The Hall County Board of Commissioners has called for a public hearing April 9 to discuss Gainesville’s plans to annex a section of Interstate 985, an issue that has caused tension between the two governments.
"I would like for the commission to support me in opposing two annexations," said Commissioner Bobby Banks. "I just feel like they’re not above board on their intentions of annexing it."
Gainesville is looking to annex part of I-985 and a section of McEver Road.
Commission Chairman Tom Oliver called for a public hearing at the commission’s Monday work session to allow all parties involved, and the public, to give their opinion on the matter.
"The best way to deal with it is to just open it up and have people come and say what they think. Have all the parties there — have Gainesville there, have (Sheriff) Steve Cronic there," Oliver said. "It’s an open dialogue."
Oliver said he thinks the public hearing is necessary because many questions remain about the annexations.
"If they’re going to annex this, is it going to be 1, for increased revenue, or No. 2 , are they saying Sheriff Steve Cronic and his team are not doing a good job?" Oliver said.
Commissioner Billy Powell added that he supported the hearing as a way to gauge public support and to clarify why the annexations were requested by the Gainesville Police Department.
"It would appear to me that revenue generation is the main reason for annexation," Powell said.
But Gainesville Police treat the matter as one of common sense.
The city asked the Chicopee Woods Area Parks Commission to annex the property in an attempt to clean up the city limits, said Capt. Paul Sherman.
The city’s jurisdiction stretches about 2.8 miles south of Exit 20, where Ga. 60 crosses the interstate, and stops about 0.8 miles short of the interstate’s crossing with Ga. 13.
With the annexation, city police officers would know that their jurisdiction ends at the Atlanta Highway overpass, Sherman said.
"This allows first responders to have a physical reference out there on the street where they can go and say ‘OK, from (Ga.) 13 South north to (Ga.) 60 South is in the city;’ those are physical things that any officer can point to — a rookie officer can say ‘I’m in the city here’ — you don’t have to have ambiguous lines," Sherman said.
Oliver said a letter of opposition will be drafted and those commissioners who wish may sign it.
The public hearing was approved by a 3-1 vote. Commissioner Steve Gailey was absent and did not vote.
Commissioner Ashley Bell, whose district includes Gainesville, voted against the hearing.
"I personally think we have more pressing issues in the county right now beside public hearings for speed traps that don’t exist," Bell said. "The city of Gainesville is no small rinky-dink town that has all their income coming from speeding tickets."
Bell said a public hearing will only exacerbate relations between Gainesville and Hall County.
"We need to change our tone and our course in dealing with our cities and try to do better as a commission to work with them instead of being seen as an obstruction," Bell said. "I think we overstepped our bounds with this one."
Banks sent a letter to Gainesville Police Chief Frank Hooper on March 17, copied to several other local officials, accusing Gainesville of annexing the properties for the sole purpose of generating revenue through speeding tickets.
Banks said he is "highly concerned about Gainesville’s intentions with a proposed annexation along I-985 near Chicopee Woods," the letter stated. "It would appear that the City of Gainesville is taking the same approach that the City of Oakwood has taken for years to uswe their police force as a principal means of revenue generation."
The city annexed 2.835 miles of the interstate right of way south of Candler Highway last year with no complaints, Police Chief Frank Hooper said.
"There’s sections of 985 north of this area that’s already been annexed and we haven’t had any history or allegations or complaints or any evidence we’re running any kind of speed traps in those sections so I don’t know why anyone would think we’re going to do that in the section that’s just been annexed in," he said.
City police officials maintain that revenue has nothing to do with the annexation — only the need to clean up jurisdictional lines.
The only thing that would call for increased police presence on the interstate is an indication that speeding or drunken driving is a problem in the area.
"The Gainesville Police Department has never been a speed trap and would never do anything like that," Hooper said.
Times Staff Writer Ashley Fielding contributed to this report.