Education

Shannon Smallman won't seek re-election to school board, but two other members will

Shannon Smallman
Shannon Smallman

Less than three weeks before qualifying begins, another Muscogee County School Board member won't seek re-election.

Shannon Smallman confirmed Friday that she doesn't plan to defend her District 7 seat. Qualifying for the nonpartisan local races on the May 24 ballot will be March 7-11. That means two of the four seats up for election on the nine-member board won't have incumbents in the races.

The Ledger-Enquirer reported last month that board chairman Rob Varner of District 5 won't be a candidate this year. Board vice chairwoman Pat Hugley Green of District 1, an office representative for Carolyn Hugley State Farm Insurance Agency, and District 7 representative Athavia "A.J." Senior, a retired Midland postmaster, said Friday in emails to the L-E that they will seek re-election.

Varner, executive vice president of Synovus Securities Inc., told the L-E in January that "eight years is enough" on the board and he had promised his wife he wouldn't run again. The reason Smallman won't be on the ballot is more legal than personal.

Smallman and her husband, Ernie, are real estate brokers with Coldwell Banker Kennon, Parker, Duncan & Davis. Smallman also manages the investments for her husband's corporation, Whitewater Realty, which does commercial and residential business.

In November 2014, Columbus voters passed by 59-41 percent the referendum to allow Tax Allocation Districts. Known as TADs in Georgia and TIFs (Tax Increment Financing) in other states, they are economic and community development tools.

In a TAD, the amount of property taxes that go to the local government is frozen on all real estate in its boundaries. Bonds are issued to redevelop the area. As property values rise, so does the property tax revenue. Any revenue collected over the frozen amount goes toward retiring the bond debt and possible infrastructure improvements.

In December 2015, the Columbus Council unanimously approved the city's first TAD. It's called Fort Benning Technology Park, designed to attract defense contractors and other business to otherwise unused land near the U.S. Army post's main gate.

Also in December, the council decided to postpone its votes on the three other proposed TADs: one around the Liberty District, one in downtown and one between TSYS and Bibb City for the creation of a mixed-used development called City Village. Those proposals still are pending.

Although the school board doesn't establish a TAD, it does vote on whether to participate in one because it is a governing body that benefits from property taxes. Such a vote hasn't come before the Muscogee County School Board, but it will, and Smallman and her husband own property in three of the four originally proposed TADs the Columbus Council has considered, she said. After researching the law and speaking to attorneys, she determined her position could be a conflict of interest.

Asked why she couldn't simply recuse herself from those votes, Smallman said, "When it's the officially proposed TAD, if it gets passed, I can't profit from it or develop or invest in it" if she remains on the board.

Georgia Code 36-44-21, which went into effect April 22, 2009, is the pertinent law. It states, in part:

"No elected or appointed official or employee of a political subdivision or a board, commission, or redevelopment agency thereof shall voluntarily acquire any interest, direct or indirect, in any property included or planned to be included in a redevelopment area, or in any contract or transaction or proposed contract or transaction in connection with the redevelopment of that redevelopment area."

Smallman said she has heard of a possible effort to amend the law, but that certainly won't happen before qualifying starts next month.

"I would try to do this for another four years if I thought that it would be cleared up by then," she said. "I just want to stay above board ethics-wise."

Candidates declare

Meanwhile, as of Friday morning, two school board candidates have filed with the Muscogee County Elections and Registration Office their Declaration of Intention documents to accept campaign contributions: Al Stewart in District 1 and Todd Robinson in District 5. Incumbents aren't required to file new declarations because their campaigns are considered continuing, Nancy Boren, the office's executive director.

Stewart, who has worked 36 years in education as a teacher and administrator, lost to Green in the 2012 election by 55-45 percent. Robinson, a former Army Ranger, lost the 2014 Democratic primary election for the U.S. Senate to Michelle Nunn. He received 10 percent of the vote in the four-way race, which Nunn won with 75 percent. She lost the general election to Republican David Perdue by 53-45 percent.

Mark Rice, 706-576-6272. Follow him on Twitter@MarkRiceLE.

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