The board voted unanimously that Steiner’s efforts in making payments to the Internal Revenue Service made his bid for re-election legal under the Georgia Constitution, despite Acworth resident Dean Sheridan’s complaint.
After the decision, Steiner said he was eager to continue his campaign.
“I was confident from the beginning, but now I’m just happy,” Steiner told reporters after the board’s hearing at the Cherokee County elections office in Canton. “Hopefully, I get re-elected and get on the board and go back to taking care of the kids, like I have for the last nine years.”
Steiner is seeking his third term in office and is facing Woodstock resident Robert Strozier in the May 20 primary. They are competing for the Republican nomination for the District 4 school board seat, with no candidates from other parties running.
Steiner was represented at the hearing by tax attorney Joe Marion, a former IRS agent, who argued the school board member had been making payments to the federal government on $19,000 in back taxes for years. A “shoddy tax preparer” made errors on Steiner’s tax filings, leading to two audits from the IRS, Marion said.
The state Constitution bars those who have been adjudicated by a court to owe back taxes and haven’t been making payments from running for office. While Steiner is making payments, Marion added the school board member had also not been adjudicated by a court.
Sheridan said he wasn’t sure if it was proper for Steiner to blame his troubles on a tax preparer when the school board member was ultimately responsible for his taxes and had to pay either way.
Sheridan’s complaint also accused the candidate of owing the state of Georgia $18,000 in back taxes, though Marion said the money had long been paid off.
Marion told the board a tax lien for the state taxes had been active until Friday because Steiner was unaware he still owed some interest. He said Steiner paid the interest when he found out and the lien had since been satisfied.
“He’s taking care of his obligations,” Marion told the board. “The bottom line: Mr. (Steiner) is a fighter for the school system and the kids of this county. That’s what he’d like to continue doing.”
Marion also took issue with the basis of Sheridan’s complaint because the section of Georgia law Sheridan claimed Steiner was violating in the complaint doesn’t exist.
“It is a factual and legal impossibility for Mr. (Steiner) to violate the code section that Mr. Sheridan relies on,” Marion told the board. “Simply put: There is no such code section.”
Whether the code section existed or not, Sheridan said he was concerned by what he found in researching Steiner.
“I see it as a pattern,” said Sheridan, who was himself previously cleared on a similar complaint when he ran for state Senate. “It’s alarming that he’s sitting on the school board. That’s why I’m here today. Nothing more, nothing less.”
Sheridan also presented the board with alleged tax liens from Cherokee, Forsyth and Pickens counties.
The board voted to consider those documents, even though they hadn’t been provided in his original complaint March 14, and Steiner’s attorney said he had never seen them.
In the end, members of the board weren’t able to determine if those liens were valid or not, because the papers were not dated.
“I see nothing to verify this, actually, to tell you the truth,” board member Donald Sams told Sheridan.
Sheridan said he used an online tax lien research website to find the documents.
“There was an extensive list of them, and they had to be all sorted through,” he said. “Those were the only ones we could verify still exist.”
Steiner said after the hearing he had never heard of the county tax liens, and he added he owned no property in Pickens or Forsyth counties.
Sheridan also gave the board an invoice from the Georgia campaign finance commission showing Steiner owed $250 in fees from 2011.
Steiner brought documentation to show he mailed a payment to the ethics commission, though he said he had been told the payment was never received.
Sheridan told the board he had no ill intent toward Steiner personally and only wanted to alert officials of the issues.
“When I looked at the collectiveness of all these issues, whether it’s the ethics fines, whether it’s the IRS, whether it’s the state of Georgia, whether it’s the county taxes, to me it’s the preponderance of the evidence as a whole,” he said. “I would say that I’m not really ‘alleging’ anything. It’s pretty hard to allege something when you continually see these things. To me, I just felt compelled that I had to bring this to the county.”
Sheridan declined to comment after the board’s decision.
The hearing Wednesday was the first of two the elections board had scheduled to consider candidates’ qualifications in the May primary.
The second hearing will determine if the $177,000 county commission candidate Larry Singleton owes to the IRS will keep him from running. Singleton also plans to argue he has been making payments for some time during his hearing, which has been set for 12:30 p.m. April 4 at the elections office.