Deputy Chief Judge Michael Malihi of the Georgia Office of Administrative Hearings will consider the candidacies of Matt Laughridge, Dean Sheridan and Christopher G. Nesmith after a resident filed complaints that none of the three are legally eligible to seek the District 14 seat.
Canton resident Garrett Jamieson filed complaints with the Secretary of State’s Office in mid-September alleging that the three candidates did not meet the requirements of the Georgia Constitution to seek the office.
Sheridan and Nesmith, Jamieson complained, weren’t eligible because they owed taxes, and Laughridge because he had allegedly not lived in District 14 for the full year required by the state’s Constitution.
The Secretary of State’s Office researched Jamieson’s complaints and has turned them over to OSAH, officials said.
OSAH spokesman Kevin Westray said Tuesday the judge will make a recommendation to the Secretary of State’s Office on whether or not the candidates should be removed from the race, likely within 48 hours of the hearing.
The Secretary of State’s Office will then make the final call if they can stay in the six-candidate race, Westray said. Other candidates in the race for the seat, which covers parts of Cherokee, Bartow and Cobb counties, are Dwight Pullen of Canton, Nicole Ebbeskotte of Woodstock, and Bruce Thompson of White.
Jamieson said Tuesday that he plans to attend the hearing, which will be at OSAH’s office in Atlanta.
He maintains that neither Acworth candidate Sheridan or Cartersville hopeful Laughridge are qualified to run in the race.
“My gut feeling toward Mr. Laughridge and Mr. Sheridan hasn’t changed at all,” he said.
Adairsville candidate Nesmith, however, appears to have settled his debts, Jamieson said.
Nesmith readily admitted in an interview in September that his 2012 county property tax bill had not been paid, because he and his family had fallen on hard times. But according to the Bartow County Tax Assessor’s Office, Nesmith has since paid those taxes.
Jamieson said he would be fine with Nesmith staying in the race, if those debts had been paid off.
“If Mr. Nesmith has paid his taxes and can show proof of that, there’s no hard feelings there,” said Jamieson, who is supporting Pullen in the race. “There’s nothing personal about any of these challenges. It’s simply a matter of being eligible to run for public office.”
Jamieson said he wasn’t aware of the status of Sheridan, who as of mid-September still had an unresolved federal tax lien from the Internal Revenue Service.
Sheridan said at the time the complaint was filed that he did not truly owes the taxes, because they were charged against a business he owned after it had closed down. He said he planned to sort the matter out with the IRS. Sheridan could not be reached before press time Tuesday for comment on the status of the lien.
Laughridge said Monday night he too planned to attend the hearing Oct. 10 and was prepared to accept the judge’s decision, though he anticipates it will be in his favor.
“They have the right to make the ruling whatever way they want to,” Laughridge said. “It is what it is. Whatever they decide — which we think is going to be on our side — we’ll go with.”
Jamieson’s complaint with the Secretary of State’s Office against Laughridge included documentation, which allegedly showed he hadn’t lived in District 14 for a year.
The chief piece of evidence used by Jamieson in the allegations against Laughridge was the candidate’s voting record.
According to Bartow County elections officials, Laughridge voted in Senate District 52 three times in 2012, with the last vote being cast Nov. 6. The candidate then changed the address on his voter registration to one located in District 14 in August.
Despite this voting record and only changing his address last month, Laughridge said he has lived in District 14 for almost two years, in a houseboat floating on Lake Allatoona in Cartersville.
Laughridge said he has been living in this home since December 2011, while looking for another place to stay. In January, he finalized the purchase of another home in District 14, which he is waiting to be renovated before he can move in, he said.
Laughridge said he had been trying to change his address on his voter registration for some time, but was only able to complete that task in August. He admitted, however, changing the address wasn’t always at the forefront of his mind.
“It’s one of those things where you never think about stuff like that,” he said. “That’s the last thing in life you think about.”
Laughridge said he didn’t expect his voting history would be a problem with his candidacy.
“Our lawyers gave us an example that a couple of years ago, a judge had done the same thing during his election…and it didn’t affect his candidacy,” he said. “So they said we should be fine.”
Since turning in his formal complaint Sept. 20, Jamieson has provided more documentation to the Secretary of State’s Office against the candidate.
The most recent accusation Jamieson has made against Laughridge was that his full-time residency on Lake Allatoona, on property owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, isn’t allowed.
Laughridge said he never knew that.
“I’ve never been told I couldn’t be out there,” he said. “I’ve been out there for almost two years. That’s never come up.”
When he found out late last week that living full-time on Army Corps of Engineers’ property on Lake Allatoona wasn’t allowed, Laughridge said he started trying to correct the issue.
“The moment I found out about that, I (made) arrangements and am moving into an apartment within the District, so I don’t break that rule anymore,” Laughridge said.
Laughridge said he is anxious to hear the judge’s determination next week and move on with his campaign.
“I wish we could be more focused on the issues. I don’t hear many people talking about the issues. I hear them coming after me really, but it is what it is,” he said. “We need to be focused on the issues and I think the people of District 14 want to see that.”