Georgia ethics commission corrects mistake

mrice@ledger-enquirer.comDecember 31, 2013 

After the Ledger-Enquirer published his name among the local elected officials having violated state ethics laws, Muscogee County Probate Court Judge Marc D'Antonio said he was as concerned as anyone.

He wasn't among the 53 percent (24 of 45) of local elected officials who filed required documents late or not at all in 2013, but he was among the 24 who had been assessed a late or non-filer fee since 2009, according to records kept by the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission, formerly known as the Georgia Ethics Commission.

The problem was, D'Antonio said, he couldn't have filed the campaign contributions disclosure report the ethics commission listed as missing because he wasn't a candidate when the document was due March 31, 2012. His declaration of intention to accept campaign contributions was postmarked May 7, 2012, but the commission mistakenly logged the document as received on Feb. 10, 2012, instead of May 10, 2012, according to records D'Antonio shared with the Ledger-Enquirer.

After a week of phone calls and emails, D'Antonio finally has convinced the commission to correct its mistake and waive the $125 fee he was assessed.

Samantha Jenkins, the commission's education support specialist in charge of late fees, emailed D'Antonio on Monday and wrote that "the issues have been resolved" and his late filing fee was "inactivated due to data entry error. You are current with all of your filings."

D'Antonio's discovery is another example of the commission's trouble enforcing the ethics laws through the statewide electronic reporting system that started in 2010. The Ledger-Enquirer's investigation found 24 local elected officials combined to be assessed $9,600 in late or non-filer fees since 2009 - but only $925 had been paid as of Dec. 22. Many of the officials in violations said they weren't notified of the filing deadlines or weren't notified they were assessed a late or non-filer fee.

D'Antonio is among them.

"Prior to reading the article," D'Antonio wrote in an email Friday to the commission, "I had no reason to believe I was in any way out of compliance with the ethics laws related to elected officials because I have always filed my disclosures within the required time frames and was never mailed the invoice."

The reporting system is expected to improve in 2014, when local elected officials may again file their reports with the local board, which will forward the information to the state database. Superior court judges, state legislators and the district attorney will continue to file directly to the state commission.

D'Antonio expressed relief Tuesday that the commission decided his case in his favor before the new year -- on a day he was busy officiating seven weddings - and that he won't have to deal with the statewide reporting system again.

"I'm obviously pleased they have resolved this," he said, "but I guess I'm looking forward to working with the folks locally."

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