State review finds potential conflict in Fulton tax assessor’s office

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That expert said he believes the office is turning itself around

A senior appraiser in the Fulton County tax assessors’ office was flagged for a possible conflict of interest for touting his position on a website soliciting clients for a tax return and accounting business he owns.

The employee, Victor Ifeadi, advertised his connection to the county on the website for Norvic Tax & Accounting in Fairburn, a report from a state Department of Revenue Performance Review Board said. According to his LinkedIn profile, Ifeadi is the CEO of the firm, which specializes in income tax returns, bookkeeping and payroll taxes. He is also the manager of personal property for the Fulton County assessors' office.

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Dwight Robinson, Fulton County’s chief appraiser, said he does not think there is a conflict in an appraiser’s side job. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM AJC FILE PHOTO

Dwight Robinson, Fulton County’s chief appraiser, said he does not think there is a conflict in an appraiser’s side job. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM AJC FILE PHOTO

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Dwight Robinson, Fulton County’s chief appraiser, said he does not think there is a conflict in an appraiser’s side job. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM AJC FILE PHOTO

Dwight Robinson, Fulton's chief appraiser, said Wednesday that he and Ifeadi had "a long talk" and that Ifeadi had agreed to amend his website.

But Robinson denied that there was any conflict in Ifeadi’s outside work, and said he wished representatives from the Performance Review Board would have talked to him before including it in their report.

“He listed it on his financial disclosure form for the county,” Robinson said. “It’s just a non-issue.”

Ifeadi has operated the business — where he prepares income tax returns — for 20 years, starting before his employment with the county, Robinson said. Ifeadi even does the taxes for some of his co-workers.

“He has never hidden it,” Robinson said.

The Performance Review Board, which started looking at the assessor's office more than a year ago at the request of the Fulton Board of Commissioners, found numerous shortcomings in the office that were enumerated in the 115-page report. They faulted Robinson's predecessor for his leadership, said the office was poorly organized and employees lacked training.

The board made 20 recommendations for the department, including one related to Ifeadi. The report called for the county to adopt and enforce a policy requiring employees to seek approval for any outside employment. Under the proposed policy, top county leadership would have the chance to deny requests for outside jobs if real or perceived conflicts of interest exist, or if taxpayer records would be compromised.

Jessica Corbitt, a spokesperson for the county, said Fulton already has such a policy. It says the county respects employees’ right to engage in activities outside of work “to the extent that such activities do not create a conflict of interest” as defined in the ethics policy, or adversely affect an employee’s ability to do his or her job.

Robinson said Ifeadi has no clients for whom he prepares Fulton County property tax returns, and one for whom he does income and payroll taxes. The county is aware of that client.

Stephen White, the Cobb County chief appraiser and a member of the review board, said upon further review, he didn’t think Ifeadi’s work represented a conflict. He said he did not recall how the board got the information about the business, or if there is a reason they did not discuss it with either Ifeadi or Robinson prior to calling it a “possible conflict of interest.”

“If he’s not doing work in Fulton County, I don’t see that as a conflict of interest,” White said. “If Dwight’s comfortable with it, then it’s OK.”

Eugene James, a former Fulton chief appraiser, said if Ifeadi is only doing people's taxes, he doesn't see it as a conflict. The problem arises, he said, if Ifeadi helped people appeal property values after he worked in the department that set them, or otherwise helped them save money on their property taxes.

Given the potential for perceived conflict, if not actual conflict, James said he would tell anyone who worked for him that it was “too risky” too continue, and he “would not recommend” using his full-time employment as a way to advertise his business.

“It sounds like he’s borderline,” said James, who is now the senior director for real estate consulting firm MetroStudy. “If he’s doing anything with personal property tax matters, he needs to cease and desist immediately.”

Still, James said, there is no indication that Ifeadi has done anything unethical or illegal. He said many county employees have side jobs in order to make more money.

Robinson said he trusts and believes that Ifeadi is “on the up-and-up.” He has asked Ifeadi to clarify in his marketing materials for prospective clients “that he does not provide any services that are related to the work of the Fulton County Tax Assessors’ Office,” Corbitt said.

Reached at his desk in Fulton County Wednesday, Ifeadi referred questions to Robinson.

“I’m not sure there’s anything I can add for it,” he said. “I’m at work, so I can’t discuss my personal business. It’s not something I can do on county time.”

What the Performance Review Board said:

The PRB was made aware of a possible conflict of interest involving one senior appraiser who appears to own and operate a private tax representation firm in which business personal property returns are filed on behalf of property owners.

RECOMMENDATION: Fulton County should consider adopting and enforcing a policy requiring employees to seek approval for outside employment or business activity. The policy should provide that any type of outside employment or business activity must be approved by the Chief Appraiser and Human Resource Director or County Manager who would have discretion to deny such requests when real or perceived conflicts of interest exist or where confidentiality of taxpayer records may be compromised.