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Hall board OKs criminal probe into payments to consultant
Olivers consulting deals may come under scrutiny of district attorney
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Hall County commission Chairman Tom Oliver, center, and commissioners Ashley Bell, right, and Billy Powell listen during Thursday afternoon’s meeting while discussing the county’s code of ethics.

In other business
The Hall County Board of Commissioners:

Held its first public hearing on its proposed ethics ordinance. Douglas Aiken, who lead a committee to revise the ordinance, offered his thoughts. “The key things are disclose your business, vote in public and it will take a lot of mystery away from y’all,” he said.

Held public hearings for five convenience stores that were caught selling alcohol to minors by a Hall County Sheriff’s Office sting. The commission imposed a 15 day license suspension and a reinstatement fee to first time offenders and a 90 day suspension and reinstatement fee to a second time offender. “I hope this sends a message to Hall County, and especially district 2, that we will not put up with that,” said Commissioner Billy Powell.

Voted to officially oppose an annexation by the city of Buford.

Melissa Weinman

The Hall County Board of Commissioners voted Thursday night to ask for a criminal investigation of payments made to Omega Consulting, a firm owned by former Gainesville City Manager Carlyle Cox.

The commission voted 3-0 to ask District Attorney Lee Darragh to conduct the probe. The board also voted to conduct a financial audit of all the commissioners, County Administrator Charley Nix and former Administrator Jim Shuler.

Meanwhile, Nix announced that he had begun work with Finance Director Michaela Thompson to review county spending procedures.

“We’re taking this very seriously,” Nix said.

The moves come four days after Oliver announced that the county had been paying Cox since 2006 for consulting services, specifically on water and sewer projects.

An open records request by The Times showed Cox had received $75,000 since February 2006, but had produced no correspondence or reports.

Commissioner Ashley Bell made the motion and Bobby Banks amended it to also include an audit of all five commissioners and the county administrators.

Oliver abstained from the vote due to his involvement. Commissioner Steve Gailey was absent.

Bell praised Oliver for admitting to the payments, but said an investigation is still important.

“I think the public needs to know that we did not stand in the way of finding out what really happened,” Bell said. “This was, when it comes to the payment of Omega Consulting, a procedural error, but sometimes so are embezzlement cases ... But we don’t know that and no one is to judge you. You have a right to plead your case.”

A letter will be drafted and sent to the district attorney’s office next week.

The North Hall library issue also was brought up.

Bell asked why he was not provided with a copy of the 2009 application for state grant funding before voting to relocate the project at Nopone Road.

The application lists Clermont as the location for the proposed North Hall library.

Nix said the application is one of thousands of documents that are included in the library project.

“I don’t want to vote on anything else that I don’t have all the information,” Bell said.

Hall County Library Director Adrian Mixson, who was not at the meeting, said in a telephone interview with The Times that the grant application is not binding. The application is typically flexible because of the time involved in waiting for grants. At the time, he said, Clermont was listed as the location because the commission had not yet voted on a site.

“It usually takes four or five years to get your state money,” Mixson said.

Nate Rall, director of library facilities planning and construction for the Georgia Public Library Service, said the county would only need to alert him of the change of location so he could conduct a site inspection. A location change would not affect funding.

“Where a system decides to locate their library really doesn’t matter,” Rall said.

It is not even certain that Hall County will get state funding; grants will be considered as part of the state’s massive budget cuts this year.

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