Board of Tax Assessors takes issue with Tobar’s actions

Grady County Administrator Carlos Tobar was called onto the carpet Tuesday by members of the Grady County Board of Tax Assessors for actions he took in 2013 against Chief Appraiser Susan Bennett.
Board of Tax Assessors Chairman Prentiss Mitchell and board members Julian Rawls and John Tillis appeared before the county commission Tuesday night.
The county commission and board of assessors retreated behind closed doors, but a short time later the meeting was reopened to the public.
Following a public hearing, Grady County Commission Chairman LaFaye Copeland recognized Chairman Mitchell.
Mitchell said that the board of assessors was there to request a letter of reprimand written to Chief Appraiser Susan Bennett by Tobar be removed from her personnel file because the county administrator misrepresented the facts in his letter.
The chairman of the tax assesors board presented commissioners with copies of minutes of a regular and called meeting of the board of assessors that were held after Tobar’s letter of reprimand was presented to her on June 18, 2013.
“The allegation was that she (Ms. Bennett) missed the deadline for submitting the tax digest to the county,’ Chairman Mitchell said.
However, Mitchell pointed out to members of the county commission that Ms. Bennett has presented the digest on time for 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014.
According to Mitchell, Tobar indicated that Ms. Bennett missed the required June 1 deadline for submission of the digest and this resulted in a county commission budget workshop being canceled.
Mitchell noted that state law only requires a June 1 deadline for submission of the tax digest for counties that allow for installment payments for ad valorem taxes.
“That certainly is not the case here so the deadline is July 1, which Ms. Bennett has met in 2013 and I know for the last three years that I researched,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell also reminded commissioners that Ms. Bennett is an employee of the board of assessors and not the county commission, which made Tobar’s actions inappropriate, according to the assessors.
Minutes from a called meeting of the board of assessors on July 19 indicate members of the board had concerns with Tobar’s actions at that time.
The minutes state that former tax assessor Bobby Burns said that Tobar “did not do any research before making a final analysis.”
According to the minutes, both Burns and former Board of Tax Assessors Chairman Julian Rawls, said that “some members of the board of commissioners did not know anything about the letter” and they noted that “none of the board of commissioners signed but Mr. (Billy) Poitevint (who was board chairman at the time).”
At that July 19, 2013 called meeting, Tax Assessor Burns also asked Ms. Bennett if Tobar had given her anything in writing requesting the tax digest be submitted by June 1, 2013 and she indicated he had not.
The minutes of the called meeting also indicate that Tobar visited with Ms. Bennett and told her the commissioners could set a deadline because they are elected officials. The minutes say that the assesors agreed that no county elected official could override state law.
In the letter of reprimand to Ms. Bennett, Mitchell said that Tobar also stated that Ms. Bennett’s alleged tardiness in 2012 had cost the county a fine of $2,725.87.
“That’s not true either. That $2,700 was actually a commission paid by the state of Georgia for collection of taxes. This was not a fine for her or the assessors office,” Chairman Mitchell said.
Tobar apparently did not understand the county receives a commission for collecting the state’s portion of ad valorem taxes and he indicated that was lost revenue to the county because of Ms. Bennett’s alleged tardiness.
“Those of us who are board (of assessors) members respectfully request that you remove that letter from her personnel file. It is not a reflection on her ability. I have met a lof of chief appraisers over the last year; I would stack her up against any of them in the state of Georgia,” Chairman Mitchell said.
He added, “I urge the commission to vote to expunge this letter from her file.”
The chairman of the board of assessors also requested that any future personnel issues regarding the tax assessors office be discussed in advance with the board of assessors before the county administrator attempts to take disciplinary action.
Mitchell said that in order to prevent any future problems he has instructed Ms. Bennett to prepare a list of all project assignments and reports with due dates assigned to each one.
“At each meeting we will discuss upcoming due dates and any issues that may affect a delay so as to appropriately notify the Board of County Commissioners and others that may need to know,” Chairman Mitchell stated.
Tobar claimed that this was action he had taken 19 months ago and he requested county commissioners allow him time to research the matter and issue a staff report for the next commission meeting, but commissioners did not delay action.
Grady County Attorney Kevin S. Cauley advised the board that if they “wished to put the issue to bed now” and if it was their “desire to remove the disciplinary reprimand from her file” then they could take action.
Commissioner Charles Norton noted that Ms. Bennett was not an employee of the commissioners and he offered a motion that the letter be removed from her file. Norton’s motion was seconded by Commissioner Elwyn Childs and was passed unanimously.
Norton also noted that Bobby Burns had served as a county commissioner for 16 years and was a member of the board of assessors at the time and that Burns had objected to Tobar’s action at the time.
However, Norton requested that Tobar provide the assessors with a budget calendar and that Chairman Mitchell and the board of assessors work together with the county commission.

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