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Suit seeks to revive ethics complaint
Man wants board to 'stop being so sneaky'
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Forsyth County News

A recent decision by the Forsyth County Board of Ethics has become the focus of a lawsuit.

Terry Sweeney, a county resident and former political candidate, is contesting the board’s dismissal of his complaint earlier this summer.

Sweeney contended that Forsyth 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.

The suit, filed Aug. 11 in Forsyth County Superior Court, maintains the ethics board failed to properly review the evidence submitted and asks a judge to direct it to reconsider the matter.

"I’m looking for the commissioners to stop being so sneaky," Sweeney said. "Holding meetings without public input is the worst thing they could do in this country. I’m asking for the writ to be issued so the public officials know they need to stop doing this activity."

The suit comes on the heels of 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.

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 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 response to the attorney general, Forsyth County Attorney Ken Jarrard maintained "the commissioners were unaware of each other’s invitation," saying there was no intent to violate the act.

"Forsyth County has been fully transparent and forthcoming regarding this meeting and the circumstances surrounding it," wrote Jarrard. "The county at all times endeavors to fully comply with the open meetings act."

Since receiving the letter from the attorney general’s office, Jarrard has directed county officials to use caution to ensure all meetings and assemblies are conducted in full compliance with the law.

But that isn’t enough, said Sweeney, who unsuccessfully ran for the District 5 commission post in 2008.

"We can’t take their word for anything," he said. "Saying they’re going to do something doesn’t mean they’re going to do it."

Sweeney said if he’s successful with the lawsuit, he will continue with further steps for a judicial mandate that commissioners provide proper public notice prior to meetings.