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Attorney disclosure effort fails with commission

Bell seeks to uncover any conflicts of interest

POSTED: March 26, 2009 10:49 p.m.

A motion to have the county’s attorneys disclose any potential conflicts of interest was voted down at the Hall County Board of Commissioners meeting Thursday.

Commissioner Ashley Bell proposed the motion following the disclosure that the county’s bonding attorney, Tread Syfan, was involved in a personal business arrangement with commissioners Tom Oliver and Billy Powell.

"I believe that it would be appropriate if this board would consider a motion that would allow us to know all potential conflicts that relate to our bond attorney and any attorney with the firm of our bond attorney," Bell said. "That we send out a request for proposal for the bond attorney, for the county attorney, and we ask that anyone who applies for this job discloses any legal, ethical or embarrassing conflicts that may affect the county and ask that this be done and allow our current bond attorney Mr. (Tread) Syfan to apply, allow our county attorney to apply, but in doing so that all potential conflicts be disclosed."

Syfan and County Attorney Bill Blalock are members of law firm Stewart, Melvin and Frost.

Bell said he was disappointed following the 3-2 vote.

"I think what failed was the fact that a vote for transparency failed," Bell said. "Mr. (Steve) Gailey and I feel as though we need to have open transparency and others feel that we shouldn’t."

Gailey voted in favor of Bell’s motion. Oliver, Powell and Bobby Banks voted against it.

Powell said he voted against the motion because he felt it was unnecessary.

"I think we’ve got a good situation with the best bonding attorney in Hall County in my opinion, and it sounds like a personal attack rather than a logical motion," Powell said.

Bell said he felt it was important to bring up any potential conflicts Stewart, Melvin and Frost may have with the county after Syfan was dismissed as legal counsel for the Gainesville-Hall Redevelopment Authority.

In late February, Gainesville City Manager Kip Padgett removed Syfan after learning he was part of the group purchasing the Regions Bank building in downtown Gainesville.

Syfan told the redevelopment board in January that he was involved first as counsel and then became an investor in City View Investments LLC, a corporation that includes Oliver and Powell as owners.

City View Investments has an offer pending to purchase the Regions Bank Operations Center in the former Town View Plaza. The transaction is tied up in litigation filed by Regions Financial Corp. against Gainesville City Center over driveway easements.

The two properties are adjoining, and Regions previously had access to Bradford Street via the parking lot of Town View Plaza.

Bell, whose district includes Gainesville, said if the city has a conflict with Syfan, the county also may.

"We should be weary of those sorts of relationships as well," Bell said. "Tread is in for-profit business with two other commissioners."

Oliver, who voted against Bell’s motion, said he doesn’t believe there are any conflicts to be concerned with.

"We talked about it on Monday (in an executive session) and brought in outside counsel," Oliver said. "Her opinion was that it’s not a conflict of interest."

Syfan and Gailey could not be reached at press time. Banks declined to comment.



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