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Mitch Skandalakis: He's baaack!
Former commission chairman to host tax challenge seminars

by Hatcher Hurd
May 03, 2001
Just when Atlanta Democrats thought it was safe to go back into the water, Mitch Skandalakis, former political whiz kid, tax critic, proponent of a new Milton County and subject of a federal investigation, surfaces again.

Love him or hate him – there seems to be little middle ground for the acerbic former chairman of Fulton County – Skandalakis has always been a favorite topic of political discussion in Fulton County. And he just can't seem to stay away.

Four months ago he moved back to Fulton County, the scene of his greatest political triumphs and his lowest points as well.

He seldom shied away from the spotlight until his top aide, Josh Kenyon, was caught in June 2000 taking a bribe along with County Commissioner Michael Hightower. When the focus of the federal investigation shifted to Skandalakis, he finally sold his Alpharetta home and moved his family away. Now he's returned, living in Sandy Springs and no longer keeping a low profile.

Skandalakis is back riding the horse that he first rode into the political arena – taxes.

"My destiny is here, one way or the other," he said in a recent telephone interview. "I think it is still a worthy cause to either get a new Milton County or to get the four votes needed on the [Fulton] Board of Commissioners to get fair representation for all the people of Fulton County rather than just those who live in the city of Atlanta. I'll always stay in this fight."

Skandalakis will conduct two taxpayers seminars for residents who are disgruntled with their ad valorem reassessments and want to know how to challenge them – something he did even when he was chairman.

He says he is also still chairman of the Citizens for a New Milton County, an organization dedicated to seceding from Fulton County, but perhaps for not much longer.

"I have to try to rebuild my law practice. I'm back in town, working to take care of my family, that is my first priority. But I will continue to stay active in issues that affect taxpayers," he said.

Skandalakis left town under a cloud of suspicion, tainted by his aide's confession to taking a bribe. But since then the focus of the U.S. Attorney's Office appears to have shifted its search for corruption from Fulton County to Atlanta.

Skandalakis said he is clueless as to whether he is still a federal target.

"They have been known to wait until the day before the statute of limitations runs out. And they are not in the habit of issuing letters to clear you either," he said.

Skandalakis said he moved to shield his family from all of the turmoil in the local newspapers. His clients had left him, so he had no real reason to stay at that time.

But now he's back, he says, because he has a Georgia law degree and this is where he wants to start over.

"[The investigation] ruined me, but I'm not going to let that keep me from getting back on my feet," he said.

Although Kenyon and Hightower pleaded guilty to bribery charges, to date no charges have been leveled at Skandalakis although federal agents subpoenaed his financial records and business records looking for wrongdoing.

He said he was shocked when his close aide, Kenyon, was brought up on charges. Kenyon had run Skandalakis' office while Skandalakis conducted an unsuccessful statewide campaign for lieutenant governor.

"I feel somewhat guilty about [Kenyon]. Had I not been away in that campaign, he probably never would have gotten into trouble. It got back to me that Josh was telling folks he was in charge," Skandalakis said.

But just as quickly, he had stern words for his former aide.

"Josh certainly wasn't underpaid. He had a good job and I made sure he wasn't suffering. It was a ridiculously small amount of money compared with the risk," he said.

Skandalakis noted in his first term as chairman, he was offered a $300,000 bribe to pass along bonding business, and not only turned it down but got the man who made the offer arrested and convicted.

In the end, Skandalakis said it saddened him to see both Kenyon and Hightower fall.

"I felt the worst about [Hightower]. He was the only sitting member of the commission to call my parents to congratulate them and me on my victory. You always knew where Michael was coming from. He was representing his constitutents," he said.

Skandalakis said he thought both men fell under the spell of a "corrupter" who pushed them into accepting the bribes.

With redistricting coming up next year, demographic changes should favor Republican candidates. Skandalakis was the first Republican to win a countywide office in Fulton County, but he says he has no interest in politics now.

"At this juncture, I'm not looking to do anything except get back on my feet. Politics is the last thing on my mind. I just want to get this cloud removed," he said.

So there you have it. The old pro is back harping on the issues he has always championed, but saying he is not looking to get back into political harness. Only time will tell. But local politics just got a jolt all the same.

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