Candidates don't dwell on mistakes

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Some candidates for the Augusta Commission who want to handle your tax money don't do such a good job handling their own, and a few have public records they wouldn't want to brag about.

A check of public tax and court records found that three candidates have gone bankrupt in the past. Three have unpaid judgments against them, and five others have late payment records.

Five of the 16 candidates in contested races have had more than one traffic citation. One was charged with DUI, another with driving with a suspended or revoked license and several with driving unregistered vehicles.

Super District 10 Commissioner Don Grantham, District 2 candidate Michael Meyers and District 6 candidate Joe Jackson have unblemished records. Several missed that mark only by a speeding ticket, a tag violation or a lien or two.

Bill Bozarth, the executive director of Common Cause Georgia, said if candidates haven't kept their affairs in order, the voters should know about it so they can take that into consideration.

"That's what democracy and representative government are all about," he said. "Voters have a sense of fairness and are willing to forgive past offenses, but if they are going to make good decisions, they need that information.

"I believe in holding elected officials to high standards, but if we demand perfection, we'll have a hard time finding candidates," he said.

DISTRICT 2 CANDIDATE Corey L. Johnson Sr. has had his share of financial troubles and misdemeanor run-ins with the law, the most serious of which was a charge of reckless conduct against a person in 2000. That's when he rammed his 1989 Oldsmobile Regency into Brian Shalby Johnson's Mitsubishi Galant at the Pump 'N Shop on Tobacco Road, an action that got him a year's probation.

The candidate said his mistake was going to court without an attorney. He denied ramming the car and said the warrant was frivolous. He also contends he was arrested and jailed illegally.

"There's more to that story," he said. "It was an unfortunate situation. Live and learn. If I had gotten an attorney, I would have won that case."

Mr. Johnson's record since 1991 also includes four speeding charges, a noise ordinance violation, two seat-belt violations and driving without insurance. In 2001, he was charged with possession of an open container of alcohol and DUI, which was later reduced to reckless driving and earned him 12 months and 10 days on probation.

"I got an attorney on that," he said. "Yes, I drunk a couple of beers over dinner, but I was not intoxicated. He took me in on suspicion."

Mr. Johnson attributes his speeding tickets to youth.

"I happened to get a couple of speeding tickets," he said. "Nothing I have done I'm ashamed of because I've learned and can share with other people. How do you counsel someone else if you've never been through it yourself?

"I'm not talking about murder or senseless crimes," he added. "I don't agree with that."

As for his 1998 Chapter 13 bankruptcy, Mr. Johnson said he and his wife bought a house in Grovetown and had more debt than they could handle after he lost his job.

"We talked to an attorney, and that was the route he said we should take," he said.

DISTRICT 2 CANDIDATE Willie Law IV has also had some financial and traffic troubles.

According to State Court records, Mr. Law was cited for driving without insurance in 1998 and for not having the proper vehicle registration and license in 1999. In 2002, he was charged with driving without insurance and following too closely after being involved in a wreck.

"The car insurance had just lapsed, and I had a little fender bender," he said. "I had paid the insurance, but the check hadn't gotten there before the insurance was canceled."

As for the 1999 citation, Mr. Law said, "My license has never been suspended."

The 1998 charges were filed because Mr. Law's tag had expired and he did not have proof of insurance when police pulled him over near Daniel Village. The charges were later dropped, according to the records.

Court records show a judgment against him was granted to First Resolution Trust Corp. in January 2006, which now totals $2,700 in principal, interest, attorney fees and court costs. The Georgia Department of Education was also granted a $2,496 judgment against Bethlehem Community Center and Mr. Law in 1995, which now totals $3,124, court records show.

Mr. Law said he did not know what the First Resolution Trust judgment is about. As for the education department judgment, "It was about the milk money," he said. "They said we owed a certain amount, and we replied that we didn't. Our executive director was supposed to have cleared all that up."

DISTRICT 2 CANDIDATE Charlie Hannah has an unpaid judgment that was filed against him a year ago by Gault Financial LLC, assignee of Household Bank, but when contacted last week, he said, "This is my first time hearing about it."

He was equally surprised to hear about a 1990 citation for alteration of license plates.

"Apparently something happened, but I can honestly say I have never altered a tag," he said. Then Mr. Hannah recalled he might have taken the tag off a truck and put it on a Cadillac because it wasn't running for a time.

"That's the only thing I can think of," he said.

DISTRICT 2 CANDIDATE Freddie Lee Handy's extensive tardy tax- and bill-paying record has been reported a number of times when he ran in previous elections, but he currently owes no back taxes or liens.

DISTRICT 2 CANDIDATE Melvin Ford was charged with driving without insurance and running a stop sign in 2001.

DISTRICT 4 INCUMBENT Bernard Harper filed for bankruptcy in 1996. Included in the debts was nearly $6,000 related to child support.

"I was facing some hardships back them, and that was the best plan for us," he said. "Not full Chapter 7. I put myself on a plan, and all my creditors were paid off."

DISTRICT 4 CANDIDATE Tanya Barnhill had six traffic citations from 1998 and 2005. In December 1998, she pleaded guilty to driving with an expired tag. Four months later, she was charged with driving while her license was suspended or revoked. She said she was out of the country when the license expired and got pulled over before she could get it renewed. She pleaded no contest and paid a fine.

In May 2000, Ms. Barnhill was charged with no proof of insurance and driving without insurance and again pleaded no contest and paid a fine. A month later, she was charged with driving too fast for conditions and paid a cash bond, as she did in 2003 for speeding. In 2005, she was charged with operating an unregistered vehicle and paid a cash bond.

According to court records, Ms. Barnhill also owes $2,000 in a judgment filed against her by Thomas O. Edwards Jr. in 1997. However, she said that was settled years ago.

DISTRICT 6 CANDIDATE Elmer Singley has a long history of paying county and state taxes late but currently has no unpaid tax liens.

"I'm just a slow pay," he said. "Sometimes when the taxes are due, you can't pay right on time. Mitigating circumstances. But I don't shy away from paying taxes."

SUPER DISTRICT 10 CANDIDATE John Butler filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy in 1998, but it was converted to Chapter 7 in 2000. But he still fell behind in paying his 2003 and 2004 property taxes until 2005 shortly after he filed to run for office. He currently owes a $633 judgment filed against him by University Health Care Systems, which he said he is paying on.

Mr. Butler said he owned a small business and had a cash-flow problem and was inundated with debt that forced him into bankruptcy.

"Just the lack of business knowledge caused me to do that," he said.

After filing for bankruptcy, Mr. Butler said, he got a full-time job and realized he needed to go to college.

"So I've been on the bottom and picked myself back up," he said. "I graduated in May with a business degree."

Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228 or sylvia.cooper@augustachronicle.com.


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