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Hall County, Gainesville officials bicker over old jail
County fails to pass motion on ethics
Gainesville Police Chief Frank Hooper makes comments Thursday to the Hall County Commission regarding recent comments regarding the annexation of a portion of Interstate 985 into the city.

In a highly combative board meeting Thursday, the Hall County Board of Commissioners couldn’t seem to agree on anything, much less with the handful of Gainesville officials present.

The meeting included a public hearing about a Gainesville annexation, a letter regarding the detention facility in Midtown and a proposed ethics resolution.

During the commission’s regular meeting, a scheduled public hearing was held to discuss Gainesville’s annexation of a part of Interstate 985.

Gainesville City Manager Kip Padgett answered a number of questions prepared by the commission about the annexation, intending to prove that the city’s intention is not to use the road as a speed trap for revenue generation, as alleged by county Commissioner Bobby Banks.

"Revenue from tickets accounts for 1.4 percent of the city of Gainesville’s budget," Padgett said. "I’ll say that again. 1.4."

Gainesville police Chief Frank Hooper also explained the importance of annexing the property to clear up jurisdictional confusion and help with response time.

Following the hearing, county Commissioner Ashley Bell invited City Councilman Danny Dunagan to speak during Bell’s commission time. Dunagan asked the county to honor an offer between certain city and county officials regarding the purchase of the detention center in Midtown.

Commission Chairman Tom Oliver originally proposed discussing the matter among the commission members and looking into the matter this summer.

"In other words, we don’t have an agreement," Dunagan said.

The commissioners then voted to have the matter placed on the agenda for their next work session.

Hall County Administrator Charley Nix later read aloud a letter from Bart VerHult of Corrections Corporation of America, the group leasing the detention center.

In the letter, VerHult asked the commission to issue building permits for renovations and additions to the facility, which will house immigration detainees. According to the letter, the city refused to issue building permits.

County Attorney Bill Blalock said the facility technically is a county property and not subject to city zoning ordinances.

Oliver made a motion to allow the county to take over remaining inspections and permitting for the facility. There was a back-and-forth discussion while the motion was on the table.

Bell asked to have further talks with city officials before making "an aggressive move." City attorney James E. "Bubba" Palmour stood up from the audience to protest the motion.

"It’s not a public hearing; I’m sorry," Oliver said.

The motion was approved 4-1. Bell voted against it.

Also during his comments, Dunagan chastised Oliver and Commissioner Billy Powell for their involvement with the corporation that wants to buy the Regions Bank operation center, which currently is involved in a lawsuit over easements. The property also is tied up with the city’s Midtown redevelopment project.

"I know this is a Regions lawsuit, but I sure wish y’all would do something to facilitate this thing so we could move forward with developments that would be good for our city and our county and our citizens," Dunagan said.

"Mr. Dunagan, we have made seven offers to sit down and try work something out and can’t get them to the table," Powell said.

In the meeting, Bell also proposed an ethics ordinance that would prevent future private business dealings among two or more commissioners.

"In laymen’s terms, basically, as I discussed with other municipal leaders, it is just being neighborly. If two or more elected officials decide they want to buy or invest in property in another jurisdiction such as the city of Gainesville or in Flowery Branch that we give them notice. If two or more elected folks are going to start buying up their downtown or doing anything in their jurisdiction, that we just say we’re coming, what you’re doing and who you’re doing it with," Bell said.

A tense discussion followed with a number of questions and amendments to Bell’s original motion.

"Is this just in this county or is this worldwide?" Commissioner Steve Gailey asked. "We need to put a stop to this bickering."

Banks asked why Bell did not make the motion sooner, since the original resolution was drafted in February. In response, Bell alluded to a week’s worth of meetings in early March that were canceled, preventing him from introducing the resolution as he had intended.

In the end, Bell’s motion failed 3-2, with Banks, Powell and Oliver voting against it. Gailey and Bell voted for it.

Oliver made a motion to have outside counsel help draft an ethics resolution incorporating the ideas from all the commissioners in no more than 30 days. Commissioners voted 5-0 in favor of the motion.

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