Half the money?
Monday morning quarterbacks all over the region -- myself included – were asking that question about the deal that the Columbia County Board of Commissioners made this past Tuesday, which ushered the county’s embattled tax commissioner out of office after months of controversy.
Many thought it was awfully generous of the county to allow Kay Allen to keep half of the $161,300 she had been paid by Grovetown and Harlem for tax collection services.
Wasn’t the money what this was all about anyway? If she wasn’t supposed to do this, why was she entitled to any of it?
Perhaps. But it’s hard to see how the county could have negotiated a better resolution, given the facts of the situation.
First of all, there’s the law that regulates such tax collection services between cities and counties. In Columbia County’s case, the law states such agreements need to be negotiated between each city and the county – not the tax commissioner. However, the same law also stipulates that tax commissioners are entitled to additional compensation for such work. It’s just up to the county to decide how much.
Commission Chairman Ron Cross has said that if Allen had come to the county in 2009 when the law affected her ongoing agreements with the cities, it was likely they would have worked out a compensation deal for her.
It is more than likely, it is certain. The tax commissioner is not required to collect city taxes, and if the compensation wasn’t to her liking, Allen could have said “no thank you,” at which point the cities would have had to hire someone else.
Of course that would have been politically unpopular, as would revelations to general public that she was getting paid on the side for such deals, which is probably why the subject was never broached.
Nevertheless, the law said Allen was entitled to be paid for the service, no matter how little she actually did to receive that compensation.
Facing the possibility of a prolonged legal battle and mounting attorney fees, commissioners were willing to negotiate on the amount that Allen should return. But this was only after they got their first concession from the tax commissioner, immediate resignation.
With a resignation letter in hand and an end in sight, I suppose $80,650 sounded like a bargain to commissioners.
The bargain, however, does not protect Allen from criminal prosecution, as some have suggested. It only closes an ugly little chapter of Columbia county politics.
What happens next is anyone’s guess. Federal authorities won’t discuss their investigation nor their timeline to wind it up.
As for the case that now resides with District Attorney Ashley Wright, I think the same law that influenced commissioners to allow Allen to keep half of the money, might complicate Wright’s ability to make a case.
Wright would need to prove not only that Allen took money she wasn’t entitled to, but also specify an amount. If Allen was entitled to some of the money, how much did she take wrongfully, $1 or $160,000? She gave back half; maybe that is the figure she would have to work with.
Who knows what a jury would decide?