however, show Allen received 15 hours credit for attending the classes, which took place May 14-16. The training covered changes brought about by HB 486, creating a division between tax commissioners in small and large counties – those with more than 50,000 parcels.

According to PowerPoint slides provided by Revenue, the training discussed those changes to compensation in larger counties.

“The tax commissioner can receive compensation from the county (not the city directly) for the additional duties and responsibilities,” which include collection of city taxes, the slides stated.

Chalmers pointed out that the PowerPoint presentation covered not just that one change in the law, but gave an overview of legislative changes in eight other bills. He said it was “unrealistic” to expect elected officials to recall everything they learn in such training sessions.

“The fact of the matter is that Kay does not recall the state making the change in the law,” he said. “It may very well not have made an impression because it was not relevant for Columbia County at the time.”

It is true that in 2007 the law did not apply to Columbia County, which had just over 47,000 parcels. The county was growing rapidly, however, and by 2009 the parcel count had jumped to 51,028, according to county records.

Chalmers also points out that in 2009, Allen wasn’t the only one that failed to note the change in law or how it might affect her compensation. No county commissioners, the county administrator nor the county attorney brought up the matter. He says other tax commissioners around that state also had similar deals with municipalities.

“It appears to us the compensation that Kay was paid was entirely appropriate considering what other counties were doing in similar situations,” he said. “We continue to hope that we can reach and appropriate and fair resolution for all involved.”

Allen might not recall the training, but her former deputy, Dwight Johnson, said he also remembers the issue came up at another tax commissioner’s conference that same year. He said he was there when Allen voiced her opinion on the matter.

“I didn’t know what they were talking about at first, but then I remember them talking about city taxes,” Johnson said. “She was one of several that spoke up about it.”

Johnson said Allen told others that she would not be giving up that extra compensation from the cities for her services.

Johnson, who was fired by Allen in October over what she says was the misplacement of a $55 deposit, said he went to the FBI in August with his concerns about payments and other issues.

Most recently, he was the subject of a complaint by a worker in Allen’s office, who claimed he made threats while he was there to handle a motor vehicle tax issue. Clerk Diane Chiera told deputies that Johnson threatened the jobs of employees who made “statements about him” and made a slashing gesture to his throat.

Security video from Johnson’s visit that day, however, failed to support Cheira’s claims, and the incident is considered closed, according to sheriff’s Capt. Steve Morris.

“I didn’t make any throat-cutting gestures with my hands,” Johnson said. “I had a pleasant attitude the entire time.”

Johnson said he was informed by police that if he has any future business in the office he should bring his lawyer or call for a deputy to accompany him on the premises.

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itsanotherday1
43055
Points
itsanotherday1 01/27/14 - 08:11 pm
10
1
'Nuf said right there

"Columbia County Tax Commissioner Kay Allen attended training on the 2007 change in state law that affected her agreements to collect taxes for Harlem and Grovetown, according to state records."

This should now be a criminal matter.

Sweet son
10398
Points
Sweet son 01/27/14 - 08:29 pm
9
1
She knew and she stole the money!

As itsanotherday1 said 'nuf said right there.' She is a criminal and should be prosecuted! Her husband should also be considered since they probably filed joint tax returns. Both who are government officials should be held to the highest standards.

This ain't 'purity.' Stealing is stealing!

Thanks Steve for holding their feet to the fire.

Cynical old woman
1102
Points
Cynical old woman 01/27/14 - 09:36 pm
7
1
Ignorance is no excuse

If I'm pulled over for speeding not knowing the speed limit doesn't exempt me from a citation. Someone in her position simply MUST know the laws that pertain to her position. Prosecute her!

willie Lee
421
Points
willie Lee 01/27/14 - 09:41 pm
4
4
I can beat this one!
Unpublished

Tracey Carroll is a magistrate in Aiken County appointed by Sen. Shane Massey. Her job duties are for 40 hours of work handling small cases and setting bonds for criminal defendants. She is from New Jersey and her northern up-bringing in no way fits into our Southern way of life. She also took it upon herself to contract with the city of Aiken to be its Municipal Judge and does so by closing her office when ever court is in session for the city. For this, the City of Aiken pays her approximately $4,000.00 per month, in addition to her state salary. The arrangement is fine, but the money should go back to the county and not in her pocket. I truly believe that Aiken is one place more corrupt than Augusta, but it is close. No need to complain, everyone has been told but too many hands are in the pot.

