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New counsel for complaint
Outside attorney to handle probe
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Forsyth County News
An attorney from Atlanta has been hired to provide counsel in an ethics complaint against Forsyth County Commissioner Brian Tam.

The existing local ethics board’s law firm, Patterson & Hansford, recused itself from the hearing due to a conflict of interest, said Charity Clark, county risk manager.

“Because of the matters surrounding the complaint, it was very difficult to try and find someone here in the county who may or may not have some kind of conflict,” she said.

The complaint, filed by Gerry Sullivan, is rooted in Tam’s management position at Tam’s Backstage, a restaurant owned and operated by his wife in a building leased from the city of Cumming.

According to Sullivan’s complaint, “Due to the nature of the [restaurant] lease agreement ... there exists 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.”

The initial investigative review, which will determine whether the ethics board wants to hold a hearing, likely will be heard in July or August, Clark said.

County commissioners voted 3-1 Tuesday, with Tam absent, to confirm the ethics panel’s decision to hire an attorney from Atlanta firm Hollberg & Weaver for the complaint hearing.

It was not clear why Tam was not there.

The county will pay for legal services and travel time, which will run up to $225 per hour.

The rates from the Atlanta firm are actually lower than those from the ethics board’s local firm, Clark said.

Money for the ethics board is included in the county’s budget, she added, so the request to hire an attorney was brought before the commissioners only since they needed different counsel.

Citing County Attorney Ken Jarrard’s estimates of time spent on this type of matter, Commissioner Patrick Bell calculated the cost to the county could total more than $6,000.

Due to the price tag, Bell cast the lone vote against approving the attorney.

Bell also disagreed with the nature of the complaint, which was filed by a member of the Lanier Lifestyles Association, a group that supports the county’s possible purchase of Lanier Golf Course for public use.

“I think it’s absolutely ridiculous that this county has to incur $6,000 or $7,000 expense because of a witch hunt for a golf course,” he said.
To date, Tam has not supported the purchase of the course.