In August of 2017, Chattooga County Commissioner, Jason Winters, was informed of figures in the county audit that he characterized as “troubling.” After taking the story to the local newspaper and a blistering article featuring a headline that called out Probate Judge, Jon Payne for “pocketing” money, and then using the term another five times in the article itself, Winters was delivered a letter from Payne through his attorney, Albert Palmour that informed the commissioner that the income received by Payne was in accordance with state law. In fact, the income for the position of Vital Records Custodian, had been well established and ongoing for more three decades. The fact that the sole commissioner of a county was oblivious to the position itself, the compensation for the position and the laws establishing these things is the actual “troubling” matter in this case.
Moreover, the law establishing how a Custodian of Vital Records will be compensated also lays out just what and how a commissioner can do to cap that income at $7,500 per year. The ignorance of this law led the commissioner to falsely paint the Probate Judge in a negative light and insinuate that his actions were in some way illegal, although the custodian’s income has been clearly listed on audits from the previous years that the commissioner has served in office.
To exacerbate the issue even further, after the income was pointed out by the county auditor, the commissioner failed to investigate the matter thoroughly and instead issued a directive to the Probate Judge while supplying a copy to local media, which also failed to verify that the accusations were indeed false and unsubstantiated. Palmour stated that he found the commissioner’s actions “…reprehensible that you, as Commissioner, would not have the County Attorney look at this issue and investigate it prior.” Palmour continued to state that he found the case within five minutes of researching the issue.
Judge Payne says he feels strongly that the Commissioner is casting aspersions on someone else in an effort to remove some of the spotlight from his own office and the record-shattering property tax increase.
When Judge Payne and Winters met regarding the fees, the commissioner asked Judge Payne, “why do you think you deserve more money than I do?” according to Payne. Payne claims that Winters went so far as to contact state officials from the Department of Vital Records demanding that Judge Payne be fired from the position. When this attempt failed, Winters tried a different tactic.
After a volley of letters between attorneys for Winters and Payne, Winters decreed an overreaching resolution which, instead of simply capping the fees for the custodian position, attempted to demand accounting records from previous years which are already in the county’s possession. Judge Payne’s attorney, Albert Palmour, has now issued a formal letter in response to the resolution stating that “…your resolution is a continuation of your political agenda and there is no requirement prior to your Resolution to provide reports or financial records…”
The Custodian of Vital Records income will, from this point on, be capped at $7,500 per year, however, with the additional funds now diverted to the commissioner, Winters has not yet indicated what his plans may be for the additional money. “I intend to comply with everything from October forward,” Payne said.
Meanwhile, Judge Payne and Albert Palmour are not holding their breath for a “…long awaited apology” from Winters.
Read Attorney Albert Palmour’s response below.