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County fires back in ethics appeal lawsuit
Seeks dismissal, attorneys fees
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Forsyth County News

Forsyth County has asked that a petition to appeal an ethics board decision be dismissed.

The Forsyth County Board of Ethics on July 12 dismissed an ethics complaint filed by Terry Sweeney, a county resident and former political candidate.

The ethics complaint contended that Forsyth County Commissioners Pete Amos, Patrick Bell and Brian Tam had violated the open meetings act by assembling a quorum in February without giving public notice.

On Aug. 11, Sweeney filed suit in Forsyth County Superior Court, maintaining that the ethics board failed to properly review the evidence and asking a judge to direct it to reconsider the matter.

Forsyth County, named as the defendant in the petition, asserts in its response that "the petition in this case is defective as to content, filing and service."

Specifically, the county is requesting a dismissal due to the lack of a sanction by a Superior Court judge, County Attorney Ken Jarrard said.

"The court, upon a request being made [by the filer], will issue that," Jarrard said.

The county’s answer contends that no such request was made by Sweeney in the required 30-day span, which has since passed.

County Commission Chairman Brian Tam, represented by attorney Joseph Homans, also filed a motion to dismiss. Tam joined the suit Sept. 2 to represent his own interests.

The answer Homans filed to the suit states the petition "is substantially frivolous, substantially groundless and substantially vexatious."

The responses of the both the county and Tam ask the court to award them attorney’s fees and other expenses of litigation.

The suit followed a letter from the Georgia Attorney General’s office stating that commissioners meeting in twos without proper notice to the public violates the open meetings act. It directed the county to take corrective measures.

The letter was in response to a complaint, involving the same incident, that Sweeney filed with the office in April.

On Feb. 3, Sweeney saw the commissioners at the same time in Cumming City Hall for what Bell has maintained were separate and informal discussions with Cumming Mayor H. Ford Gravitt.

Bell has said he was entering the building as Amos and Tam were leaving and that Commissioner Todd Levent arrived about 20 minutes later.

No official action was taken during any of the talks, which reportedly dealt with the possible extension of the 1-cent sales tax.

A referendum on the matter has since been scheduled for Nov. 8.

Since receiving the letter from the attorney general’s office, Jarrard has directed county officials to use caution to ensure all meetings and assemblies are conducted in full compliance with the law.