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Lee petition locations rile officials

LEESBURG -- One of the leaders of a group seeking signatures on a petition calling for the repeal of a controversial garbage fee collection ordinance in Lee County said Wednesday the group will tally its signatures Tuesday to determine whether it has enough to present to the county's Probate Court judge.

Mike Sabot, an activist who is affiliated with both the Lee County Republican Party and the area tea party movement, said more than 300 citizens in the community had gotten involved in gathering signatures on copies of the petition.

"We plan to collect all the petitions next week and see where we are," Sabot said. "We're not working under any time limit, so if we don't have enough signatures we'll start canvassing subdivisions. If we do, we'll take them directly to Judge (John) Wheaton.

"Since we have more than 300 people who have volunteered to collect signatures, I'm pretty confident we'll get the number needed."

The group, which opposes an ordinance passed by the Lee County Commission on May 12, 2009, that calls for yearly garbage fees to be placed on ad valorem tax bills in an effort to curb rampant nonpayment, turned to the Georgia Constitution in its efforts to have the ordinance repealed. Wheaton signed off on the wording of a petition that, if signed by 20 percent of the county's registered voters (3,377), would pave the way for a possible countywide repeal vote.

The placement of copies of the petition at a number of prominent locations around the county, including the tax office, has stirred further debate in the community about the already hot-button issue. But clerks in the tax office are not, according to Tax Commissioner Susan Smith, trying to "intimidate" citizens into signing the petition as some have suggested.

"There are copies of the petition in our office, but I did not put them there until I talked with my attorney (Jerome Adams of Douglas) and he said he felt it was OK because the issue pertains to this office," Smith said Wednesday. "I have not told any of the clerks in the office -- and as far as I know they aren't doing it -- to ask anyone to sign the petition.

"When anyone comes into this office, it's business first. When (citizens) finish their business, the clerks may mention that the petitions are available. But they do not ask people to sign them. One of the reasons we decided to put them in here was because of the number of questions we were getting about the issue."

Smith forced the commission to take her to Superior Court when she refused to comply with the ordinance, saying she was not elected to collect garbage fees. Judge James Sizemore handed down an Aug. 3 ruling granting a writ of mandamus that would force Smith to comply. Smith has since appealed the ruling to the Georgia Supreme Court.

Lee Commission Chairman Ed Duffy said Wednesday the actions of the tax office staff amounted to a conflict of interest.

"I recognize the right of any citizen who challenges the validity of the ordinance, but recently I have been informed that there is a petition circulating in the county to overturn it," Duffy said. "I have also been informed that this petition is in the tax commissioner's office and that employees in the office are soliciting signatures on county property during county time.

"I believe this is a conflict of interest, since our tax commissioner has refused to implement the ordinance passed by the commission in May of 2009."

Lee County Attorney Jimmy Skipper, a former state Legislator, said at the commission's Tuesday night business meeting that he could find no case in Georgia law that would preclude the tax commissioner's office from having copies of the petition available for citizens to sign.

"I really haven't found anything that addresses that directly," Skipper said. "The closest I came is a law that prohibits government agencies from campaigning specifically for something like SPLOST (special-purpose local-option sales tax)."

Some citizens complained to county officials that the pastors of First Baptist Church Leesburg and Leesburg United Methodist Church had, from the pulpit during Sunday services, urged church members to sign the petition. The pastors of both churches said those claims are not true.

"There was one of our members who asked me to announce that she had a copy of the petition if anyone was interested in signing it," the Rev. Bobby Harrell of First Baptist said Wednesday. "All I did was make the announcement for her at the end of services, after our benediction.

"Despite what anyone might have said, I did not 'preach' about the issue, and I have no intention of doing so."

Leesburg United Methodist pastor the Rev. Mike Lyons said he's disappointed that citizens would make such claims.

"That statement is not accurate at all," Lyons said. "In fact, I'm disappointed to hear this issue has gone so far that something like that would be fabricated."

Comments

mizfizzz 2 years, 7 months ago

Mr. Ed Duffy, not only CAN the tax commissioner's office have a petition available for anyone who wants to sign it, ALL county government offices SHOULD have this petition available for signing. It's America, baby---government of the people, by the people, for the people.

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leecountyresident 2 years, 7 months ago

My husband and I were in the tax office on Friday and WERE NOT asked to sign this petition, but upon seeing it we asked if we could sign and GLADLY did so. We would also GLADLY sign a recall petition for some of the Lee County Commissioners. Our family was in the First Baptist Leesburg church service on Sunday and this WAS NOT PREACHED ON FROM THE PULPIT. It was requested from the floor by a church member that the petition was available if anyone wished to sign it. The United States Constitution is still in effect and prohibits the interference, by any level of government, with the practice of one's religion. Perhaps the Lee County Commissioners should spend more time studying the U. S. Constitution and less time fabricating unfounded allegations. Although we don't own property in Lee County, we feel that the commissioners should be looking for a way of getting the dead beats to pay their own garbage bills, instead of putting this burden on the tax office and property owners of Lee County.

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msa651 2 years, 7 months ago

Had no idea, all that was going on. Petition is taking a life of it's own on. Just shows you how unpopular the whole ordinance is....

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albanyherald1 2 years, 7 months ago

Where are all these "so called" supporters that the commissioners keep mentioning. I do believe I read that they said a significant amount of Lee County citizens were in favor of this terrible solution they have to the garbage problem. I have yet to run across ANY in the last couple of months. And your wives and families don't count as a significan amount, Commissioners!

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Mr_Heatmiser 2 years, 7 months ago

Here's one.

If somebody isn't paying their garbage bill, they get a lien slapped on their property. I don't have a problem with that.

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TrixibelleBento 2 years, 7 months ago

While I understand why everyone is so angry about this issue, what is the solution? Don't put a petition out there unless you have a solution to the problem. The only way you can get deadbeats to pay their garbage bills is by putting a lien on the property. You can't not pick up the garbage, because that becomes a health and safety issue. So what are your solutions to get the garbage bills paid? This is what makes me crazy; unless you have a better solution than sending out notices that you haven't paid (those just get thrown away), you can't really complain about the issue and how it's being dealt with. Lee County needs the money and people should be paying their bills. Period. If you don't, then you get a lien. At some point, people have to accept responsibility for their actions.

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mtift 2 years, 7 months ago

Duluth has a pay as you throw system. People just buy specially marked trash bags and those bags are picked up. It's very simple and there are no deadbeats because there is no billing.

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