Lee Benedict
1585
Points
Lee Benedict 01/27/14 - 10:05 pm
6
1
Inadequate counsel?

Chalmers pointed out that the PowerPoint presentation covered not just that one change in the law, but gave an overview of legislative changes in eight other bills. He said it was “unrealistic” to expect elected officials to recall everything they learn in such training sessions.???

OK, so...HOW ABOUT THE CHANGES THAT PERTAINED/WOULD SOON PERTAIN to Columbia County? Very well, counselor, does she remember anything? Nice try...ain't working, but nice try nonetheless. If I had to guess, I'd say that Ron Cross et al. had the conversation that went something like this: "How much will Kay get a year? 20, 30 thousand? Let's make a motion to yadda yadda yadda and allow her to continue collecting, use county resources, and split the pot? Nah, ain't worth it for 10-15 grand."

Who knows, but, she received the training, and we KNOW that she was present and received 15 hours credit. Just fess up and move on. At this point, I'd say to resign. Should she do so, you can bet that Boss Cross has someone lined up to run.

IBeDogGone
3014
Points
IBeDogGone 01/27/14 - 10:48 pm
8
1
Understand?

If she is not smart enough to sit through 15 hours of training and not remember anything about the new laws she is not smart enough to hold her position. Cough up the money and resign. I doubt she will ever be prosecuted but she has to know she is WRONG!

Little Lamb
45999
Points
Little Lamb 01/27/14 - 11:18 pm
8
2
Reporting

Please, please, please, Augusta Chronicle. Please obtain the contract between Grovetown and Kay Allen and the contract between Harlem and Kay Allen. They are public records. They must be presented to members of the public who properly fill out a GORA request.

Please let us readers know when the contracts were dated and what the terms are.

ruleoflaw
209
Points
ruleoflaw 01/28/14 - 12:35 am
5
2
City contracts

LL, I agree with you. Where are the contracts? I assume AC filed for these as soon as their existence was published. If they had been stalled by the State, the AC would have been complaining about it in print every chance they got. Since we haven't heard anything about them, I assume they have them, but publishing them doesn't help newspaper sales.
They have the time to dig up attendance in a meeting from 2007, but not the contracts that are said to be illegal? Come on AC, give us the goods...

Riverman1
83893
Points
Riverman1 01/28/14 - 05:37 am
7
1
Gov. Deal, Ashley Wright, Do Your Duty

Gov. Deal, do your duty and remove her from office quickly. Ashley Wright, do your duty and indict her. She not only went to the meeting where the law was explained, she arrogantly said she would keep the money when it was explained and again recently. Breaking the law can't be ignored.

iaaffg
2224
Points
iaaffg 01/28/14 - 06:04 am
4
2
let 'em eat cake...or something like it

another government worker that lies and can't take responsibility for personal actions. just let your average joe or jane doe citizen try this one and see how quickly he/she is escorted to the nearest empty jail cell. this thief needs to be removed. no one else can get away with saying "i didn't know what the law was"; and now we find out she received the training for the law change, so now we know her attorney ALSO LIES. is this the blind leading the blind, or liars leading liars? oh, and joy-joy, this witch has a hubby who plans to run for the senate or something? great. we can only guess at what distortions of the truth lies within his politico head and what pearls of dubious wisdom might spring from his politico lips when he does campaign. but i'm sure his wife has lots of handy tips for him for playing this game, though, since she's had 'decades and decades' of experience doing it.

Riverman1
83893
Points
Riverman1 01/28/14 - 06:09 am
5
1
Rule of Law, I'd rather see

Rule of Law, I'd rather see the checks from the towns and Allen's bank accounts since the towns said they thought they were paying the county and not Allen personally. One thing we now know, her attorney sent the Governor a letter with mistruths.

D D DOG
97
Points
D D DOG 01/28/14 - 06:41 am
3
1
jUST WHAT WILL IT TAKE
Unpublished

Just what will it take for our law enforcement to do their job and prosecute Kay Allen. I guess she didn't know she had to pay income tax either.This is past rediculous. So Johnson now has to call a deputy to go to the tag office. K. A. is an evil person and has no conscious. She still strong arms her employees to lie for her(see video dchiera65) Governor Deal, Ashley Wright, Ron Cross, C.C. Police, please do your job that we taxpayers pay you to do. I cannot get e-mail thru to Governor Deal but I have written several letters to him. I don't know where he stands on this matter,but am begining to smell a rat. It is begining to seem like the Internal Revenue Servive is also dragging their feet. Per info K.A. hasn't paid any income tax on the money she stole from us. This is not the first time she has taken money illegally from the taxpayers. (per Ron Cross) Anyone know how to get e-mail to the Governor ???????? Maybe we need to go above the Governor (any sugestions ??) nuf said

