Tax Commissioner Kay Allen and her husband, District 3 Columbia County Commissioner Charles Allen, are no longer a political powerhouse.
In a deal negotiated behind closed doors with the Columbia County Board of Commissioners, the Allens both agreed to resign from their positions effective immediately.
For months, allegations that Kay Allen improperly profited from tax collection contracts with Harlem and Grovetown hung over Columbia County like a dark cloud.
Local attorney Jack Long, who represented the Allens during the March 4 meeting, told the Columbia County Board of Commissioners that both Kay and Charles Allen felt it was in the best interests of the county if they stepped down.
With a vote of 4-0, the board accepted the retirement of Kay Allen and the resignation of Charles Allen. Neither of the Allens attended the meeting.
“On behalf of Charles and Kay Allen, I would like to say that Charlie and Kay Allen have had the privilege of calling Columbia County home for all of their lives,” Long said. “The people of Columbia County are their friends and neighbors. They are grateful to them for having allowed them to serve in public office for a total of over 40 years.”
Due to the fact that Charles Allen was recently diagnosed with prostate cancer, Long said both Kay and Charles Allen did not plan to run for re-election.
“In light of the medical conditions, they each intended to make this their last terms in office,” Long told the commissioners. “They had hoped to complete their terms as public servants to Columbia County and then step down gracefully into retirement.”
But as the controversy surrounding Kay Allen began to mount last year, Long said the couple realized their dispute with the county had “erupted into a full scale political and legal battle.”
“Throughout their terms in public office, they have both tried to give their highest priority to the needs of their constituents,” Long said. “With that in mind, it is clear to both Charles and Kay Allen that it would not be in the best interests of the citizens of Columbia County or for their families for this battle to continue.”
Therefore, the Allens have decided to “jointly retire from public office,” Long said.
In doing so, Long said the Allens hoped the “healing process” could begin for Columbia County.
“They hope their resignation will allow all of the elected officials to turn their full attention back to serving the county citizens,” Long said.
“At the same time, I would like to express my appreciation to the Allens for their decision to forgo any further litigation and to call an end to this as far as Columbia County is concerned,” Cross said. “I will note that we don’t know what is going on with the other (law enforcement and governmental) agencies and we have no control over that.”
Columbia County Commissioner Trey Allen added that he respected the Allens for their decision to step down from office.
“I’d like to say, I appreciate and respect, especially with the clarity of the last five years of being in public service, anyone who is willing to offer themselves up,” Trey Allen said. “And with all their years of dedicated service, I appreciate both Charles Allen and Kay Allen for their service.”
It is time for Columbia County to move on to the “business of the people” and on to “better days,” Trey Allen added.
As painful as this ending is for the Allens, Cross said it is equally uncomfortable for the entire commission.
“There is never any joy in a situation such as this,” Cross said. “The solution or the ending of it is good for the citizens of Columbia County and this has been our No. 1 interest since the beginning. These things occur and they have to be dealt with. They are not at all any pleasant part of our duties.”
Two weeks ago, members of the Columbia County Board of Commissioners told Kay Allen, in no uncertain terms, it was time for her to pack her bags and go.
First, the Columbia County commissioners voted 4-0 to instruct attorneys representing the county to move forward with efforts to recover any monies that Kay Allen may have “wrongfully withheld.”
This after commissioners patiently waited for the FBI to conclude its joint investigation with the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office.
But after months of investigating the matter, Kay Allen has yet to be charged with any crime.
As far as when and if law enforcement will act on the issues surrounding Kay Allen, Cross told the public on Feb. 21 that any pending charges are still unknown.
“The time has long passed for a resolution in this matter,” Cross said on Feb. 21. “It is the opinion of this body that Mrs. Allen’s actions have compromised her ability to effectively serve the citizens of the county. In the best interest of our citizens, the county has retained counsel to explore its options regarding filing an action against Tax Commissioner Allen to recover any money she may have wrongly withheld.”
Commissioner Trey Allen was the first to officially state that he believed Kay Allen should step down from her position as tax commissioner.
“In my opinion, the position that we find ourselves dealing with in this situation and the seriousness of the allegations, again in my opinion, I think it resulted in the loss of public confidence in the office of the tax commissioner,” Trey Allen said on Feb. 21. “And I think it is appropriate at this time for the tax commissioner to step aside from her official duties.”
All of this came after weeks of waiting for some resolution in the matter.
Columbia County commissioners had sent a letter to Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal two days before Christmas asking him to look into alleged misconduct by Kay Allen.
The Dec. 23 letter to the governor was direct and upfront about the allegations against Kay Allen.
