Running for office? Don’t exaggerate your qualifications

Tuesday night's general election candidate forum got heated Tuesday night after tax commissioner hopefuls Kristie King (left) and Rasheed Dawodu took the stage. (Staff photo by Danny Harrison)

The late-September general election candidate forum got heated after tax commissioner hopefuls Kristie King (left) and Rasheed Dawodu took the stage. (Staff photo by Danny Harrison)

[UPDATED: 10-17-2016 AT 2:35 p.m.]

November 9th can’t arrive quickly enough.

That’s the day after the general election takes place, and that’s the day we’ll be done worrying about who’ll be elected. Perhaps for some it will be the day they will pick up the phone and call a real estate agent.

While we don’t have quite the same level of drama locally as we do nationally, Fayette County’s own general election has become interesting, especially the tax commissioner race. Attending the candidate forum recently at the Fayette County Public Library, I was surprised at how civil all of the other candidates were in the other contests. They all sounded pleased to represent their political party on the ballot, but they also all put out a vibe that they were more interested in serving than in politicking.

And not knowing any more than I do about those candidates for school board, county commission, and that state legislative offices, I’d say none of them would blow us up (a political metaphor) if they got elected.

The tax commissioner race, on the other hand, is a bit concerning, and primarily because one of the candidates has overstated his qualifications while trying to aggressively understate his opponent’s. On the national level there’s not much I can do about that. But in the interest of keeping our subscribers informed, I can do something about local candidates who do this.

And so here we go again.

So far as we can tell, tax commissioner candidate Kristie King’s claims are all true regarding her experience. She says she has worked at the Fayette County Tax Commissioner’s Office for 15 years, and the tax commissioner, George Wingo, not only concurs but also endorses her to succeed him. She says she became deputy tax clerk five years ago. Wingo concurs. She says she has been chief deputy for a year. You get the point.

King’s story pans out. She admits she has no university degrees, but she points to being taught to do the job by a 24-year veteran as experience and training enough. Incidentally, Wingo is statistically one the longest-serving and most-popular public officials in Fayette County history.

Rasheed Dawodu, on the other hand, has apparently not been so forthright, nor does he have any credible endorsements to my knowledge.

His campaign literature, which he was personally distributing at the library, says he has a business degree, a master’s degree, a law degree, and a few other certifications. He strangely picks and chooses which institutions to list and which to omit. They all pan out, but he has also called himself a “lawyer,” and he is not. It turns out he got his law degree online from a small Southern California school that has no permanent teaching campus. He is not a member of any state bar association, so he can’t legally practice law, yet his e-mail address starts with bjddlaw, and it comes over in a message as “Bjd DLaw” as the sender. He is an associate member of the National Bar Association, but anyone can be if they pay the nominal fee to join.

Dawodu’s literature also says he was in property tax registration at the DeKalb County Tax Commissioner’s Office. We reported recently that DeKalb County Assistant Tax Commissioner Andrew Booth issued a letter claiming to have never heard of Dawodu. Booth also said there is no “property tax registration” job designation, nor anything similar to that, in the DeKalb County Tax Commissioner’s Office. Booth’s time at the office predates Dawodu’s claims to have worked there.

At the forum, I asked Dawodu to confirm his claims. He said, “I did commercial tax collection. I did registration. I was full-time there.”

He wasn’t full-time there, and he didn’t do any collections nor registration so far as we can confirm. A new letter issued this week by current DeKalb County Tax Commissioner Irvin J. Johnson says Dawodu held “a temporary position” in that office. It turns out to have been for a few weeks in 1989. Dawodu apparently helped in the mail room shipping out tags.

This might be a petty thing to dispute if it weren’t for the fact that Dawodu started the qualifications fight. During the forum, he challenged King, saying she was only a clerk who was recently promoted.

“She has never been a tax commissioner,” Dawodu said. “For some reason last year she became deputy. I wonder why.”

I don’t know what the “I wonder why” comment meant, but he was incorrect. King has been deputy tax commissioner for five years, including chief deputy since last year. As our newspaper is the legal organ for all local governments, including Fayette County, we can confirm working with Ms. King in that capacity, and we ran the press release when she was promoted to chief deputy.

So when he says, “she has never been a tax commissioner,” it makes me wonder how he can make such a claim.

And then Dawodu said, “Compare my experience.”

What experience?

When we reached out to Dawodu and his campaign manager Vincent Watkins, we were accused by Watkins of working for Ms. King simply because we questioned the validity of what we already knew to be false statements by Dawodu. This is a normal response, though, when someone gets caught out. They want to slander other people, particularly anyone who shines light on deceptive practices.

We’re not done with our investigation on the tax commissioner race, but we wanted to post this update this weekend because of the letter we received earlier in the week from the DeKalb County tax commissioner. You can read a transcript of that letter below.

We contacted the state treasury department where Dawodu claims to have been employed more recently as the cash management officer over all of the State of Georgia. The office manager says she has never heard of Dawodu. She said the office has fewer than two dozen employees, but she humbly acknowledged that she is not the department’s top authority. She also said she would pass the request to other people who might know better, but we’ve not heard back from anyone yet.

The State of Georgia human resources office confirmed that Dawodu did work for the Treasury Department from Nov. 14, 2005 to April 1, 2011, but they could not confirm what he did there or why he left. We will let you know what we learn from the Treasury Department.

Look, folks. If you’re going to run for an office that puts you on a Fayette County ballot, please just be truthful and don’t exaggerate your qualifications. There are many people in this community more than qualified to fill every elected position on the ballot, including the POTUS. Thanks for your enthusiasm and willingness to serve, but please don’t pretend to have qualifications that you don’t.

And if you are going to over-state your case, you may not want to tear down your opponent while challenging voters to do their own research and study both candidates.

Below is the content of a letter from DeKalb County Tax Commissioner Irvin J. Johnson to Fayette County Tax Commissioner candidate Rasheed Dawodu.

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October 11, 2016

Dear Mr. Dawodu,

Allow me to extend my sincere apologies for the confusion surrounding the verification of your employment history with the DeKalb Tax Commissioner’s Office.

Earlier this summer my office was contacted about your employment history with our office. A search of our available records by Mr. Andrew Booth, Assistant Tax Commissioner, and through conversation with some longtime employees prevented us from substantiating your claim of employment.

At some point later, we were made aware that you were apparently in possession of a copy of a letter dated August 17, 1990 that was reportedly from Dan Davis, the former Assistant Tax Commissioner who retired in 2005. After further consultation with Mr. Davis, we can now confirm that you did hold a temporary position in our office at one time. We were also advised that without your letter, this information would be unknowable, because the tax office did not keep such records for temporary staff.

Now that the necessary pieces of the puzzle are in place, we again regret any inconvenience this delay may have caused. We’d like to express our sincere thank you for allowing us to clarify the record.

On behalf of our office, we extend our best wishes to you.

Sincerely Yours,

Irvin J. Johnson

DeKalb County Tax Commisisoner

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About

Danny Harrison, a 1992 Fayette High School graduate, began his journalism career with Fayette County News in 1995. After taking several leaves of absence to pursue journalism and Christian ministry opportunities, including a few out of state and overseas, he returned full-time to Fayette County News in August 2014. Harrison earned a bachelor's degree in pastoral ministry in 2009 while serving as a missionary journalist in England and Western Europe.


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