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Hamby maintains he did nothing unethical during tax commissioner campaign
Guyton Ethics committee
Guyton Ethics Committee members, from left Robert Hunter and Reginald Stanmar, prepare to hear testimony from Guyton City Councilman Theodore Hamby and complainant Kelly Hoffner. (Photos by Barbara Augsdorfer/Effingham Herald.)

By Barbara Augsdorfer, Editor for the Effingham Herald

 

In a nearly hour-long hearing July 9 at Guyton City Hall, Councilman Theodore Hamby maintained that he did nothing unethical during the recent campaign for Effingham County tax commissioner.

The Kelly Hoffner campaign filed the complaint against Hamby shortly after the May 21 primary, which resulted in Hoffner and Daniel Rodewolt having to have a runoff election June 18 because neither candidate received 50% of the vote.

The Hoffner campaign alleges Hamby approached them asking for money for his endorsement and campaign support. Hoffner and her fiancé/campaign manager Nick Hitt also allege that Hamby made the same offer to Rodewolt.

Rodewolt was not present at the hearing. In a previous statement to the Herald, Rodewolt maintained that he did not have any involvement with Hamby.

The Ethics Committee that heard the testimony was down to two members: Robert Hunter and Reginald Stanmar. The third member, LaToya Jones, had previously resigned from the committee.

In opening the hearing, Hunter reminded both parties and the audience the hearing’s purpose by quoting from the city ordinance.

“Section H, ‘No city official shall solicit or accept other employment to be performed or compensated to be received while still a city official, if the employment or compensation could reasonably be expected to impair such official’s judgment or performance of city duties.’,” Hunter read.

Hunter continued, “Section L, ‘A city official shall not use his or her position in any way to coerce, or give the appearance of coercing, another person to provide any financial benefit to such official or persons within the official’s immediate family or those with whom the official has business or financial ties amounting to substantial interest.’ That pretty much sums up where we are today.”

Testimony was contentious at times when Hamby mentioned Hoffner’s children or tried to defame her character. Hitt accused Hamby, or people associated with him, of using fake Facebook profiles to attack Hoffner.

Hitt gave a brief review of the complaint in his opening statement, saying, “(After a Guyton City Council meeting) I tried to talk with Mr. Hamby. He didn't really want to talk. We exchanged a couple words out in the parking lot. And then we decided to meet at Pineora gas station. I met with him and his father. And in that meeting, he basically summed up for me that if I didn't let this issue go, or wasn't okay with everything, that him and his father had evidence against Kelly,” Hitt said.

Hitt added that Hamby’s father threatened Hoffner saying they had “stuff” on her.

“Kelly did an interview with ‘Effingham News and Views’ Facebook page. And one of the fake profiles was used again. And it was exactly the conversation that we had,” Hitt continued. “(Hamby) has admitted several times that he doesn't know what he's doing. He doesn't want to be on Guyton City Council anymore. His behavior is reckless. And he's only here to serve himself. I thought he was a different person, but he's not.”

Hamby countered Hitt, accusing the Hoffner campaign of retaliation. In a prepared statement, Hamby read, “most of what he said was false. We are here because Mr. Hitt and Ms. Hoffner are unwilling to acknowledge the shortcomings of their own campaign, Hamby attacked. “I was not operating in my official capacity as a councilman during any of the events in question. Their accusations lack substance, and even integrity. They are hoping that by tarnishing my reputation, they can divert attention from their own missteps.”

Hamby then brought up alleged findings by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation claiming the GBI had investigated the matter and found “no evidence of criminal or unethical behavior.” Hamby was referring to the Hoffner’s complaint being submitted to the Effingham County Sheriff’s Office, which in turn submitted it to the GBI. The Herald reached out to the GBI and received this response as reported in a story on June 5: "The situation didn't equate to an investigation," the GBI said in an email to the Herald.

Hitt then deferred to Hoffner saying he needed to step outside saying, “I’m going to lose my temper dealing with this kid,” Hitt said. “We tried to help him, and he just lies constantly.”

“He (Hamby) says that he didn't operate any of this or do any of this while operating as councilman,” Hoffner said. “But in fact, the original endorsement that he gave me in March was from his Guyton city councilman (Facebook) page. I have a screenshot on my phone.”

Hoffner went on to explain that Hamby called her “like crazy” May 21 and May 22 trying to get money from them for his support.

“May 21 was the primary election,” Hoffner continued. “But I wasn’t in a losing position.”

According to the Effingham County Elections office, Hoffner received 2,630 votes to Rodewolt’s 2,552. Tony Sapp received 804. Finishing 1 and 2, but without 50% of the vote, Hoffner and Rodewolt had to face off in the June 18 runoff.

