Tag Archives: Georgia

Herzog Reads Curious George


In 1986, I took my first film class at the University of Georgia (more on that later).

If you know much about me, you know that I have very diverse tastes in film and television. You may know, that my favorite television program of all time is “Gunsmoke” (to my wife’s utter dismay), with quite a few of them close second (Aha! A future blog entry!) Officially, my favorite movie is and has long been “Sergeant York”, starring Gary Cooper. (Another future bog entry may be how I have based my career as an entrepreneur on “Sgt York”) After all these years, I suppose it is safe to confess that “Sergeant York” is really only my favorite AMERICAN film. My favorite film of all time may be the weird and creepy “Aguirre, Wrath of God” starring Klaus Kinski as a 16th century Spanish Conquistador, who goes completely mad, while searching the Amazon for the fountain of youth. I won’t give away the ending, but the final scene, which I think I recall Professor Eidsvick telling us was a completely ad lib single shot, is worth more than a month’s Netflix fee in and of itself.

Now, about that film class. In that class, Film 101, each student was required to go to the student center theater every Sunday afternoon to watch whatever foreign film was being shown that week. One of those Sundays, the film was “Aguirre”. “Aguirre” was directed by the German filmmaker Werner Herzog, who on that particular day became my favorite movie maker. Herzog is an ego-maniacal, tyrannical genius, whose rants and tirades are only overshadowed by those of his most prolific star, Klaus Kinski. Kinski also starred in a number of other Herzog films, like “Fitzcarraldo”, the story of a European gentleman bringing the Opera (and an enormous Riverboat) over the river and through the woods to the native Amazonians. The making of “Fitzcarraldo”, a partly true story, was documented in the compelling “Burden of Dreams” in which Herzog tells of the tribal wars that occurred during filming, the fights among the actors and crew, about how Mick Jagger was originally cast in the Kinski role, about pulling the actual river boat over a mountain, and how after filming was halfway complete, they scrapped the entire project and started over from scratch.

I’ve haven’t seen “Burden of Dreams” in probably 15 years, since my buddy Darryl @dellrott http://dellrott.wordpress.com, bought it on VHS, but it remains the best documentary not produced by Ken Burns that I have ever seen.

So, comes the 21st Century, and Kinski is no longer with us, but Herzog is still viable filmmaker. He has recently narrated a film that explores 30,000 year old French cave art – I’ll have to see that one – anyone want to join me?

The reason for all the setup above is that last week I ran across this hilarious video on another blog, and wanted to share it with my friends. It’s a parody of Herzog’s narrative style. An impressionist reads the Children’s Classic “Curious George” as the Maniacal Genius himself MIGHT have done it. I hope you enjoy this as much as I have:

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If You STILL Can’t Get a Live Person at the GA Dept of Revenue


If you read my previous post on this subject “How To Get A Live Person at the GA Dept of Revenue”, you know that it is difficult, but it CAN be done. Also, in that article, I recommend the following initial steps:

  1. File Electronically
  2. Check for your refund on the website
  3. Check the Refund Inquiry Hotline (877) 423-6711 (both the online system and the phone system update their data once every day. It is unnecessary to continue to call these throughout the day, as the information will be the same.)

So, what do you do if you have exhausted all these resources? Don’t panic.

In my previous article, I gave instruction on what to say to the agents who answer the phones on the Hotline after you press “0”.

If these methods still do not get you the information you require, you do have some options.

