Tax chief airs info from records about SUV critic

Less than two weeks after a county commissioner questioned his need for a county-owned vehicle, Fulton County Tax Commissioner Arthur Ferdinand has aired potentially damaging or embarrassing tax information about her.

It was the second time this year that he has released such information about North Fulton Commissioner Liz Hausmann, who first asked why Ferdinand, the state's highest-paid elected official, has a $39,000 county-owned SUV that allows him to commute to work at taxpayers' expense.

Ferdinand has yet to explain why he needs such a vehicle to do his job, but he is questioning whether Hausmann belongs in office. He also has not responded to reporters’ repeated requests for comment.

He sent a memo to the interim county attorney and county commissioners this week reporting that Hausmann may not live in her district or even in the county. The tax commissioner said he was tipped off by “a constituent” and discovered she has sold the home she listed as her residence in her last campaign disclosure form. The memo also says taxes on a vehicle registered in her name were paid with a check bearing a Gwinnett County address.

Hausmann admits to a paperwork mistake but says she still lives in Johns Creek — which her new landlord confirmed for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In a letter responding to Ferdinand obtained by the AJC and Channel 2 Action News, she questioned the timing of the accusation.

Explore» Read more AJC investigative and watchdog stories

“I find it unfortunate that a clerical oversight would demand your attention,” she said, “in the wake of all matters concerning your department and Fulton County.”

In March, after Hausmann called for an investigation into Ferdinand’s tax lien sales that allowed a private company to collect millions of dollars in late fees, Ferdinand sent documents to state lawmakers showing he put a lien against her property for $52 in 2001.

In the past, he has similarly pointed out past liens for overdue taxes against properties owned by state Rep. Wendell Willard — a Sandy Springs Republican and his most persistent critic in the Legislature.

The tax commissioner’s memo has dredged up personal issues for Hausmann. She is going through a divorce and says she moved in with her sister last year.

It has also drawn more attention to Ferdinand, who has come under fire for earning nearly $350,000 last year, much of it through personal fees for billing city taxes, while using his department’s funds to buy an SUV for his own use.

Dan Davis, the executive director of the Georgia Association of Tax Officials, said ethical issues could be raised if the tax commissioner zeroed in on a political enemy and dug into her tax records. But if he got an outside tip, he had a duty to investigate.

“That’s not unethical in that sense,” Davis said. “There are public records that he’s supposed to look at, and if he finds something incorrect, he’s supposed to check it out.”

But William Perry, executive director of Common Cause Georgia, said he’s less concerned with Hausmann failing to update her address than he is with Ferdinand’s apparent retaliation.

“The timing of it gives the appearance that it’s a ‘gotcha’ complaint,” Perry said. “Bottom line, the situation purely sounds like intentionally coming after her for questions that seem like legitimate issues.”

Ferdinand has not responded to phone calls the past few weeks and did not answer questions sent by email Wednesday.

Earlier this month, after a review of a routine take-home vehicle report, Hausmann questioned why he has a vehicle, considering his high pay, which includes personal fees he collected for adding Atlanta’s, Johns Creek’s and Sandy Springs’ tax bills to county bills.

Through an Open Records Act request the AJC discovered that last year Ferdinand’s department spent $39,000 on a new SUV. The take-home report showed he has a Ford Explorer XLT, a midgrade model, but the purchase order revealed it is actually an Explorer Limited, which means he has the newest, most upscale vehicle of any Fulton official who is allowed to take one home. Also, because it’s part of the county fleet, Ferdinand can fill it with gas on the county’s tab, and records show he has spent $1,250 on fuel since buying the vehicle in August.

County Commission Chairman John Eaves — who occasionally takes home a pool car — told Channel 2 Action News on Wednesday that he has asked Ferdinand to turn in the SUV and let some other employee use it. As to the allegations against Hausmann, Eaves said, “The information I’ve seen so far doesn’t seem to warrant any sort of residency issue.”

Hausmann says her 24-year-old daughter drives a vehicle in Hausmann’s name and used a check with her father’s Gwinnett address to pay the registration renewal. Hausmann says she failed to update her address on her disclosure forms and on her vehicle registration because, on top of the divorce, she recently went through her father’s long-term illness and death.

“I would have appreciated a conversation with you regarding this error,” Hausmann told Ferdinand in her letter, “so that I could have related the family circumstances that led to my distraction during this time and, therefore, would have allowed me the opportunity to remedy the situation immediately.”