Fulton ethics board dismisses Ferdinand complaint

The Fulton County Board of Ethics on Friday dismissed the latest in a series of complaints against tax commissioner Arthur Ferdinand.

The complaint accused Ferdinand of breaking the law by waiving the property taxes on more than a dozen Atlanta properties without first seeking permission from the Atlanta Board of Education. Ferdinand did not attend Friday’s Board of Ethics meeting. In the past, he has said he did what he was required to do by law, and that it was the responsibility of a nonprofit land bank to seek the school board’s permission.

The ethics board dismissed the complaint, noting that state law did not require Ferdinand to ensure that permission was obtained before waiving the taxes.

Friday’s decision is the latest in a series of ethics victories for Ferdinand. The board recently dismissed two other complaints the tax commissioner had abused his authority.

In the latest case, real estate investor and former tax commissioner candidate R.J. Morris said Ferdinand illegally waived school property taxes on 13 Atlanta properties. The tax commissioner waived more than $100,000 of taxes on the properties at the direction of the Fulton County/City of Atlanta Land Bank Authority. Under state law, the authority has the power to erase back taxes to spark redevelopment in blighted areas.

The properties were owned by the Historic District Development Corp., a nonprofit that formerly had ties to the family of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in 2012 that the transactions were unusual because the land bank turned the properties back over to the nonprofit after the taxes were waived. Typically, land banks seek new owners to develop properties.

Morris argued Ferdinand broke the law by waiving the school taxes without ensuring the Atlanta School Board had given its permission.

However, Woody Sampson, the attorney for the ethics board, said the law does not specify how that consent is obtained. Sampson said land bank officials told him their process for obtaining consent had become informal over the years. He said they sought verbal but not written permission for the properties in question.

Though board members said it would be better for the land bank and the school board to formalize their consent process, they found no evidence that Ferdinand had violated the law. They voted unanimously to dismiss the complaint.

In April, the board dismissed two other complaints against Ferdinand. One involved an accusation that he had abused his authority last year by revoking the registration of a vehicle owned by County Commissioner Liz Hausmann. Hausmann has filed a lawsuit against Ferdinand over the incident, and the ethics board concluded Superior Court is better suited to sort out the facts of the incident.

At the same meeting, the board also dismissed a complaint that Ferdinand had acted unethically by accepting federal farm subsidies for a small cattle farm he operates in south Fulton. The board said there was no evidence Ferdinand had violated any law.