  • You may call (404) 417-4480 – that’s a “backdoor” number that also rings into the main menu. You will undoubtedly have a long hold time, but you may be able to get an actual person to answer this phone. Be sure to get their name, direct number, and email address, if possible.
  • You can also call (404) 417-4490 – this is a real backdoor that gets you to the Registration and Licensing Call Center. From here, you can tell the agent you accidentally dialed the number wrong and ask them to transfer you to an EXAMINER in Income Tax (not in Refund Inquiry).
  • As a GA Taxpayer, you are entitled to speak to a live person. The Taxpayer Bill of Rights as revised in Dec 2009, ensures that you have the right to assistance from the Georgia Department of Revenue in complying with Georgia Tax Laws.
  • One of the offices you have access to is the Office of the Taxpayer Advocate.  The phone number for this office is (404) 417-2100. This number also reaches the office of the State Revenue Commissioner, Bart Graham. You will be unlikely to get him on the phone, but the staff in this office is very good at directing your calls to the correct resource to resolve your problem.
  • The email address for the Taxpayer Advocate is taxadv@dor.ga.gov

If you exhaust these methods and still have no answers, please contact us at Tax Traxx and ask for our assistance. We have assisted many taxpayers get a resolution from the GA Dept of Revenue.

Next: What If They Deny My Refund Claim?

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JSmith’s Email, The Response


If you’re reading this, I hope it’s because you read last night’s post about JSmith’s Nasy Email. If not, click here. We’ll wait.

One of the most important lessons I learned in my life as a “government insider” was the ability to answer correspondence of this kind of tone with patience and thoroughness. To illustrate, please see the abridged text of my response to my client’s employee’s husband (Oh, and don’t miss the constitutional history lesson!):

“Dear Mr. xxxxxx

“I have just received your email and wish to address your concerns. First, let me say how sorry I am that I have caused you such obvious alarm and concern. Having been in this business for some time, I perhaps take for granted that everyone understands the intricacies and peculiarities of alcohol law.

“Second, I am not an attorney, but an experienced consultant, who specializes in helping his clients navigate the processes of obtaining business and alcohol licenses in various municipal and state governments.  TaxTraxx (www.taxtraxx.com), is a company I started three years ago, after serving approximately eight years in numerous capacities at the Georgia Department of Revenue. My firm facilitates projects like this for a number of business across the southeast. To date, we have an excellent record of providing services to our clients and we work with individuals of many different nationalities. We also file Sales Tax returns for our clients in 44 of the 45 states that collect Sales and Use Tax (North Dakota is the only exception). On our website, you will see some case studies of services that we have provided for our clients.

‘In this case, my firm has been engaged by xxxxxx, whom I am copying on this message. xxxxxx specializes in the sale of convenience stores and other types of businesses. xxxxxx contracted my services for the purposes of securing business licenses and alcohol licenses for several xxxxxxxx stations in metro Atlanta that are being sold to independent owners.

 “The store where Mrs. xxxxxxx works, is being sold to xxxxxxx, which is 100% owned by a resident of xxxxxxx.  

“Because the new owner is not a resident of Georgia, the City of xxxxxxxx requires a United States Citizen who is a current employee of the business to be listed as “Registered Agent” for the purposes of securing the new alcohol license. The main purpose for a registered agent is to have a local (within Georgia) contact for process of service, or to send mail in the event that mail might be undeliverable to the business address. The current owner, xxxxxxxxx, and the new owner asked Mrs. xxxxxx if she would be willing to serve in this capacity on behalf of the xxxxxx. From experience, I know this to be a common practice among municipal governments – over the past three years, I have worked with more than 80 different municipalities in Georgia alone. In the city of xxxxxxx, this requirement is specifically governed by Section x-xx of the City Ordinance. On the state level, this requirement is governed by O.C.G.A 3-4-23.

“To answer your specific question about why we asked Mrs. xxxxxxxx for your information, I will direct you to the  Application for Sale of Distilled Spirits, Malt Beverages, and Wine .  Specifically, pp. 3, 6, 9 and 10 are those that Mrs. xxxxxx filled out with me today. Page 3 is the only place on the application that asks for spouse’s information. This information is requested for one purpose only – to provide proof that neither the applicant nor the applicant’s spouse are currently engaged in any other business(es) manufacturing, distributing or serving alcohol. As far as I am aware, none of these agencies are allowed to run credit checks. They are, however, allowed to run NCIC and GCIC criminal background checks, fingerprints, and to check that all tax returns have been filed and tax obligations paid to the relevant local and state governments.

