Overview of Fulton Races 2012 Part Two: Tax Commissioner, Etc.

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(APN) ATLANTA — There are a number of races on the July 31 Partisan Primary Election and Non-partisan General Election ballot for races involving elected positions at the Fulton County level.

These races include Primary Elections for District Attorney for Atlanta Judicial Circuit, Clerk of Fulton County Superior Court, Fulton County Sheriff, Fulton County Tax Commissioner, Solicitor-General for State Court of Fulton County, and Surveyor.

In part two of our coverage of Fulton County races, this article will review some of those races including Fulton County Tax Commissioner, Solicitor-General for State Court of Fulton County, and Surveyor; in addition to Non-partisan General Elections for a number of judge positions including Fulton County Superior Court, State Court of Fulton County, and Probate Judge.

Previously, APN has provided an overview of other races including US House, State House and Senate, Georgia Public Service Commission, Supreme Court of Georgia, Court of Appeals of Georgia, Sunday alcohol sales in unincorporated Fulton, the T-SPLOST, District Attorney for Atlanta Judicial Circuit, Clerk of Fulton County Superior Court, and Fulton County Sheriff.

TAX COMMISSIONER

Arthur Ferdinand, the incumbent, has two opponents for the Democratic nomination, including John Jamont and RJ Morris.  The winner of the Democratic nomination will face no opposition in the General Election in November.

Morris raises a number of concerns about Ferdinand.

First, Morris questions Ferdinand’s total annual income of 342,000 dollars per year, which includes 130,000 dollars in salary and 212,000 in fees from cities in Fulton County that Ferdinand collects for himself.  These fees would otherwise be payable to the County, and are thus being diverted from services for the taxpayers.

“We’re one of the only counties in Georgia that has a Tax Commissioner that still collects double salary.  Arthur Ferdinand called up the cities and said he’d no longer collect their taxes unless they pay him personally.  Once we get him out of office, he is one of five [tax commissioners] still grandfathered in… no future tax commissioner can ever do that again,” Morris said.

Morris raised concerns about Ferdinand’s practice of selling property tax liens to a private company after thirty days, which Morris argues is bad for the homeowners and bad for the county’s revenue stream.

“In all other counties, if people don’t pay their property tax, it goes down as a delinquent tax.  Ninety percent of the time it is paid within six months, 99 percent within a year.  The homeowners pay one percent on the money until its paid per month, and a 10 percent penalty after 90 days.  Counties like it.  It’s revenue for them,” Morris said, noting that after one year, the revenue is 22 percent interest.

“He sells liens within the first thirty days to a private company called Vesta Holdings.  He started this process about twelve years ago or longer because of a backlog from a former tax commissioner.  The private company then got the 22 percent interest instead of the county, but at least the county got a huge chunk of change up front.  Now, we’ve collected the back taxes, Ferdinand still sells these tax liens,” Morris said.  

Morris said he wants to provide every homeowner at least six months to work out a payment plan.  Only after that point, in absence of a payment plan, would Morris sell the lien to Vesta.

Morris also wants to open a Taxpayer Advocate Department within the Tax Commissioner’s Office, to focus in part on setting up payment plans.

Ferdinand has also been at the center of a dispute under the Georgia Open Records Act, in that he has refused to provide electronic data of all the tax liens that are sold.  

“Ferdinand says he outsources these and they are outside of the scope of Open Records Act.  We’re gonna sue Ferdinand, the Attorney General’s office is gonna be involved,” Morris said.

Morris said he believes that the records will show the disproportionate negative impact of Fulton County tax liens on the southern portion of the county, where more low-income minority families live.  He argues that low-income families are often unable to hire the attorneys that families in North Fulton are able to hire.

“The Tax Commissioner has decimated low-income and predominantly African American neighborhoods for the last eleven years,” Morris said.

Barbara Payne, Executive Director of the Fulton County Taxpayers Foundation, said that her foundation is concerned about the impacts of property tax liens on South Fulton.  The Foundation routinely holds property tax workshops throughout South Fulton and often provides significant discounts on Foundation membership fees and appeal assistance fees to anyone who cannot afford the full prices.

“We offer such significant discounts that the Foundation doesn’t gain any revenue.  They still have to join the Foundation, but it’s cut in half.  It’s a challenge, we can’t reach everyone.  We’re a small group,” Payne told Atlanta Progressive News.

Neither Ferdinand nor Jamont have a phone number listed on their websites.

SOLICITOR-GENERAL FOR STATE COURT OF FULTON COUNTY

Carmen Smith, the incumbent, faces opposition from Teri Walker for the Democratic nomination.  The winner of the Democratic nomination will face no opposition in the General Election in November.

Smith has served as Solicitor General since 1997.  “I have experience in running the largest office in the state – we prosecute twenty thousand cases per year – and I’m committed to fair prosecution,” Smith told APN.

Walker has worked in three Solicitor’s offices, including Atlanta, Fulton County, and DeKalb County.  She boasts having prosecuted over five thousand cases, where one hundred percent of her convictions have been upheld.  Walker does not have a phone number on her webpage.

Smith notes that while Walker says one hundred percent of her convictions have been upheld, that most municipal court convictions involve pleas, where the person typically does not appeal.

SURVEYOR

Bill Daniel is running for the Republican nomination for Surveyor.  The winner of the Republican nomination will face no opposition in the General Election in November.

SUPERIOR COURT JUDGE

A number of Fulton County Superior Court Judges are running unopposed, including Kimberly Esmond Adams, T. Jackson Bedford Jr., Alford J. Dempsey Jr., Doris L. “Dee” Downs, Ural Glanville, John J. Goger, Shawn Ellen LaGrua, Bensonetta Tipton Lane, Henry M. Newkirk, Constance C. Russell, Wendy L. Shoob, and Gail. S. Tusan.

Incumbent Fulton County Superior Court Judge Todd Markle, who was recently appointed by Gov. Nathan Deal to fill a vacancy, has one challenger, Clarence Johnson.

As previously reported by APN, an Administrative Law Judge has ruled Johnson unqualified to run for the seat due to unpaid state and federal taxes, where Johnson failed to establish active payment arrangements prior to qualifying for the seat.  Secretary of State Brian Kemp has to decide whether to uphold or overturn the ruling.

Markle previously served as executive counsel to Gov. Deal.  Johnson previously worked as a staff attorney for the City of Atlanta and Fulton County, and he ran in 2010 for a Superior Court Judge seat that is currently held by Kelly Amanda Lee.

The vacancy that Markle filled was created when Michael Johnson resigned to run for US House District 5, challenging US Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) in the Democratic Primary.

STATE COURT JUDGE

A number of State Court Judges are running unopposed for Fulton County, including Diane E. Bessen, Myra H. Dixon, Susan Edlein, John R. Mather, Patsy Y. Porter, and Wesley B. “Wes” Tailor.

There is one contested race, where Melynee Leftridge and Jane Morrison are running for a State Court Judge seat vacancy that was created when Judge Brenda H. Cole announced her retirement in May 2012.

Leftridge has been a Fulton County magistrate judge since 2007, and served as Assistant Fulton County District Attorney in 1997 and 1998.  

Morrison has a general civil practice and is also a part-time Sandy Springs solicitor.  She served as a part-time Fulton County magistrate from 2003 to 2006, and was an appointed Atlanta Municipal Court judge from 2000 to 2002.

Morrison, who is openly homosexual, is the partner of Joan Garner, Fulton County Commissioner for District 6.

PROBATE JUDGE

Incumbent Pinkie Toomer is running unopposed.

(END/2012)

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