Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Kingmaker Takes On Queen

John Campbell promised to be like a "broken record" on the topic of tax overpayments owed to residents and last night's City Council meeting was no exception.

The overpayments, totaling $809,984, date back to 1996 and range from $5.40 to $18,292. Owners of property in the 907 accounts can claim the money if they can prove the overpayments. In 2006, former Tax Collector Constance Ludden proposed putting the money into surplus, but Councilman Cory Storch, who was owed $3,000, and other council members asked for more notice to be given to those on the list.

By March 2007, only $29,919 came back to those who overpaid, less than 4 percent of the total sought in February 2006. The council agreed to put $780,065 into surplus, with the proviso that anyone with proof of overpayment would still be able to get a refund.

Campbell, a real estate broker and former councilman, launched his campaign several months ago and recently took the step of personally notifying by mail all those on the list. Despite repeated claims that notices were sent out, Storch and other residents say they never got any notices. See Plaintalker's January 2006 story here.

Campbell's parting shot when he left office many years ago was that he wanted to be the kingmaker, not the king, and he has continued to be a political force behind the scenes. Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, effusively called the "queen of the Queen City" by an official at the recent Operation CeaseFire launch was not amused by Campbell's letter-writing campaign and criticized it in her Nov. 7 visit to the Senior Center. She said she disagreed with the letters because they say nothing has been done.

On Monday, Campbell rounded off some of the figures, saying the amount owed was $800,000 to $1 million and that 10 percent of property owners were affected. He said the situation "reflects on the credibility of the tax collector," although Ludden left in 2006 and the new tax collector, Marie Glavan, only took over in April. After Ludden left, the city had a part-time tax collector who was only in on Wednesdays.

"People are talking about class-action lawsuits," Campbell said Monday.

Wilma Campbell echoed her husband's concerns and said Spanish-speaking people were especially in need of help to seek their refunds.

The mayor left the council chambers and came back with copies of the Campbell letters. Speaking at the end of the meeting, she said the situation was "not a negative" but a positive, because the administration was trying to trace eight years of information.

Robinson-Briggs said two versions of the letter went out, one with John Campbell listed as chairman of a realty organization's political action and government relations committee and "a cleaner version" naming him as broker/owner of his Century 21 office.

"The community is being confused," she said, and took special offense at the letters' claim that there had been no results and no refunds within a year.

The issue appears to be making a political rift between the mayor and the Campbells. Before becoming mayor, Robinson-Briggs served on the school board with Wilma Campbell, who won re-election in April. John Campbell frequently makes his views known at City Council meetings and is considered an astute political power broker in the city.

--Bernice Paglia


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