She messed with his car, so now Fulton County Tax Commissioner Arthur Ferdinand has messed with hers, a county commissioner alleged in court documents Friday.
It began when north Fulton Commissioner Liz Hausmann publicly questioned why taxpayers are funding a $39,000 Ford Explorer Limited for the state’s highest-paid elected official. Then Ferdinand sent a letter to the interim county attorney and county commissioners suggesting that she may live in Gwinnett County, which would make her ineligible for office.
Now Ferdinand has revoked the license plate on a 2004 Jeep in Hausmann’s name, which her daughter drives, and alerted law enforcement that the car has no valid tag, according to an interoffice memo. The tax commissioner said Hausmann still hasn’t given him valid proof that she lives in Fulton.
In court documents asking a Superior Court judge to put a stop to the action, Hausmann accused Ferdinand of retaliation, “tyrannical partiality” and violating her right to free speech. The Jeep is parked now because anyone who drives it could be arrested, her attorney said.
“I consider this escalation to be harassment to not only me, but also my family,” Hausmann said in a written statement.
Ferdinand did not immediately respond to emails or a phone call seeking comment Friday, nor has he responded to several other similar requests from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution this month.
In a recent interview with the AJC’s news partner, Channel 2 Action News, the tax commissioner denied retaliating against Hausmann, saying he sent the memo to the interim county attorney after receiving a tip from a constituent and after the Jeep’s registration renewal was paid two weeks late with a check bearing a Gwinnett address.
Ferdinand told Channel 2 he did not recall what channel he received the tip through. The AJC filed an open records request seeking any documents connected to the tip, and the county responded that it has no such records.
“On its face, it sure looks like it was retaliation,” Jim Honkisz, the interim president of the Fulton County Taxpayers Foundation, said Friday. “It underscores the lack of sensitivity and the pettiness of the tax commissioner.”
Through a separate records request, the AJC learned that Ferdinand dipped into his own office budget last year to buy a 2013 Ford Explorer Limited, giving him the newest, most upscale vehicle in Fulton’s fleet of take-home vehicles. The dealer said it has a moon roof, leather seats, built-in navigation and four-wheel drive. The County Commission was not aware of the purchase then because it fell under a $50,000 threshold.
Because the vehicle is part of the county’s fleet, taxpayers also pay for its fuel. Records show the county has paid $1,250 to gas up the SUV since its purchase.
Ferdinand told Channel 2 he needs it to drive to meetings, public appearances and his satellite offices. He said he wouldn’t even consider turning in the SUV, as Commission Chairman John Eaves has asked, unless told to do so by the whole commission.
After a review of a routine take-home vehicle report at a May 1 commission meeting, Hausmann questioned why Ferdinand can’t drive his own car, considering he earns nearly $350,000 per year. Most of his money comes through personal fees charged to Atlanta, Johns Creek and Sandy Springs for adding their city tax bills to county tax bills. State lawmakers have tried and failed to stop him from collecting those fees. Ferdinand’s opponents say he is pocketing money for services done with county staff and equipment.
About a week and a half later, Ferdinand alerted county officials that Hausmann used an out-of-date address on campaign forms and her vehicle registration. Hausmann responded that updating her address slipped her mind because she is going through a divorce and recently dealt with her father’s illness and death.
Her attorney has given Ferdinand an affidavit from her sister and brother-in-law saying she lives with them in Johns Creek, as well as a bank record reflecting the new address.
A hearing on Hausmann’s request for a temporary restraining order could be held as early as Tuesday.
The story so far
August – Funds from the Fulton County Tax Commissioner’s Office are used to buy an SUV for use by Tax Commissioner Arthur Ferdinand.
May 1 – Fulton County Commissioner Liz Hausmann questions Ferdinand’s need for a Ford Explorer XLT after it appears on a list of the county’s take-home vehicles.
May 10 – The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, through an open records request, obtains the purchase order for the vehicle, which turns out to be a higher grade of the model, a Ford Explorer Limited. The price was $39,000.
May 13 – Ferdinand sends a memo to the interim county attorney and county commissioners, citing a tip, that says Hausmann may not live in Fulton County. The house that Hausmann had listed as her address on campaign documents had been sold, and a check used to pay for the registration of a vehicle in her name bears a Gwinnett County address. Hausmann says she neglected to update her address because she is going through a divorce and recently dealt with the illness and death of her father. The vehicle’s registration renewal was paid for by Hausmann’s daughter, who drives it, using a check bearing her father’s address.
May 16 – Ferdinand denies retaliating against Hausmann and says he needs the SUV to drive to meetings, public appearances and his satellite offices. He also says he will not consider giving up the vehicle unless told to do so by the whole commission.
Friday – Hausmann seeks a restraining order and after learning that Ferdinand has revoked the tag on the vehicle registered in her name.