Porter, a Democrat who was elected in November, told Gwinnett cities earlier this year that she wanted an additional $2 per parcel to collect taxes on their behalf, a sum that would have raised her $141,098 salary by an additional $110,734.
Many cities balked, and decided to collect on their own. As others considered doing so, state lawmakers intervened and passed legislation that would allow tax collection agreements between cities and counties, sidestepping the tax commissioner.
Grayson entered into one of those agreements. Three other cities decided to pay Porter her fee after she noted that the law applied to tax collections, but not storm water, solid waste or streetlight fees. Dacula and Peachtree Corners, which both collect fees, will pay Porter $2 a parcel for her to collect for them. Berkeley Lake, which does not have fees, will pay $1 per parcel. All together, the fees will boost Porter’s salary by more than $34,000.
In a letter attached to Grayson’s lawsuit and addressed to that city’s attorney, former Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears — who is representing Porter — said the tax commissioner “will not perform the duties assigned to her” by the Grayson-Gwinnett agreement. Neither Porter, her spokespeople nor a county spokesperson would comment on the suit.
The new law, which Gov. Brian Kemp signed in May, is unconstitutional and cannot be enforced, Sears wrote in the nine-page letter. Furthermore, she said, Porter was targeted by the General Assembly “in an attempt to expand her duties, remove some of her official authority, deny her freedom of contract, and change the method by which tax collectors and commissioners have been paid for over a century.”
The law applies to both Porter and the Fulton County tax commissioner, who has collected fees to boost his own salary for years. State lawmakers, who could not be reached for comment, said previously they intend to expand the legislation next year to apply elsewhere in Georgia.
In the lawsuit, Grayson said the city had entered a lawful contract and needed Porter to carry out her duties. The city’s rate for tax collection already increased from 65 cents a parcel to $1.80 a parcel, Wilkerson said, even before Porter’s personal fees.
In her letter, Sears said as an elected official Porter has no reason to abide by a contract to which she wasn’t a party. The existing agreement wouldn’t compensate the tax commissioner “for her work or her worth,” Sears wrote.
“Neither Gwinnett County nor the City of Grayson can tell Commissioner Porter what to do,” she wrote. “...Her labor and services have been sold by and between others, for those others to reap the benefits and collect the fruits of her labors, without her having had any say in the matter whatsoever.”
Sears went on to say that Porter “remains committed to serving all the citizens of Gwinnett County” and was open to collecting taxes for Grayson as long as she was a party to the contract.
“What Grayson cannot do is subject Commissioner Porter to conditions of serfdom and peonage,” she wrote.
Wilkerson said she hoped the lawsuit is successful.
“I believe in this law,” she said. “I just want to see it upheld.”