SNELLVILLE — During a somewhat heated press conference on Friday, the leader of a government ethics watchdog group confronted a Snellville official about the money he owes on state back taxes.
Mayor Pro-Tem Tom Witts remained silent while Ethics in Government Group Director George Anderson of Rome, Ga., chided the man for not disclosing that he owed more than $28,000 to the state when he has sworn in as a city councilman in 2009.
On May 30, Anderson filed an ethics complaint against Witts with the city of Snellville, the Office of the Governor and the Campaign Finance Commission. Anderson said he also filed an ethics complaint against Snellville’s Chief Municipal Court Judge Mark Layng for swearing Witts in as a city councilman in 2009.
“In your oath of office, it states that you are not the holder of any unaccountable funds due to the state of Georgia,” Anderson said Friday, addressing Witts and a small group gathered inside City Hall. “You knew at the time when you took that oath of office that that was a falsehood.”
As Anderson’s accusations grew more pointed and personal, Witts and many of his supporters walked out of the press conference.
Following the press conference, Witts explained that he does indeed owe taxes but he’s “diligently working” to pay them off.
“The back taxes are an amount owed for a 401K disbursement from 2007 that came about because my wife and I had a loan on our 401K,” Witts said. “When my wife was laid off, we had 60 days to either pay off the loan or take it as a disbursement. We took it as a disbursement, declared it on our taxes and I am paying back the taxes and penalties basically from borrowing money from myself.”
Witts added that it was an attempt to keep his disaster restoration business, Georgia Property Restoration, going and not have to lay off his employees.
Anderson said he was “concerned for the citizens of Snellville.”
“It’s important to have citizens willing to step up to the plate and be elected officials in these tough economic times,” Anderson said. “But you’ve got to take care of your own personal economic situation first.”
Witts said he never tried to hide the fact that he owed on taxes.
“I made an announcement during a city council meeting about this, because rumors were circulating,” Witts said. “I have explained it before. I have nothing to hide.”
Layng, who was also named on Anderson’s complaint, said that Witts’ “tax issue is public record. Whether he owed those taxes at the time of his swearing in, I don’t know, but he’s a good person. And just because you owe taxes, it shouldn’t disenfranchse you from serving the public.”