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County: No violation of open meetings act
Response contends it was chance encounter
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Forsyth County News


In a response letter to the state Office of the Attorney General, Forsyth County has denied the contention that commissioners violated the open meetings act.

The complaint Terry Sweeney filed on April 18 contended that he saw a quorum, or at least three members, of the county commission at Cumming City Hall in February.

The commissioners had not provided public notice or an agenda for a meeting.

Commissioners Pete Amos, Patrick Bell and Brian Tam are named in the complaint.

According to the act, the gathering of a quorum for a meeting without due public notice is a violation.

The attorney general’s office sent a letter to the county on April 19, asking for its response to the complaint.

That letter stated that the attorney general may use his authority to enforce the open meetings act to establish a mediation program "to assist in resolving disputes between citizens and local governments."

In his response letter to Stefan Ritter, senior assistant attorney general, County Attorney Ken Jarrard denied that any violation had occurred and referred to the definition of a meeting.

“A meeting under the act requires more than mere assembly,” Jarrard wrote. “Assembly among four members of a five-member board that was not held pursuant to a schedule, call or notice and where no votes were taken or decisions made, was not an unlawful meeting under the act.”

Attached affidavits from the four commissioners, also including Todd Levent, who were at City Hall that day contend the three named members just happened to pass each other in the lobby.

The four commissioners were “separately and independently” invited to hear a presentation about a possible design for a courthouse and jail from a private architectural firm in conjunction with the city, the letter states.

“The invitation ... apparently anticipated that two commissioners would attend one session, followed by two other commissioners attending a second,” Jarrard wrote.

“The four commissioners receiving the invitation were not advised of each other’s attendance, and therefore that a quorum might inadvertently assemble (if only briefly).”

According to the affidavits, Tam and Amos attended the first presentation, while Bell and Levent attended the second. Levent arrived late, and so never became part of the quorum.

The county and city are considering whether to ask voters in November to extend the 1-cent sales tax to pay for projects that could include a new jail and courthouse.

No decisions have been made.

In a separate matter, Sweeney has filed complaints -- one each against Amos, Bell and Tam -- on the same issue with the Forsyth County Ethics Board.

The board could discuss the matter at its next meeting, which is set for May 19.

The complaints were filed prior to the commission's recent changes to the local ethics ordinance. As a result, they will not be subject to any penalties if eventually deemed frivolous.