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JULY 16, 2003


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Six To State
The Tiger Sharks’ participation at the state swim meet this year will increase by three fold over last season as six members of the team qualified for the event at this past Saturday’s district meet in Habersham County.
The state meet will be held July 25-26 in Moultrie.

Local teams back on the gridiron soon
The summer transition towards fall officially begins next week as football again makes its way to the gridiron in Jackson County.
First to hit the practice field among local teams is Jackson County, as the Panthers begin their second season under head coach Brent Brock. The following day Commerce takes the field followed by Jefferson later in the week on Sunday, July 27.


Neighborhood News...
BANKS COUNTY
School board not backing down

A meeting with architect Steve Hill Thursday did little to settle the Banks County school board’s concerns about a mix-up on the middle school soil erosion plans.

Lula, Gillsville present SPLOST project requests
The City of Lula and the City of Gillsville presented their proposed projects to be funded by the 2004-09 special purpose local option sales tax at a meeting of the Joint Municipal Association hosted by the Lula city council last Tuesday,

Development authority signs contract to sell land to Garrison
The Banks County Development Authority has signed a contract to sell a two acre tract of land in the Banks Crossing Industrial Park.
Bo Garrison plans to buy the land for $15,000 per acre for his commercial laundry business. The contract on the land bordering the county’s water plant gives Garrison the option to buy before August 25.

Impact fees lowered by Baldwin council
At Monday’s meeting, the Baldwin City Council lowered the impact fees for new development.

Burning ban remains in effect for area counties until September 30
The Georgia Forestry Commission ban on open burning remains through September 30 in Banks, Jackson and Madison counties.


Neighborhood News...
MADISON COUNTY
Planners approve Hwy. 98 subdivision
Plans for a major subdivision just outside the city limits of Danielsville received the full support of the planning commission at Tuesday night’s public hearing.

BOC waiting for budget requests
from 11 departments
Madison County department heads were asked to submit their budget requests to the commissioners’ office by July 1, but county clerk Morris Fortson reported Monday that 11 departments still had not turned in the requested paperwork.

Two killed in Tuesday accident
Two people were killed in a three-car accident on Colbert-Danielsville Road Tuesday afternoon.

Hull city council approves
purchase of computer equipment
The city of Hull approved the purchase of new computer software and equipment for city clerk Janet Seagraves at Monday night’s council meeting.

Planning commission chairman resigns
For the second time in less than a year the planning and zoning commission will need to select a new chairman.

Crack cocaine seized from Comer couple
Authorities seized 114 crack rocks, with an estimated street value of $20 apiece, from a couple at 124 Flint Street in Comer Friday.

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A SIGN IN PROTEST

Jane Segars, Arcade, was one of many local residents who appeared at Friday’s public hearing protesting the financing of the proposed courthouse. (see story below). She is also one of 26 citizens who signed onto a lawsuit filed Thursday against the Jackson County Board of Commissioners.