“There is a great deal of legal history related to the manufacture, distribution, and sale of alcohol in the United States. As you know, the manufacture, distribution and sale of alcohol was prohibited by the 18th Amendment to the US Constitution in 1922 and that prohibition was repealed by the 21st Amendment in 1934. At the time that prohibition was lifted, the US Government went to great lengths to create a 3-tier system for the production, distribution and sale of alcohol in this country. Because of certain federal laws, still on the books, it is illegal to be a participant in more than one tier of the three-tier system at a given time (i.e. a person who owns a distillery cannot also own a distributorship or a retail establishment. Or, a person who owns a bar may not also manufacture distilled spirits.) There have been some very limited exceptions allowed under federal law, specifically wine tastings at vineyards and brewpubs, wherein malt beverages are both manufactured and sold at retail. However, these exceptions are tightly governed by other, equally stringent laws. (As a side note, both tobacco and motor fuel have similar 3-tier systems and laws in place.)

“To your point questioning the legality of inquiring about marital status, I believe you will find that this exclusion only applies to employment-related matters. Mrs. xxxxxx was neither being interviewed for a job, nor was she told that her job would be in jeopardy if she did not provide that information. As a general rule, it is not illegal to inquire about marital status.

‘Regarding your allegation that I would use your personal information for any benefit, I assure you that the only entities having access to your or your wife’s information will be the xxxxxx County Sheriff’s Department, the City of xxxxxxx and myself. I am keenly aware that this seems like an odd practice. Frankly, I’m surprised that in three years of private consulting, yours is the first protest of this kind that I have ever received.

“At this point, I do not have any of your personal information. I have submitted Mrs. xxxxxx’s information to the xxxxxx County Sheriff’s Office. The City of xxxxxx, though, will not accept this application, because it is incomplete without your information.

“In your message, you requested contact information for xxxxx Realty, which I am providing below:

xxxxxx

“My contact information follows in the signature.

“Mr. xxxxxx I applaud you for your concerns and for your candor. Again, I assure you that you have nothing to fear from me or from my associates regarding this application, your information or your wife’s information.

“I further hope that my response has given you a sample of the thoroughness I employ when completing a project and a feel for my experience level and discretion and that you will feel comfortable in asking any further questions you may have. The choice is yours and Mrs. xxxxxx’s, of course,  whether she continues as the Registered Agent on this application. If she decides to no longer be considered, the new owner will have to find someone else to fill this role. Regardless your decision, I wish you nothing but the best. Sincerely, P. Todd Kelly”

See? I gave him enough data and background information so that he could not object to my objections. I anticipated his follow up questions and answered them in this reply, mitigating his rejoinder. (Note: I don’t talk like that in real life.)

Let me know what you think. In part 3, I’ll share his response.

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JSmith’s Nasty Email


I don’t normally do this, but this was too interesting to miss. I’m going to share an email I received from the husband of an employee of one of my clients today. I believe he thinks I’m an identity theft.

I provide this as a public service to those who might be thinking that their email flames a lot.

“From: jsmithxxxx@xxxxx.com      (I don’t think that’s his real name.)

To: todd@taxtraxx.com
Todd Kelly,
 Why would you ask my wife about her marital status, want my name, drivers license, and social security number today, while discussing the change in ownership for the xxxxxxxx xx xxxxxxx with my wife?
  I am not an employee, nor have I proffered an application.
As you are aware, it is against the law to even ask about marital status,much less ask  very personal questions for which you have no legitimate purpose  and which serve no useful business purpose. 
Perhaps you thought because my wife is naturalised, her husband would not know US laws.I assure you that is not the case.I will legally protect my wife and my interests,and will not tolerate this egregious behavior, Mr Kelly. 
I will be checking to see if you have inquired about any of my personal information,sir, and will hold you legally accountable for any such actions.
 I want copies of everything you have regarding my wife and or myself immediately ,and complete (sic). I also want the name of the company(and principal) that hired you,as well as contact information for their legal council (sic).At this point I do not see a need to contact them, but will if things change.
If my wife suffers any  negative consequence as a  result of this, we will take legal action against you and the company that hired you.”  

