Savannah, Chatham elected officials fined by State Ethics Commit - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Savannah, Chatham elected officials fined by State Ethics Committee

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Elected officials in Savannah and Chatham County have been fined hundreds, and even thousands of dollars, by the State Ethics Commission.

The said city councilors and Chatham County commissioners, from the mayor and county chairman on down, were late filing their campaign expenses with the state and were fined.

However, they have serious questions about the accuracy an efficiency of the reporting office.

They are among possibly thousands of elected officials statewide who have been fined, and not paid. 

Most of them said they have no plans on paying the fines, which they were never told about or aware of until recently. 

"The Ethics Office in Atlanta, quite frankly, was undermanned and basically there are fines sitting up there on folks due to an incompetence in their office," said Savannah City Council member Tony Thomas.

Thomas found out, to his surprise, he'd been fined $500 for late filings. He said filing his campaign financial disclosures when it switched over to the state in 2011 brought problem after problem.

"They had my PIN number associated with another elected official in another part of this state," Thomas said. "It was unbelievable the incompetence I had to go through just to clarify that before filing my campaign returns."

He still had no idea he had fines piling up, along with seven of his fellow Savannah City Council members, and the mayor of Savannah, Edna Jackson.

She said she never received a certified letter and would investigate.

The City Council's total fines more than $2,500. Chatham County commission had fines too.

"I'm not going to pay mine until they prove I didn't do it," said Thomas. "I got all my paperwork. If they want to come and look, my paperwork and filings, I welcome that."

"There is always going to be a small segment of the population who doesn't do what the law requires them to do," said Georgia's Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission Director Holly Lebarge.

Lebarge said the issue is not her office's fault. She said public officials should be checking their website and know about filings and fines, whether they get a notice or not. Savannah Council now knows.

"It is incumbent upon an elected official to educate themselves on the requirements of what they are doing," said Lebarge.

"Well, members of the council and myself do have fines on us," said Thomas. "Hopefully they will remove those if this office ever gets themselves cleaned up."

Mayor Jackson said after her call to Lebarge, Lebarge told her no certified letters were ever sent out, but they would be going out soon. New laws in 2014 ended local public officials having to file with the state. 

Lebarge told WTOC if public officials with outstanding fines do not repsond to a certified letter, the state would take it to the next level, including sending collectors or even taking them to court.

However, she also said any public official with questions about their fine can contact her office.

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