It appears that a special election to replace Kay Allen as Columbia County tax commissioner will have to wait until November, officials said Thursday.
Columbia County Elections Director Nancy Gay said her understanding of the law is that it requires such an election coincide with a general election, which is set for Nov. 4.
The embattled tax commissioner struck a deal with the county on Tuesday, agreeing to resign from office to settle months of controversy over fees she had been collecting from Grovetown and Harlem as compensation for collecting city taxes.
Her husband, District 3 Commissioner Charles Allen, also agreed to step down as part of the settlement announced at Tuesday’s Board of Commissioner’s meeting.
As for filling the District 3 commission seat, Gay said it might be possible to place it on the upcoming primary election ballot in May, but that, too, seems problematic.
“It is still possible, however, the window is closing fast,” Gay said.
Gay explained that election law specifies time periods to advertise such special elections, set a period for candidate qualifying and to mail out absentee ballots. It would be very difficult to meet all those deadlines at this late date, she said.
The elections became necessary after the resignations were announced this week.
After weeks of negotiating and legal wrangling, Kay Allen decided it would be best to step down to avoid a prolonged legal battle and additional expense to county taxpayers, said her attorney, Jack Long.
Long arrived at the end of Tuesday’s commission meeting with signed copies of the settlement agreement. After meeting with commissioners in closed session, it was made public.
Commission Chairman Ron Cross said the agreement accomplished their main objective, to end the controversy and allow the government to get back to work.
He acknowledged that some might question allowing Allen to keep half of the more than $160,000 in question, but said it was the best deal, given the options.
“A lot of people might want every single pint of blood, but those with some knowledge will know this could have extended into 12 or 18 months and run well over $100,000 (in legal fees),” Cross said. “Our main mission was to have her out of office, and that was accomplished, so we were happy with that.”
In the settlement agreement approved Tuesday, Allen returned half the money to the county, a total of $80,650, and submitted her resignation to Gov. Nathan Deal. The county also agreed to withdraw its letter to the governor seeking her removal.
Cross said the Allens supplied a check for the disputed funds Tuesday.
“It was paid that night and has already been turned over to the finance department,” he said.
County Administrator Scott Johnson said he had submitted the tax commissioner’s letter of resignation to Deal’s office and was waiting for an acknowledgement. Johnson said Charles Allen’s resignation was effective immediately.
Cross said that although Charles Allen’s resignation was never formally demanded, it had been discussed by commissioners and it was the general consensus that it was necessary for the county to move on.
“It was part of general discussion and the impression, given the overall situation, was it would probably be better if he would (resign),” Cross said. “He is a nice guy and we have been friends for 35 years or so. It is just an awful situation for him and everybody involved.”
Johnson said as soon as the governor accepts Kay Allen’s resignation, Deputy Tax Commissioner Steve Adams will step in. It will be up to the governor to call for a special election, but officials think it will coincide with the one in November.
Johnson said it will be best for taxpayers and voters if both elections are on the Nov. 4 ballot. He said it will give candidates time to prepare and save the county the cost of another election.
“I don’t know why we would spend (thousands), just to rush the election by three or four months,” he said.