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Ethics complaint filed against commissioner
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Forsyth County News
A Forsyth County commissioner says that a recent ethics complaint against him is rooted in the ongoing battle over Lanier Golf Course.

In the complaint, which was filed with the county ethics board, Gerry Sullivan contends that Brian Tam has violated five sections of the county code.

Sullivan based his charge on Tam’s management position at Tam’s Backstage, a restaurant that has operated for about five years from a building the City of Cumming leases to Tam’s wife.

A date for a hearing on the complaint has not been set.

Sullivan, who lives near the golf course, declined to comment further on the matter Friday.

The complaint came up during the commission’s meeting Thursday.

Afterward, Tam said it was “worth pointing out that Sullivan is an active member of Lainer Lifestyles who advocates the county purchasing the Lanier Golf Course.”

“To date, I have not supported the county purchasing the golf course at the price or under the conditions or terms that have been proposed,” he said.

Commissioner Jim Boff, whose District 5 includes the golf course, asked Tam to recuse himself Thursday from voting on a proposed water contract offer to the city due to “his agreement with the City of Cumming for almost his entire livelihood.”

Citing the ethics complaint, County Attorney Ken Jarrard declined to offer an opinion on the best course of action for Tam.

“With respect to the decision of recusal, that is a situation that is typically in the province of the individual commissioner,” Jarrard said.

Tam did not recuse himself from the vote, which was 3-2 in favor with Tam and Commissioner Patrick Bell opposed.

The existing water contract is scheduled to expire in May 2012. The governments have been going back and forth on the matter for about four years.

Forsyth gets most of its water from Cumming, which has a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for withdrawals from Lake Lanier. The county does not.

Tam and Bell have said they think the offer is not in good faith and the price for treated water is too low.

The county has proposed the wholesale price for treated water at $1.80 per thousand gallons, with possible adjustment each year based on the Atlanta consumer price index, not to exceed 4 percent.

Under the current arrangement, the county pays $2.47 per thousand gallons.

According to Sullivan’s complaint against Tam, “due to the nature of the [restaurant] lease agreement ... there exists an ongoing conflict of interest between Brian Tam’s service as a Forsyth County elected official and his economic and pecuniary interest in Tam’s Backstage.”

It goes on to state that the family receives a “significant portion” of its income from the business and that the building is leased “significantly below the market value.”

Tam said Thursday his “voting record on these types of items speaks for itself.”

“Sometimes I vote with the city haters, sometimes I don’t,” he said.

He added that Boff was not privy to information about what constitutes his family’s income.

Bell said Boff’s recusal request was an “attack ... because [Boff’s] not getting his golf course.”

Commissioners Jim Harrell and Boff have proposed that the county buy the course for $12 million from owners Jack Manton and George Bagley Jr.

The county would then lease it for 99 years to a company that would maintain and operate it as a golf course.

So far, Affiniti Golf Partners and Sequoia Golf and Canongate Golf Clubs have expressed public interest in the plan.

Affiniti has offered to pay $3 million of the $12 million price tag and Sequoia officials say they’ll put up $3.5 million.

Opponents have taken exception to the price of the deal, citing tax filings that indicate the 172-acre site may be worth far less.

Complicating matters, the course is at the center of a lawsuit between the owners and county.

The owners sought legal action in 2007 after the commission denied their request to rezone the course from agricultural to a master planned district.

They planned to sell the site, contingent upon the rezoning, to a developer who wanted to build a 772-unit residential development with a 300-unit continuing care retirement community.