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Clermont says letter from county is smoking gun
Commissioners were not bound by library plans, county attorney says
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Clermont officials claim a letter written by the Hall County Board of Commissioners to Gov. Sonny Perdue last year is evidence the county went back on a promise to build a sales tax-funded library in Clermont.

An attorney for the county, however, said commissioners were not legally obligated to build the library in Clermont under SPLOST law and were free to change their minds.

Clermont has sued Hall County, seeking a court injunction that would prevent the county from building a North Hall library branch on Nopone Road. Town officials say the library should be built in Clermont, as they say was promised in the lead up to the SPLOST VI vote of March 2009.

In a recent court filing, the town points to a letter it obtained through an open records request of the Hall County Library System. The letter, dated Oct. 19, 2009, was from county commissioners to the governor’s office requesting financial assistance in the construction of a 15,000-square-foot library facility.

“The county has purchased property within the town of Clermont near Highway 129 to build a community library at that site to serve residents living in North Hall County,” the letter, signed by all five current commissioners, reads. “One of our big challenges was to find the appropriate site and purchase the land and we are fortunate the land acquisition (was) completed.”

Clermont officials say county officials never provided them with a copy of the letter after an open records request was made for all documents relevant to library dispute. Instead, Hall County Library System Director Adrian Mixson provided the letter.

Afterward, Hall County filed a court motion asking a judge to temporarily halt the sharing of documents between parties, known as “discovery,” until the court rules on the county’s motion to dismiss the case.

“Tellingly, defendants did not object to Clermont’s discovery request until the library board produced this letter to Clermont,” David Syfan, an attorney for the town, wrote in a recent court filing.

Syfan wrote that the county’s motion to temporarily halt the sharing of information between the parties, “can be viewed as a delay tactic to forestall the county from having to produce its own documents that demonstrate the board of commissioners selected the town of Clermont site for the North Hall library branch off of Highway 129, which would support the (town’s request for an injunction).”

County attorney Bill Blalock said this week of the letter, “I’m not sure what the relevance of it is, but it’s not complicit with regards to where the library goes.”

“Under SPLOST law, the county commission can change its mind as to where to put the project,” Blalock said. “They’re not bound by one consideration, and I don’t think there was ever a decision to put it in Clermont, though it was investigated.”

Rulings on the recent motions won’t be made until it’s determined which judge will hear the case. Visiting Judge Debra K. Turner of Gwinnett County will hear arguments on why Hall County Judge C. Andrew Fuller should or should not be recused from hearing the case. The town has argued that Fuller should not hear the case because he, like all the county’s superior court judges, is paid a salary supplement by the county.

Meanwhile, a bond validation hearing on $31 million in county projects, including a Nopone Road library, has been delayed. The hearing was to be held in front of Fuller on Monday, but the town of Clermont filed a motion challenging the validation of the bonds and seeking Fuller to recuse himself from the matter.

Clermont officials also requested the bond validation hearing be delayed until a court could address those issues.

The Gainesville-Hall County Development Authority sent a letter to Fuller this week agreeing that the hearing should be delayed until Clermont’s motions are addressed, authority counsel Tread Syfan said.