ColCo
780
Points
ColCo 01/28/14 - 06:57 am
4
1
D D DOG

Add Federal Prosecutor Ed Tarver to your list of people who could/should act. I would assume the Governor won't take action until Allen is indicted on State or Federal charges.

ruleoflaw
209
Points
ruleoflaw 01/28/14 - 07:46 am
2
3
RM, You can't get the bank

RM, You can't get the bank account info from a GORA request though. That will come out if this goes to trial or from an IRS audit. I don't think the amount of compensation or that it came from the cities is questioned. We should be looking for facts here and whether those facts point to a breach of law. The training she attended mentioned in the article does not make one hill of beans here. Even if she never had any training, she has the responsibility to act withing the law, period. You won't get anywhere saying her attorney lied in the letter; he stated she was unaware of the law change, not that she had never been told the law changed.
Here is what we know:

GA Law in 2007 made all new contracts subject to new requirements.
In 2009, Columbia County fell under the new req's.
Kay Allen has received since then, direct payments from cities.
Under contracts written prior to 2009, this is permitted.
It is not permitted under contracts written after 2009.

Everything else is either fluff, or falls under another issue:
Treatment of Johnson - HR
Not paying taxes on income - IRS
Public trust - for an election to decide.

Much has been made here about how payments are made (secret envelopes, etc.) Nothing in the law says how payments are to be made under the old system. And what the real argument here is "are we under the old system via contracts which predate the law change, or not?"
Even the amount of compensation has precedence in GA, and is not out of line with other Tax Commisioners in the State.
To those who would say I'm defending Allen...I am not saying she's not guilty of something, just that we have not seen key facts (contracts) which will clearly take away the main defense that all other TC's in GA are using to skirt the new law. the TC in Fulton County gets more in one year from this ($300K) than Allen has received since the change in law ($160K).

myfather15
55706
Points
myfather15 01/28/14 - 07:52 am
5
1
Why is this woman still in

Why is this woman still in office? She SHOULD do the honorable thing and resign!! But, it appears through her actions and her disciplinary tactics, she has no honor!! But we can't expect government officials, especially elected ones, to do the right thing, now can we? If we do, we are fools!!

Patriot
52
Points
Patriot 01/28/14 - 08:51 am
5
0
Contractually Speaking

If there were contracts between Grovetown/Harlem and Allen, did the county attorney review the contracts prior to Allen signing? If not, why? It would seem to me that the county attorney would review all contracts between a county government office and any other entity prior to anyone signing. That procedure sounds like a logical check and balance. Is there such a procedure? If not, why?

ruleoflaw
209
Points
ruleoflaw 01/28/14 - 09:42 am
2
1
Patriot, do you mean the

Patriot, do you mean the County attorney that resigned recently......?

Red Headed Step Child
4055
Points
Red Headed Step Child 01/28/14 - 10:29 am
4
1
Anyone with a brainstem has

Anyone with a brainstem has known for YEARS that Columbia County was growing fast - it really doesn't take all that long for 3,000+ parcels to come into existence. Sure, maybe the change in the law didn't affect Col County in 2007, but it sure wouldn't be too long before it did. Allen, having lived in the county for 30+ years, and by virtue of being a public servant in this county should have know that was on the horizon. Lame excuse, Mrs. Allen.

As for the comment by her counsel that it's unrealistic for elected officials to recall all of their training - if that's the case, she shouldn't be in office . Training has a purpose, you know.

seenitB4
87173
Points
seenitB4 01/28/14 - 10:31 am
3
1
Atlanta--complicated & ongoing hassle

State lawmakers will try again this year to rein in the sale of overdue property tax bills to private collection firms, aiming to cut profits for both the Fulton County tax collector and his biggest buyer of tax liens.

House Bill 819, introduced this week, seeks to end practices exposed last year in several investigations by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The measure would stop Fulton County Tax Commissioner Arthur Ferdinand from earning 50 cents every time he sells a delinquent tax bill or a taxpayer settles a lien on his or her own. Ferdinand is apparently the only Georgia tax commissioner collecting that money, and critics have called it a staggering conflict of interest because it gives him a profit motive to sell more liens.

ruleoflaw
209
Points
ruleoflaw 01/28/14 - 10:39 am
2
1
LL, AC has the contracts...see here

We missed it. Look here:
http://chronicle.augusta.com/news/crime-courts/2013-12-14/sheriffs-inqui...

