COVINGTON -- A transition that occurred last year in filing procedures for public officials and candidates for public office appears to have created confusion, and in some cases, resulted in late fees for some local officials.
Elected officials already in office and candidates running for public office are required to file personal financial disclosure reports and campaign contribution disclosure reports with the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission, formerly the Georgia Ethics Commission. Prior to 2011, filing was handled by the local Board of Elections.
Some local officials say that since that change occurred, they've had difficulty filing the required documents.
On the Commission's web site, District 3 Commissioner Nancy Schulz, who is running for reelection, is listed as having $250 in late fees stemming from a late filing of a financial disclosure report that was due July 1, 2011, and filed on July 5, as well as a campaign disclosure report that was due Dec. 31, 2011, and, according to the web site, has never been filed.
But Schulz provided the Citizen with email confirmation from the Commission stating she had filed the campaign disclosure document before the deadline. However, she said that when she called the Commission on Friday, she was also told that she had checked a box on the form indicating it was a report for 2012 and not 2011, which likely resulted in the Commission reporting that she had not filed for that year.
As for the other document, Schulz said the Commission did not send her PIN number required for her to file electronically until July 5, the date she filed.
"In November 2010, all elected officials were required to register for electronic filing and begin filing electronically directly with the state. I submitted the proper paperwork in 2010 and waited for my PIN," Schulz said. Schulz provided an email showing that she did not receive the PIN until July 5, 2011, the day she filed.
"Prior to receiving the PIN, I contacted State Ethics to inquire about why I had not received the PIN (some of my fellow commissioners had received theirs while others had not). When I contacted State Ethics, I was told that due to the difficulties that State Ethics was having with the conversion to electronic filing and the July 4th holiday, there would be no penalties. I have never been informed that I was penalized."
Sheriff Ezell Brown also is listed as owing late fees for documentation due July 1, 2011. But the sheriff provided the Citizen with documentation showing that the Commission did not send him his PIN until July 20. Brown said he has been assured the late fees will be waived. Neither Brown nor Schulz have any other late filings reported on the website prior to 2011.
"As long as it was handled locally and we were able to walk in those documents, we never, ever had a problem," Brown said. "But when they switched over to the (Georgia Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission) handling it, it turned into a problematic situation. Not just here -- I've talked to several sheriffs throughout the state and other public officers."
Holly LaBerge, executive secretary of the Commission, refused to comment for this story.
A spokeswoman for the Association County Commissioners of Georgia confirmed that the problem for candidates is a statewide issue.
"It definitely is a statewide problem. We don't know what resolutions or outcomes they've reached or how they're dealing with people on that basis," said ACCG spokeswoman Beth Brown.
According to the Commission website, Board of Commissioners Chairman Kathy Morgan owes $900 in late filing fees dating back to 2008.
"I do not believe that all of these late fees are due, they changed my password and the reports have not transferred. I am working to get this corrected and will pay what is due at that time," Morgan said.
Morgan's Democratic opposition, Marcus Jordan, and Republican Keith Ellis are listed as being in compliance, as are both Republican District 1 candidates, John Douglas and John Strauss.
Several new candidates for office are listed on the site as having not filed a personal financial disclosure report within 15 days of qualifying as required. But several said they've filed the documentation via certified mail. Others said they weren't aware of the requirement to file.
District 3 BOC Republican candidate Kevin Wade and Democratic candidate Tony Flanagan are in violation, according to the website, although Wade said he sent the documentation by certified mail last week.
In District 5, only two of six candidates -- Republicans Wesley Dowdy and Levie Maddox -- are listed as having filed the appropriate document.
Republican Ronnie Dimsdale said he has filed the report via certified mail, even though the Commission website states there are no reports by him on file. There were also no filings listed by District 5 Democratic candidates Phil Johnson and Marcello Banes. On Tuesday, Phil Johnson's campaign manager said Johnson had filed his report and paid the associated late fee. On Republican Jared Rutberg said he was not aware of the requirement to file and that he hand-delivered the appropriate documentation to the Commission Thursday.
Franklin Perry, who is running as a Democrat for the Newton County Board of Education's District 4 seat, had not yet filed his appropriate paperwork.
After being contacted by the Citizen, Perry said he planned to file the paperwork Thursday.
"Somebody did mention that to me. It's just one of those things that slipped my mind," he said.
Ricky Corley, a Republican candidate for the Newton County school board's District 2 seat, also is showing that he has not yet filed his financial disclosure forms. He was unavailable for comment as of press time.
The site shows that Democratic candidate Eddie Johnson filed his financial disclosure form on Oct. 5, when it was due July 1, thus still owing $250 in late fees. He has yet to file his paperwork due Dec. 31, according to the website. He also was unavailable for comment.
A campaign contribution disclosure report is due for all candidates between June 30 and July 9.
Staff Reporter Michelle Floyd contributed to this story.