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Independent audit wanted of assessors office

POSTED: May 20, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Hall County Commissioner Deborah Mack said Thursday that she wants to see the appointed board of tax assessors expanded from three members to five and have an independent audit of the tax assessors office in light of recent accusations of possible financial improprieties.

Mack’s opponent for her District 4 seat, Ashley Bell, thinks those are great ideas — because those were his ideas three months ago — but accused the commissioner of playing politics with an issue he brought to the county’s attention as a private attorney hired by two self-described whistle-blowers.

"I think this issue is about the taxpayers, not about politics," said a chagrined Bell, who was not present at the Thursday meeting when Mack made the motions. "I’m glad they’re being responsive on the county commission, but these are things that need to be addressed whether it’s an election year or not. What we presented to them was clear as day before qualifying ended."

Bell signed up to run against Mack as a Democrat during the week of qualifying that ended May 2. He said Mack was the first commissioner he went to with complaints about the tax assessors board in February.

Bell represents Lyman Martin and James Cantrell, two former longtime appraisers who are retired from the tax assessors office and accused the board of assessors of billing the county for excessive per diem payments. Board of tax assessors Chairman Emory Martin Jr. agreed to take a leave of absence from the board within 30 days of the submission of this year’s tax digest until an investigation by the GBI is completed and turned over to District Attorney Lee Darragh.

Mack made a motion Thursday for the county attorney to consult with the state attorney general’s office on how to proceed with an independent audit of the tax assessors office for the past five years.

She also made a motion for the county attorney to prepare a resolution that would be voted on at a later date expanding the tax assessors board from three to five members and to establish a policy for their compensation.

Both motions passed.

Asked after the meeting why she made the motions, Mack said, "because I think it needs to be looked into with everything that’s come up about it. I think we need an audit."

Efforts to reach Mack later to respond to Bell’s comments were unsuccessful.

Mack said expanding the number of members of the tax assessors board to five would offer more oversight and require more members be present for a quorum.

Both items were chief among the things Bell said commissioners should do when he first went public with the ex-employee’s allegations in March.

Bell and Mack will face off for the District 4 post in a little more than two months. There is no Republican nominee for the commission seat.



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