Rawls quits Common Cause post

Columbus insurance executive Sam Rawls has resigned as chairman of the local Common Cause chapter.

Rawls resignation comes after the government watchdog organization took a stand against Mayor Jim Wetherington and Columbus Council during the recently passed 1-percent sales tax vote.

Wetherington and Council said it was not a tax increase, but the Common Cause board insisted it was and asked Yes for Public Safety, the committee that ran the campaign, to pull television ads and billboards. The committee refused.

"I am staying as a member, but I'm ill-suited to be the chairman," said Rawls, 78. "My purpose in doing this was I like honesty, open government and accountability."

The local Common Cause chapter started in October, and Rawls has been chairman since its inception. It has about 60 members and is governed by an 18-member board.

He said Common Cause took the stand against the advertising even though many in the organization favored the tax, which passed on July 15 by a 60-40 percent margin.

"We did not have common agreement," Rawls said. "My purpose was not to be negative. We weren't taking sides, but a lot of people assumed we were. What we were saying is you are not calling it a tax increase, and it is."

The permanent 1 percent sales tax will replace a temporary sales tax that expires before the end of the year. Currently, the sales tax in Muscogee County is 7 percent. Two Special Purpose Local Option Sales Taxes — one by the city and the other by the Muscogee County School District — fall off this year. On Jan. 1, 2009, the sales tax in Muscogee County will be 6 percent. It would have been 5 percent if this month's sales tax vote had failed. Common Cause board member Josh McKoon said he expected the organization to elect a new slate of officers in the next couple of months. Alton Russell is the group's current vice chairman.

Rawls is a partner in Knight-Rawls Inc., a local insurance agency.

"It was my fault as a leader, but I wasn't getting any help," Rawls said. "I have a job to do here and clients to serve."