Originally created 06/04/06

Early exits from office cost voters



Democracy is not cheap, especially in Richmond County.

Augusta taxpayers have shelled out more than a quarter of a million dollars, none of it budgeted, for special elections in the past 12 months .

And it's not over yet.

On Tuesday, John Seitz, the Richmond County Board of Education's District 3 representative, decided it was time to call it quits with seven months

left in his second four-year term.

His reason : new career choices that will create an ethical conflict with his public life, he wrote in an e-mail statement sent to The Augusta Chronicle on Friday.

What that exactly means is unclear.

When contacted Thursday night , Mr. Seitz claimed a poor telephone connection before hanging up . He did not respond

to questions sent by e-mail Friday.

What is clear is that it will cost between $13,000 and $15,000 to hold a special election for the seat, said Lynn Bailey, the director of the Richmond County Board of Elections.

The timing of Mr. Seitz's resignation is too late for the District 3 special election to be held during the July primary and too early for the November general election. The election for his seat will be Sept. 19.

"It really is a timing issue," Mrs. Bailey said.

The big money, though, was spent on special elections in 2005.

"It was one of the most unusual years I've ever worked in my entire career," Mrs. Bailey said.

The expense of the elections comes from staffing the polls. Countywide elections require as many as 650 poll workers.

"They all have to be paid, and they all have to be trained," she said.

There are also other costs , such as printing ballots and hiring temporary workers to supplement her permanent office staff of seven.

But the money has to be spent, and the county will have to keep coming up with it, which is going to be tough, Augusta Commission Finance Committee Chairman Joe Bowles said.

"I think it's irresponsible for someone to run for a position and then resign," he said.

"I would hope that we could keep this from being another tax burden."

Reach Amy Allyn Swann at (706) 823-3338 or amy.swann@augustachronicle.com.

The Cost of Special Ellections

Special elections in the past year have cost Augusta taxpayers $288,000, according to Lynn Bailey, the director of the Richmond County Board of Elections. A special election for the District 3 Board of Education seat will add an estimated $15,000. The expense in many cases was unavoidable, such as the vacancies created by the conviction of former Sen. Charles Walker and the death of state District 121 Rep. Henry Howard. The vacancies also created a cascading effect, with elected officials resigning one post to run for another.

The following breaks down the costs of the special elections, including those races added to a general election. The money was spent to pay for the hundreds of personnel it takes to run each election and other associated costs, such as advance voting and legal advertisements.

The following breaks down the costs of the special elections, including those races added to a general election. The money was spent to pay for the hundreds of personnel it takes to run each election and other associated costs, such as advance voting and legal advertisements.

$73,000

June 21, 2005 * Bond referendum

* Referendums were held on a $100 million general obligation bond to help pay for a new judicial center, jail space and sheriff's office and a $60 million bond to pay for an entertainment and sports arena at the Regency Mall site. Both were defeated, as was a referendum that would have given the commission and school board the ability to raise money to improve blighted areas through the creation of special tax districts.

Precincts Open: 72

$65,000

Sept. 20, 2005 * Senate district 22

* Held to fill the unexpired term of former Sen. Charles Walker after he was convicted on 127 federal criminal charges June 3, 2005. Ed Tarver won the three-way race out right against former state Rep. Ben Allen and former state Rep. George Brown.

Precincts open: 43

$35,000

Nov. 8, 2005 * Special elections held in conjunction with General Election

* Augusta Mayor: Held to fill the unexpired term of Mayor Bob Young, who left to become the regional director of the Department of Housing and Urban Development in Atlanta. The race led to a run off between Willie Mays and newcomer Deke Copenhaver.

* Richmond County Board of Education District 9: Held to fill the term of Johnny Hatney, who resigned to run for Mr. Mays ' seat. The race went to a run off between A.K. Hasan and Robert Howard.

* Georgia House District 121: Held to fill the unexpired term of Henry Howard, who died in October. The seat is filled by his widow, Earnestine Howard.

Precincts Open: 72

In addition to the $80,000 already in the budget for the election.

$115,000M

Dec. 6, 2005 * Run off for special mayoral election and other special races

* Elected:Mr. Copenhaver, mayor, and Mr. Hasan, board of education

Precincts Open: 72

$15,000

Sept. 19 * Richmond County Board of Education District 3

* Held to fill the unexpired term of John Seitz, who is resigning to seek a job with the board of education. If there is a run off, the cost of the election will double.

Precincts Open: 10

Estimated cost

Source: Lynn Bailey, Richmond Country Board of Elections