In the days since defeating his closest contender by nearly 1,000 votes, Camden County Associate Commissioner Don Williams has found himself embroiled in a controversy that is being pushed primarily on social media, with some calling for his disqualification and removal from the November ballot.

In the days since defeating his closest contender by nearly 1,000 votes, Camden County Associate Commissioner Don Williams has found himself embroiled in a controversy that is being pushed primarily on social media, with some calling for his disqualification and removal from the November ballot. 

Williams defeated Pat Cochran, Jimmy Adams and Nathan Rinne in the August Primary, with 49% of the Republican votes. Of the 4,751 ballots cast, Williams received 2,336; Cochran had 1,409; Jimmy Adams had 257; Nathan Rinne received 749. 

The dispute stems from overdue taxes that were on the books in Camden County when Williams filed to run for re-election. Although the taxes were subsequently paid, he is being accused of misrepresenting himself when he filed to run. At least one complaint has been filed with the Missouri Ethics Commission. 

When candidates file for office in Missouri, they are required to sign an affidavit stating they are not delinquent in the payment of any state income taxes, personal property taxes, real property taxes on the residence as stated on the declaration of candidacy. The affidavit must be notarized with copies going to the Missouri Department of Revenue and the Secretary of State or local election authority. 

Williams said when he filed, he was not aware of back taxes being due. The problem stemmed from an estate that had been in probate for several years. 

According to Williams and his sister, Missy Smith, their mother passed away in 2012 and probate began on her estate. The estate property taxes become delinquent during the time of probate proceedings. 

In 2017, William's sister became a co-trustee of the estate. The property taxes were delinquent at this time. Smith paid one year out-of -pocket to avoid a delinquent tax sale of the property. The estate had no income at this time and therefore the taxes were paid with no promise of reimbursement. The trustees began distributing property in 2017 with the expectation that the estate would be responsible for all taxes until the closing of the estate in its entirety.

Smith said in 2019, upon agreement of all beneficiaries, she purchased a house from the estate. With a portion of these funds, the bank paid out all estate attorney fees and property taxes. 

“Unfortunately there was a mix up in payments and not all property taxes were paid as I originally thought. I was unaware of this mishap until brought to my attention in late March, 2020,” Smith said. “The probate case was discharged in 2017, allowing the trustees to begin to sell and disburse property. We expect it to close by the end of this year.”

The taxes Williams owed were for his inheritance from the estate, according to Smith. 

After filing for office in late March, Williams said he received a text from another candidate advising him of the tax issue. When he checked with the county, he was delinquent for 2017, 2018 and 2019. He made two payments, one on March 30 and another on April 2. Until after the election, Williams said he hadn't heard another word.

Since the election, various county officials, including the clerk, sheriff and collector have been approached with questions about what can be done to force Williams out. The allegation doesn't necessarily involve the taxes because, under state statute, Williams would have been given 30 days to pay the taxes before any action was taken against him. What is capturing the attention is Williams’ detractors are saying he perjured himself when he filed the affidavit. 

Williams said he is trying to put it all in perspective and will not take part in the mudslinging taking place on social media. Political campaigns are hard under any circumstances, he said.  They are expensive, take up all your time and energy and they go on for months.  

“And, once the votes come in, you either win it all or you win nothing. There is no prize for second, much less third place.” he said. “But, for most people, after you’ve lost a campaign, you have still earned yourself a place of respect within the party. People appreciate that you tried. Post-primary election is supposed to be a time of healing and a time of gathering the party together to support the party’s candidates in the general election. That’s how a true conservative Republican carries themselves. The party comes first.”

In this particular race, Williams said that has not been the case. The issue never surfaced during the campaign or public forums that were held prior to the August primary. Immediately afterwards, he said there was an effort to have the runner-up switch parties to run against him in the general election.  

Cochran and Rinne participated in forums and other candidate events prior to the election.

