Improper passport fee collections due to system 'error,' Cobb Superior Court clerk says

Nov. 16—MARIETTA — Under questioning from Cobb commissioners Wednesday, Superior Court Clerk Connie Taylor said more than $83,000 in passport fees she improperly retained was due to a system error.

Taylor, elected in 2020, has been under the microscope since an Atlanta Journal-Constitution report this month that she's pocketed over $425,000 in passport fees since taking office.

Collection of fees is, in part, permitted by the U.S. State Department, which allows local government officials to charge $35 per application as a processing fee. Taylor confirmed Wednesday in a commission work session she was receiving those fees on her paycheck.

"That's where that money is coming from. Those application fees that they allow us to take in personally, which becomes part of my — and I'm going to say it — personal income for me. I have to put it on my income tax," Taylor said.

Those collections are added on top of Taylor's base salary of $169,913. Taylor refused to take questions from reporters after Wednesday's meeting.

Since the initial media report, however, Taylor said her office discovered that on top of the $35 processing fee, she's also been receiving the proceeds from a $24.70 fee for expedited mail service, which she is not entitled to. Those fees have made her $83,658 since she took office last year, or about 20% of her total $425,000 in collections.

"Our system that we have, which is an obsolete system, has taken the ($35 fee and the $24.70 fee) and included those together, and those amounts were given to me, personally, which was an error," she added.

Taylor said she noticed the error during an audit in early October, a month prior to the first media report. She has now asked the board to accept the $83,658 back into the county's coffers.

Commissioner Keli Gambrill, however, argued the county isn't entitled to those funds, and that they should instead be returned to the State Department.

"Where I'm concerned is that ... we have overcharged each applicant for processing fees because according to this chart, you are only allowed to charge $35 per application," Gambrill said.

Taylor, shaking her head, disputed that point.

"If I was to send that money to the (State Department), they're going to say, what did you send this for?" Taylor said.

The MDJ has reached out to the State Department for comment.

Chairwoman Lisa Cupid, meanwhile, cautioned Gambrill against making "assertions ... that we are taking something away from our taxpayers, and we have money that's owed to them."

She added, "I'm not here to question or go into detail about process for any of our administrators, who are the experts of their process ... I know there are members of the media here, and I do not want that perception flowing that we have overcharged residents in obtaining their passport. So I think we need to make sure that is very clear."