BOC sued over $25 million ‘debt’
Citizens’ lawsuit demands halt to lease-purchase deal to fund courthouse
Just hours before county officials were scheduled to finalize financing $25 million for a new courthouse, a group of 26 citizens filed suit in Jackson County Superior Court claiming the action would be unconstitutional.
The filing of the suit last week came late Thursday afternoon, just prior to the 9 a.m. Friday public hearing held by the BOC to finalize the proposed lease agreement.
The suit came as no surprise since attorney Wycliffe Orr of Gainesville had in June notified the Jackson County Board of Commissioners that legal action would be filed on behalf of five citizens if the county proceeded to finance the $25 million through a controversial lease-purchase plan. Orr is representing the Concerned Citizens of Jackson County, a group of citizens from across the county who say the financing plan violates the Georgia constitution. Its chairman is Tim Venable of South Jackson. The suit listed 26 names of county citizens at the time it was filed.
Meanwhile, CCJC has set a second public rally to discuss the lawsuit for next Thursday, July 24, at 7:30 p.m. in the JEMC auditorium in Jefferson.
THE SUIT
In the suit, Orr outlined five allegations against the BOC, the most important of which is that in seeking a $25 million lease-purchase deal, the board is violating the Georgia constitution’s ban on creating local government debt without a vote of the citizens.
The suit seeks an injunction against the BOC from proceeding with the lease deal and a court order to require the BOC to call a public vote on the proposed $25 million courthouse debt.
The suit claims that “Despite being labeled a ‘lease agreement,’ the purported lease agreement is nothing more than construction financing and debt service for a scheme and plan to construct a courthouse on property which is already owned by the BOC, and to circumvent and evade the voters of Jackson County...”
In supporting that claim, the suit quotes from a 1913 Georgia Supreme Court decision that says “in dealing with constitutional limitations upon the power of (governments) to incur indebtedness, courts incline to look at substance rather than to form, and not to allow the mandate of the constitution to be evaded, either by mere plausible devices of language or by refined and hair-splitting definitions of the meanings of words...”
The suit also points out that in the proposed lease-purchase deal, the contract says that the deal is not “a true lease” for federal income tax purposes, but that it is a lease “for Georgia law purposes.”
In addition, the suit points out that under the proposed deal, the county would begin making payments before a new courthouse had even been built.
In the other four allegations, the suit claims that: The proposed lease violates the gratuities clause of the state constitution; the proposed lease is an “illegal and impermissible conflict of interest and abdication of governmental powers” under the state constitution; that the lease illegally binds future commissioners to lease payments; and that the BOC had “conspired” to violate the rights of county citizens and voters by not calling for a referendum on the proposed $25 million debt.
No court date has been set yet to hear the case.


26 countians sign on BOC lawsuit
Those who filed the lawsuit against the board of commissioners over the financing for the courthouse project are: Jean Bauerband, Ray Bauerband, Richard Beem, Sandy Beem, James E. Brooks, Elinor Brooks, Norman Brookshire, James Bryan, Thomas Bryan, Ann Edmondson, George Edmondson, Hilda Gee, Faye Griffin, Carolyn Keasler, Jeff Keasler, Douglas Legg, Elizabeth Martin, Joe Martin Jr., Aaron McKinney, Charlotte Mealor, Ruby Lynn Minish, Jane Segars, Kevin Solid, Carolyn Townes, Kathy Venable and Tim Venable.


Commerce Passes City, School Budgets
The Commerce City Council passed two major spending bills Monday night.
The first was the final draft of its 2003-04 budget. The total of $27,859,850 is up by more than $8 million over actual spending in the just-completed fiscal year.
Much of that difference is caused by capital projects – the construction of the new sewer plant, the community development block grant project and the sidewalk construction project. In all, the budget contains $7.35 million in capital expenditures.
But City Manager Clarence Bryant indicated Monday that high prices for natural gas are also expected. That inflates the budget on both the revenue and expenditure sides by $2.35 million, a 36 percent increase.
The council had passed the budget at its June meeting; Monday's final version was the result of adjusting the document for the final year-end figures from 2002-03.
The second spending bill was the $8.7 million school budget passed on behalf of the Commerce Board of Education.
That budget contains an increase of $84,137, all of which comes from local tax funds, which at a total of $1,919,337 make up 22 percent of the total school budget.
The Commerce Board of Education will approve the budget Monday at 7:00 at the Commerce High School media center.
TAX INCREASE?
Bryant raised the possibility that the $84,137 increase in the school budget could result in a tax hike for citizens – thanks to an increased homestead exemption for elderly residents.
Initial reports from the county tax office indicate that the $11.3 million in growth of the tax digest are all but consumed by increased homestead exemptions that became effective this year.
"There is a possibility that there may be a net loss in the tax digest this year," Bryant stated. "The numbers are very, very close."


