Jim Bartley, the custom home builder looking to unseat long-time Columbia County Commission Chairman Ron Cross in the May 20 Republican primary, is facing allegations from a former subcontractor that he brandished a firearm when he was asked for payment over two decades ago.
“I did some work for him and when it came time to collect my money, he didn’t want to pay off,” says former plumbing contractor Robert Sullivent. “He pulled a gun and didn’t want to deal with me when I went to see about getting my money.”
Sullivent says he didn’t press the issue when confronted with the gun.
“I let it lay,” he says. “It wasn’t worth dying over $4,000; of course, I don’t think he would have pulled the trigger.”
He claims he never reported the incident to authorities because he didn’t think it would do any good.
“If you called the police, it was going to be his word against mine,” Sullivent says.
Bartley denies the claim.
“That’s not true,” he says. “I never pulled a gun on Robert Sullivent. I fired Robert, and in my world, when somebody doesn’t do a job right, you give them an opportunity to do it right, and then, if they get nasty and say they’re not going to do it until they get paid — well, you’re fired. See you later. In my world, you don’t pay people on the front end, you pay them when the job’s finished.”
Though Bartley insists he didn’t pull a gun on Sullivent, he goes on to say he’s not one to take threats casually.
“I’ve had some subcontractors I’ve had to arrest before,” he says. “You don’t have to do much to make me believe you’re going to do something to me, and I will defend myself and call 911 and have you arrested. Of course, once I arrest you, you can swear out a warrant and say that I drew a weapon on you and you can re-arrest me — you can play that little game — but then they get dismissed for justifiable actions.
“I’ve always had a concealed weapon permit,” he continues. “And I firmly believe in the Second Amendment. Don’t threaten somebody and you won’t get any retaliation.”
The allegations come on the heels of last week’s Insider column, which outlined a series a lawsuits against the Evans builder, including one in which he was sued by his father for transferring $87,000 he was supposed to manage for his parents into his business account, using it to purchase land. In that suit, Bartley’s father alleged Bartley obtained his mother’s power of attorney while she was a psychiatry patient and not mentally competent to execute such a legally binding contract.
“I don’t appreciate somebody attacking my dead momma, but that’s politics,” Bartley says. “I’ve got real thick skin.”
He delves into the allegations only far enough to explain their circumstances.
“I had an alcoholic sister who was an alcoholic and drug addict her whole life,” he says. “I had my dad whose mind went bad long ago. I had to take care of them, and people with mental problems, whether they’re drug addicts or alcoholics, can find a lawyer anywhere and sue anybody for anything.”
Bartley, however, pulls no punches when voicing his displeasure over the way his opponent has run the county for the last 12 years, especially during the recession.
“Everybody else out here was fighting for their jobs, losing houses and everybody’s wealth dropped, and we doubled our debt,” he says. “Is that a good move? We’ve still got to pay it off, don’t we?”
And it’s paying that debt off that’s got him worried.
“The county doesn’t make money but three ways — fees, fines and taxes,” he says. “Would you want to head the committee up that goes out and tells a fixed-income disabled person that the county gambled in the worst economic times and lost, so now your property tax is going to go up $200? What do you tell those people? How are they going to pay their taxes?”
Cross sees things differently and is campaigning on the fact that the county has actually lowered property taxes three out of the last five years. He’s also touting other achievements, like the county’s AAA bond rating and the amenities that have come along with the county’s growth, which are successes that have not only proven to be popular, but are also as easy to see as the Lady Antebellum Amphitheatre.
For his part, Bartley maintains that the growth has come at the expense of those who were already here. Most of the newcomers, he says, are from the north, where taxes and incomes are higher.
“This is the difference between me and other people,” he says. “You can’t sacrifice the people who retired off southern incomes in favor of people retiring off of northern incomes. They want everything because they’re used to having everything. They’re great people to have move here and we need them, but you can’t give them everything they want.”