So, some of you probably have received similar missives in response to just doing your job. Frankly, I used to get them all the time when I was a “government insider”. This is about the first one I’ve received in private life. And, in this case, I had a legitimate business reason for acquiring this gentleman’s information (his name, SSN and Driver’s License number), that being to complete a form his wife was filing to become a registered agent for a local alcohol license application in metro Atlanta, GA. It’s what I do almost every day. State and local law require that this information be on the form. I know it’s tasteless, but it’s the law.

Oh, and JSmith? It’s not his real name.

Thoughts anyone? I’d love to hear how you would respond.

In a separate post, I think I’ll share my response. Register now (top right corner) to be updated on this continuing saga.

Todd

BTW, I found the greatest marketing idea of all time – in a FREE book http://www.supertips.com/ultimate/x/?id=4781

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How to Get A Live Person at the GA Department of Revenue


It’s that time of year again folks, and if you live in Georgia, that means another wait for your tax refund check from the Georgia Department of Revenue. As a former “insider” I am frequently asked, “How can I get in touch with a live person at the Georgia Department of Revneue?”

If you happen to be one of the several hundred thousand individual taxpayers calling about a tax refund for this, or any prior year, it’s not that easy to actually get a live person. But, it can be done. Here’s how:

  • File electronically. Statistically, you have a better shot at getting your refund faster if you file electronically, and especially if you elect for direct deposit.
  • If you haven’t received your refund within two to three weeks (filing electronically) or six to eight weeks (filing a paper return), then you should begin by going to this website https://etax.dor.ga.gov/WMRefund/index.aspx and searching there. Don’t worry, it’s safe and secure and actually works in most cases. You’ll be asked some identification info – your SSN without dashes, and the whole dollar amount of your expected refund.
  • If this doesn’t work, then there’s no need to call the Refund Inquiry Hotline (877) 423-6711, because it has the EXACT SAME INFORMATION, but if you do, press 2 and you will be taken to the exact same computer system as the website in the previous bullet point.
  • If you must call, do so early in the morning. The Automated Caller Distribution System switches from the night message (which says they’re closed and gives you the hours of operation) to Active status at about 7:30. If you call at exactly the right time, you can be among the first in line. Then the callers will back up behind YOU, because they don’t read my blog. Later in the day, it is not unusual to experience an hour or more hold time. Frequently, a call to this number returns a fast busy, which means that the system is overloaded with calls and cannot take another one. If you get this, wait 10 minutes and call back, or wait until early the next morning.
  • The Refund Inquiry System is on the main income tax number (Press 2) and it will ask you for your SSN and expected refund amount.
  • If you receive a response like “we do not have a record of your return” or something to that effect, don’t send in another copy. They probably have your return somewhere. If you mailed a paper return, shame on you. If you filed electronically and they say they don’t have it – then you may have a problem.
  • If everything is correct on your return and the name and address information matches what is in the Department’s files from previous years, then you should hear a message like, “Your refund should be deposited into your account on __/__/2010,” or, “Your refund check will be mailed by __/__/2010.” These dates are pretty accurate if you get to this point, because if they have assigned a “check date” to your refund, then it’s approved and they really will mail it or deposit it when they say they will. The Department prints checks and does direct deposits frequently throughout the week and they are pretty good at getting the COMPLETED refunds out the door. Commissioner Graham has a pretty decent record on this during his term.
  • At every menu level in the Department’s phone system, you should be able to click through to a live person by hitting the “0” or “#” key to get to a live operator.
  • When you do get a live person, please be nice. Don’t tell them how long you have been on hold. They know. They’re sorry. It’s not their fault. Trust me on this. Comments like these waste your time and theirs. Just avoid those kinds of comment, and you will be met with a much nicer person on the other end. These examiners take as many as 500 calls per day apiece, with about a second and a half in between, and everyone has been on hold and most of them complain about it, as though the examiner somehow wasn’t aware of this.
  • Bear in mind that the “operator” you will get at this level is likely a seasonal employee (we used to call them Temporary Tax Examiners), with just enough training to answer some basic questions about your refund, but not necessarily trained to talk to you about your whole tax return at all.
  • The GADOR is crippled by a number of old computer systems (some from the  1980’s) that do not “talk” to each other. This necessitates Tax Examiners having to toggle between various systems to answer a single question about a specific taxpayer. The Refund Inquiry operators may or may not have access to any other system, so any kind of examination takes a long while.
  • If you have a question about your return, or if the system tells the Examiner that your return is in some type of “Review Status”, then you will need to speak to a higher level Tax Examiner.
  • Likely, these higher level examiners are already speaking with someone else, so you will be placed on hold again. Unfortunately, it is nearly impossible to get a Refund Examiners to transfer you to a specific Tax Examiner, but it’s worth asking.
  • When you are transferred to a live person, try to get them to give you their direct phone number if you want to call back for further information or questions. Almost every employee at the GA DOR has a direct line (and usually a group fax #). Try to get both of these if possible. In my experience, the examiners are more likely to answer a direct call than one routed to them via the Automated Caller Distribution system.
  • Also, try to get the correct spelling of both the first and last name of the employee. Departmental policy changes from year to year, but typically, they are only required to give you their employee ID, but most of the employees will give you their first and last names when requested.
  • Armed with first and last names, the nomenclature for the emails at the DOR is simple: firstname.lastname@dor.ga.gov . So, if you can get the examiner’s first and last name, you can at least email them any future questions.
  • Finally, if you are still unable to get through, there are some backdoor tricks that I have found to be effective. I will be posting about some of these over the next few days, so please subscribe to this blog (in the top right corner of this page) and I’ll let you know when there is an update.

