Cosby files a complaint against West; Commissioner says accusations ‘completely baseless’
A Ball Ground woman facing six ethics complaints now says she has filed a complaint against Cherokee County Commissioner Steve West, claiming he failed to properly report contributions and expenditures.
Carolyn Cosby, who ran an unsuccessful race for the Cherokee County Commission chair seat last year and faces six ethics complaints of her own, said she mailed her complaint against the District 1 commissioner Thursday.
West said Friday the accusations are completely baseless and provided the Tribune with documentation he said shows he did disclose the correct information on his reports.
“Rest assured that they will be dismissed, because they have no merit,” West said of the claims made by Cosby in the complaint. “My campaign disclosure is public and I would welcome anyone who desires to review them to do so.”
Before running for commission chair as a write-in candidate, Cosby worked closely on West’s campaign for the District 1 commission seat, garnering an ethics complaint for reportedly sending out mailers as part of a political group that never disclosed contributions or expenditures.
“It’s hard for me to witness who I once believed were friends, now turn against me as they have,” West said. “I guess that’s the part of politics that all of us really hate to see.”
In the complaint, Cosby claims Chris Cowart — who made a $3 million deal with the county commissioners this week to lease purchase the Ball Ground Recycling property over 30 years — paid for signs for West’s campaign, which was not disclosed on his financial reports.
West provided the Tribune with copies of the invoices for his mailers and signs Friday, printed by Lauren’s Direct Mail for a total of $11,591.
The items and cost corresponded with an expenditure listed in his June 2014 campaign disclosure report, which is available to the public through the Cherokee County Elections and Voter Registration website, at voter.cherokeega.com
After Cosby’s latest ethics hearing in December, the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission, formerly the State Ethics Commission, found probable cause Cosby violated ethics laws in five instances, and sent those cases to the Attorney General’s Office for further prosecution. A sixth ethics complaint against Cosby is set for a hearing in front of the state commission in June.
In her complaint letter against West which she shared with the Tribune, Cosby claims he failed to disclose the source of money that paid for campaign mailers and signs, and that he failed to disclose information about contributions or expenses for a campaign consultant.
“I am particularly concerned as the amounts he has omitted are quite substantial. As a commission candidate myself, and as someone who initially worked closely on his campaign, I am aware that the cost of campaign mailings for his district would be substantial for approximately 16,000 voters,” Cosby wrote in her complaint. “I am also aware that based on the number of signs and size of signs purchased by Mr. West, the cost would be several thousand dollars.”
West’s campaign disclosure reports, filed between March and December 2014, show he received a total of $17,138 in monetary contributions during the campaign cycle through both small and large donations, as well as loans. Contributions of more than $100 from a single contributor must be itemized and list the donor.
At the end of the election cycle, on West’s final disclosure report, it showed he had a net balance of $35 remaining after expenditures, which is required to be itemized by receiving party and purpose if the cost was over $100.
West said Cosby’s complaint saddened him “because Carolyn and her friends have been supporters of mine and we shared many common goals and Constitutional values.”
“The TEA Party has been a great political movement that is needed in our great country and our county and this misguided but aggressive action by Carolyn discounts both,” West said. “I will admit to you all that I am a sensitive guy and seeing this sort of terrible action taken against me shocks me.”
Cosby claimed West told her during his campaign that some of his signs had been paid for by Cowart, who this week entered into a $3 million agreement with the Board of Commissioners and Resource Recovery Development Authority to lease purchase the Ball Ground Recycling property.
Cowart’s business, Sugar Hill-based Cowart Mulch, had an outstanding lawsuit against the county after the county rejected a 25-year lease purchase for $4.2 million last year.
A letter of interest accepted by the Board of Commissioners this week states Cowart would enter a settlement agreement resolving all claims currently pending through the lawsuit.
The new agreement is for $3 million, down from $4.2 million last year, and Cosby accused the Board of Commissioners, on which West sits, of giving Cowart a “sweetheart deal” on the property.
At the special called meeting Tuesday where the deal was made, West said he was in favor of the transaction because “it’s the best interest that we move forward and have Cowart create some jobs.”
“We have to move forward and not backward,” West said at the meeting Tuesday.
District 4 Commissioner Scott Gordon was the lone vote against the deal that stated Cowart would lease purchase the 36-acre tract for 30 years at $3 million.
In 2007, the county backed $18.1 million in bonds to relocate the recycling business off county-owned property on Blaylock Road near Holly Springs to a site off Highway 5 near Ball Ground.
Operator Jimmy Bobo later declared bankruptcy, leaving the county to foot the bill of $100,000 per month in debt service payments on the remaining $16 million loan.