May 2024 ElectionNewsNews Features

Races for Athens Tax Commissioner, Coroner, State House and More

JP LeMay (left) and Brant Spratlin.

While contentious races for Clarke County sheriff and three Athens-Clarke County Commission seats have gotten the most attention, further down the ballot are more races, including coroner and tax commissioner in Clarke County, commission chairman in Oconee County and a Republican state House primary straddling both.

Tax Commissioner

“I think a lot of people aren’t even aware it’s on the ballot,” said one candidate, JP LeMay. “It’s a crucial role to the unified government and the school district.”

The Democratic primary for tax commissioner will be decisive, as there is no Republican candidate. Insurance agent Brant Spratlin has a Republican voting record but described himself as an independent whose wife, Shannon, has influenced his political views in a more moderate direction. Like Spratlin, LeMay, a planner for the ACC Leisure Services Department, does not believe the position should be partisan, but he said he does identify as a Democrat.

Spratlin is running on his business experience. A native of Athens, he attended UGA, then earned his degree at Piedmont College, and moved to Dalton for a few years before returning to Athens and starting his insurance business. 

The position is an administrative one—the tax commissioner’s office collects property taxes and issues car tags, but does not set the tax rate. That’s a combination of tax assessors who set property values and the mayor and commission, which sets the tax rate. As such, Spratlin said the most important aspect of the job is to provide good customer service and educate the public about various tax breaks like the homestead exemption.

“Every day I’m educating people about insurance matters, and I was a teacher for three years before I got into insurance,” he said. Some of his ideas include improving technology in the office and adding kiosks at places like grocery stores where people can pay their taxes.

“People hate paying taxes. It’s not fun,” Spratlin said, but it could be made easier.

LeMay was born in Maine and has lived in Boston, Florida and Atlanta. He moved to Athens 15 years ago when, while working as a paralegal, he helped a law firm open an office in Athens and decided to stay. Later he went to work as an IT specialist for the ACC government, where he was assigned to the tax assessor and tax commissioner’s offices and learned their inner workings.

Both Spratlin and LeMay—who has been endorsed by the current tax commissioner, Toni Meadow—say the office is currently very well run, with a collection rate of more than 99%. Improving what is already a high-functioning office, LeMay said, “requires the knowledge to do the job. Knowing the unified government structure is important to jump right in.”

LeMay said the next tax commissioner will be tasked with purchasing new software because the current system can’t process taxes in tax allocation districts (areas designated by the mayor and commission where taxes from new development are invested in infrastructure within the district).

And that person will also be involved in decisions about space allocation when ACC builds a new SPLOST-funded courthouse and moves other city government offices into the existing one. When that happens, LeMay said he would like to see the Eastside tag office combined with the tax commissioner’s courthouse office, whether that’s in the new or old building.


Two funeral home employees—William Gaulden and Mike Eberhart—are vying to succeed Sonny Wilson, who served as coroner for 16 years. The coroner investigates the cause of death when people die outside of a hospital and signs death certificates. As with tax commissioner, both candidates believe the position should be nonpartisan, but since it is a partisan race, they are running as Democrats.

Both said they want to continue in Wilson’s footsteps while also expanding the office, which receives an average of about 360–400 calls a year.

“Sonny did a fantastic job,” Gaulden said. “The only thing to do is improve on what he did.”

Eberhart told WUGA that his goal is “to gain the trust of the families, and let them know that their loved ones will be well taken care of” and “to help the families with their grief, what they’re going through right then, and to help them understand what death really is.”

A native of Athens, Eberhart is touting his 40 years of experience as a funeral director for Eberhart and Son Mortuary in Winder. “My experience and my background have really equipped me for the position,” he said.

Gaulden has worked in the funeral business for 18 years—ever since the death of his father got him interested in the process of preparing a body. He works for Winfrey Mutual Funeral Home in Athens. Gaulden grew up near Flint, MI, but moved to Georgia, where his parents are from, after his father’s death. At 44, he is younger than Eberhart, and said he hopes to be able to build up the office over many years.

In the short term, Gaulden wants to turn the part-time position of coroner into a full-time one. Longer term, he would like to hire more staff, including hiring a pathologist to perform autopsies. “We send a lot of things we can do in-house out to Atlanta, so it’s a long turnaround,” he said.

Gaulden also wants to set up an outreach program to the homeless and to educate the public about the dangers of fentanyl, a drug that killed 60 people in Athens last year. “I want to be a coroner that saves lives, not just puts people in the ground,” he told Flagpole.

