Forsyth County’s attorney has sent a letter to officials warning them to use caution when assembling for meetings.
The letter Ken Jarrard drafted came at the request of the state attorney general’s office, which recently determined the county had violated the open meetings act in February.
The ruling was in response to a complaint filed in April by Terry Sweeney, a county resident and former political candidate.
Sweeney contended Com-
missioners Pete Amos, Patrick Bell and Brian Tam had violated the open meetings act by assembling a quorum without giving public notice.
Sweeney saw the commissioners at Cumming City Hall for what Bell has maintained were separate and informal discussions with Cumming Mayor H. Ford Gravitt.
Bell has said he was entering the building as Amos and Tam were leaving and that Commissioner Todd Levent arrived about 20 minutes later.
No official action was taken during any of the talks, which reportedly dealt with the possible extension of the 1-cent sales tax.
A referendum on the matter has since been scheduled for Nov. 8.
In a letter to the county, the attorney general’s office wrote that it has been made clear that "to conduct public business in such a way as to avoid meeting the quorum requirements of the open meetings act is a violation of the act itself."
"Specifically, this office views four council members meeting, together or in twos, with a design team to conduct public business without giving proper notice to the public, to be a violation of the act," according to the letter.
The state requested the county draft corrective measures in response to the violation.
Jarrard’s directive — sent to the attorney general’s office, as well as to all county elected and appointed officials, senior management, department heads and administrative staff — included as a reference the letter from the attorney general’s office.
"The legal conclusion of the attorney general’s office is that members of ‘agencies …’ covered by the open meetings act may not avoid the requirements of the act by purposefully dividing into subgroups of less than a quorum and holding multiple subgroup assemblies where the same or equivalent official business or public matters are discussed," Jarrard wrote.
"Please exercise caution to ensure that all meetings and assemblies are conducted in full compliance with the [attorney general’s] letter."
Sweeney also filed a complaint about the same matter with the local ethics board, which ultimately dismissed it.
During a work session Tuesday, commissioners learned the county spent about $4,600 handling the local complaint.
Amos and Bell had requested the item be added to the agenda.
Staff Writer Alyssa LaRenzie contributed to this report.