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Hall leaders hope state will settle tax board dispute

State AG has 90 days to answer

POSTED: March 12, 2011 11:10 p.m.

Hall County officials are hoping Georgia's attorney general will help resolve a dispute over who should serve on the Hall County Board of Tax Assessors.

Two attorneys — one representing the tax assessors and one representing the board of commissioners — have issued conflicting opinions on the matter.

Their opinions were delivered March 4 to Attorney General Sam Olens. Officials have asked Olens to provide his opinion to help end the disagreement.

On Nov. 11, former commissioner Bobby Banks nominated the Rev. Jeff Benefield for reappointment to the tax assessors board before Benefield's term expired Dec. 31. The majority of the board voted to approve the reappointment.

On Jan. 6, Commissioner Craig Lutz, who took over Banks' post on the commission, moved to appoint Paul Barnes to the position.

Other commissioners questioned the legality of a new appointment. As a compromise, the board agreed to take the legal question to the attorney general's office.

Interim Hall County Attorney O.V. Brantley said she would like for the attorney general to enter a concurring opinion, meaning Olens will agree with either her opinion or the opinion prepared by Joey Homans, the attorney representing the Board of Tax Assessors.

Brantley's opinion states that Benefield's reappointment was invalid.

"The Board lacked the authority to make the appointment because a vacancy did not exist at the time of the prospective appointment," Brantley wrote in her opinion. "Because the same board was not in office when the vacancy ripened, any prospective appointment was invalid."

Homans opined that procedural issues make the board's Jan. 6 meeting illegal.

"The notice for the Jan. 6 meeting of the Hall County Board of Commissioners failed to comply with the Hall County Code and (Georgia Code) and due process. Therefore, any action taken during that meeting (including the effort to appoint Mr. Barnes) is void and without effect," Homans wrote.

Homans said there was not enough notice given for the called meeting Jan. 6 and that Lutz, who had not yet officially taken office, did not have the authority to call the meeting.

"The Hall County Board of Tax Assessors has not been provided with a copy of the written notice that was posted as required by law and reasonably believes that no proper notice was posted," Homans wrote.

But Brantley said the attorney general may not respond to settle the dispute.

"There's nothing that requires him to do so. It's within his discretion," Brantley said. "We're hoping that we have made it easier for him to issue an opinion and more likely that he might."

Lauren Kane, a spokeswoman for Olens, could not confirm the attorney general had received the information.

She said even when Olens does review the opinions, he will not have the authority to end the dispute.

"We do not issue opinions for local entities," Kane said. "Oftentimes we will just write a letter of advice as a courtesy to local governments, but it's not binding. ... It would just be our take on the issue after reviewing the different opinions that have been set forth."

At its Jan. 6 meeting, the commissioners agreed to revisit the issue if the attorney general had not answered in 90 days.

Interim County Administrator Jock Connell said the commission has not discussed what to do if Olens chooses not to issue an opinion.

"I have no idea whether it will be resolved within that time period or not. A resolution would most likely depend on a response from the attorney general's office," Connell said. "We'll await at what point he responds, if he responds. ... We just need to be respectful of the attorney general's office and let that play out on the time table that office so chooses."



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