Farmer story revisited : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Here is the missing story. Don't know if Y2k related. I guess it is all in the eyes of the beholder. Will file under miscellaneous.

FARMERS PAID LATE Problem-plagued exec puts farmers in bind Spotlight on: Many Georgia tobacco farmers are getting much needed money late, as a problem processing funds seems to have followed one well connected official from one job to his new one.


Nearly 1,000 Georgia tobacco farmers have been checking their mailboxes since the turn of the New Year. And they've been coming up empty.

The farmers are waiting on millions of dollars set aside by the nation's tobacco companies to compensate them for the recent blows to the cigarette industry. But the board created by the state to disburse these checks says mistakes in the way workers entered information into computers have set the process back.

That excuse isn't sitting well with some farmers. They say droughts and a 35 percent cutback in what they have been allowed to grow during the last four years have put them in dire straits. Farmers are depending on the checks, at the time of year when they are making arrangements for fertilizer and seed stock and planning the next crop of tobacco or substitute crop.

"I think they are a bunch of incompetent people working up there," said Lois Lynn, 76, whose family has been farming tobacco since 1933 and shares her 625 acres in Tattnall County with her son. She is still waiting for her $12,000.

"They haven't lived up to what they promised us. And we promised our creditors. We're in a crisis."

So, who's responsible? Who's in charge of tracking the farmers' checks and mailing them out? A well-connected player with a hefty salary.

In August, Gov. Roy Barnes hired former legislator and Revenue Commissioner Marcus Collins to direct the newly created Tobacco Community Development Board. The board is to keep track of Georgia's portion of $5.15 billion being shared by 14 tobacco-producing states during the next 12 years. Georgia's total cut is $340 million.

Collins' record shows he's had trouble keeping up with money.

The 72-year-old Collins, a farmer from Cotton, Ga., with no training as a financial manager, resigned under pressure from the Revenue Department three years ago after his agency lost track of how to divvy up $1.5 billion in sales taxes.

A state audit later showed widespread management problems, many tied to Collins' failure to update technology. It also said the agency had been covering up the problems for a year.

After Collins left that department, his powerful friend, state House Speaker Tom Murphy (D-Bremen), put him to work as his aide.

Collins' new job has been a bit of a windfall. He's making $80,000 a year, paid from the farmers' tobacco fund, ostensibly for working only 20 hours a week. The part-time arrangement was hatched so he could keep his $55,646 annual pension, although he says he really works more.

But that's not all. Collins and his son are tobacco farmers. So he qualified for an initial check from the tobacco settlement of $11,045.

Is he one of up to 1,000 farmers who haven't gotten their checks? No. But Collins says his son hasn't received his, and neither have a few tobacco board members.

The problem, Collins says, is he relied on inexperienced data entry workers - workers he procured from the very agency from which he resigned, the state Revenue Department.

"We tried to set it up and run it as cheaply as we could," said Collins, who began the office in September with two people. The office has sent out 2,224 checks. A few farmers, though, have complained the checks don't have the correct amounts.

The Revenue Department workers, unused to forms that had information like farmer identification numbers, yield of crops, acreage and such, made errors that, in many cases, Collins and his staff apparently didn't catch until it was too late.

"We thought using the Revenue people would be good," Collins said. "It was my mistake by us asking them to do it. Those people weren't trained to do the type work that they were having to do for us. Things just didn't happen as easy and as quickly as they should have."

Bobby Lenihan, deputy commissioner of the state Revenue Department, said the agency responded to Collins' request for help even though there was a tight deadline and the agency had its own tax processing work to be done. Lenihan said he was surprised the problems weren't resolved.

"The closer we got to deadline, they brought [the errors] to our attention," he said. "We gave them all the help we could and what they needed to clear up any bad data. Our folks thought those matters were cleared up."

Apparently, they weren't.

Collins says he's asking Chase Manhattan - the bank hired to process the special tobacco fund for the 14 states sharing the farmer settlement money - to cut another round of checks.

Originally, farmers were going to have to wait until April. By Friday, governor's spokesman Howard Mead said the bank had agreed to cut a new round of checks by Feb. 7.

In the meantime, Lynn and her son will just have to tighten their belts yet again.

-- Martin Thompson (, January 18, 2000

Moderation questions? read the FAQ