Lobbyist William Murphy Talmadge talks with interim Clayton County Attorney Jack Hancock (right) after a county commission meeting Tuesday. The Commission hired Talmadge to lobby legislators to vote against House Bill 399, which would cut millions of dollars from the county's tax collections.
JONESBORO The Clayton County Board of Commissioners has made the political equivalent of a Hail Mary pass in its fight to stop legislation which could collectively cost the county and its school system $12.6 million.
The Commission voted 3-2 Tuesday to hire Lovejoy-based lobbyist William Murphy Talmadge to persuade state senators to vote against House Bill 399. If the bill became law, Clayton County’s Tax Commissioner’s Office would be barred from collecting ad valorem taxes from businesses leasing space at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
But, time is of the essence.
The bill has already been passed by the House of Representatives and is pending in the Senate’s Rules Committee. There are only two legislative days left before the Georgia General Assembly’s 2013 term ends and legislators are typically in a hurry to get bills passed at this time of the year.
Interim County Attorney Jack Hancock said that short time frame prompted the decision to add the decision to the Commission’s agenda at the last minute Tuesday.
“This is being discussed even though it was not on the agenda because the [legislative] session is almost over and we’re hopeful they will be able to assist with 399 before the end of the session,” he said.
The hiring of Talmadge seemingly came out of nowhere since he was competing against the more established lobbying firms of Georgia Public Affairs and McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP.
Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission records show Talmadge registered with the state as a lobbyist March 11 — one day before he and representatives of the other firms presented their credentials to the commission. Talmadge is registered as working for Twelve Oaks LLC.
Chairman Jeff Turner and Commissioners Sonna Singleton and Gail Hambrick voted in favor of Talmadge’s hiring. Vice-Chairman Michael Edmondson and Commissioner Shana Rooks backed Georgia Public Affairs.
Turner said the hiring is “short-term” until the end of the legislative term and then “on a monthly basis at our discretion.”
Hambrick said she was “looking at prices” and that was why she preferred Twelve Oaks.
However, Hambrick did not explain how much Talmadge’s price was. Edmondson has since said Talmadge provided a quote of $10,000 a month — the same as Georgia Public Affairs — while McKenna Long and Aldridge quoted $17,800 per month.
Edmondson added that Talmadge’s came with a “30-day notice to terminate by certified mail” requirement.
Ties to Atlanta
Talmadge acknowledged he has worked on election campaigns in Atlanta, but he said he had signed non-disclosure statements which prevent him from identifying the candidates.
“I have clients who have run for city council races in the city of Atlanta but it does not prohibit me from working on behalf of Clayton County,” said Talmadge when asked by Edmondson about a potential conflict of interest. Edmondson expressed concern because Atlanta operates Hartsfield-Jackson.
Edmondson said he opposed Talmadge’s hiring because he had worked with candidates for Atlanta City Council. Talmadge said none of his clients is currently on the council.
But, there are bigger question marks out there about Talmadge.
What is Twelve Oaks?
A corporation search on The Georgia Secretary of State’s website raises the question: Is Twelve Oaks LLC an actual corporation?
The website shows there is a registered limited liability corporation named Twelve Oaks Partners LLC, as well as a tree farm, a homeowners association and a condominium association carrying the Twelve Oaks name.
However, Talmadge listed his firm simply as “Twelve Oaks LLC” when he registered as a lobbyist. He and commissioners have also repeatedly identified his firm only as “Twelve Oaks” in public presentations and discussions with the Commission.
An Internet search for the business address he registered with the state ethics commission turned up the 2005 obituary for former Georgia first lady Betty Talmadge. Her viewing was held at that address, which was listed as the home of Gene Talmadge, according to the obituary.
Talmadge could not be reached for comment Friday.
A tight deadline to get work done
But, any questions about Talmadge’s past work, experience and credentials must take a back seat to the immediacy of events unfolding at the state Capitol.
Next week will be “do or wait to live another day” time for HB 399 because it marks the arrival of Sine Die Day — otherwise known as the last day of the legislative term.
If the Senate cannot pass it before then, legislators will have to wait until the 2014 term. That equates to a 10-month wait which could buy the county time to build opposition while also giving supporters extra opportunities to gain additional support.
If the bill gets through the Senate before the General Assembly reaches the end of Sine Die Day, then the only remaining chance to defeat the bill is to convince Gov. Nathan Deal to sign it.
Even if both chambers pass legislation, it can’t become law until it gets Deal’s signature.
State Rep. Mike Glanton (D-Jonesboro) said there are several opportunities remaining for the delegation and Talmadge to fight the bill. Their goal is to stop it from reaching the Senate floor so they buy the county time.
“We would like for the Senate to hold the bill at least for another year and allow Clayton County and the airport concessionaires to try and work out our differences without the necessity of a new law,” Glanton said.