“When they learned that it was too late to file, this latest movement to try to invalidate my election victory started up.  Many of my supporters and my family are very angry about it,” Williams said. “But for me, after dealing with months of attacks by these same people, it has just become a sad, pathetic spectacle — another example of the negative impact they are having on our community.”

What Williams' opponents are saying

Cochran, Williams' closest competitor, said he ran for the seat because he felt he could make a difference at the county level, especially in the road and bridge department. Cochran said he is not directing the social media attention the allegations are receiving. 

When he found out about the tax issue, Cochran said he didn't think it was right. After losing the election, he followed up filing a complaint with the state. He said although he felt that was the right course of action, he said he doubts anything will come of it. 

“It's nothing personal,” Cochran said. “I just didn't feel it was right.”

This election aside, Cochran said he doesn't foresee another run for public office in his future. 

Rinne said he was aware of the tax issue in March. At that time Rinne said he didn't think anything of it. Someone else got the information after the election and messaged him about the fact that Williams paid them long after signing up. He hadn't caught that.

He said he did some digging “and sure enough, two months after the fact he paid them. 

“Not only that, but how can an elected official go three years without paying their taxes?” Rinne said. 

Rinne said he doesn't believe it had anything to do with the estate trust. According to documents he saw, the estate went out of trust in 2017. 

Rinne said he didn't put it out during the election because it didn't occur to him that he had paid long after the deadline. He knew Williams was behind on taxes but at the same time, “I don't really care much for taxes so it felt like a moot point but the fact that he perjured himself is fairly concerning. Again, I never caught that,” Rinne said.

The taxes involved personal property, as well, he said. 

Rinne said he made Williams aware when he received the information via an email address for a John Doe on March 21. At that time, Rinne said he told Williams it wasn't his concern. He said Williams already knew when he reached out to him. Rinne believes Williams was tipped off to it. 

Rinne said the only time it came up during the campaign was in a social media exchange with Smith when she “tried to give me the trust excuse.” 

“I just dropped it at that time and didn't think anything of it. Again, i totally missed the part about paying after he signed up. That was revealed to me later by an individual via a message. Believe me, I'd have said something had I caught it,” Rinne said.

Rinne said after the election he was flooded with messages from people upset with the outcome. Once the tax issue was shared, he said it looks like a few of them ran with it. 

Rinne said the backlash is from the community, not him.  

Williams responds to the social media backlash 

It's time to focus on what work needs to be done, Williams said. He questions what it's going to take for social media to have a more positive impact on the community.

“But I suspect that at least part of the answer is going to be a more thoughtful, more disciplined approach to public comments by the people that use it,” he said. ”It has degenerated into a gossipy, speculative and spiteful environment, which brings out the worst in people. They post comments that are full of nasty rumors, make evil implications, and often simply state outright lies — seemingly blissfully unaware that these are real human beings they are so casually hurting.”

Another part of the problem may be that, with social media, there is no accountability for stupid comments, Williams said. 

“And I have watched as it has caused an increasingly negative, time-wasting impact on government. A quick example- A few weeks ago, someone posted on Facebook that the county was taking bids to purchase 100,000 face masks. Instantly, the posts started appearing claiming that it meant the county was getting ready to impose an ordinance requiring face masks in public. Nothing could be farther from the truth,” he continued. 

“In fact, the county has been giving away both face masks and hand sanitizer at the County Health Department since May. The county’s position is that we are all responsible for our own safety but the county will try to give any county business, school, organization or resident the tools to stay safe. To that end, the county has already given away hundreds of gallons of sanitizer and over 75,000 masks. This last purchase is just a continuation of a policy that has already been in place for three months.”

Williams referred to those on Facebook who are degrading the community using language you can’t repeat in front of children, publicly attacking almost every community leader along with their families. 

“I have to wonder how much longer we, as a community, are going to put up with this. The only accountability on social media seems to be what you already have in your heart, your own sense of right and wrong, whether you have a desire to better your community or want to behave like a parasite on it. At the end of the day, I guess some people are leaders; some people are followers, and some people are actually willing to spend hours out of their days attacking the efforts of others,” Williams said.