The event was emceed by resident Steve Marcinko, one of the most vocal critics of the county’s deal to guarantee debt on $18 million in bonds to move the recycling operation from its former location on Blalock Road, which sat near Marcinko’s home.
Some have also called Marcinko part of the reason for the deal because of numerous complaints he made and a lawsuit he filed before the business was moved to its final location on Highway 5, though Marcinko strongly denies that claim.
Two former members of the September 2012 grand jury, which investigated the situation, also sat on the event’s panel, along with Commissioner Brian Poole, another vocal critic of the deal, who came onto the board of commissioners in 2013. Poole addressed the crowd only once to say he was there to “listen and learn.”
Marcinko touched on the long series of events that led up to the county’s move to create the Resource Recovery Development Authority in 2006 to guarantee the bond debt. That deal would eventually result in county taxpayers being responsible for $1.2 million a year in lease payments on the facility formerly run by Jimmy Bobo, after it shut down in 2012.
A costly forensic audit has been conducted into the matter by a third party firm, and a criminal investigation is underway by the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Authorities have said they can’t comment on the audit or the investigation, because it is ongoing.
But Marcinko—who complained before the deal about Bobo’s original site and a closed landfill nearby—said he believed there were “nefarious” actions in the RRDA situation.
“We know there were some. And some people, if they were held accountable, that would be very painful for them,” he said. “That is a difficult part of our quest, because somebody got caught with their hand in the cookie jar and we’re not going to know exactly who that is until the forensic audit comes out and somebody in law enforcement does something about it.”
Others, though, like Commissioner Harry Johnston, resent the accusations of illegal activity, although he declined to attend the forum, because, he said, he didn’t want to be “a defendant in a kangaroo court.”
In an email explaining his choice to skip the event, Johnston, an original member of the RRDA, said the county did nothing “illegal or unethical” and had only “honorable” intentions in the 2006 deal.
“None of the grand jury findings suggested that we did anything illegal or unethical,” Johnston wrote. He also said he could “guarantee” that the forensic audit and the law enforcement investigation won’t suggest “anything worse on our part than an honest bad choice.”
Former grand juror Clark Blackwell expressed concerns Monday about the integrity of the criminal investigation.
“It is difficult if not impossible to objectively and diligently conduct a criminal investigation of those who have the power to decide if you get a raise or a cut in pay,” he said. “Investigating the people that write your paycheck is not a position I want to find myself in.”
To remedy his worries, Blackwell suggested that the Cherokee County legislative delegation move the General Assembly to pass a resolution asking the U.S. Attorney’s office to take over the investigation.
Marcinko seconded Blackwell’s notion.
“We are in a county where you have a sheriff, you have a DA, you have a board of commissioners. Those people cross each other in the hall all the time, they’re dealing with their own finances back and forth,” he said. “…the long and short of it is, a DA and a sheriff, they love to go after the momma-rapers and the daddy-rapers and those menaces to society and such as that. But if you try to take somebody that’s been on the front page of the paper…sheriffs and DAs do not like to do that.”
District Attorney Shannon Wallace said Tuesday she took an oath to treat all investigations the same.
“I was elected to prosecute all felony offenses without fear, favor or affection,” she said. “That is the oath I took and I have absolutely no difficulty in following my oath.”
Wallace has been the authority dealing with media inquiries on the investigation.
When asked how he felt about Blackwell’s suggestion to the county delegation, state Rep. Michael Caldwell said he and his colleagues could have to discuss it.
But he added after he left the forum, “I think the world of Shannon Wallace and have no reason to think she isn’t doing her job.”
Many of the attendees at the forum seemed to agree with the statements made and even applauded. But one man, Tim Crane, who said he had previously worked with Bobo’s business, took strong issue with Marcinko’s version of the Ball Ground Recycling story.
“I’ve just listened to one of the most deceitful presentations. I was involved in this project up front in many ways. I know the facts that aren’t being present and I’ve been listening to this for years and it’s really been aggravating,” Crane said, although he didn’t support the RRDA’s move. “I agree. It never should’ve happened, it never should have been done.”
But Crane said the reason the RRDA deal happened was Marcinko himself.
“You’re the cause of this. It was the crazy letters you wrote to the EPD, it’s the letters you wrote to the governor, it’s the lawsuits you filed that have caused all this,” he said. “Now you’ve got all these people fired up—and they ought to be fired up—but you’re not telling all the truth. I’m not trying to defend the Bobos, I’m trying to defend the truth.”
In January 1999, Marcinko filed suit against the county and others, alleging that they were responsible for erosion and contaminated lakes on his property. Reportedly, Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division found possible contamination in ground water near the landfill.
The next month, Cherokee County hit Marcinko with a counter suit, alleging that he trespassed and damaged county property.
Marcinko’s suit sought $2 million to “forever designate the landfill property as a passive park and wildlife preserve,” although he said it wasn’t about money and he planned to “give it back to the community.”
He later dropped that suit and told the Cherokee Tribune at the time he felt “the lawsuit is in the way of progress as far as getting the mess cleaned up.”
Then, he reopened the suit, but it, along with the county’s counter claim, was eventually resolved.
Marcinko said if he was part of the catalyst for the RRDA deal, as Johnston had also previously suggested to him, there should be proof of that.
“There’s been no threats (of later lawsuits). Now, I have stayed on top of them, tried to hold them accountable—no doubt about it,” he said after the meeting. “If (Harry) created an $18 million RRDA to move somebody…you would think he would (have stated) that somewhere somehow. It should be in the original agreement, I would think. It’s not there. He’s just (saying) it because he wants me to be the bad guy.”
Johnston said Tuesday that, in the documents, the county had to focus on the reasons for the deal that made the bonds tax-exempt, but it was pressure from Marcinko that led to the county considering the deal.
“The reason, clearly among everyone that was involved at the time, was primarily in response to Steve Marcinko’s complaints,” Johnston said. “It really was to get that operation out of that neighborhood. We literally have more than 100 written complaints from him, (between 1995 and 2005).”
Marcinko also takes issue with Johnston’s statements that the county wanted to get the business out of Blalock Road area and to an area more suitable for industrial operations.
“Of course, what any reasonable citizen would ask is ‘Why in the world do we need to move somebody to a suitable location, why doesn’t he move himself to a suitable location?’ he said during the forum.
Commissioners and county employees have said the jobs created by Bobo’s operation were a factor.
Demands for information
Blackwell suggested that there is apparent evidence in the forensic audit delivered to the district attorney in late 2013 that “crimes were committed.” Wallace, though, has consistently declined to release the audit to the public, because it is part of an active investigation.
Former Woodstock Mayor and Grassroots Conservatives founder Bill Dewrell said at the forum he was sick of waiting to see the audit.
“I’m tired of hearing about it,” he said. “Bring it to the public right here.”
Dewrell suggested circulating a petition to get Wallace to release the audit.
Wallace, though, said Tuesday a petition wouldn’t make her make the audit available to the public.
“Of course, citizens are always welcome to communicate with me and one way people do that is by petitions. That said, petition or no petition, I am legally and ethically bound not to release the forensic audit until the criminal investigation is complete,” Wallace said. “I understand there is public interest in the audit and look forward to providing access to this report as quickly as possible.”