County legal fees are twice the budgeted amount

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Joey Homans

Joey Homans

DAWSONVILLE, Ga. – Legal services in 2019 will cost Dawson County taxpayers about $250,000 more than what county commissioners had budgeted.

The budget was set at $160,413. But, after four months less than $20,000 remains so the Board of Commissioners were forced to approve an additional $250,000 during Thursday’s commission meeting.

Most commissioners agree the fault does not lie with the interim law firm of Jarrard and Davis. Some blame the overrun on former in-house counsel Lynn Frey who resigned in December due to poor health.

Commissioners Julie Hughes-Nix and Sharon Fausett say Frey frequently did not show up for work and rarely worked an eight-hour day in the office. Both say they told County Manager David Headley and other Board members about the problem in 2017 but nothing was done. They also say that much of the work he was supposed to do was left for Jarrard and Davis to complete.

Julie Hughes-Nix

Nix said, “In the fall of 2017, department heads were saying to me we have an issue. (Frey) isn’t coming to work. He’s not getting the work done. I alerted the rest of the Board to that. I wanted him in the office from 8 until 5 because that’s what we hired him for. I think that was doable. I kept trying to get the attention of the Board but they didn’t have an issue with that. As a result, we let this linger on and this is what we created. If we had addressed the issue in 2017 when I tried to, we would not be in the situation we are in now.”

After the meeting, Fausett said, “We definitely sounded the alarm a long time ago but got nowhere. We made it crystal clear many times that we wanted him in the office five days a week. We even wrote him up on performance evaluations.”

Commission Chairman Billy Thurmond said, “Mrs. (Angela) Davis did say last week that as soon as we cleaned up the remainder of the stuff that is pending, we would see a downward trend.”

Two years ago, county commissioners decided the $180,316 they paid attorney Joey Homans for legal services for one year (2016) was too much. After 20 years of service, they declined to renew his contract and hired Frey to replace him.

But Homans’ fee was a bargain compared to what the county will spend this year and he was on hand to take a victory lap during Thursday’s meeting.

“Two years ago, when you made another appointment other than me after 20 years, you asserted that it was done to save the taxpayers money,” he said. “With this request (for additional funding) your total legal fee will be $410,000.

“The comment that it was done to save taxpayers money, I took as an attack on my integrity and my character. It was an indicator that I was gouging or overcharging. The fact, that legal fees now are twice what they were, I submit, absolves me of that. I submit that what you’re paying for legal services to very competent legal counsel reflects there was no overcharging. There was no gouging. In fact, taxpayers are now paying more.”

 

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that covers Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. FYN attracts 300,000+ page views per month, 3.5 million impressions per month and approximately 15,000 viewers per week on FYNTV.com and up to 60,000 Facebook page reach. If you would like to follow up-to-date local events in any of those counties, please visit us at FetchYourNews.com

 

 

 

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Dawson BOC to discuss legal representation at Thursday work session

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DAWSONVILLE, Ga. – The Dawson County Board of Commissioner will discuss how to proceed with its legal representation during Thursday’s work session which begins at 4 p.m.

County attorney Lynn Frey, who was hired as in-house counsel in Feb. 2017, announced in a letter to commissioners that he is retiring due to an illness.

The BOC retained Jarrard & Davis, LLP to serve as interim Dawson County attorneys for a period of 60 days on December 27, 2018.

In following the county’s purchasing policy ordinance County Manager David Headley will ask the Board to approve a request for a professional exemption for Jarrard & Davis to fulfill the scope of services in the approved agreement and to approve a budget for their services.

Chief Financial Officer Vickie Neikirk will recommend using the funds allocated for the county attorney in 2019. All costs will go into account called Legal Fees.

Other items on the agenda include:

  • Presentation of LED Lighting Project Proposal for the library that was tabled from the Nov. meeting;
  • Consideration of the Comprehensive Plan, tabled from the Jan. 17 voting session[, Voting Session)
  • Presentation of Capital Improvements Element Annual Update;
  • Presentation of FY 2019 Legacy Link Nutrition Program ;
  • Presentation of Community Development Block Grant Language Access Plan Update;
  • Presentation of Professional Exemption Request for Interim County Attorney;
  • Presentation of Board Appointments to the Joint Development Authority (Christie Haynes Moore, John Drew, Betsy McGriff);
  • Discussion of Grant Application Procedures.

