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 that 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 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 a sheaf of settlement agreements already signed by the Allens, who were not present. After meeting with commissioners in closed session, the settlement agreement was made public.
Commission Chairman Ron Cross said the agreement brings to an end the county’s dispute with Allen over more than $160,000 in fees she was paid by the cities of Harlem and Grovetown since 2009 for providing tax collection services. Commissioners contended Allen’s additional compensation from the cities violated a state law that regulated such agreements, and that the money should have been remitted to the county instead.
Long said the dispute had “erupted into a full-scale political and legal battle” that the Allens decided to end before it cost the taxpayers more money in legal fees.
“They hope the healing process will begin for Columbia County,” he said.
In the settlement agreement approved by commissioners Tuesday, Allen must return half the money to the county, a total of $80,650, and submit her resignation to Gov. Nathan Deal. The county also agreed to allow Allen to retire with her state benefits intact and to withdraw its letter to the governor seeking her removal from office.
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.
Johnson said as soon as Kay Allen’s resignation is effective, Deputy Tax Commissioner Steve Adams will step in to fill her position. It will be up to the governor to call for a special election.
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.