Archived Opinion

Tax collector likely too easy on too many

Tax collector likely too easy on too many

We reported last week that Haywood County Tax Collector Mike Matthews may have been showing favoritism to some local Republican leaders who were behind in their taxes. As it turns out, we were likely too narrow in that assessment. It seems Matthews may very well just not be enforcing strong and even-handed collection measures for a lot of people, not just GOP leaders.

Matthews’ job performance has been questioned since he won the tax collector election in 2014. He couldn’t get bonded, had no experience in the field, and had his own record of nonpayment of taxes. County officials who depend on those taxes were worried and immediately took steps to try and help Matthews succeed. And taxpayers who pay on time had to be worried that there taxes might have to be raised.

It seems many of those initial worries turned out to be well-founded. An employee complaint that could have led to the county getting sued was the catalyst for an unprecedented investigation into Matthews’ job. The county hired an out-of-county lawyer to try and ensure the investigation was conducted fairly. 

That probe didn’t substantiate the initial employee complaint, but it did reveal what many who work in the courthouse already knew: the new tax collector was not running his office professionally or in a manner acceptable to county commissioners — who are beholden to the voters.

Commissioner Michael Sorrells said Matthews’ behavior has “brought a question about the integrity” of both the tax office and the county. Commissioner Kevin Ensley said something similar, that “I have received a lot of complaints about that office. I’m not going to go into them now, but I’ve received a lot of complaints.”

 When the county voted on Feb. 20 to let Matthews serve out his term and then begin appointing a tax collector, many weren’t surprised.

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As speakers came to the podium to discuss whether they were “for” or “against” the resolution to begin appointing a tax collector, an interesting narrative was repeated: several spoke of Matthews “working” with people to get taxes paid rather than abiding by the letter of the law and taking measures the state has deemed appropriate. Look, it’s commendable when government can work with people to get caught up on taxes when there are valid reasons; on the other hand, it’s not the county’s — or the taxpayers’ — position to act as a lender to people who rightly can afford to pay their taxes but choose not to.

When we examined the tax records of several Democrats and Republicans leaders, we found a preponderance of GOP leaders who were behind. But now I believe we were wrong in saying Matthews was cutting them a break; as it turns out, it’s probably more correct to say that many taxpayers of all political stripes are getting the kid glove treatment from Matthews. It’s the way he does his job, and while that may endear him to late payers, it doesn’t do the county any favors.

So I’ll apologize to those whom we singled out last week. We stake our reputation on being fair, and when we miss the mark I’m not afraid to admit it. 

(Reach Scott McLeod at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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