 

 

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that covers Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. FYN attracts 300,000+ page views per month, 3.5 million impressions per month and approximately 15,000 viewers per week on FYNTV.com and up to 60,000 Facebook page reach. If you would like to follow up-to-date local events in any of those counties, please visit us at FetchYourNews.com

 

 

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Dawson County attorney resigns due to ill health, Jarrard and Davis receives interim contract

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DAWSONVILLE, Ga. –The law firm of Jarrard and Davis has contracted with Dawson County to provide legal services after County Attorney Lynn Frey announced his resignation on Dec. 20 due to ill health.

In a letter to the Board of Commissioners, Frey, who was Dawson County’s first staff attorney, said, “After a great deal of thought I have realized that I am unable to continue to serve as county attorney for the wonderful community that is Dawson County,” the letter reads. “My health has deteriorated to a degree that prevents me from providing the level of service the county deserves…I will miss a great many folks, too many to name here, and will leave with gratitude for the welcome I was given, for the many kindnesses I have been shown over the last couple of years and for the opportunity you gave me to be part of something that matters.”

Frey will be return to his former home in Darien where he served as city attorney for 13 years. He will be paid compensation of $25,000 according to an agreement ratified by the board.

The Jarrard and Davis firm serves many municipalities in Georgia, including Forsyth County where Ken Jarrard has represented the Board of Commissioners for approximately 15 years. The board ratified an interim retention agreement with the firm for a period of 60 days until permanent legal representation can be obtained.

Jarrard said “The board of commissioners has been emphatic that they want a seamless transition while they consider what next steps to take with respect to representation and we have been honored to provide that interim representation.”

Frey’s salary was $90,000 in 2018. The board recently approved a new legal assistant position with an annual salary of $30,547, though the position was never filled.

 

 

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that covers Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. FYN attracts 300,000+ page views per month, 3.5 million impressions per month and approximately 15,000 viewers per week on FYNTV.com and up to 60,000 Facebook page reach. If you would like to follow up-to-date local events in any of those counties, please visit us at FetchYourNews.com

 

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BOC to hold final public hearing on 2019 budget

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DAWSONVILLE, Ga. – Dawson County citizens will have one last chance to express their views on the proposed 2019 budget when the Board of Commissioners holds the third and final public hearing Thursday at 6 p.m. in the County Administration Building.

Following that hearing, commissioners can vote to approve the $27.1 million spending plan that includes 23 new employees –19 full-time and four part-time.

The full-time positions include a legal assistant for County Attorney Lynn Frey, a training captain for emergency services, an administrative assistant for fleet maintenance, a human resources specialist, IT coordinator, two park maintenance employees, a building inspector for planning and development, an assistant public defender, three public works employees, a custodian for the senior center, two patrol officers for the Sheriff’s Office and two transfer station workers.

The part-time positions include, a weekend judge for Chief Magistrate Lisa Poss-Thurmond’s court, a clerk for the probate court and a deputy coroner.

The 2019 budget is about $700,000 higher than this year’s budget. The new positions will cost taxpayers approximately $932,632.

Commissioners are also expected to vote on:

  • An application for a new alcohol license for Blackrock Food Service, LLC D/B/A Crave Hot Dogs & BBQ located in the Dawson Crossroads Shopping Center;
  • A request to accept a 2019 Victims of Crime Act Grant funds in the amount of $74,088.84. No county match is required;
  • A request to apply for a Department of Natural Resources Land & Water Conservation Fund Grant to repair/replace the fishing pier at War Hill Park. The minimum fund grant that can be applied for is $25,000. The maximum grant if $100,000 and the county will have to provide a 50 percent match;
  • A request to hire a legal assistant. The position is already included in the 2019 budget, but the request is to fill the position this year at an additional cost of $6,956.20 for five pay periods through the end of December;
  • A Service Delivery Strategy Agreement;
  • A request by Michael Turner, executor for the estate of Kenneth K. Turner to have property located at the intersection of Perimeter Road and Allen Street annexed into the City of Dawsonville. The Dawsonville Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on the issue on Oct. 8. The Dawsonville City Council will hold a public hearing on Oct. 22 and the annexation could be awarded final approval on Nov. 5;
  • A request by Board of Tax Appraisers Chief Appraiser Elaine Garrett to approve a contract for the services of an additional appraiser for the current year and next tax year.