Quote"Grovetown City Administrator Shirley Beasley and Harlem City Manager Jason Rizner supplied copies of contracts signed by Allen for the tax collection service. The cities have agreed to pay Allen 2 percent of total property taxes billed. This year that amounted to $36,000 – $29,000 from Grovetown and $7,000 from Harlem – that Allen pocketed as personal compensation for her services."

Now why has the AC not published the contracts, or spoken about the language in them? Also who are the contracting parties, and how is that spelled out? Grovetown and Harlem have argued they thought they were contracting with the County. Surely the contracts would help clarify this. The AC could at least release the dates on the contracts to clear up whether they predate the law.
The AC has been quick to release other documents, why not these?

I would also like to see the training presentation talked about in this article, as well as the full list of county and city delegates who also attended.

Marinerman1
4846
Points
Marinerman1 01/28/14 - 10:56 am
7
1
A Couple of Things

1) I'm still trying to figure out why Kay Allen thought that the money was all hers, since she didn't do any of the REAL work. It should've been distributed to the people with her getting a share, for use of her management
2) Are you kidding me about Ashley Wright indicting Kay Allen ??!! Ashley can't even get around to indicting Scott Dean's adopted daughter, that now admits lying under oath. Are you REALLY serious about this ??

Discussionstarter
495
Points
Discussionstarter 01/28/14 - 11:40 am
5
0
Kay Allen and her husband-commissioner need to resign

Then the investigation needs to focus on anyone / everyone that was aware of this and did nothing OR did not do the audits that should have been done to have an 'honest' government. Also the lady in the tax office that filed the complaint against Dwight needs to resign; the CCSO investigation proved he did not do what she said.

David Parker
7923
Points
David Parker 01/28/14 - 12:33 pm
2
0
It's like that episode of

It's like that episode of Family Guy where Peter's welfare cheque has an extra couple of zero's and he builds a castle and moat around his house. He knew it was a mistake but couldn't resist the temptation. The promise of bliss is more powerful than you can ever imagine. (ripped from Star Wars)

Dixieman
14943
Points
Dixieman 01/28/14 - 04:14 pm
1
0
Not really

I've been to LOTS of continuing professional education seminars over the years and took away some good points, but I certainly was never able to remember EVERYTHING presented! Not a fair standard. Anyway, I think this is a red herring -- ignorance of the law is not an excuse or a valid defense.
And what is all this stuff about her personal income tax return? No allegation that I have seen says she did not report what she received as taxable income. If she did and has to repay it, she will get a great big refund because she and her husband will have overpaid their taxes!

Red Headed Step Child
4055
Points
Red Headed Step Child 01/28/14 - 05:06 pm
1
0
Continuing education

I'd agree with @Dixieman's statement about not remembering everything you're exposed to, but if the information impacted you from a legal standpoint, and in this case monetary compensation, most people would give it more attention and keep it top of mind.

You can bet your sweet tootie if I'd been given information about an update in a tax law that would impact my ability to lay claim to some significant income as a Tax Commissioner, I'd be keeping my eye on it. Especially when the cutoff point (the 50k parcel limit) was in reality not too far off based on the rate the county was growing. Not only that, I'd want to be sure that I was in legal compliance at all times. But hey, that's just me.

This just goes to show that there has to be some checks and balances in things like this - she could have honestly overlooked the point when the growth in the county parcels caused her to become ineligible for those funds, but then again, she may have hoped no one was the wiser. Whatever the case is, it needs to be resolved appropriately and measures need to be in place that things like this don't happen again.

Discussionstarter
495
Points
Discussionstarter 01/29/14 - 11:46 am
0
0
Columbia County Leaders did not do their job.

Too many failures with respect to governmental checks and balances that should have been in place over the last five years to catch this. This issue should not 'go away quietly'. If it does 'disappear'.... the citizens and voters of Columbia County are to blame for not holding people in authority accountable. I hope Gov. Deal addresses this issue soon!

D D DOG
97
Points
D D DOG 01/29/14 - 01:55 pm
0
0
Thanks Steve Crawford
Unpublished

One big "THANK YOU" to Steve Crawford for keeping this story alive. I only hope and pray all our efforts are not in vain.

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