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Columbia County attorney worked on Magnolia Trace

Posted: January 13, 2012 - 5:34pm  |  Updated: January 13, 2012 - 5:54pm
Columbia County attorney Doug Batchelor  File/Staff
File/Staff
Columbia County attorney Doug Batchelor

Twitter @DonnieFetter

A Columbia County official confirmed Friday speculation that the county attorney also acted as the closing attorney for Martinez land on which an “affordable housing” development is under construction.

Facebook group “Say No to Magnolia Trace Housing Project” posted Thursday to the Web site that Columbia County attorney Doug Batchelor worked on the deal to close the sale of the property on Old Ferry Road. It didn’t specify if Batchelor worked for the seller or buyer.

“As far as I know, (Batchelor) did the land closing,” county Commission Chairman Ron Cross said. “I don’t know who he was working for.”

A phone message left Friday afternoon on Batchelor’s mobile phone wasn’t immediately returned.

The revelation comes about five weeks after county commissioners voted to hire an outside attorney to seek a means to “interrupt” construction of the 15-acre development featuring 50 single-family rental homes. Later, Savannah lawyer Patrick T. O’Connor wrote to officials that they had no legal recourse to stop the project.

Commissioners endorsed Magnolia Trace with a June 2010 resolution on behalf of developer Affordable Equity Partners and sent to the state Department of Community Affairs. The Missouri-based company was seeking tax credits from the DCA to build the low-cost rental homes.

At that Dec. 6 meeting, in which hundreds of angry residents surrounding Magnolia Trace protested the commission’s endorsement of the project, Batchelor publicly offered a lengthy description of the resolution and the county’s involvement with the property.

However, at no time during his speech did Batchelor reveal that he or his law firm, Hull Barrett Attorneys, had a professional stake in the property.

“I don’t think it’s unusual for him to close land transactions that may or may not have some kind of connection to the county,” Cross said of Batchelor’s involvement.

“People are just trying to put something out there when there is nothing really there. If he performed a service and got paid for it, I think that’s fine.”

Batchelor isn’t contracted by Columbia County, said County Administrator Scott Johnson. Instead, he is “engaged” by the county, earning $142.40 per hour for his services.

From 2008 to 2011, Hull Barrett earned about $830,000 paid from the county’s general fund. Johnson said Friday that he didn’t immediately have access to how much Batchelor and his firm might have earned from other county funds.

“Batchelor’s firm handles everything legally that can be handled,” Cross said. “That’s why we use them, because they’re a full service firm. He does all of our real estate stuff.”

Also, Cross said, Hull Barrett’s rates are low compared to other firms of similar size.

Defending Batchelor, Cross said conspiracy theories regarding Magnolia Trace and county officials are unfounded.

“We don’t have anything to hide,” he said. “I’m sure the county attorney feels the same way.”

 

Reach Donnie Fetter at (706) 868-1222, ext. 115 or

donnie.fetter@augustachronicle.com.

  • Comment

Comments (18)

ccres

The county attorney isn't

The county attorney isn't contracted, he's "engaged ". The commissioners didn't "approve" the development, they "endorsed " it. What doublespeak...

overburdened_taxpayer

Endorsed

Ron Cross said before that the Commissioners were REQUIRED to endorse the project at Magnolia Trace. The last I knew, this was the USA, not Russia where you had to vote the party line during communist times.

Ron, although it might not have made any difference how the vote went I doubt anyone or any government regulation can REQUIRE you to vote to endorse anything. If they can, then this is not the USA I grew up in or defended with my military service of 20 years.

Riverman1

We Endorse Certain Things

The Magnolia Trace Mafia sought out Georgia because they could get the state government to change laws to give them their tax credits. After establishing relationships with politicians, mainly Ben Harbin, they started to look for a specific place to ply their Tony Soprano tactics. They chose none other than Columbia County and sent Harbin some cash along the way.

I wonder what made them choose us? Just a lucky turn on the wheel that got them to Georgia and then to Columbia County?

Ben Harbin and the rest of his crony politician friends are gapped tooth, tattooed carny barkers for the Mafia run carnival who will tell you it's an honest game as they take your money and ruin your neighborhood. It's time for the carnival to be told it's not welcome in our county.

Riverman1

We Found Ways to Keep Apartments Out

All this talk that we can't find ways to keep out low income housing is bogus. The county has managed to keep apartments out by zoning only limited areas for their construction. So it can be done.

The feds haven't said anything to us about keeping low income residents out of the county and I doubt they would with disapproval of Magnolia Trace despite what we are being told as a way to justify the county endorsement,approval or whatever you want to call it.

justputtin

DOUBLE TALK

This all stinks. Get out and vote!

tvveedie

ramblin on a bit

The attorney isn't the concern at this point. This is personal and localized for those folks. They should have been included in the core idea and what the developer and other players are saying now is that they considered it, but felt those folks would not have issue. That was misrepresentation of the constituent to a degree. Vote indeed.

The question I have is do any of the people who coordinated and facilitated the deals stand to profit directly, other than the developer and land owner?