Crowd blasts financing plan at Fri. hearing
It was standing room only at a meeting Friday morning as some 115 Jackson Countians attended a public hearing called by the board of commissioners to receive input on financing a new courthouse.
Thirteen people spoke in opposition to the actions of the board and demanded that a vote be held on the proposed $25 million debt.
Two county residents spoke in support of the BOC. Two judicial officials also spoke in support of a new courthouse, although they did not address the financing details directly.
The BOC did not offer any input or answer any questions at the meeting.
“This is for the purpose of receiving comments,” BOC chairman Harold Fletcher said. “This is not a debate. This is not a question and answer session. This is simply for us to receive comments from the general public.”

DECRIES HEARING TIME
The meeting was held in the Grand Jury room in the 911 complex, which was filled to standing room only with some 60 people. More than 50 more citizens were in the ambulance bay adjoining the room. Chairs had been set up in the bay, along with a speaker system.
The meeting was held at 9 a.m. Friday, which was touched on by the first speaker, Ed Thompson of Jefferson. Thompson said it was not a time that is convenient for the majority of the countians.
“Many people are concerned about the way this administration has put their best interest at heart,” he said. “...How many working folks can walk away from their job to come to a public hearing at 9 a.m...It’s time to be concerned.”
Thompson also spoke on the financing of the project.
“A $25 million deal with the Association County Commissioners will take us 20 to 30 years to pay off this debt,” he said. “...It’s a $1.7 to $2 million a year debt payment...It’s my understanding that the state of Georgia has a constitutional provision that states that local governments can not issue debt without the voters consent...”
Thompson also spoke on comments made by Fletcher that a special purpose local option sales tax vote, that includes funding for a new courthouse, would be held in 2004.
“Ladies and gentlemen, that will be the sweetest looking SPLOST ballot that you’ve ever seen in your life,” he said. “It will have more icing than a store-bought birthday cake. It will include roads and bridges and recreation, parks, water, jails and trails and a whole lot more. That will be your choice on the SPLOST vote. In addition to that, every five years you have to renew a SPLOST vote.”
He asked why the BOC is not holding a bond referendum on the courthouse in the fall.
“It would be the honorable thing to do,” he said. “This would be a much less expensive method to finance our courthouse. Why a SPLOST vote one year later, after the fact? If the bond vote is not a consideration and the SPLOST vote is defeated, then a really large increase in ad valorem taxes would be the only remaining avenue to finance this project.
“This whole struggle has stunk from the very beginning. During this entire struggle, for 18 months or more, just how sleazy this administration has become is more and more evident. Look at where we are today. See where we are crammed in for one of the most important public hearings held in Jackson County. It is this obvious abrasiveness that Jackson County voters are concerned about. During this whole charade, you’ve seen one contradiction over another one.”

