For the past several months, the focus has really been on only two people in the race for Columbia County Commission Chair: Former EMA Director Pam Tucker and District 1 Commissioner Doug Duncan.
The third candidate, Mark Herbert, has been present at the debates and public forums, but because of Tucker’s longtime position with the county and Duncan’s current role on the Board of Commissioners, Herbert hasn’t gotten much press.
That all changed this month.
On May 1, Herbert released a news release questioning “possible misappropriation of Columbia County SPLOST and GO Bond funds.”
“In my preparation to be your next Columbia County Commission Chairman, my team and I set out to fully understand the county budget,” Herbert wrote in the news release. “During our review we found questions regarding SPLOST and GO Bond funds being used for a number of things prohibited by law which include employee salaries, maintenance contracts and more. Digging deeper it appears this may have been going on since 2010 and could put the county at great risk.”
In order to protect the citizens of Columbia County, Herbert decided to expand his team to get a “better grasp of the SPLOST issues,” so he could “quickly identify solutions and put together a plan to address the possible problem.”
“Columbia County deserves better,” Herbert stated.
For a candidate who has been flying under the radar for the past several months, this was quite a news release.
Herbert insisted that he was going to get to the bottom of the issue.
“While these questions are extremely disturbing, it is important that the citizens of Columbia County are made aware of the possible negligence shown by Columbia County Government,” Herbert stated, adding, “I’m sure you have questions, too. It is time for answers.”
Well, needless to say, it didn’t take long for Columbia County Administrator Scott Johnson to respond to Herbert’s allegations.
“To my knowledge, neither Mr. Herbert nor anyone from his campaign has made a single inquiry to county leadership regarding spending,” Johnson stated in a May 2 press release. “That said Columbia County stands ready to address any and all issues once properly raised. Based on these serious accusations, I respectfully request Mr. Herbert to provide my office specific details including names, dates, and any other information he may have of all perceived improprieties. Once received, we will address each item openly and will engage both our internal and external auditors to provide oversight if necessary.”
All of Johnson’s comments up to that point were completely professional and understandable. However, the final line of Johnson’s statement to the press definitely had some teeth in it.
“I feel quite certain our accounting is in order and his misunderstanding is simply a result of his lack of knowledge and experience in government operations,” Johnson said at the very end of his statement to the press.
Basically, here’s the translation as to what Johnson really meant with that final sentence: “Mark Herbert doesn’t have a clue about what the hell he’s talking about. Vote for Doug Duncan.”
Well, Herbert definitely got the attention he’s looking for; however, he might have just burned some serious bridges with his future county administrator if he wins the May 22 election.
Of course, ill feelings in this race for county commission chair are not uncommon this time around.
Obviously, everyone knows that there is no love lost between Johnson and candidate Pam Tucker after her abrupt resignation last year and controversial exit from the county.
But it also appears that Tucker is willing to take sides when it comes to some of her possible future colleagues on the Columbia County Board of Commissioners.
On the same day that Herbert released his press release, Tucker shocked many longtime politicos by actually endorsing candidates in other Columbia County commission races.
“There have been numerous campaign forums held over the last couple of months. I am so happy I have had a chance to personally talk with, as well as listen to the platforms of the other candidates running in Commission District 1 and Commission District 4,” Tucker posted on her campaign’s Facebook page on May 1. “I give praise to everyone for stepping up and going through what it takes to run a campaign, but there are two individuals who really stand out from the pack. Hafeez Chaudhry in District 1 and Lee Muns in District 4.”
Such endorsements by a political newcomer is unheard of in local politics.
“Both of these candidates have campaign websites and I really encourage you to visit those sites and read about their platforms, experience and even contact them personally and see for yourself that they really do stand out with the best qualifications to serve,” Tucker wrote. “It’s time to truly dislodge from the establishment and the tax and spend mentality. Three weeks from today, we have a chance to really make a positive difference.”
Apparently, it’s a new day for campaigns in Columbia County.
What will happen next with less than two weeks left before the May 22 election?