 

 

 

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that covers Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. FYN attracts 300,000+ page views per month, 3.5 million impressions per month and approximately 15,000 viewers per week on FYNTV.com and up to 60,000 Facebook page reach. If you would like to follow up-to-date local events in any of those counties, please visit us at FetchYourNews.com

 

 

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Chairman Thurmond will present proposed 2019 budget in Thursday work session

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Dawson County BOC

DAWSONVILLE, Ga. – Dawson County Commission Chairman Billy Thurmond will present the proposed county budget for 2019 during Thursday’s work session which will begin at 4 p.m. in the Dawson County Government Center Assembly Room.

The Board of Commissioners is required to adopt an annual budget prior to the end of the fiscal year (December 31). As part of the budget process, the Chairman presents his proposed budget to the Board of Commissioners (BOC) and the public.

In meetings after the Chairman’s presentation, public hearings for the budget will be held for citizen input.

The BOC will hold 3 public hearings for the 2019 budget on October 4, 11 and 18. The budget may be adopted October 18, following the third public hearing.

Dawson County Parks and Recreation Director Matt Payne will seek board approval to apply for a Department of Natural Resources Land & Water Conservation Fund Grant. The minimum grant that can be awarded is $25,000 and the maximum is $100,000. A 50 percent county match is required.

The grant could be used to repair or replace the fishing pier at War Hill Park. The pier has undergone repair for many years and Payne says it would be more cost and time effective to have it replaced.

District Attorney Lee Darragh will ask board approval to accept a Victims of Crime Act Grant in the amount of $74,088.84. No county match is required.

County Attorney Lynn Frey will ask board approval to hire a legal assistant who can perform legal secretary functions, is familiar with specified job duties and has relevant experience. The position was described and requested in the County Attorney Budget for FY 2019, but Frey said subsequent discussion has led to the conclusion that the need is sufficiently urgent at present to move ahead on the position rather than delay until January.

The salary for a mid-October commencement of the job would be approximately $6,956.20 for five pay periods through the end of December. Eligibility for benefits would not occur until January. Annual salary for this grade 11 position, using entry level figures, is $30,547.

 

 

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that covers Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. FYN attracts 300,000+ page views per month, 3.5 million impressions per month and approximately 15,000 viewers per week on FYNTV.com and up to 60,000 Facebook page reach. If you would like to follow up-to-date local events in any of those counties, please visit us at FetchYourNews.com

 

 

 

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BOC delays vote on Chestatee variance

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DAWSONVILLE, Ga. – The Dawson County Board of Commissioners tabled a variance request by Chestatee Development Corporation Thursday to gain a better understanding of the legal complexities surrounding the issue.

The petitioner has asked for a variance to the master plan for Chestatee subdivision that would allow Brian Ferris, the property owner, to build lots with 70-foot widths instead of 100-foot widths, thus allowing 11 additional lots in the Linkside section of Chestatee.

The vote to table was unanimous and followed a 10-minute, back-and-forth discussion between County Attorney Lynn Frey and Ethan Underwood, the lawyer for the petitioner.

Dave Pollack was one of six Chestatee homeowners who spoke in opposition to the variance.

Attorney Ethan Underwood

“Linkside was originally marketed as luxury homes on half-acre lots starting at $600,000,” he said. “The quick math that I did shows we will lose 20-30 percent (home value) not only in Linkside but in all Chestatee if this goes through.”

Loss of home value was the issue most often mentioned by homeowners who spoke in opposition but traffic was another concern.

Michelle Pyne expressed concern about traffic safety, especially at the entrance to the Linkside section. “Fireside Lane is the only entry into Linkside,” she said. “Everyone living in or visiting Linkside must navigate the intersection of Fireside Lane and Fireside Drive. The golf cart path crosses that intersection and it has already caused some serious safety concerns. The intersection is also about 30-40 feet from the swimming pool, tennis courts and basketball courts so that adds to the foot traffic there. Adding at least 22 more cars, if not more, to the master plan for Linkside would certainly make those serious concerns even more.”

Frey questioned Underwood about where the authority to modify the master plan comes from.

“Our assertion is the master plan references the requirement for a covenant and the covenant states the declarant has the authority to modify those lots,” Underwood said. “Our position, as laid out in our reservation of rights, is that specific approval supersedes a general provision of the land use resolution.”

