ATLANTA -- A Republican running for Lieutenant Governor next year may be able to continue to keep his lucrative state contracts, even if he’s elected. State Senator Rick Jeffares is running for the GOP nomination, and says it’s unclear what he would do with his water and sewage treatment business that has contracts with two state agencies.
Meantime, critics have emerged describing Jeffares' business ties as a potential conflict of interest if he's elected.
Jeffares owns a company that helps run government water systems like the one in his hometown of McDonough. And for years, his company has also run water and sewer systems at four state prisons, plus a DOT rest area near Savannah. In the last two years, Jeffares says those state contracts have been worth $966,000 to his company.
Unlike full-time state workers, Senator Jeffares has been legally eligible to bid on those contracts because he is a part-time legislator. Jeffares is now running to replace Lt. Governor Casey Cagle, who earns $91,609 annually. Yet the Lieutenant Governor “serves as a citizen legislator” like other part-time legislators, according to the Georgia Senate press office in an email to 11Alive news.
That part-time status could give Jeffares legal cover to keep the contracts if he becomes lieutenant governor.
Jeffares business contracts with the state would raise some eyebrows, says William Perry of Georgia Ethics Watchdogs.
"I think most people would hear this and think it stinks to high heaven," Perry said Monday. "You can’t hold state contracts and serve in that high of a public office. And I understand it may be legal. It may be something in Georgia you’re allowed to do. But unfortunately that shows the weakness in our laws. And it doesn’t make it right."
Jeffares told us last month he would take consider the ethical issue sometime between now and the November 2018 election. “I would just have to look at that when the time comes, and if it’s a conflict of interest, I would either give up the contracts with the state or I might look at selling my company,” “We’ve got plenty of time. (The election) is 18 months away.