A ranking county official recently ordered the City of Guyton’s notary to destroy her official stamp after city officials sent police officers to homes to collect affidavits.
The issue stems from the re-establishment of the city’s Ethics Committee, the entity charged with overseeing complaints brought against city officials and employees by citizens. The committee was technically defunct after terms of service for the appointed members expired without new appointment or reappointment by city council. The Ethics Committee is a mandatory requirement to be a member organization in the taxpayer funding lobbying organization known as the Georgia Municipal Association. The committee non-compliance was only discovered when citizen Andy Harville filed an Open Records Request about the members of the committee in June of this year.
Attempts to Reestablish Defunct Ethics Committee
Following a number of Open Records Requests by Guyton citizens and questions during city council workshops, Guyton officials made appointments to the committee in July. But oaths signed by the new members reflected one signature the same night of the appointments, another on a Sunday, and all without the full force and effect of a notarized affidavit.
Citizen Jeremiah Chancey brought it to the attention of council members that the oaths were not in compliance with the city’s own ordinances. When this was brought to the attention of the city, officials seemingly begrudgingly sought to remedy the matter.
The new affidavits, which depicted a notary stamp from a city employee, were later obtained by a city resident via an Open Records Request in September. This time, affidavits were signed on a Saturday.
Further inquiry indicated the affidavits were not signed in front of the notary at city hall, but instead after city officials ordered Guyton Police Officers to visit the committee member’s homes and obtain the signatures. Once complete, the officers returned the documents to city hall and they were notarized outside the presence of the individual.
Complaint on Notary
A complaint was subsequently filed on September 20, 2022 by Andy Harville with Jason Bragg, Clerk of the Superior Court in Effingham County, which oversees notary certifications.
Under Georgia law, a notary is prohibited from a notarial act “without confirming the identity of the document signer, oath taker or affirmant based on personal knowledge or on satisfactory evidence.”
According to the Georgia Superior Court Clerks’ Cooperative Authority:
the commission of any notary who performs an act when disqualified or prohibited is subject to revocation. Any notary who executes a notarial certificate containing a false statement known by the notary to be false or performs any action with the intent to deceive or defraud may be prosecuted for a criminal act as provided by law.
The offense is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 12 months in jail and a $1,000 fine. It’s also a fingerprintable offense.
An Open Records Request was later filed with the City of Guyton, seeking all documents pertaining to the inquiry from the Effingham County Clerk’s Office. The city failed to include the initial correspondence, but did include the notary’s response to the inquiry launched by Clerk Jason Bragg. The letter was sent to Bragg via email from City Attorney Ben Perkins.
Guyton Gets It Right After Complaint Filed
After the complaint was filed with the Clerk’s Office with regard to the notary, the oaths and affidavits were once again issued to the ethics committee members.
After months of illegitimacy, the ethics committee was finally formally and properly re-established on September 27, 2022.
Notary Revoked Anyway
On October 3, 2022, Clerk Jason Bragg rendered his decision on Tidwell’s notary, ordering her to destroy her stamp.