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GA Unable to Account for 911 Fees


This morning, I nearly spit out my coffee after reading an article in the Macon (GA) Telegraph concerning the inability of the State of GA to audit prepaid cell companies operating in Georgia to account for 911 fees.

About two and a half years ago, the GA Legislature passed laws requiring that companies offering prepaid cellular service in Georgia pay  $1.50 per prepaid customer per month in 911 fees that the traditional cell phone consumers already pay as part of their contracts.

I understand from the Macon article, written by Travis Fain – tfain@macon.com, and visible here http://www.macon.com/local/story/905004.html, that the DCA (GA Dept of Community Affairs) is powerless to enforce these regulations. Furthermore, any kind of audit of these records is unfunded. This creates a hollow law, with no teeth, and makes the state look foolish, once again.

Fain quotes Clint Mueller, the legislative director of the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG), who says, ““There’s a lot of corporations that they’re (DCA) not collecting from. We don’t know how much (money) is getting left on the table.”

Says Fain, “The DCA was given power to collect the 911 fees, which were supposed to go into a pot that local 911 operations could tap for grants. That hasn’t happened, and instead the state has used the money to help fund its normal budget, which funds all sorts of state functions, such as public education and the Georgia State Patrol.”

GA Rep. John Lunsford, who sponsored the origianl bill and whom I know to be a reasonable legislator, says “The process is flawed. I think we need better accounting and we need to put some teeth in the laws. What I’d like to actually see is criminal penalties for failure to pay.” I’m with you Rep. Lunsford, but why didn’t we think of this in 2007?

“This is real money that actually belongs to the local taxpayers.” Lunsford said. He’s right in so many ways.

