McKoon: Censure Balfour, remove him as Rules chair
By JIM WALLS
Aug. 20, 2012 — Josh McKoon has called on his Senate colleagues to censure Don Balfour and replace him as chairman of that chamber’s Rules Committee for filing false expense reports.
McKoon, noting that Balfour was accused of false swearing and theft by deception, also asked Attorney General Sam Olens to investigate for possible criminal misconduct.
Balfour agreed to a $5,000 fine last week for requesting reimbursements for per diem and mileage that he wasn’t entitled to and failing to audit senators’ expense vouchers, including his own. The Senate Ethics Committee approved the punishment on an 11-1 vote, with McKoon casting the lone dissent.
The late Sen. Roscoe Dean, McKoon noted in a minority report, was censured in 1976 for falsifying expense reports. Among other infractions, Dean claimed reimbursement for $1,424 for trips between the Capitol and his home in Jesup when he was actually registered at a hotel in the Bahamas. Criminal charges against Dean ended in a mistrial.
Balfour acknowledged claiming per diem and mileage from his Snellville home to the Capitol — amounting to $1,645 — on eight days when he was out of state. On 10 other days, the Ethics Committee reported last week, Balfour claimed mileage for a Snellville-Atlanta commute that he hadn’t driven.
Discrepancies in Balfour’s expense reimbursements were first reported in February by Atlanta Unfiltered.
Critics have questioned the secrecy of the meeting in which the Ethics Committee worked out a settlement with Balfour, as well as the severity of the penalty.
Ethics Chairman John Crosby said the amount of the fine fell in the middle range of figures suggested by different committee members. The $5,000 compromise, he said, is “a pretty good little lump of money in my book.”
In an interview, McKoon said he thought Balfour’s punishment set an unfortunate precedent.
“I just think that the sanction did not in any way match up to what was uncontested: The Senate’s per diem policy was not followed, false reimbursement reports were filed and Georgia code was violated for 10 years,” McKoon said.
Balfour, who has chaired the Rules Committee for 10 years, has said he was unaware that state law requires that Rules set up a subcommittee to periodically review senators’ expense vouchers submitted for reimbursement. In 2010, he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he looks over monthly summaries of expense payments as required by state law.
“When you consider that no one else had eyes on these expense reports,” McKoon said, “there’s no telling what other malfeasance might have ensued.”
(Atlanta Unfiltered will have more soon on questionable expenses for which other legislators have been reimbursed.)