Cherokee School Board member Rick Steiner, who is seeking his third term, and county commission candidate Larry Singleton, a former commissioner, will have to stand hearings before the Cherokee Board of Elections to continue their bids for office.
Steiner and Singleton are seeking Republican nominations in the May primary. The winners of the primary will not face Democratic opposition in November, as no candidates from other parties signed on to run.
The challenges, filed by voters in the candidates’ districts, allege their candidacies are not legal under the Constitution of the state of Georgia. The state Constitution lays out a list of factors which could disqualify a candidate from holding office, including if they have been finally adjudicated by a court to owe back taxes and have not been following a payment plan.
The hearing to determine if Steiner is eligible has been set for Wednesday at 10 a.m. at the elections office in downtown Canton. According to documents released by election officials, Steiner is accused of having more than $19,000 in federal tax liens and owing another $18,000 to the state of Georgia.
Singleton readily admits he owes the Internal Revenue Service $177,000, after the Great Recession “hammered” his real estate appraisal business. But he says he is making payments and should be cleared.
It was not immediately clear if Steiner still owes the taxes or is making payments. After phone calls and emails, Steiner did not respond to questions about the taxes.
Steiner faces opponent Robert Strozier of Woodstock in the primary.
Steiner’s complaint was filed by Acworth resident Dean Sheridan, who was a candidate for the Georgia Senate in 2013 and had a similar complaint filed against his candidacy. The complaint against Sheridan pointed to a $1,400 federal tax lien against his former business, though he vehemently denied owing the money.
Sheridan says while he was cleared by a judge to run after his complaint, he felt the charges against him were part of a “witch hunt,” but the situation with Steiner may be very different. He said he wanted the elections board to decide.
“On the surface, it appears to be a pattern of malfeasance,” Sheridan, who dropped out of his Senate race in 2013, said Friday of Steiner’s taxes. “I’m not so sure if the man should even be in office, let alone qualify for this next election. But that’s not for me to decide. That’s for the good people of Cherokee County.”
Considering the experience he had with his candidacy, Sheridan said he figured “if the rules applied to me, even though I was unjustly accused, they should apply to everybody else running for office.”
Sheridan said he researched every candidate running for office in Cherokee and only found Steiner to owe back taxes. He declined to comment on what he knew about Singleton.
The complaint against Singleton was filed Friday by residents in board of commissioners District 4, though the candidate holds Cherokee political activist Linda Flory, who doesn’t live in that district, responsible for organizing the charge against him. Flory said she’d rather not comment on Singleton’s allegations Friday night.
Cherokee elections supervisor Janet Munda said a date for Singleton’s hearing would likely be determined Monday. The hearing should be sometime in the next week or so, she said.
Singleton said Friday he had been open for weeks about the taxes he owes and has nothing to hide.
“The bottom line is I owed the money. I do not dispute anything,” Singleton said. “I didn’t declare bankruptcy. I know I owe the money to the federal government, plus penalties and interest. I’m paying on the plan, and I’m digging myself out of this hole. That’s the American way.”
Allegations about Singleton’s taxes first came up during qualifying, in early March. He posted on Facebook, admitting to owing the money and saying he never tried to keep that from anyone.
Singleton was on the board of commissioners more than a decade ago. The 55-year-old Woodstock business owner is running against Joseph Robert, a 52-year-old Woodstock business owner, and K. Scott Gordon, a 48-year-old Woodstock Planning Commission member and architect. They are vying for the seat of Commissioner Jason Nelms, who decided not to seek re-election.
Singleton said his attorney, who also represented Commissioner Brian Poole when his candidacy was unsuccessfully challenged, told him not to release any documentation proving he was making payments to the IRS before the hearing.
The candidate said he would provide records to show he has been paying about $1,300 a month since mid-2011 during the hearing before the elections board.
He said he was audited four years in a row around the time of the recession and had made mistakes on his filings.
Asked if his tax troubles affect his qualifications to help manage the county’s money as a commissioner, Singleton said “the comments I’ve got from people is they’d rather have someone that has the experience, that’s been there” on the board.
He said he isn’t the only one with debt.
“My opinion is ‘Hey, I’m in debt. The county’s in debt,’” Singleton said. “Let the constituents of District 4 make a decision with all the facts.”