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Resident questions commissioners link to city
Tam disputes conflict of interest claim
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Forsyth County News

Other action


Also at their meeting Thursday, Forsyth County commissioners:

* Amended the county’s alcohol ordinance to bar sales permit applicants for five years on a misdemeanor crime of moral turpitude, rather than a permanent ban. Felony crimes still will carry a lifetime ban.

* Issued a conditional use permit and variances to parking requirements for Happy Dogs Play and Stay for a kennel on Parkway North Drive.

* Authorized staff to proceed with public hearings to amend the alcohol ordinance to allow for reduced price alcohol sales on one type of beverage for a full day. Happy hours would still be prohibited.


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


-- Alyssa LaRenzie

A Forsyth resident asked a county commissioner to step down from voting on intergovernmental agreements with the city of Cumming during a meeting Thursday.

Bob Rorke cited a lease agreement between the city and School House Holdings, which is registered to Commissioner Brian Tam’s wife, Kelly.

In following the commission’s public comments rules, Rorke did not name Tam during the meeting, but confirmed afterward that he was asking the District 2 commissioner to recuse himself.

During his comments, Rorke listed what he said were several reasons the lease with Cumming for the Tam’s Backstage restaurant is “not typical.”

Those included: the 11-year lease does not include any increases in the $2,500 monthly rent; no late penalties are charged; and all utilities are included.

His observations were based on his nearly 10 years’ experience executing hundreds of retail leases for corporations, he said.

Terms of the lease aside, Rorke said a commissioner shouldn’t vote on an agreement that involves the landlord.

“The person can’t be objective because they’ll be affected,” he said, pointing specifically to the county and city water agreements as relating to the lease’s coverage of utilities.

Rorke said though the business is registered to Tam’s wife, the married couple benefits financially.

Tam has said previously that he helps manages the restaurant, which his wife owns, in the old Cumming schoolhouse.

Tam did not respond to Rorke’s comments during Thursday’s meeting.

Reached Friday by phone, Tam noted the issue had been unanimously dismissed by the board of ethics.

In July 2010, the board ruled that Tam’s involvement in the restaurant was not a conflict of interest with his political office.

Tam also pointed Friday to his record.

“My voting is a matter of record and for the past eight years has not shown a conflict of interest,” he said.

Tam said he does not plan to recuse himself on intergovernmental agreements with the city.

At issue now are the renegotiations of the county’s water contracts with the city, which will expire May 26.

Forsyth County does not have a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to withdraw water from Lake Lanier as does the city. The county buys most of its untreated water from Cumming, as well as some treated water.

With no other immediate options for water, Forsyth hopes to renegotiate terms with Cumming.

County commissioners postponed a decision for the second time to seek an extension to Oct. 31, citing a belief that the governments may reach agreement before the current expiration date.

The vote to postpone the decision on Thursday was 3-1, with Chairman Jim Boff opposed and Commissioner Pete Amos recused.

Tam is the second commissioner who has been asked to recuse in light of the water contract negotiations.

Amos temporarily stepped aside on the matter and asked the board of ethics on Tuesday to review and issue an opinion on whether his A&A Water Company presents a conflict of interest.

Attorney Frank Jenkins, hired by local resident Joe Moses, contends the company, which buys and resells county and city water to subdivisions, creates a direct conflict with negotiating the contract because it affects his business interests.

The commissioners recently sent three nonbinding proposals to Cumming for review, which the city council on Tuesday opted not to entertain. Council wants to see a single binding offer.

Rorke said the divisiveness of commissioners on the issue was one of the factors that led him to investigate what ties they may have.

He started with his representative, Tam, who holds the post for the county’s southern District 2, which is up for election this year.

Rorke made an open records request to Cumming for the lease agreement, which he believes should cause Tam to recuse himself from the votes on intergovernmental agreements with the city.

“The bottom line,” he said, “is [to ask] what is best for my constituents?”