“In October of this year, the Columbia County Commission was informed of a situation that involved the Tax Commissioner collecting fees from municipalities contrary to law,” the commissioners wrote. “Specifically, we discovered Columbia County Tax Commissioner Kay K. Allen contracted with the cities of Grovetown and Harlem personally and collected a fee which she retained as personal compensation that should have been remitted to the county.”
The Columbia County commissioners laid everything out on the table.
“In 2013, this fee totaled $36,000 but since 2009 the monies exceed $160,000,” the letter stated. “Until this revelation, the commission had no knowledge of this arrangement and it was never reflected on any weekly or monthly reports she submitted.”
The letter stated if the accusations against Allen are accurate, it is clearly in violation of a 2007 amendment to Georgia law which stated, “The governing authority, not the tax commissioner, may contract with municipalities to accept, receive and retain compensation if the county had more than 50,000 parcels.”
The board acknowledged that Columbia County met that threshold in 2009.
“While this had been the practice for many years, we understand that the Tax Commissioner was made aware of the change in law in 2007 at a state training conducted by the Georgia Department of Revenue,” the letter stated. “Notwithstanding this training, each year beyond 2009, allegedly she has collected these fees by preparing hand-written invoices that were delivered to the municipalities by her personally.”
And it appeared that Kay Allen was personally profiting from these fees, the Columbia County commissioners wrote the governor.
“The checks for these fees were written to Columbia County Tax Commissioner attention Kay Allen, but were deposited into her personal account,” the letter to the governor stated. “Both municipalities assumed the payments to the Tax Commissioner were going to the governing authority according to law.”
The investigation into Allen’s alleged misconduct apparently began after former Chief Deputy Tax Commissioner Dwight Johnson, who was fired in October, met with the FBI.
Johnson, an employee of the tax commissioner’s office for 15 years, claims that his relationship with Kay Allen began deteriorating after he admitted to her that he was planning on running for the tax commissioner’s seat in 2016.
Johnson’s termination form states he was fired because Allen held him responsible for a missing bank bag that allegedly contained $55 that never made it the Evans government center from the Appling office in July.
None of those allegations are true, Johnson told the Metro Spirit last year.
When asked how long he was aware of allegations that Allen was personally profiting from the contracts with Harlem and Grovetown, Johnson said Steve Adams, then an employee in the accounting division of the tax commissioner’s office, informed him a few years ago that he had some concerns about the manner in which the money was being collected.“It said that I misappropriated $55 in a bank bag and had coerced an employee to lie for me,” Johnson told the Metro Spirit. “It also said that I was belligerent to her or disrespectful to her. Which, none of that is true.”
Therefore, Johnson said that he asked Kay Allen about some of Adams’ concerns.
“She said, ‘Oh, (Steve Adams) doesn’t know what he’s talking about. I have a right to that money. Or I have the right to give that money to my staff,’” Johnson said. “And I said, ‘What do you mean?’ She said, ‘Well, I can either take the money for myself or I can distribute the money for collecting the tax digest for the cities to my staff.’”
Considering the office’s “frontline” employees weren’t paid very much, Johnson asked Kay Allen if she could use the money to increase those employees’ salaries.
“It was like I slapped her in the face,” Johnson said in December. “She got upset about that. And she basically said she collects it, she is the tax commissioner and she decides where it goes. So, I left it alone.”
When Adams continued to ask questions about which county fund these checks should be deposited in, Johnson said Kay Allen directed all of those checks to be delivered to Johnson’s mailbox instead.
“This is what threw up a red flag for me,” Johnson told the Metro Spirit. “She told me, ‘From now on, I’m going to move this to your mailbox and when you get these checks, just put them on my desk, but don’t open them.’”
When the checks arrived, Johnson immediately knew they were from the other municipalities for Kay Allen.
“She loves writing in green ink and there was always the word, ‘confidential,’ written in green on the envelopes,” Johnson said. “So, she would send the municipalities envelopes for them to mail her the checks back. I don’t know the frequency of the checks. I just know every once in a while I would see that ‘confidential’ envelope and I would stick it on her desk and she would never say a word about it.”
Ironically, Adams was sworn in as the new deputy tax chief in December
Late last year, Cross told the Metro Spirit he only wished the county commission learned of the allegations against Allen sooner.
“I wish we had some inkling before that it was going on because we had so many people who were deceived,” he said. “The cities thought they were paying to the county and the county was handling it according to law. The cities made the checks out properly, but the checks never made it to the county.”
When Johnson finally approached Cross and his colleagues with the allegations against Kay Allen, Cross said he encouraged Johnson to speak with law enforcement.
“He came to us and we said, ‘You either go to the authorities or you are going to be grouped in with any wrongdoing that goes on because you’ve been there,’” Cross said.
“It is just unfortunate.”