By Joel Hall
The Clayton County Board of Commissioners (BOC) is asking the governor to intervene in a situation in which the board claims Clayton County Tax Commissioner Terry Baskin has failed to turn over the county's tax proceeds to the county since June 11.
On Wednesday, during a special-called meeting to adopt a reduced county millage rate, BOC Vice Chairman Wole Ralph introduced a resolution to submit a letter to Gov. Sonny Perdue seeking action against Baskin. The impromptu resolution passed by a 3-1 vote, with BOC Chairman Eldrin Bell opposed, and Commissioner Michael Edmondson absent.
The letter, submitted to Perdue's office on Thursday, claims Baskin "has failed to make payment of taxes collected each week" since June 11 and "has failed to file the weekly report" as required by the Official Code of Georgia. In addition, the letter asks Perdue to "provide notice to the Tax Commissioner of his failure to make payment and file reports as required by law and that he show cause [to the Governor] why he should not be removed from office."
The letter further states that Baskin has continued to "submit the payments to the State as required," and is thus "aware of his obligations" to the county. The resolution to involve the governor comes after a July 9 incident in which Baskin was arrested by Clayton County police for obstruction, after refusing to surrender two of his office's county-owned, take-home vehicles. Baskin protested the move, saying the cars were necessary to do the work of the Tax Commissioner's office.
On July 19, Clayton County Staff Attorney Michael Smith submitted a letter to Baskin, informing him of the payment lapse and citing state code section 48-5-141, which says that the Tax Commissioner "shall each week pay over to the proper county officials as required by law the county taxes."
Baskin's attorney, Steve Frey, said that over $1.6 million in collected taxes has been sitting in Baskin's office since June 11, but that the county has refused to pick it up.
"The county is simply choosing not to get it, and trying to spin the story in a way in which Terry Baskin is refusing to hand over the money," Frey said. "Nothing could be further from the truth. His office is responsible for paying it over to them and his office has done that. He has repeatedly let them know that this money is there. There is nothing in the statue that says he has to personally deliver it, or that his office is responsible for delivering it to them. Any shortfall they complain of is of their own doing."
Bell said the dispute between Baskin and some members of the board stems from June budget discussions, in which Baskin felt his office was unfairly targeted for cuts in the fiscal 2011 budget. Bell said the matter should be handled internally before involving the governor.
"[Finance Director Angela] Jackson came to me and said the money was ready, but he [Baskin] had no means of getting it to her," Bell said. "She didn't feel that it was her duty to go and get it. He [Baskin] sent communication that he doesn't have means to get around and do his job because the board took his car.
"This all goes back to the automobile issue that has been hanging around for weeks," Bell continued. "Nobody has successfully resolved this. We've got more to do than to be fighting over this issue," said Bell. "I would prefer to figure this out locally, before going to the governor."
Governor's Office Spokesperson Bert Brantley said the governor had not received the county's letter on Thursday.