published Saturday, October 13th, 2012

Walker County write-in candidate, Ales Campbell, shows debts are paid

Commissioner candidate Ales Campbell, left, talks with Elections Supervisor Barbara Berry after Friday morning's election commission meeting in LaFayette, Ga. Campbell approached the Walker County Election Commission on Friday morning about allegations that she owed back taxes, which would have made her ineligible to run. Campbell proved that it was a nonissue during the meeting.
Commissioner candidate Ales Campbell, left, talks with Elections Supervisor Barbara Berry after Friday morning's election commission meeting in LaFayette, Ga. Campbell approached the Walker County Election Commission on Friday morning about allegations that she owed back taxes, which would have made her ineligible to run. Campbell proved that it was a nonissue during the meeting.
Photo by Jake Daniels.
Georgia Department of Revenue
Georgia Department of Revenue

The Walker County, Ga., Board of Elections gave the green light Friday to Ales Campbell's candidacy against incumbent county sole Commissioner Bebe Heiskell.

Campbell's write-in campaign came into question last week when a caller notified Election Supervisor Barbara Berry that Campbell and her husband, K.C., at one time had almost $40,000 in state and federal tax liens against their Shinbone Valley Road home.

There was no record at the county courthouse of one of the liens — the $10,849 that the Campbells owed in unpaid state taxes, interest and fines — ever being removed. Georgia's Constitution prohibits those who owe back taxes from holding office.

So Campbell came to Friday's regularly scheduled meeting of the election board armed with a folder containing proof that the debts had been paid. She traveled to Rome, Ga., Wednesday to get a letter from the regional office of the Georgia Department of Revenue stating the state tax debt was "paid, satisfied and canceled."

Campbell said the state was paid in 2008, when the couple sent in an amended return for the 2004 tax debt.

"As far as this board and this office is concerned, this is a nonissue," elections board Chairwoman Ebeth Edwards said after Campbell offered her documentation for review.

Campbell questioned why Berry had referred the caller's concerns to county Attorney Don Oliver, a Heiskell supporter, who on Tuesday called a news conference and issued a news release announcing that he recused himself from investigating the "politically charged" matter.

Campbell cited elections guidelines that require complaints to be formal and written.

Campbell said Oliver's actions were a "blatant attempt to grandstand, wrongfully discredit me in public and derail my write-in campaign."

"I believe the voters lost confidence in this office," Campbell said at the outset of Friday's meeting. "I would like Miss Berry to apologize."

Elections officials said they were doing their job by checking out the caller's concerns.

"There's an obligation to take seriously any complaint," election board member James Buckner said.

Calling the county attorney for advice is standard procedure, election board officials said. Berry said she's been told to do that by officials at the Georgia Secretary of State Office.

"They tell me, 'Go to your county attorney for opinions,'" Berry said. "So that's what I did."

As for calling Campbell, Berry said she was going to do that.

"Before I got a chance to call you, you were in my office," Berry said. "I said, 'Ales, all you need to do is get your papers.'"

"Mr. Oliver did this press conference on his own," Berry said.

Oliver could not be reached late Friday for comment.

In addition to bringing paperwork showing the lien for taxes had been dropped, Campbell brought paperwork showing a lien against their surveying business by World Finance Corp. of Georgia had been canceled in 2010.

The lien was filed against the Campbells after an employee borrowed money from a loan company, didn't repay it and had his wages garnished. When the Campbells fired the man, World Finance then came after the Campbells. So they paid the debt, Campbell said, and filed a claim against the employee.

"He still owes us over $900," she said.

Campbell's opponents have pointed to the liens as evidence of poor money management.

"For someone to judge me, they should judge me just on the fact that my bills have been paid. They're all paid," Campbell said.

about Tim Omarzu...

Tim Omarzu covers Catoosa and Walker counties for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California. Stories he's covered include crime in blighted parts of metro Detroit and Reno, Nev.; environmental activists tree-sitting in California's Sierra Nevada foothills; attempts by the Michigan Militia to take over a township¹s government in northern Michigan. A native of Michigan, ...

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