How much real money? Nobody knows. The DCS has collected $15.5 Million since 2007 from companies who HAVE been paying their share. What is unknown is the number of companies, representing an unknown number of consumers, who are not paying their share.

So, we have multiple problems here. First, we have cell phone companies who may not be obeying the law and may not be paying the required toll to support 911 services in Georgia. Second, we have no way to know the impact of these underpayments because the state cannot afford to conduct the audits. Third, we have created laws with no teeth. Fourth, we have a state agency who has little or no control over laws and regulations they are charged with enforcing. Fifth, we have a state budget process that is using collected funds, designated for a pool from which 911 Emergency Service agencies can tap for grant money, that the state is using to fund the General Operating Budget. Finally, we have no plan to fix this. 

Where have we seen this before? See my previous blog articles: “Protesting a 12-day Shutdown of State Gov Agency” http://wp.me/pxvZf-E and “Why I’m Not a Fan of Sales Tax Holidays” http://wp.me/pxvZf-h. So you northerners won’t think this is a southern problem, here’s where I rcently dinged Illinois’ stupid sales tax law changes http://wp.me/pxvZf-m.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

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Filed under Georgia Government, Government Waste, Tax Issues

Remembering a Personal 9-11


I’ve been reading all day about remembrances of September 11, 2001. That got me to doing some reminiscing of my own. Everyone has a story. Everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing. Here’s mine.

At the time, I was the project manager on a massive government relocation program. We were moving about 1,200 state employees from the GA Dept of Revenue off of Capitol Hill in Atlanta out to an outlying location about 10 miles from the Capitol. Every Tuesday morning at 7 am, we had a project status meeting with the department heads. There were about 20 people in each of these meetings.

I was temporarily housed in the new building and we were having the first of these weekly meetings there. Our IT department had already moved and I was occupying a cubicle on their floor.

The meeting broke up and I returned to my temporary cubicle to answer a call from my wife. Because she was a teacher, and two months pregnant at the time, I was disturbed to receive a call from her at that hour – wondered why she wasn’t at school. The news she had for me was shocking. As I listened to her telling me what was happening, I looked across the way and saw a group of middle eastern programmers watching a video on their computer screen of smoke coming out of the side of the WTC and speaking loudly in a language I obviously couldn’t understand. But it got worse.

I immediately left for the day. Not because of what was happening in NYC, but because the news my wife told me on the phone was much more personal. She was losing our baby.

I imediately raced home (12.8 miles – a short commute by Atlanta standards) and held her as she writhed in pain. Together, we saw the North Tower collapse.

Jean and I had been married for two and a half years by that time. We honeymooned for 10 days in NYC and had visited there again just a few months prior for our “once in a lifetime” experience of standing in 18 degree weather watching Dick Clark from about 60 feet away in Times Square. On that trip, we had shopped in the mall below the WTC, I vividly remember the girl who helped us at the Coach Store. We bought clothes at Century 21 across the street, and toured the little church and cemetery down the block. New York was our adopted vacationland. We had even considered moving there, and I had gone on several interviews there before the job with the State of GA came along.

So, my reminiscence of 9-11 involves some deeply personal stuff. We didn’t lose any loved ones in the attacks that day, but I couldn’t (and still can’t) get it out of my head wondering how many people we had seen on that trip who may have been killed that day. How many of them were instantly disintegrated? How many of those that we said “Hi” to, as crazy southerner tourists? How many were just GONE? 

But we had one of our most intimate experiences as a family that day. We cried a lot and prayed a lot that day and in the days to come. Mercifully, God had a plan for us that we did not understand at that time. We stayed in Atlanta. Our daughter was born almost exactly 10 months later. And we have had so many blessings since that time, I can’t name them all. I will mention that the best news out of that day was that my college roommate’s daughter was born that day. Easy to remember her birthday.

But the horror we felt as we watched all those years ago . . .  is ingrained in our psyche. We still feel it to this day. We will never forget.

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