Fulton County measure blocking court clerk from pocketing passport fees fails
A controversial law allows superior court clerks to keep thousands of dollars in passport processing fees.
ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - A measure to prohibit Fulton County’s superior court clerk from keeping passport processing fees failed Wednesday night, but that doesn’t mean the issue is settled either in the county or Georgia.
The effort from Fulton County Commissioner Bob Ellis came after an Atlanta News First Investigates report exposed a controversial law allowing superior court clerks to keep thousands of dollars in passport processing fees.
Persons applying for passports in Georgia pay two fees: an application of $130 that goes to the federal government, and a processing fee of $35, which goes directly to the court clerk to do what they want with it.
RELATED: Superior court clerks legally pocketing thousands in passport processing fees
In Cobb and Fulton counties, the clerks have been keeping 100% of every $35 fee. Cobb Superior Court clerk Connie Taylor raked in more than $220,000 last year, while Fulton County clerk Cathelene “Tina” Robinson, pocketed $360,000.
On Wednesday, Ellis proposed a resolution that would denounce the clerk’s practice of keeping those fees as personal income, while also urging the Georgia General Assembly to amend state law to ban the practice across the Peach State.
“We don’t have the ability to change the practice but we do have the ability to send the message to the clerk that we don’t think this is right,” Ellis said.
While most Fulton County commissioners supported the idea of banning clerks from keeping those fees, some didn’t like the way the resolution was worded.
“I agree the money should be county money,” said Commissioner Marvin Arrington, Jr., “but I don’t want to come out denouncing one lady.”
Commissioner Khadijah Abdur-Rahman also disagreed with the resolution’s wording, while Ellis replied, “I’m not looking to disparage the clerk; I’m looking to disparage the practice.”
Ultimately, the resolution failed by a 4-3 margin, but Ellis said he was going to bring up the issue again at the next commission meeting.
RELATED: Court clerks are legally raking in the cash. But that may soon change
Last week, state Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick (R-Marietta) filed legislation that would ban all Georgia clerks from keeping passport processing fees as personal income. The bill would require them to send that money to their county’s general fund, or use the money to cover office expenses.
At least 54 Georgia superior court clerks or probate judges keep some or all of the processing fees generated from passports.
“The media story that you all did has really raised awareness of this and has now generated enough attention that there’s legislation that I think has a good chance to pass,” Kirkpatrick, whose 32nd district includes portions of Cobb and Cherokee counties, said.
Atlanta News First Investigates has learned that just hours after Kirkpatrick filed her bill, clerks began flooding state lawmakers with calls to oppose the bill.
Atlanta News First Investigates has tried multiple times to talk to the Fulton and Cobb County clerks, but all have denied requests for interview. Click here to read previous statements they and other metro Atlanta clerks sent about this.
If there’s something you would like Atlanta News First Investigates to dig into, fill out this submission form.
Copyright 2023 WANF. All rights reserved.