Auditor Jim Zeigler: AG Luther Strange has conflict of interest in Baldwin tax case

State Auditor Jim Zeigler

Statewide-elected auditor Jim Zeigler said early Friday that Attorney General Luther Strange cannot adequately rule on the legality of his recently filed challenge to campaigns for public tax dollars funded by taxpayers’ money because Strange carries a conflict of interest in the matter.

“Attorney General Strange is also a defendant in this lawsuit,”  Zeigler said in a prepared statement. “We will prove that he issued an erroneous AG opinion saying it was legal for the school board to spend taxpayer funds in a campaign for a tax increase. Since it was this strange opinion that caused this issue, it would a conflict to have him or his staff issue another erroneous opinion that taxpayer funds can be used to defend individuals who misspent taxpayer money. “

Baldwin County School Board members sought — but did not receive — voters’ support to increase tax rates in March to pay for new school construction and to create new teaching positions in the fast-growing school district east of Mobile. Zeigler’s lawsuit charges that the campaign was inappropriate under state law.

“The Baldwin School Board did not get the message from voters and taxpayers,”  Zeigler said. “Taxpayer money is to be used for operations of the school system — not for political campaigning and not to defend lawsuits against individual officials for violating the law.”

Zeigler went on to chide Strange for “arrogance” in his alleged cooperation with the Baldwin County effort.

“This is the worst political arrogance I have seen,” Zeigler said. “They are sued for illegally spending taxpayer money in an election campaign, so now they want to spend more taxpayer money defending the individuals in the lawsuit. They have doubled-down on misspending taxpayer money for wrong purposes.”

Zeigler and two taxpayers of Baldwin County are plaintiffs in the complaint, which names Strange, four members of the Baldwin County Board of Education and Baldwin Superintendent of Education Robbie Owen.

No response to the suit has yet been filed by the attorney general or Baldwin officials, nor have dates been set for hearings.

 The case is to go before Montgomery County Circuit Judge Greg Griffin.

On March 31, the referendum in question was put to voters in Baldwin County. Its purpose was to decide three propositions of renewals of existing property taxes and two propositions of proposed new property tax increases for the Baldwin County School Board.