In other decisions, the Board:

  • Accepted the results of the Fiscal Year 2017 financial audit by Rushton Company;
  • Ratified the Georgia Trauma Commission Grant that will fund the purchase of emergency equipment for ambulances;
  • Disposal of four climate control units for the Detention Center;
  • Approved a list of surplus items to be sold on Govdeals.com;
  • Approved a design/build contract with Charles Black Construction in the amount of $2,644,127 for the new Fleet/Public Works complex;
  • Approved a special event business license for Carol Stream Amusements, Inc. Carnival to operate in the parking lot of North Georgia Premium Outlets. The vote was 3-1 with Commissioner Julie Hughes-Nix opposed;
  • Approved a site plan for John Megel Chevrolet to build a used car lot on its property;
  • Approved the 2018 Land Use District Map;
  • Approved the re-appointment of Joey Bearden to the Department of Family and Children Services board.
  • Approved moving the next regular meeting to July 3.

 

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that covers Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. FYN attracts 300,000+ page views per month, 3.5 million impressions per month and approximately 15,000 viewers per week on FYNTV.com and up to 60,000 Facebook page reach. If you would like to follow up-to-date local events in any of those counties, please visit us at FetchYourNews.com

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Sheriff, county fail to reach budget agreement

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Chairman Billy Thurmond

DAWSONVILLE, Ga. — Dawson County Sheriff Jeff Johnson and county officials failed to reach an agreement on the sheriff’s 2018 budget during a 90-minute meeting Tuesday which places the decision back in the hands of Senior Superior Court Judge Fred A. Bishop Jr.

Johnson filed a lawsuit against the Board of Commissioners, claiming the budget they approved was not sufficient for him to perform his sworn duties.

Commission Chairman Billy Thurmond said he, Commissioner Chris Gaines and County Attorney Lynn Frey met with Johnson and his attorney Joey Homans Tuesday.

“We had a good discussion but did not reach an agreement,” Thurmond said. “It was cordial on both sides. We explained we would continue to look at the revenue and would need time to see what the final numbers are from the property tax evaluation.”

Sheriff Jeff Johnson

Thurmond said he would update the rest of the Board of Commissioners on the meeting when they go into executive session during Thursday’s meeting.

Unless the board decides something different, Thurmond said he expects the case to go back to Bishop for a verdict.

Homans and Frey will prepare briefs for the judge to review. Regardless of which side prevails, there is likely to be an appeal.

Fetch Your News reached out to the sheriff for his comments, but he did not return our call.

 

 

 

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that covers Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. If you would like to follow up-to-date local events in any of those counties, please visit us at FetchYourNews.com

 

 

 

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What next in Sheriff Johnson vs. Dawson County?

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County Attorney Lynn Frey

DAWSONVILLE, Ga. – Both parties in the Sheriff vs. Dawson County Board of Commissioners Battle of the Budget agree on one thing:   The court has no authority to decide what amount of money is sufficient for Sheriff Jeff Johnson to carry out his sworn duties.

Johnson’s attorney Joey Homans petitioned the court to order the county to approve a budget sufficient to allow that to occur. The sheriff proposed an all-in 2018 budget of $9,564,324. The board approved $9,173,080, which commissioners say is an increase on nearly $1 million over the previous year.

Homans has accused the Board of “abuse of discretion” in cutting the sheriff’s proposed budget. Commissioners say a $1 million increase hardly constitutes abuse.

During two days of testimony last week, Homans clearly established the sheriff’s office is understaffed. Division head after division head testified their employees cannot get the proper training due to a lack of personnel and that paid leave and overtime pay are also a problem.

What is not so clear is who is to blame for the staffing problem.

Sheriff Jeff Johnson

The sheriff contends those issues could have been resolved if the Board had approved the budget he proposed. Commissioners argue the sizeable increase they approved should be enough.

There are currently nine positions in the sheriff’s office that are frozen. However, as a duly elected Constitutional officer, Johnson has the authority to fill those positions, frozen or not. He also has the flexibility to move some money from his line items to help fund the positions.

So what happens next?

The judge gave the two parties until Feb. 15 to come to an agreement. If they cannot resolve their differences, he will issue a ruling.

If he decides the approved budget is sufficient, the sheriff can appeal.  If he rules it insufficient, the Board still has the authority to approve the budget with no direction from the court. If the sheriff still does not agree, he could return to court.

Another trip to court would damage the relationship between the county and the sheriff, which is already strained almost to the breaking point. It would also be very expensive for taxpayers.

 

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that covers Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. If you would like to follow up-to-date local events in any of those counties, please visit us at FetchYourNews.com

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