In a series of events that began in shock and ended in sorrow, the county saw the loss of one of its longest-serving constitutional officers, a man who held the office of tax collector for a quarter century,
A tremendous outpouring from throughout the county paid their respects to the family of James A. Harris, Jr. Oct. 13 at the Living Waters of Assembly of God, whose sanctuary is among the few sizeable enough in Apalachicola to accommodate such a long queue of mourners.
The funeral service came five days after Harris, 56, perished from a gunshot wound, likely by his own hand, and a little more than six months after he was arrested on a second-degree felony charge of having sex with a minor.
The incident, allegedly involving a liaison with a 17-year-old boy at an Eastpoint residence, sent shock waves throughout the county, and Harris stepped down April 3 from the office he held for nearly seven terms, after first being elected in 1992 as the county’s youngest ever tax collector.
The charge against Harris was never proved in court, as Harris died before the criminal case ever came to resolution.
One issue has yet to be concluded, that of a criminal investigation lodged by State’s Attorney Jack Campbell, after Harris’ appointed successor, Rick Watson, brought forth what he said were possible improprieties in the tax collector’s books.
Watson said that after he assumed office April 10, he requested an audit dating back to Oct. 1, 2016, and the county auditor, Roberson & Associates, found “altered deposit slips and non-validated checks, which were questionable.”
Later the county commission asked for a complete audit by Roberson’s firm, at a cost of $10,000. That audit has since been completed, although the findings have not been made public.
Harris, a Democrat, was unopposed in last fall’s election in his bid for a seventh term. Among current officeholders, he was the county’s longest serving constitutional officer, with 24 years in office, and had not drawn an opponent in several years, either Democrat or Republican.