The unanimous decision was handed down Monday — the day before Election Day — during the board’s regular meeting at the Cherokee County Elections Office. The 4-0 vote confirmed county officials will not need to conduct a special election to fill the District 3 seat.
The challenge to Poole’s eligibility was issued by Elections Superintendent Janet Munda following a complaint filed by a local attorney on behalf of eight residents.
Despite evidence Poole has failed to pay taxes owed, fallen short of making payments under an approved plan with an Alabama bankruptcy court and his admission of default under the plan, the board issued a final written decision saying Poole is eligible to hold office under liberal construction of the Georgia Constitution so as not to limit the right of a person to hold office.
Though the board’s 11-page final decision claims the law would support a determination that Poole is ineligible to hold office, the document cites a “recent intervening act” that calls into question whether a confirmation order against Poole requiring him to pay unpaid taxes is final.
On Oct. 19, Poole filed a notice of conversion of his bankruptcy proceeding from Chapter 13 to Chapter 7, objecting to a pending motion to dismiss, which could determine whether the case would be converted or dismissed entirely.
“A hearing on the pending motion to dismiss…and election to convert to a Chapter 7 case is scheduled to be heard by the court in the bankruptcy proceeding shortly after the general election (perhaps as soon as the day after the election),” the decision states.
At last Wednesday’s hearing, Poole’s attorney Charles Robertson said the hearing is not scheduled until Dec. 20.
Regardless of date, the pending hearing calls into question the validity of Poole’s bankruptcy as a final judgment, the final decision states, leading the board to rule in Poole’s favor.
Poole, who won the Republican primary election against opponent Chris Hampton, was accused by eight residents including Hampton of not paying state and local sales taxes in the state of Alabama. Represented by Canton attorney Jeff Rusbridge, the group accused Poole of owing $38,599.09 in Alabama sales taxes.
The Towne Lake resident attended the meeting with his attorney Charles Robertson and several supporters, all of whom left quickly after the decision.
Before leaving, Robertson said he was happy with the ruling.
“We’re obviously pleased with it,” Robertson said. “We’re not surprised. We thought the law was pretty clear, so no surprises.”
Rusbridge said Tuesday his clients are considering whether to take further action in the matter.
“We’re disappointed in the decision, especially given all of (the board’s) findings that Mr. Poole appeared to be in large part ineligible,” Rusbridge said. “Given all of those findings they made, we’re disappointed they then decided not to deem him unqualified or remove him from the ballot.”
In a called meeting two weeks ago, the board unanimously voted to schedule a formal hearing held last Wednesday where they heard Poole’s presentation of evidence. However, the board tabled the decision until its regular meeting Monday.
Poole’s candidacy was challenged in a two-page letter filed by Rusbridge Oct. 20—the day after Poole’s filing for a notice of conversion—on behalf his clients. The letter included active certificates of liens for taxes from the Alabama Department of Revenue totaling $38,599.09 in local and state sales taxes that were filed between 2009 and 2011.
Additionally, the letter included copies of Poole’s voluntary bankruptcy filing in 2010 and sworn statements by Poole admitting in his Chapter 13 bankruptcy petition he owed $29,855 in state and local sales taxes and withholding taxes to the state of Alabama.
Roberston did not deny the validity of any of the documents during the formal hearing last Wednesday, but argued the issues are legally moot as Poole’s bankruptcy proceeding has been public record since Aug. 24 and there has not been final adjudication by a court of competent jurisdiction determining Poole owes any taxes.
Robertson also alleged County Attorney Angie Davis “may have a direct interest in the election and should be recused,” as written in Poole’s defense.
The board defended these arguments in its final written decision, claiming Elections Superintendent Janet Munda was within her right to issue the challenge and reiterated Davis’ lack of bias, which she addressed at last week’s hearing, since she is not a voting member of the board.
As to the matter of final adjudication, the board’s decision said the argument is “misplaced” because although Poole’s settlement agreement in bankruptcy court is not considered a final judgment, the courts confirmation order confirming a plan of reorganization qualified as a final judgment.
Poole, who had no Democratic opposition in the general election, is set to take office on Jan. 1. Both Poole and Hampton sought the District 3 seat after incumbent County Commissioner Karen Bosch chose not to seek re-election.