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Gainesville, Hall at odds over jail contract

Council: Document left unsigned on county attorney’s advice

POSTED: March 28, 2009 12:14 a.m.

The Gainesville City Council is refuting comments made by Hall County Commission Chairman Tom Oliver to The Times regarding an agreement for the city to purchase the old county jail on Main Street.

Oliver told The Times on Thursday that a 2007 contract securing the city’s purchase of the jail property expired in February 2008 and the city never signed it.

But city officials said in a statement Friday that Hall County Attorney Bill Blalock instructed them not to sign the contract, which Blalock denies.

In December 2007, the city announced plans to buy the jail from the county for $4 million with the understanding that the county could lease the facility to Corrections Corporation of America for seven years. The city would then have the option of razing the facility to make way for new development.

Oliver said Thursday the contract for the purchase was hand-delivered to the city.

"I don’t know what they did with it once they got it," he said.

But city officials say they were told to hold off on signing the agreement until further notice from the county.

"As the agreement was being finalized, (Blalock) told the city not to sign it because they were still working out some issues," according to the statement. "Blalock said if the city signed the agreement first, the city’s portion would be null and void. Blalock further commented that he would let the city know when the county had worked out the issues."

Blalock denied the statement Friday, however, and said there would have been no reason for him to tell city officials not to sign the contract. Oliver also said he was unaware of any instructions against signing the contract.

"That’s absolutely not true," Blalock said. "I don’t give city advice. I represent the county; they’ve (city officials) got their own lawyer."

Blalock said, according to his records, the arrangement with CCA was finalized Jan. 24, 2008, and the final draft of the contract was delivered to the city’s former manager, Bryan Shuler, on Jan. 30.

"I sent it to Bryan Shuler," Blalock said. "It was hand-carried to his office, and there were no instructions about not signing it. It was for them to consider whether or not they wanted to go forward with it. I never heard another word from them."

Late last year, the county announced a 20-year lease for the jail property with CCA at a rate of $2 million a year. The newly renamed North Georgia Detention Center is expected to open in April or May.

City officials said they knew nothing about the county’s agreement with the private prison operator until they read it in The Times.

City Manager Kip Padgett said city attorney James E. "Bubba" Palmour and Shuler handled the deal.

When CCA officials met with city officials, they indicated they had no prior knowledge of an agreement between the county and the city, Padgett said.

The statement city officials released Friday said Palmour is "evaluating the situation of CCA and says the city will act accordingly based on local ordinances involving zoning, building and a business license."

"He (Palmour) is looking at all those issues to see if they qualify based on the city’s zoning requirements," Padgett said.

Staff writers Stephen Gurr and Melissa Weinman contributed to this report.



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