“At that point, I had no reason to believe that my campaign was going to fail, or that I was going to fail. This complaint was filed before my runoff. I had no idea of whether I was going to win or lose. At this point, and in fact, I wasn't even that concerned that what he had done had negatively affected my campaign,” Hoffner said.

Kelly Hoffner
Kelly Hoffner gives her testimony July 9 during a 45-minute ethics committee hearing.
 “My issue was you have somebody who is a treasurer on the (Effingham County) GOP. You have someone that is a Guyton City Council member. They're going back and forth between two candidates that are about to go to a runoff and trying to manipulate elections. What you have here is not public service. You have self-service. You have someone that will literally sit here and lie right to your face.”

Hoffner continued, “Retaliation is attacking me on Facebook. And the reason I know it was you, I don't have an IP address; but one thing about Mr. Hamby I have to compliment him on. He's very articulate, very good English, very good grammar, very good punctuation. Every single question I was asked, and I'll show you screenshots.

“Now, most the time you see Facebook comments going back and forth, do you see that perfect English? Do you see the capitalization, the punctuation?” Hoffner said. “I just want the right thing to be done. I want people to be held accountable. I'm moving on with my life. I'm not obsessed with this. But I think it needs to be looked at and I think it needs to be addressed.”

Hamby responded, “As a mother of three children –”

He was interrupted by Hunter, “Hey, you watch your mouth!” Hunter said pointedly. “Don’t go there with her. Don’t you talk about her being a mother.”

Hamby redirected his comments to Hoffner saying, “Most of these lies saying I was trying to overthrow an election. They give me more credit than I deserve. I don’t even know where to begin to overthrow an election.

“I was offering as a businessman, not as a city councilman. It was not on the city’s time. It was on my personal time,” Hamby continued.

There were a few more minutes of back-and-forth comments and closing statements where Hunter questioned Hamby’s alleged statement that he wanted to be sure he was referred to as a Guyton City Councilman.

Hitt returned to summarize a series of events between Hoffner and Hamby. According to Hitt, Hamby “got all excited” about taking pictures with Hoffner in front of Guyton City Hall and around the City of Guyton that were going to be used in an Effingham Living magazine ad. Hitt recalled he checked with Mayor Andy Harville, who told him, “No, please don’t do that. Because then it looks like the entire city of Guyton is endorsing Kelly."

“He (Hamby) was told numerous times by the GOP to stop doing that (endorsing candidates),” Hitt added. “We can’t do this. This is unethical. To stop. I told him repeatedly, ‘You’re compromising Kelly’s campaign.’ And he said, ‘No! You compromised Kelly’s campaign when you turned me in’.”

Hunter asked Hamby directly, “Do you recall asking for $625 to start working on a campaign?”

“Yes,” Hamby answered. “For a runoff election, consulting fees can go six (thousand) to $10,000. I felt $625 was a cheap price and he counter-offered $1.

“I was acting as a businessman to support myself and my dog. It was a simple business decision; nothing that affected my official capacity,” Hamby added.

Hamby went on to explain that if he was hired, and he was not, he would work “in the background setting up events.” He said he would not promise the candidates a certain number of votes because he’s a councilman with the city of Guyton. “I’m here to promise you a good grassroots mobilization. Grassroots wins elections,” Hamby said.

Hunter asked Hoffner, “Did you have any indication that his position as a city council member would have any effect on his endorsement of you?”

“Well, that's 100% how he’s only operated. He has branded himself as ‘Guyton City Councilman Theodore Hamby’,” Hoffner said. “He introduces himself that way. Everywhere he goes, that's what he does it for. Everything's for attention.

“It took me a couple of months to really catch on to it,” Hoffner added. “(I) just thought you want to support me; but then it dawned on me, you have an actual motive here. You basically want to attach yourself to anybody that's going to garner you as a more successful political group, business owner, as a councilman. But I think in your official capacity as an elected official, the last thing you should be doing is being involved (in other campaigns).”

Hamby then again mentioned the investigation by the GBI, which never took place according to the email the GBI sent to the Herald.

Hitt countered with his closing remarks, “This outcome could have been completely different. Hamby asked me what I want. I said, ‘I want you to tell the truth. I want you to be honest about what you did and hold yourself accountable.’ That's all I'm asking for.”

The Ethics Committee met in executive session for about 30 minutes after the hearing and will issue its decision based on the evidence and presented testimony to the mayor and city council by July 16 in compliance with the city ordinance.

According to deputy city attorney Wes Rahn, the council can issue its decision regarding Hamby’s actions at the next regularly scheduled council meeting on Aug. 13 or before in a special called meeting. If the Ethics Committee rules that there was an ethics violation, the city council can decide to censure Hamby, issue a public reprimand, or ask for his resignation from city council.