News 3 Investigates: MCSB members fail to file state-mandated ca - WRBL

News 3 Investigates: MCSB members fail to file state-mandated campaign reports

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Board Member Cathy Williams says she's attempted to file, but the Ethics Committee isn't cooperating Board Member Cathy Williams says she's attempted to file, but the Ethics Committee isn't cooperating
COLUMBUS, Ga. -

An ethics complaint has been filed against 3 members of the Muscogee County School Board for not filing state-mandated campaign reports.

These complaints say board members Beth Harris, John Wells and Athavia Senior have not filed the proper campaign and finance disclosures. 

A News 3 Investigation revealed John Wells has complied with the law and is up to date on his campaign and financial disclosures, but Harris, Senior and additional board members are not.

Columbus businessman Nathan Smith filed the complaints against the board. He says the public deserves to know how elected officials are spending their campaign funds.

"If they're not disclosing what their business dealings are and who gave them money and how they spent that money, those donors, could be in fact influencing board members to make decisions that are not in the best interest of our school system," says Smith.

News 3 obtained campaign report documents from the State Ethics Committee that show:

 

  • Beth Harris has not filed any required campaign or financial disclosures.
  • Mark Cantrell has not filled the necessary financial disclosure reports.
  • Athavia Senior and Cathy Williams have missed campaign filings.

 

Williams says she's tried to file the campaign reports, but she's had difficulty dealing with the State Ethics Committee. 

"It's been very confusing," says Williams. "We've tried, I talked to my fellow elected officials and there were so many problems that so many of us missed cycles."

Williams says the mix-up was because the handling of ethics complaints moved from the local level to the state level in 2011. The local Elections & Registration Office dealt with ethic complaints up until that time. A spokesperson with the State Ethics Committee says it's very common at the local level for elected officials not to file reports.

"Everybody claims they don't know how to do it and say the filing has changed; the only thing that changed is now they're filing with us. If they were filing those reports like they were supposed to at the local level, then they know exactly what they needed to do when it came to us," says Holly LaBerge, the Executive Secretary of the Georgia State Ethics Committee.

Williams says she's tried to file multiple times but the Ethics Committee has not responded to her request for a filing ID to file the reports.

"I know I'm out of compliance and I apologize to the public for that, but it's not for lack of trying," says Williams.

Board Member Beth Harris declined to comment on the issue. News 3 was unable to reach Cantrell and Senior for a comment on Wednesday.

The committee will review the ethics complaints against the 3 board members. If a violation is found, the accused board members will face civil penalties. 

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