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Hall tax assessor resigns

District attorney won’t file charges

POSTED: October 21, 2008 5:00 a.m.
The chairman of Hall County’s Board of Tax Assessors resigned Friday after the district attorney wrote a scathing letter that stopped short of bringing criminal charges for misuse of taxpayer money.

Emory Martin Jr., who served on the board since the late 1980s, was accused of misappropriating more than $60,000 by padding per diem time sheets and taking $100 per day payment for days when he did not work.

District Attorney Lee Darragh, in a lengthy letter to Hall County Board of Commissioners Chairman Tom Oliver, said he would not prosecute Martin on criminal charges, saying the likelihood that a jury would find him guilty was "not good."

"This is not to say that Tax Assessor Emory Martin is in any way ‘cleared’ by this letter," Darragh wrote. "Determining that a criminal charge would not reasonably lead to a conviction is not to say the actions of Emory Martin as revealed by the investigation were not of highly questionable ethics and an abuse of his authority."

According to the prosecutor, under Martin, the Tax Assessors Board set its own pay policies with no apparent oversight from the County Commission or county administrator.

Martin began treating every meeting with a taxpayer as one day’s pay, and if he met with two taxpayers on the same day, he would check two days off on his per diem time sheet, according to Darragh’s letter.

Allegations against Martin first surfaced in February, when retired chief appraiser James Cantrell, a longtime employee under Martin, came forward with claims that the board chairman padded his time sheets.

Darragh noted that Cantrell knew of the improprieties for years, but did not report them. Cantrell claimed he was fearful of losing his job if he came forward.

According to the letter, several factors contributed to Darragh’s decision not to prosecute, including payment policies that were left up to the board, "tacit approval" by Cantrell in not reporting alleged improprieties, the statute of limitations and "the lack of evidence to disprove the contention of Emory Martin that he was never paid for work not performed."

Martin, who was on leave from the board pending Darragh’s investigation, did not return a phone message Friday. His attorney, Steven Gilliam, also was unavailable for comment. Reached Friday, Darragh declined to comment beyond the contents of his letter.

Ashley Bell, county commissioner-elect and the attorney who represented Cantrell in bringing the allegations, said he was satisfied with Darragh’s conclusions.

"Nobody was looking to put anyone in jail, we were just looking to get to the bottom of this," Bell said. "Our goal has always been to inform the public of the fiasco that was the tax assessors office."

Bell said Cantrell realizes he should have made the allegations sooner, but that he was prevented by a "climate of fear" in the office under Martin.

"But because he came forward, the taxpayers have been saved tens of thousands of dollars," Bell said. "It’s better late than never."

Bell noted that the allegations prompted county commissioners to overhaul the board of tax assessors, which oversees the tax assessors office, fields taxpayer complaints and signs off on the county tax digest.

The board membership was expanded from three to five members for more oversight, the per diem system was eliminated — members now are paid $400 per month, $450 for the chairman — and health benefits and paid holidays were revoked.

Said Hall County District 2 Commissioner Billy Powell, "I think the steps we have taken will prevent any future problems."

Oliver said the commission will make another nomination to fill Martin’s seat soon. The chairman is elected by the board of tax assessors.

"I’m glad the decision has been made and it’s over with, and I think we’re ready to move forward and put this chapter behind us," Oliver said.

Times reporter Melissa Weinman contributed to this story.



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