The council voted 3-0 to give its blessing to House Bill 143, as requested by the Georgia Municipal Association. Mayor Keith Crawford and Councilman Martin Johnson were not present for the vote.
“If we don’t raise or spend $2,500 in a calendar year, they’re going to exempt us,” said Councilman Wes McEntyre, who was conducting the meeting as mayor pro tem in Crawford’s absence. “That basically covers most small towns in Georgia.”
McEntyre said the GMA sent the city a letter, dated Feb. 5, asking that mayors, council members, city managers and clerks discuss the proposal and reach a local consensus. GMA is supporting the legislation in the state House.
“They want our feedback, and I think we need to say we’re all in favor of it,” McEntyre said. “That will return it back to the city level, and we’ll do it like we used to and turn our forms into the city clerk. She would maintain them here and report them to the state.”
In the letter to Georgia municipalities, Lamar Norton, GMA executive director, said the filing of campaign disclosure forms with the State Ethics Commission has “created a host of challenges for candidates, elected officials, clerks and the commission.” He charged that the process has not been successful.
Norton further maintained that the commission “is simply not in the position” to process the hundreds of thousands of pages of disclosure forms each year and provide technical and educational support to elected officials.
“As a result, over 3,000 elected officials are on the late or non-filer list for ethics disclosure forms,” he said. “Many officials are on the delinquency list for failure to file the forms, some are on the list due to processing mistakes at the commission, while other delinquencies are due to misinformation provided to the commission from the qualifying officer.”
Norton said a majority of candidates for city office don’t have large campaigns and are overwhelmed by the needless state filing requirements. He said it’s deterring good candidates from running for municipal offices.
House Bill 143 was authored and filed by Speaker of the House David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge. The bill passed a subcommittee of the House Rules Committee on Feb. 7.
Under the provisions of the bill, the candidate for office would sign a written notice at qualifying that he/she does not intend to accept or expend a combined total exceeding $2,500 for a campaign.
If the candidate exceeds the $2,500 limit, but does not exceed $5,000, he/she would file disclosure forms on June 30 and Oct. 25. If the candidate exceeds $5,000, all report filings would be required.
“GMA believes in local control and that city officials and employees should be responsible and responsive to their voters and not to an agency in Atlanta,” Norton said.