County supports grand jury recommendations
by Marcus E. Howard
mhoward@cherokeetribune.com
September 20, 2012 02:37 AM | 1732 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
CANTON – The Cherokee County Board of Commissioners unanimously passed a resolution in favor of most of the grand jury’s recommendations in the ongoing Ball Ground Recycling matter.

The resolution was discussed Tuesday at the commission’s work session and approved at its regular meeting that followed. In the resolution, commissioners agreed to send a letter to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, calling for it as well as any local law enforcement agencies to search for any civil or criminal wrongdoing in the financing and operation of the recycling company.

At 9 a.m. Monday, commission members are scheduled to discuss the recommendations in a meeting with the grand jury, at which time they said they will present the commission’s resolution.

Chairman Buzz Ahrens reiterated that the commission also welcomes a “full and complete” forensic audit in the matter, which is stated in the first part of the resolution.

However, commissioners said they have already requested BGR’s financial records but that only a few documents have been provided to allow for a forensic accounting review. They briefly discussed the importance of obtaining subpoena power to assist in resolving the problem.

BGR is scheduled this week to produce 10,000 pages of documents related to its bankruptcy petition that may help, in addition to its owner Jimmy Bobo’s deposition on Wednesday, according to the county.

County attorney Angela Davis said it’s important for the county to gather as much information as possible before simply filing a lawsuit in the matter, as some have asked, in order to avoid making unsubstantiated allegations it can be held libel for.

“The process of filing a lawsuit is not to file it and figure out if you have a claim,” she said. “You prove if you have a claim first…the point of this recommendation is to say, ‘Yes, our mind and heart has been there from the beginning. It’s not something we’ve been able to pursue because of the limited set of data.’”

Canton Tea Party Patriots Chairwoman Carolyn Cosby was one of five members of the public who spoke during the public comment time at the beginning of the regular meeting. She urged the GBI to investigate what she alleged was “malfeasance” on the part of the commission and RRDA.

“Commissioners cannot be allowed to simply blame Jimmy Bobo and walk away from this $50 million loss that the taxpayers must pay,” she said.

Another key component of the commission’s resolution involved the grand jury’s recommendation to change the composition of the Resource Recovery Development Authority, which is presently made up of the five-member commission, to include private citizens equal to or greater than the number of serving commissioners.

In 2006, the county created the RRDA and approved $18.1 million in bonds to BGR. The bonds were used to relocate Bobo’s company – which recycled construction debris into landscaping materials, topsoil and mulch – from Blalock Road near Holly Springs to its current site on Highway 5 just south of Ball Ground.

However, Bobo failed to make regular payments to payoff the bonds, putting county taxpayers on the hook.

Commissioners agreed they should have a presence on the RRDA to retain continuity but disagreed Tuesday on which commissioners should serve and when the new members should be brought on board.

Commissioner Harry Johnson said the new RRDA should have a total of five members with commissioners being in the minority. He also said that it might not be a good idea for current RRDA members to delay finding a new buyer for the recycling site until the newly-elected commissioners get sworn in next January.

“My view is that we need to move on it now so that we don’t have that delay,” he said.

But Commissioner Karen Bosch said it wouldn’t be fair to the two newly elected commissioners, Raymond Gunnin and Brian Poole, to not be included. “If they’re going to take on this situation they deserve at least the ability to say they want to sit on the board or appoint somebody,” she said.

Ahrens said he could go “either way” on the issue.

In their resolution, commissioners said that although they did not violate any laws, they are now against any future bond initiatives between the RRDA and for-profit entities, in response to the grand jury’s call for such initiatives to be subject to public referendum.

Furthermore, commissioners said they’d support efforts by the state attorney general and lawmakers to prohibit publicly-backed bonds for private, for-profit entities.

Putting bond initiatives on a ballot, commissioners argued, might slow down the refinancing process on bond indebtedness and result in the lost of a potentially good interest rate that presented itself within a short window of time.

Johnston said grand jury members probably didn’t intend for the recommendation to interfere with a refinancing opportunity.

The primarily point of contention between the commission and grand jury recommendations is on the issue of the removal of material at the site.

Grand jury members recommended that commissioners pursue all available legal means to recover $700,000 in clean up costs that was incurred by the county at Blalock Road.

However, commissioners said they have closely studied the matter and determined that previous private and government operators could have been responsible for most of the debris and mulch found on the property. Pursuing a lawsuit could prove unsuccessful but other investigations by law enforcement agencies are welcomed, they said.

“We’ve got pictures of the site showing an apparent higher elevation at the end of Bobo Grinding’s operation than before,” Johnston said. “Those pictures aren’t very persuasive to me. If that’s all we’ve got to take to a jury in a trial – if I’m sitting on a jury I’m going to feel a lot of doubt about what it tells me.”

The Blalock Road site is now the site of the Badger Creek Soccer Park, operated by the Cherokee Soccer Association under an agreement with the county. It was the site of the Cherokee Clean and Beautiful recycling facility supported by the county before Bobo moved to the property.

Steve Marcinko of Holly Springs also appeared before the commission Tuesday night. The owner of the property near the old BGR site has been critical of the commission’s handling of the Bobo affair. He presented his own plan to set matters straight and called for help outside the county.

“There is no way that the citizens of this county can ever trust any sort of an investigation that would come out of anybody that has been involved in this thing for as long as it has been going on,” said Marcinko.

The May 2012 grand jury recommended 13 checkpoints for the commissioners and the county government to perform in its presentments signed in August by Cherokee County Superior Court Judge N. Jackson Harris.

The recommendations came after the grand jury launched an investigation into the RRDA in June and appointed a five-member committee including jurors John Coleman, Danny Henson, Greg Mosely, Johnny Chastain and Jeff Jackson to lead the effort.

The Cherokee Board of Commissioners also:

* Unanimously approved a resolution to define commission policy regarding the proposed Homestead Optional Sales Tax, or HOST, referendum so that 100 percent of revenue goes toward reducing homeowner property taxes;

* Unanimously approved the purchase a hydraulic thumb attachment for the Komatsu PC220 trackhoe from Tractor & Equipment Company for the county Roads and Bridges Department for $11,594.12;

* Unanimously approved resolution to establish the animal service fee schedule for the Cherokee Animal Shelter to off-set the cost of animal care, including a $25 adoption fee increase to $100 and a new $25 drop-off fee;

* Unanimously approved an addendum to extend the partnership agreement after several years with the Cherokee Saddle Club for construction and maintenance of horse and hiking trails at Garland Mountain for five more years, which will expire on Sept. 30, 2017;

* Unanimously approved new professional services agreement with Sparkling Clean of Georgia for janitorial services to include the addition of two facilities and the extra square footage of the Renovated Senior Center for $532,992;

* Unanimously approved the purchase of 14 new patrol vehicles for the Cherokee Sheriff’s Office for $395,193, including 12 2011 Ford Crown Victorias from Brannen Motor Company and two Chevrolet Tahoes from Hardy Chevrolet. The sheriff’s office has not had new vehicles since 2010, according to the county.
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