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Election Board Rules Tax Commissioner Candidate Can Stay on Ballot

JP can run despite being an Athens-Clarke County government employee.

A candidate for Clarke County tax commission can remain on the May 21 ballot after local elections officials ruled against a challenge to his candidacy.

Brant Spratlin had challenged opponent JP Lemay on the grounds that Lemay is employed by the Athens-Clarke County Leisure Services Department. Spratlin cited an Athens-Clarke County code section stating: “No person holding a position with Athens-Clarke County Government, except elected officials, shall be active in political affairs or campaigns in any election for office in the Athens-Clarke County Government other than to vote and privately express opinions.”

However, a majority of ACC Board of Elections members sided with Lemay, ruling that the state government, not local governments, set the qualifications for county tax commissioners. 

“The pre-emption is quite clear,” assistant ACC attorney Sherrie Hines told the board. “State law has set forth requirements for candidacy, and we [the local government] don’t have any ability to make changes.”

State law requires that candidates for tax commissioner be a U.S. citizen, a resident of the county for two years, a registered voter, at least 25 years old, possess a high school diploma and have not been convicted of a felony.

“It’s clear that Mr. Lemay has met these criteria in front of us,” BOE Chairman Rocky Raffle said during a hearing Monday.

Ann Till was the lone board member who disagreed. “We live in a county,” she said. “It’s a county election. We should abide by county rules and regulations.”

Other candidates who worked for the ACC government have run for office in the past, including Sheriff John Q. Williams (a police detective), Clerk of Court Elisa Zarate (court administrator) and Toni Meadow, the current tax commissioner, who was her predecessor Mitch Schrader’s top deputy.

“No one ever challenged me,” Meadow told the BOE during public comment, so “it’s kind of odd” Lemay was being challenged.

Lemay said the county Human Resources Department told him he is allowed to run for office, but could not campaign during work hours or use government resources on his campaign.

The language in the county code Spratlin cited is “antiquated,” the ACC manager’s office said in a memo to elections officials, and is being reviewed. 

Both Lemay and Spratlin, an insurance agent, are running in the Democratic primary. There is no Republican candidate in November, so whoever wins May 21 will take office in January. The tax commissioner’s main jobs are to collect property taxes and issue vehicle tags.

In other business, Director of Elections and Voter Registration Charlotte Sosebee told the board that local resident James Lee DePaola can move forward with an effort to recall Williams, Mayor Kelly Girtz and District Attorney Deborah Gonzalez.

DePaola collected enough signatures—over 100 in each case—that he can move on to the next stage of the process, which will involve collected tens of thousands signatures to get the recall effort on the ballot. But he will not be able to try to recall Commissioner Melissa Link because he does not live in her district, Sosebee said.

Georgia law requires signatures from 30% of the active registered voters in the jurisdiction the targeted politician represents at the time he or she was last elected. Although the numbers fluctuate somewhat from year to year, Clarke County currently has about 70,000 registered voters who are considered “active,” meaning they have voted at least once in the past three election cycles. In addition, Oconee County, which is also part of Gonzalez’s jurisdiction, has more than 30,000 registered voters.

If DePaola successfully collects enough verified signatures within 45 days, voters will decide whether to oust the subject of the petition.

DePaola is one of a small group of protesters—agitated by Laken Riley’s murder and Athens’ supposed status as a “sanctuary city”—who have been calling on Girtz and other ACC officials to resign.