Fulton taxpayers pay $137,000 for Ferdinand lawsuit

A lawsuit accusing Tax Commissioner Arthur Ferdinand of abuse of power has cost Fulton County nearly $137,000, and the final price tag might be higher.

Fulton officials say taxpayers have paid $136,732 through April 30 to cover Ferdinand’s legal bills in a lawsuit brought by County Commissioner Liz Hausmann. She says the tax commissioner revoked the registration for her 2004 Jeep as an act of political payback. Ferdinand denies the claim.

Now court records show settlement talks are under way. If those talks result in a cash settlement for Hausmann, taxpayers would pay the bill.

Attorneys for both elected officials declined to comment on a possible settlement. But court records indicate the Fulton Board of Commissioners may discuss a settlement in a closed session on Aug. 5.

Some people say Ferdinand – not taxpayers – should pay.

“The taxpayers of Fulton County are ultimately the ones that are paying for these political power plays and I think it hurts them,” said Ryan Splitlog, assistant director of Common Cause Georgia.

The lawsuit pits two top elected officials in Georgia’s largest county against each other.

Ferdinand revoked the registration of Hausmann's Jeep in 2013. He also sent a memo to her fellow commissioners and the county attorney, questioning whether she lived in the north Fulton district she represents.

Hausmann, a Johns Creek resident, was separated from her husband and living with her sister at the time. She said she had always lived in the district and argues that Ferdinand revoked the registration because she had questioned his use of a county take-home vehicle.

Ferdinand initially said he received a tip that Hausmann did not live in her district and revoked the registration because she could not provide adequate proof of an address. Under oath during a deposition, he admitted there was no tipster. He eventually allowed Hausmann to register the vehicle after she provided her voter registration as proof of residence.

The litigation has dragged on for more than two years. Last year, a Fulton County Superior Court judge rejected Ferdinand's request to dismiss the lawsuit. Ferdinand appealed that decision, but the state Court of Appeals and Supreme Court also refused to dismiss Hausmann's claims.

The case now is set for trial Aug. 3, but Hausmann has requested a postponement. She cited the settlement talks and said her daughter – who renewed Hausmann's vehicle registration and is expected to testify – will be out of town.

Ferdinand’s attorney, Randy Turner, said he supports the postponement.

All the while, Fulton taxpayers have been paying Ferdinand’s legal bills because he’s a county employee. Hausmann told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution she “never thought taxpayers should bear the burden” of Ferdinand’s legal costs. She declined to discuss a possible settlement except to say she will not participate in any commission decision on the matter.

Channel 2 Action News reporter Mike Petchenik contributed to this report.

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