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Ethics ruling likely soon
Man challenges board's decision
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Forsyth County News


A Superior Court judge is expected to rule soon on whether to dismiss a petition challenging a decision by the local ethics panel.

The Forsyth County Board of Ethics heard an update on the pending matter during a meeting Wednesday.

On July 12, the board dismissed an ethics complaint filed by Terence Sweeney of Forsyth County.

The complaint contended that 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 the panel to reconsider the matter.

George Weaver, the attorney representing the board in the case, said retired Superior Court Judge Hugh W. Stone last week granted a motion to intervene to Tam.

Stone filled in for local Superior Court judges Jeffrey S. Bagley and David L. Dickinson, both of whom recused themselves from the matter.

“The judge also commented on the pending motions to dismiss,” said Weaver, adding that those include one from Tam and one from the county, which the board of ethics adopted.

Sweeney did not file any response to the motions to dismiss, Weaver said, which by court rules could be considered unopposed.

“Judge Stone said he planned to consider the motions issued in order and would do so without a hearing,” he said. “I would expect him to make a decision soon.”

Each of the three county entities had counsel present at last week’s hearing, while Sweeney represented himself.

Weaver said he believes Sweeney’s petition for an appeal is “defective” because he did not receive a judge’s sanction within the time requirement.

“It’s a necessary step,” Weaver said. “It’s a very technical process, and he didn’t cross all the T’s and dot all the I’s.”

Sweeney, who attended the Wednesday ethics board meeting, said afterward that he couldn’t obtain a judge’s sanction.

“There was no way a judge in Forsyth County would sign the sanctions just because of the nature of who I am,” said Sweeney, a watchdog of local government and former county commission candidate.

“All I’m looking for is to redress my government for a grievance and they’re trying to skirt around all of that.”

Sweeney said he was pleased to see the ethics board conduct business openly on Wednesday, as well as undergo a nearly 20-minute refresher on the requirements of the state open meetings act.

His 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.

Since receiving that letter, County Attorney Ken Jarrard has directed county officials to use caution to ensure all meetings and assemblies are conducted in full compliance with the law.

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 county officials have maintained were separate and informal discussions with Cumming Mayor H. Ford Gravitt.

In its response to the state complaint, the county denied the contention that Amos, Bell and Tam violated the open meetings act.

It asserts they happened to pass each other in the lobby after being “separately and independently” invited to hear a presentation.

No official action was taken during any of the talks, which reportedly dealt with a proposed extension of the 1-cent sales tax, which voters approved in November.