VENABLE QUOTES FLETCHER
ELECTION COMMENTS
Tim Venable of South Jackson, chairman of Concerned Citizens of Jackson County and one of 26 people who filed a lawsuit against the county over this issue (see separate story) also spoke. He said the group is after a “fair vote.”
Venable also read a comment made by Fletcher during the 2000 election about the courthouse project.
The quote he read and attributed to Fletcher was: “I have, as a general philosophy, a problem with imposing taxes on the county without benefit of a referendum...I prefer a referendum vote on this.”
Fletcher did not respond as to why he now does not support a referendum.
Jean Griffeth Bauerband, Jefferson, who is also one of the citizens filing the lawsuit against the BOC, questioned whether the commissioners had violated their oath of office by not “upholding the constitution.”
Jim Scott, Commerce, said: “We’re standing here today asking for our constitutional right to vote on an issue of this magnitude.”
Others who spoke and asked that a vote be held were: Charlotte Mealor, Commerce; Jerry Mealor, Commerce; Ralph Freeman, Hoschton; John Kelly, Jefferson River Road; Joel Hammond, Dry Pond Road; Katherine Hood, Commerce; Mary Hood, Commerce; Laurie Anderson, Jefferson; and Bobby Patterson, Jefferson.
PERRY SUPPORTS BOC
Greg Perry, a Commerce lawyer, spoke in support of the BOC and the need for a new courthouse.
Perry asked: “Where do we put it? That is what this whole ruse is about, not whether we need a courthouse or not... A selfish desire to put the courthouse in Jefferson is motivating these patriots of today...I think you gentlemen have the courage to do what ought to be done and what needs to be done. In John Kennedy’s next book, Profile of Courage, you’ll have a chapter.”
Perry also addressed how the courthouse will be paid for.
“The tooth fairy is not going to drop a pot of gold here for this courthouse,” he said. “We will have to pay for it with our money. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a lease purchase. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a tax increase. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a SPLOST. If we need a courthouse, then we are going to pay for it. What difference does it make how we are going to pay for it. It’s a moot issue.”
He said the citizens shouldn’t use “obstructionist tactics.”
“This is much ado about nothing,” he said. “There is no need for a vote on anything. Let’s build a courthouse. You’re going to take my money whether it’s out of the left pocket or the right pocket.”
Perry’s comments were the only time during the hearing that the crowd became vocal and yelled comments at him.
David Oppenheimer, Maysville, also spoke in support of the BOC and praised them for “having the courage to be leaders.”
“We’re all in agreement that we need a courthouse,” he said. “A lot of people are contend that they don’t get a right to vote. They do have a right to vote. This last election, they had the right to vote on new commissioners. They elected two of them. Next year, they get a chance to vote again to re-elect a chairman and two more commissioners.”
Oppenheimer is the husband of Candice Gunn, chairman of the Jackson County Republican Party. All five members of the BOC are Republicans. Oppenheimer had also spoken out in support of the BOC during the board’s effort to takeover the county water authority in February.
JUDICIAL OFFICIALS SPEAK
Judicial officials speaking on support of the new courthouse were Superior Court Judge Bob Adamson and public defender Donna Seagraves. A letter from district attorney Tim Madison, who wasn’t able to attend the meeting, was also read.
Adamson spoke on the inadequacies of the current courthouse and the need for a new courthouse. He said the statement he read had been reviewed and approved by the three superior court judges, the state court judge and the juvenile court judge.
“We universally agree that Jackson County is in desperate need of a new courthouse,” he said.
Although a judge in the Piedmont Judicial Circuit, which covers Jackson County, Adamson lives in Barrow County.
Seagraves also said the current courthouse is inadequate with a building that is unsafe and that makes security a “nightmare.” The concerns she addressed included the “ancient elevator,” a law library that is too small, rain in the courtroom and the bathrooms.
County manager Al Crace read the letter from Madison. He said the district attorney’s offices are inadequate to prepare felony cases and do research.
“We are unable to have offices in the present courthouse since there is no space,” Madison wrote.
Like Adamson, Madison also lives in Barrow County.


Waddell’s Ex-Girlfriend Replaces Ariail
On Water And Sewerage Authority
JEFFERSON -- The Jackson County Board of Commission-ers named Wanda David and Clay Dale to serve on the county water and sewerage authority Friday.
David, who is a former chairman of the water authority, was appointed in a 3-1 vote to replace Keith Ariail. Emil Beshara, Tony Beatty and Stacey Britt voted to name David, while Sammy Thomason voted against the motion.
David and Jerry Waddell, the authority's manager, broke off a five-year personal relationship about a year ago. The parting was not amicable, and Waddell filed suit over cash and property he alleged David took from him. That suit and the counterclaim were settled Monday.
Since Ariail lives in District 2, Thomason was expected to make the nomination, but said he did not have a nomination to make because he did not have support from the board for his recommendation. Thomason never identified the person he intended to nominate.
"It has become obvious to me that the appointee that I have strived to appoint would not be confirmed by a majority of the board," he said. "As a result of that, I'm not going to make any nominations at this time."
Chairman Harold Fletcher then asked if anyone else had a motion to fill the position and Beshara nominated David. Beatty seconded the motion.
"Not to comment on the merits of the appointee or not, I can only say that I've honored the appointments of each of the district people," Thomason said. "I would hope that the board would give me the same courtesy and allow me to appoint someone from my district that represents the 10,000 people in my district. My district will be unrepresented if this nomination takes place."
Britt nominated Dale to replace Tom Crow, who represented District 1 (Jefferson). His nomination was approved unanimously.
The board of commissioners is not required to make appointments by district, but has done so since the current members have been in office. With the new appointments, the authority has two members each from districts 3 and 4 and one (Chairman Elton Collins) from District 2.
The appointments were effective immediately. The next meeting of the water authority will be at 7 p.m. Thursday at the State Courtroom in the Administrative Building in Jefferson.