If they do, then misrepresentation wouldn't be accurate b/c of the conflict of interests. That is quintessential. So to make sure that's not happening, an attorney is hired or was in the form of Mr. Batchelor right? Those findings or lack thereof are crucial. Do they answer both the question posed AND confirm there is no recourse whatsoever? If you follow up w/ that information and find it's not comprehensive, then questions remain.

Why is it advantageous to implant the project where traditional single family homes would logically expand into? From the perspective of the CC planning commission? My guess is that there is more immediate return for the county which out-weighs waiting for it to develop naturally. What is the difference in dollars and does it make economic sense or is it contrary to principle? The answers as a whole will shed the most light on this and bring some closure. One way or the other, residents can work together to make the best of things. The folks that move into the places being built are not at fault and will now be your ally as well as our neighbor.

Austin Rhodes

Voting Harbin out? Good luck with that...

I bet two bucks right now that the only opposition that will take Ben on will be a retread, or a no name. Ben will leave when he is ready.

And I am not happy about that, but it is what it is.

Sweet son

Good 'ole Boy

Columbia County politics as usual!!

Barry Paschal

Planning Commission had no role

tvdeedie: Planning Commission had no role in this project because no rezoning was required, nor does the project have any variances from what is allowed in its current zoning. It's been zone R-3 since 1979 and is a large piece of undeveloped property; for those who wonder why it's going where it's going, there is your answer.

Many Arrows

This story isn't over by a LONG shot

When it is the Columbia County Commission will look like it has been put through a blender.

BuckeyeInGA

I don't know...

“As far as I know, (Batchelor) did the land closing,” county Commission Chairman Ron Cross said. “I don’t know who he was working for.”

Ron, you really don't know who Doug Batchelor was working for? Would you be willing to submit to a polygraph? You are pathetic.

Jergenson

This stinks!

and that's also who broke this story.

Discussionstarter

With Transparency comes Trust

Batchelor may not have been required to tell of his involvement.... but ethically HE SHOULD HAVE. If Cross knew that Batchelor was involved and Cross did not say anything... then HE SHOULD BE ousted as well. This reeks. Apparently neither one understands 'that with transparency comes trust'. Please resign. There are alot of honest people out there who can fill these two roles.

overburdened_taxpayer

The Future of Columbia County at Magnolia Trace?

A man was shot at least one time and killed Saturday afternoon outside River Glen Apartments off East Boundary in Augusta. River Glen is privately owned and managed and has long been a challenge for the Augusta Housing Authority. It is a unique complex in Augusta because its federally subsidized Section 8 rents are attached to the complex, leaving the housing authority’s role only to review rental applications for eligibility.

overburdened_taxpayer

The Future of Columbia County at Magnolia Trace?

A man was killed today at River Glen. This is not the first homicide at that apartment complex. River Glen is a private owned company with Section 8 housing. How will Magnolia Trace fit in?

Sweet son

Future of Magnolia Trace!!

Magnolia will end up the same as Westwood Club Apartments. Check with the Sheriff's office to see how many calls they answer there! No doubt, a lot!!!!!

LuLu2U

Magnolia Trace Subdivision Misrepresented

Apparently the "editors/monitors" of Augusta Chronicle enjoy perpetuating the mistruths and misrepsentations of Magnolia Trace opponents instead of acknowledging the truth, which was in my post on Saturday but mysteriously disappeared. Keep perpetuating the untruths to keep the citizens upset, real "freedom of the press" doesn't exist with the Augusta Chronicle-unless of course you consider allowing only one side of the story riddled with misrepresentations "freedom of the press".

I'll try to re-post the facts of the situation.

LuLu2U

These are the FACTS:

These are the FACTS:

If a firm has a client interested in purchasing property from the County- there is nothing unethical about the County Attorney being the closing agent. Everything is recorded and above board, any fee collected is for the service provided (the closing).

The developers of Magnolia Trace are spending 190k per residence to build each one, which is no shack. They are also going to be maintaining the property and homes. There is a Clubhouse and playground. There is a $40k maximum annual income cap- which is NOT low income. Most white collar (secretaries, clerks, etc.) and blue collar workers (cops, FF, etc.) make this much or less. There is a credit check and criminal background check on all prospective residents.

I am disturbed by the ignorant "racial undertones" in the postings. "Those people" are our relatives, former co-workers and friends who have lost their homes and jobs due to the economic climate. They are unemployed or under-employed through no fault of their own and are struggling to keep their self-respect and dignity intact. Instead of giving them a hand -you are giving them the finger.

The comparison of Cherry Hill or Westwood Apt. complexes to this single family residence is a poor analogy at best. Comparing apratment complexes to homes that cost $190k to build, really? As far as "lowering property values" in the adjacent neighborhoods- is ridiculous- the subdivision being a rental property not purchase/sale property and would not be included in the "comparative sales".

Now that the facts have been disclosed- you can choose to ignore the FACTS or continue to waller in the hysteria riddled with misprepresentations. I would be more inclined to be angry that my peacefulness was purposely stomped on based on the hysterial misrepresentations, conspiracy theories and untruths of someone who isn't interested in facts, just the attention.

Live and Let Live.

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