In a quirk of Georgia law, the coroner is the only person who can arrest the sheriff. Gaulden said that after he qualified, Sheriff John Q. Williams joked with him, “I hope you don’t have to arrest me.”

House District 121

State Rep. Marcus Wiedower (R-Watkinsville) is facing a primary challenge from John Michael Grigsby, an Oconee County native and family nurse practitioner who works as a regional director for Kroger health clinics.

“I’m new to politics,” he said at an Apr. 22 Oconee GOP meeting, “but I’m not new to being up at the statehouse. I’m trying to fight for some things that need to get changed up there.”

As reported by retired UGA journalism professor Lee Becker on his blog, Oconee County Observations, Grigsby has a three-point platform: 

“My first thing I want to get done on my platform is I want to increase health care to many medical deserts that are located all over the state,” he said. “A lot of people just don’t have access to health care.

“Nurse practitioners, physicians assistants all over Georgia can’t practice on their own because of a 1999 law that is in place,” he said. “So I want to get up to the Capitol and get that law changed so that we can unleash the army of health care providers so that they can do some good in Oconee, do good in all of the counties all across Georgia.

“The second thing I want to do is limit the terms for congressmen [meaning state legislators]. I think sometimes congressmen and women get up to the state Capitol [and] just become yes or no votes. They quit becoming public servants, and they just serve other special interests.

“My third thing is I want to put a task force together to try to go against these cyber criminals who are attacking not only our elderly but really everybody in Georgia,” he said. “They are really getting a lot of money from our elderly, taking advantage of them. And they are getting a foothold. We’ve got to do something now to fight these people.”

In response to an audience question, Grigsby said he is opposed to legalizing online gambling, which Wiedower supports.

At the same meeting, Wiedower and his colleague Rep. Houston Gaines (R-Athens) touted Republicans’ accomplishments during this year’s legislative session. Among them: tweaking a law that created an oversight committee for district attorneys, expanding the list of offenses where judges must require cash bail, and a law requiring law enforcement agencies to comply with federal immigration authorities.

“Our law enforcement agencies, they have been under attack for years,” Wiedower said. “Fortunately, the economic times we have in Georgia, we’ve been able for the last two fiscal years, we’ve been able to raise the base salary at every one of our state law enforcement agencies, DNR, GSP, across the board, $9,000.”

The pair also discussed state income tax cuts, raising the child tax credit, and two referendums that would lower property taxes for Oconee residents.

In addition to raises for law enforcement, teachers got a $2,500 raise in the state budget, which also includes $45,000 for each school in the state to implement security measures.

Funding for a new medical school at the University of Georgia was “obviously a big win,” Wiedower said. “With the growth we’ve had in the state of Georgia, we need more doctors.”

Wiedower, the chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government, also said he was pleased that the Department of Driver Services and the Georgia State Patrol Office will move from Athens to McNutt Creek Road south of Highway 316 on land the county donated to the state for those facilities.

Other Races

In Oconee County, Commission Chair John Daniell is facing a primary challenge from Pamela Lohr Hendrix. There are also contested Republican races for Post 4 on the commission (incumbent Mark Saxon versus Victoria Cruz), Post 4 on the school board (Adam Hammond, Andy Pippin and Russell Toms) and Post 5 on the school board (Stephen L. Aleshire and Brock Toole). In addition, Oconee has a series of referendums to expand the homestead exemption and freeze tax assessments for seniors, all 10 of which must pass to succeed, according to Daniell.

Early Voting

Voting for partisan primaries and nonpartisan races began Monday and will run through Friday, May 18. Voters can cast ballots all three weeks at the ACC Board of Elections office (155 E. Washington St.) from 8 a.m.–5 p.m. on weekdays; from 9 a.m.–5 p.m. on Saturday, May 4 and 11; and noon to 4 p.m. on Sunday, May 5.

Starting Saturday, May 11, early voting will expand to four other sites: the ACC Library (2025 Baxter St.), the Miriam Moore Community Center (410 McKinley Drive), the ACC Cooperative Extension Office (275 Cleveland Road), the ACC Tennis Center (4460 Lexington Road) and the Winterville Cultural Center (371 N. Church St.). Hours are 9 a.m.–5 p.m., with the exception of Sunday, May 12, when those sites are closed, and Wednesday, May 15, when hours are extended to 7 p.m.

Lee Becker of Oconee County Observations contributed to this report. For complete coverage of local races, visit