 

 


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Wanda David, Clay Dale named by BOC to water board
In a move that would rival a soap-opera plot, the Jackson County Board of Commissioners named Wanda David and Clay Dale to the county’s water and sewer authority last week. The action ousted members Keith Ariail and Tom Crow, both of whom had earlier this year helped successfully fight an attempt by the BOC to take over the authority.
While the move to boot Ariail and Crow had been widely anticipated, the naming of David to the authority sent shock waves through the county’s political community.
David is a former member of the authority, but the reason she was apparently named to the board by this BOC was because of her personal, now acrimonious relationship, with water superintendent Jerry Waddell.
During the last year, Waddell and David ended a five-year personal relationship. That split led to civil litigation between the two that was only recently resolved.
Now David will become one of Waddell’s bosses, a situation apparently crafted by the BOC to use the personal friction between the two to pressure Waddell to leave the county water system.
Current county commissioner Emil Beshara was a vocal critic of Waddell when the latter was county commission chairman. Since taking office, Beshara has sought Waddell’s dismissal as water superintendent. It was one of the reasons Beshara and commissioner Stacey Britt led a move by the BOC to take over the water authority earlier this year. That effort failed when the county’s legislative delegation refused to take away the authority’s power and give it to the BOC.
Last week, it was Beshara who made the motion to oust Ariail and replace him with David. The motion carried on a 3-1 vote with commissioner Sammy Thomason voting against the action and commissioners Britt and Tony Beatty voting with Beshara.
BOARD POLITICS
In addition to the soap-opera atmosphere surrounding the David appointment, the move also created a split on the BOC. In naming David, the board went against its own practice of allowing each BOC member to have an appointment to various county authorities.
The appointment to replace Ariail was supposed to have been made by Thomason, but during last week’s discussion, he said he couldn’t get enough votes to support his candidate.
“It has become obvious to me that the appointee that I have strived to appoint would not be confirmed by a majority of the board,” he said. “As a result of that, I’m not going to make any nominations at this time.”
It was in that opening that Beshara made the motion to nominate David, a move that left Thomason without an appointee to the water authority.
“I can only say that I’ve honored the appointments of each of the district people,” Thomason said. “I would hope that the board would give me the same courtesy and allow me to appoint someone from my district that represents the 10,000 people in my district. My district will be unrepresented if this nomination takes place. I’m not commenting on the appointee. It’s the principle I’m talking about.”
The BOC is not required to name appointees to the water authority on a district basis, but this BOC has done so since taking office in 2001.
JEFFERSON AREA NOT REPRESENTED
Even more confusing in last week’s actions was the fact that both Britt and Beshara went outside their own districts to make appointments.
The motion to name Dale came from Britt, but Dale lives in Beshara’s West Jackson district.
Beshara made the motion to name David, but she lives in Beatty’s Nicholson area district.
The result is that four of the five authority members now reside in only two districts, leaving Britt’s Jefferson area district with no representative on the water authority. (Authority chairman Elton Collins lives in Thomason’s Commerce area district.)
The appointments are effective immediately. The next meeting of the water authority will be at 7 p.m. Thursday at the State Courtroom in the Administrative Building in Jefferson.