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Official won't vote on water contract
Decision follows advice of ethics board
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Forsyth County News

 Other action

Also on Friday, the ethics board:

• Heard from attorney Logan Butler, who said his response to Senior Judge Robert Struble on behalf of the board is due Monday.

Struble held a hearing April 27 on complaints against the panel’s five members and one alternate filed by Terence Sweeney.

Sweeney contends the members violated the rules of the ethics board ordinance by holding meetings at unauthorized days, times and places in 2011. There is no timeframe for the judge’s ruling.

• Commended members Tim Perry and Rusty Ricketson for five, two-year terms of service each in a 3-0 vote, from which those two men abstained.

Both plan to step down June 30 at the completion of this term. Perry was elected as the representative for election officials other than the county commission, and Ricketson was elected as the representative for full-time county employees.

Nominations for the posts are being gathered and elections are expected to take place within the next few weeks.

• Discussed the addition of a frequently asked questions section to the board’s Web site.

The board agreed to the idea, but postponed a final decision to allow time to review the wording.

Note: All votes were 5-0 unless otherwise noted.

— Alyssa LaRenzie

At the recommendation of the local ethics board, a Forsyth County commissioner plans to recuse himself from all votes pertaining to water contracts with the city of Cumming.

The board voted 5-0 on Friday that Pete Amos’ financial interest in A&A Water Company, which buys and resells county and city water to residential customers, presents a conflict of interest.

Board Chairman Bob Charles questioned if the water purchases from both the county and the city allow Amos to negotiate “freely and aggressively.”

“He has a substantial business interest with both entities,” Charles said. “No matter how you slice it, there at least could be the appearance that he would be at a negotiating disadvantage with one or the other in what we all know are some fairly intense negotiations.”

On April 17, Amos asked that the board issue an advisory opinion on the matter, after resident Joe Moses and his attorney raised the issue in an April 6 commission meeting.

Amos had temporarily recused himself from all votes and discussions on the matter since then.
County commissioners have been working to renegotiate the terms of water purchasing agreements with Cumming prior to the contracts expiring May 26.

Forsyth doesn’t have a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to withdraw water from Lake Lanier, but the city does.

The county buys most of its untreated water from Cumming, as well as some treated water.

Commissioners sent a binding offer to the city on April 24.

Friday, the city council announced it would meet at 10 a.m. Monday to discuss the proposal.

On Thursday, the four county commissioners other than Amos split a vote 2-2 to defeat the pending issue of offering to extend the current contracts through Oct. 31.

Commissioners Jim Boff and Todd Levent favored not proposing an extension to the city, while Brian Tam and Patrick Bell wanted to postpone the vote.

Tam said the commission should wait to hear what the city has to say before removing that option.

Levent said there’s no reason to ask for an extension when an offer is on the table, adding that the commission can always revisit a continuance.

County Attorney Ken Jarrard said Thursday that the tie vote will be postponed until it can be broken.

A tiebreaker won’t be possible with Amos’ recusal, however, and Jarrard said Friday he will bring the matter back to the commission.

“I will ask them what they want to do with it,” he said. “And I’ll make a recommendation to them of what I think should occur.”

Amos, who did not attend the ethics board meeting, said Friday that he would heed their advice.

“If they think it’s a conflict of interest, I’m confident the four commissioners left will make the best decision for the county on the water,” he said.

“I think I did the responsible thing in asking [the ethics board] for a ruling and not going ahead and doing it. I appreciate it being brought to our attention that there may be a conflict of interest.”

The ethics board issued an opinion on three issues addressed in Amos’ request.

The matter of his interest in A&A Water took precedence and was the only one of the three that presented a conflict by itself, according to the board.

His personal and business purchases of public water, without resale, did not raise any flags for the board, nor did a 1992 lawsuit that was dismissed in which Amos Plumbing and Electric filed against Forsyth County in a case of eminent domain taken to install competing water infrastructure.

Member Rusty Ricketson said the second two issues may be substantive to the first, which is where the board decided a conflict exists.

In that determining factor for recommending recusal, member David van Sant, citing a past court case, said the issue could boil down to a simple factor.

“The very narrow issue is whether the price of water will impact his bottom line, and it will,” van Sant said.

Board counsel Logan Butler pointed to the guidelines of the county ordinance, which speaks to when an elected official should recuse from a vote.

“It reads: Never take any official action with regard to any matter under circumstances in which he knows or should know that he has a direct or indirect monetary interest in the subject matter of such matter or in the outcome of such official action,” Butler said.

Following the meeting, Moses, who also serves on the county planning commission, thanked the board for its deliberation on the issues.

“Today, you all did a very nice job representing the county,” he said, “and I, as a citizen, certainly do appreciate that.”