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Committee structure bypassed for resolution

Posted: December 28, 2011 - 12:04am  |  Updated: December 28, 2011 - 3:14am

At the risk of kicking over the momentarily quiet hornet’s nest called Magnolia Trace, something about the process has been bugging me.

No, not the nonsense about the development company making campaign contributions to state politicians, which theoretically could have resulted in someone holding a meeting – as if it takes any effort to get a politician to hold a meeting.

What’s been bothering me is this: Most things commissioners consider go through their committee system – but the Magnolia Trace proposal didn’t. Why not?

Here’s how government meetings in the county work. The school board meets twice a month, and its sessions often run pretty long because all of their business takes place during those sessions.

The two cities each meet once per month. They hold work sessions to start those meetings, and then segue into their formal meeting.

The County Commission operates differently. They hold two fairly quick meetings twice per month where items are voted up or down, often with little discussion.

It’s not for lack of deliberation, however; by the time items reach the full semi-monthly meeting, most of the discussions already have taken place during committee sessions (which also are open to the public, but typically attended only by a handful of people).

Commissioners in those sessions decide how items are handled. If all agree, the item is placed on the “consent” agenda for approval as a group.

If they disagree, or if a commissioner requests it, an item can be placed on the agenda to be voted on individually after further discussion or explanation.

So, back in June 2010 at the regular county commission meeting, commissioners approved a seemingly innocuous resolution favoring “affordable housing.” That resolution, later used in the Magnolia Trace application, never went through the committee system. Instead, County Attorney Doug Batchelor summoned Chairman Ron Cross and Commissioner Trey Allen to his office to hear a request from the developer. (If a third commissioner had been present, as they are at committee meetings, the law would have required public notice and access.)

Batchelor then introduced the resolution at the subsequent commission meeting. Commissioners who were present voted unanimously for it, without discussion.

Not every item of business goes through the committee system. The ones that don’t are considered, well, innocuous – things like employee back-patting and county wildflower month declarations. And, in this case, it included a resolution that just didn’t seem that meaningful at the time.

Perhaps if any good could come from the Magnolia Trace debacle, it will be that commissioners insist everything go through a committee. And that they ask more questions next time someone wants a “resolution.”

 

(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. Email barry.paschal@newstimes online.com, or call 706-863-6165, extension 106. Follow at twitter.com/
barrypaschal.)

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Comments (10)

Little Lamb

Innocuous

Good food for thought in this article. Yes, since the "resolution" did not create any new laws for the county, did not change zoning status for any parcel, did not spend any county money, etc., the resolution could be construed as innocuous.

If such a resolution were to go before a committee, which committee would it be? The main intent of the resolution was to help a business get a loan or a tax credit or something like that from a state agency. What committee deals with state agencies?

Also, if we adopt Barry's "everything submitted to committee" principle, will we have to create new committees to deal with employee back-patting and wildflower of the month declarations?

Riverman1

Agree With Everything Except...

"No, not the nonsense about the development company making campaign contributions to state politicians..."

No nonsene there. This out of state company has a record of making political contributions when they have a development being considered. There are articles in other places about their tactics. They didn't just pick Ben Harbin, Lee Anderson and Nathan Deal at random to make these contributions to.

Little Lamb

Committees

Well, I found out on the county government web site that the commission has four committees:

Public Works Services
Development Services
Management & Financial Services
Community & Emergency Services

Each of the committees has three members, with Commission Chair Ron Cross sitting on all four committees.

I would suppose that if this resolution expressing support for affordable housing had to be submitted to a committee, that the appropriate one would be the Development Services Committee, because if we are to have affordable housing in Columbia County, such housing would have to be developed on some real property. In 2010, when the resolution was passed, the three members of the Development Committee were Ron Cross, Ron Thigpen, and Trey Allen.

So we are told that a representative of a rental property management company requested a secret meeting where he could make a pitch to those that counted regarding his company's desire to build and manage some affordable housing on Old Ferry Road. Those attending were Allen, Batchelor, and Cross (ABC). The pitch seemed reasonable enough; innocuous enough; and was informally endorsed by the group. (Presumably, attorney Batchelor was acting merely as a facilitator and advisor and, thus, did not take a side on the endorsement.)

Someone (no one knows whom, but presumably the company representative) drew up a resolution, which was typed on county stationery and presented at a subsequent commission meeting for ready approval. No harm, no foul.

Now, since the Development Services Committee consists of three members, it would seem reasonable that a quorum of two could conduct committee business, since it is unreasonable to expect 100% attendance at every single meeting. So, even if the matter had been brought up at one of those open committee meetings (which are held before lunch on the second Tuesday of every month), the outcome would have been the same. Allen and Cross would have voted yes, we don't know how Thigpen would have voted, but the matter would have passed.

Many Arrows

Contributions "Nonsense"

The state level contributions were "nonsense" because the News-Times didn't break the story. Harbin got two big ones and has yet another tax credit scheme in the hopper this session.

Riverman1

Little Lamb Excellent Post

Thanks for putting that out there for us to see, Little Lamb. Nice work...once again.

MA, yep, a MAJOR point can hardly be discounted by simply saying nonsense. How about talking to those who received the contributions and asking them pertinent questions?

Little Lamb

Tax Credits

With conventional investments still in the toilet, it may be time for ordinary folks to begin learning how to invest in tax credits. Below is a link to how to get in on Georgia income tax credits on this Magnolia Trace deal:

Affordable Equity Partners

Riverman1

From AEP

From the link LL posted, these people are obviously well connected politically in GA.

"the Georgia Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Program was initially created in 2000 and was modified in August 2001 O.C.G.A. § 48-7-29.6. AEP has been involved in Georgia since the initial introduction of the state tax credit and was instrumental in formulating the revisions to the statutes in 2001."

I'd like to ask Ben Harbin what dealings he has had with them.

Little Lamb

Missouri

It may be totally coincidental, but isn't it interesting how this company has done low-income rental housing projects in Missouri and Georgia, bankrolled by investors seeking income tax credits, and the University of Missouri has just joined the Southeastern Conference. Their first conference game is scheduled with the University of Georgia. That's cool.

Riverman1

LOL

LL, now that's looking waaaayyyyy too far for a conspiracy. Heh.

Riverman1

Barry, why do you say it's nonsense?

Barry, why do you feel it's "nonsense about the development company making campaign contributions to state politicians"?

Besides Deal, it's Harbin and Anderson we are worried about who got contributions. Care to clear up your attitude?

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