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County Board of Elections says Tax Commissioner candidate can remain on the ballot

Democratic candidate for Clarke County Tax Commissioner J. P. Lemay
Democratic candidate for Clarke County Tax Commissioner J. P. Lemay

A candidate for Clarke County Tax Commissioner will remain on the ballot after the county’s Board of Elections quashed a challenge to his candidacy.

J. P. Lemay’s eligibility to run was challenged by his opponent, Brant Spratlin, on the basis that Lemay, a project manager for Athens-Clarke County Leisure Services, could not run for county office as a county employee. Section 1-9-12f of the county’s code bars county employees, other than elected officials, from being, “active in political affairs or campaigns in any election for office in the Athens-Clarke County Government.”

Lemay contended that state law, not local law, sets the qualifications for tax commissioner, and that Georgia law doesn’t bar him from running while employed by Athens-Clarke County. He also suggested that the intent of the local law was to prevent campaigning for office by county employees while they were at work, not to prevent them from running for office.

Lemay also noted that several other elected officials in the county, including the current tax commissioner, ran for office and won while employed by Athens-Clarke County.

The Board of Elections ruled in Lemay’s favor, 3-1. Both Lemay and Spratlin are running in the May Democratic primary. No Republicans are running.

In a separate item of business, the Board of Elections also ruled that efforts to recall District Attorney Deborah Gonzalez, Sheriff John Q. Williams, and Mayor Kelly Girtz can move ahead, at least for now.

The process of recalling an elected official is a complicated one. First, those seeking the recall must collect at least 100 signatures to apply for a recall petition. Organizers in Athens were successful in that effort, and the Board of Elections voted unanimously to confirm that enough signatures had been collected.

The next step, however, is much more difficult. In order to actually trigger a recall election, petitioners must gather enough signatures to equal 30 percent of the total number of registered voters at the time the official was last elected. That means, in Athens-Clarke County, that organizers will need tens of thousands of registered voters to sign their petition.

Martin Matheny is WUGA's Program Director and a host and producer of our local news program 'Athens News Matters.' He started at WUGA in 2012 as a part-time classical music host and still hosts WUGA's longest-running local program 'Night Music' which is heard on WUGA and GPB Classical. He lives in Normaltown with his wife, Shaye and dog, Murphy.