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Sharon Springs bill withdrawn; lawmaker critical of Forsyth County commissioner


* Read statement about Sharon Springs from District 27 state Sen. Michael Williams.

FORSYTH COUNTY — In the wake of Monday’s announcement that Forsyth County’s state legislative delegation had officially withdrawn a bill for the formation of Sharon Springs, one lawmaker was critical of a county commissioner whose district would have included much of the proposed city.

Near the end of a lengthy statement posted on social media detailing the Sharon Springs process, how the delegation arrived at its decision and apologizing for the way it was announced, District 27 Sen. Michael Williams took aim at Brian Tam.

According to Williams’ statement, Tam drove “a wedge between members of the delegation that support” the Sharon Springs Alliance, the group which backed cityhood, and the alliance.

On Dec. 14, Tam remarked during a commission meeting that it was his understanding the city bill would not move forward. The next day, the delegation confirmed the news.

Williams, a first-term Republican lawmaker whose district includes most of Forsyth, called recent actions by Tam “a laundry list of broken promises and double talk” and went on to say he would oppose Tam’s re-election.

“Let us focus our attention, our resolve, and our determination where it belongs — electing a commissioner in District 2 that will represent their constituents, not their own personal interests,” Williams said.

Reached Monday night, Tam said he thinks Williams should focus more on the needs of residents.

“I would hope the senator would spend his time trying to secure funding for roads and schools in Forsyth County, as opposed to criticizing members of the [commission],” Tam said.

Tam’s District 2 seat is one of three on the commission, Forsyth’s governing body, up for re-election this year, along with Districts 4 and 5. Commissioners serve four-year terms and are chosen by the voters in their respective districts. Tam has not publicly said whether he will seek a fourth term.

Williams is also up for re-election this year. Asked Monday night by phone about his motivation for releasing the statement, he focused on the handling of the Sharon Springs announcement.

“One, kind of like I said in the post, was that I feel like I mishandled the information that was given to me in the way that it was disseminated out to the supporters of [the alliance], the [alliance] itself and to the general public, he said.

“I feel like I handled it wrong, and I just wanted to let people know that I apologize for it and explain to them exactly what happened as I saw it.”

As for his issues with Tam, Williams said, “Anybody that is familiar with the way Forsyth County government and politics works will completely understand what I said in that post.”

During a Dec. 15 pre-legislative breakfast organized by the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce, the legislative delegation confirmed the effort to form a city in south Forsyth would not be moving forward.

At the time, District 25 state Rep. Mike Dudgeon attributed the decision, which first surfaced a day earlier in Tam’s comments, to two factors — issues with the state constitution and a proposal to instead add a new at-large chairman to the county commission.

Sharon Springs was floated as a so-called “city light,” meaning that it would have a limit of a maximum millage rate of 0.5 mills and offer just three services — zoning, sanitation and code enforcement. Dudgeon, who introduced House Bill 660 last spring and represents much of south Forsyth, also described the millage rate as “problematic.”

The city likely would have covered an area east of Ga. 400, south of Hwy. 20, west of the Chattahoochee River and north of the Fulton County line. It includes an estimated quarter of the county’s population, some 50,000 people.

Had the proposal cleared the Georgia General Assembly this winter, a referendum in November would have let voters in that area decide on cityhood.

Both the alliance and the county’s government commissioned studies by state universities to measure the impact of a new municipality.

Those in favor of Sharon Springs contend the area has been misrepresented in terms of zoning, which is among the driving factors. Opponents had voiced concerns about a possible higher tax burden.

Dudgeon also announced during the breakfast that officials would pursue adding a sixth member to the county commission. The new member would be an at-large chairman voted on by the entire county this year and who could take office in January 2017.

Under the present setup, the five commissioners vote among themselves to determine a chair, who serves in the post for a year at a time.

The change appears to be a compromise between the commission’s current configuration and the pre-2010 version, in which commissioners had to live in the district they represented but were elected countywide.

On Monday, Tam said the announcement on Sharon Springs should have been made sooner.

“I was asked to speak at a hearing for the legislative subcommittee in April,” he said. “My comments are on film down there, where I stated that if the city light concept was going to been deemed unconstitutional, somebody should say it sooner rather than later, because people are expending time energy and money on both sides of the issue.

“Senator Williams, himself, stated that he was aware this was not going to move forward in November. Why did he not make that public as soon as he found out about it?”

In his statement, Williams recapped much of the back-and-forth leading up to the announcement.

“If I could do it over, I would have reached out to [the alliance], informed them of everything going on and issued a joint statement,” he wrote. “I want to apologize for how I handled the situation. SSA and their supporters deserved better than to learn from Commissioner Tam that [city light] was dead.”

Williams went on to take issue with some of Tam’s recent votes on the commission.

“He voted for a resolution that supported a recommendation to the delegation to revert back to countywide voting for [commission] members, only in the same meeting to offer his own recommendation that keeps voting by district but adds two additional … members each voted on by half the county,” Williams wrote. “This man will say and do anything in order to remain in office.”

Williams added that he will support a “homeowner-centric” challenger against Tam, though he said in a follow-up interview that he wasn’t aware of anyone officially running.

In the statement, Williams also questioned Tam’s support of a separate, or subarea, five-member planning board for District 2. The measure passed last month.

Tam will appoint four of the members and serve as the fifth. The panel can make alternative recommendations to the county commission that go along with the regular recommendations of the planning board.

Currently the planning board is the only recommending body to the commission, which then makes a final decision.

Each current planning board member is nominated by their respective county commissioner before being approved by a majority of the commission.

The issue of securing more control over zoning in south Forsyth appeared central to both the District 2 planning group and the Sharon Springs’ effort.

Tam has stated in the past that the two matters are unrelated.

In his statement, Williams wrote: “Just in the past few months, we have seen him at work. Brian bullied a member out of the planning [board] because [he] didn’t support him in front of the people he pre-appointed to the committee that he would chair that would report to himself.”

Greg Dolezal, who represented District 3 (southwest Forsyth) on the planning board resigned in November, only to change his mind and attempt to rescind the resignation.

That was rejected by the commission in a 3-2 vote. Dolezal has contended the denial was politically motivated and came in response to his opposition to the subarea planning board and a letter he wrote disagreeing with Tam on local taxes.

At the time, Tam denied the decision was political, but expressed disappointment in Dolezal.