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Hall County officials raise issues not on agendas

POSTED: October 20, 2013 12:05 a.m.

Some residents may have missed the chance to voice their opinions on issues voted on by the Hall County Board of Commissioners because the issue wasn’t on an agenda for a public meeting.

In the past four months, commissioners have voted on at least five items brought up during individual “commission time” that were not on the agenda nor discussed during work sessions.

Issues included sewer facility agreements, control of the Hall County Library System and funding of the Glades Reservoir project.

According to the Georgia Attorney General’s Office and the Georgia Press Association, that violates the state’s open meeting laws. However, county attorney Bill Blalock denies any violation of law.

State law requires that agendas are made available prior to public meetings. According to the Georgia Attorney General’s Office, meeting agendas have to specifically outline items expected to come up at a meeting. Items can be brought up that aren’t on the agenda if they weren’t anticipated and are necessary to address.

Several items commissioners have approved recently either appear to have been anticipated by county staff or by commissioners who said they decided before the meeting to bring up an issue.

The commission spent nearly a year deliberating over how best to provide sewer to the Gateway Industrial Centre and the Ga. 365 corridor, negotiating with the cities of Gainesville and Lula while also considering building its own system.

Commissioner Billy Powell made a motion during his commission time at the July 25 meeting to suspend negotiations on an intergovernmental agreement with Lula and have the county instead build its own system.

Powell read from a prepared statement and public information officer Katie Crumley gave out a news release after the meeting.

Commissioner Jeff Stowe made a motion during his commission time on Sept. 12 to have county staff pursue all sewer options and report back at the Sept. 26 meeting. The county and Gainesville approved an agreement Sept. 23.

“It wasn’t like I thought of it right there (at the meeting),” Stowe said. “We’d been in talks with Lula and things weren’t progressing, so I felt it was best for the staff to look at other options since we had kind of hit some road blocks with Lula.”

Commissioner Scott Gibbs made two motions during his time at the Sept. 26 meeting that included directing staff to draft a request to local lawmakers to bring the Hall County Library System under county control and another to waive fees for the 2013 Cattle and Heifer Show.

Blalock pointed out that the commissioners felt it was necessary to bring up the issues at the meeting, which shows they are in compliance with the law.

“I think they’ve followed the law,” he said.

County Administrator Randy Knighton also introduced a joint resolution not on the agenda to the commission at the Sept. 26 meeting between the county and Gainesville in which Gainesville agreed to support Hall’s application for $14.5 million in state funding of the Glades Reservoir project. Glades, which is estimated to cost about $130 million, is planned as an 850-acre reservoir in the Upper Chattahoochee River Basin of North Hall that could provide millions of gallons of water per day to Northeast Georgia residents.

Georgia Press Association attorney David Hudson said in an email that the matters appear to have been expected by at least one commissioner and should have been on the agenda.

“There have been no Georgia appellate court decisions, but one Georgia Superior Court invalidated county action on a matter that was brought up without having been listed on the agenda and where the county could not provide any reason why it was ‘necessary’ to act without having been put on the agenda in advance,” he wrote.

Melissa McCain, commission clerk, said department heads and elected county leaders typically present agenda items to her the week before a voting meeting. She creates the agenda and Knighton reviews it before it’s published. The board meets on the second and fourth Thursday of each month and holds work sessions the Monday before.

Things come up in-between voting meetings, and commission time is for giving direction to staff, Gibbs said.

“We can make votes in commission time about anything that comes up because stuff happens,” he said. “You’ve got to keep in mind — I think they do agenda review on Thursdays. That’s a week long from Thursday to the next Thursday that something can happen that we need to address.”

Asked if the county can send out revised agendas to reflect added items, Gibbs said yes, but that most of the items are insignificant.

“Waving a fee for a heifer show, I don’t think that needs to be on an agenda,” he said. “Or having the staff look into something doesn’t really need to be on an agenda. We’re not voting a $5 million contract; that needs to be on an agenda.”

Board Chairman Richard Mecum said commission time was fine for directing staff or something similar, but if the issue was more serious, he’d prefer it was on the agenda. Doing so would give commissioners and the public more time to look at an issue and discuss it, he said.

“That’s my feeling about it,” Mecum said. “I’ve looked at the way other county commissions do it and they don’t do it this way.”


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