Store blames Code Enforcement in licensing conflict

BUFORD -- The saga continues.

Sixty Mall of Georgia businesses, a good 25 percent of the mall's retailers, were cited by Gwinnett County Code Enforcement Monday for various alleged licensing complications.

Friday, one penalized business said the blame rests on the shoulders of the Code Enforcement office.

"They were waiting on a new form signed by our owner saying that he was a U.S. citizen," said Carolyn Hagler, a staff accountant with mall retailer Southeast Gold Buyers.

"But we got no form or anything saying such. They just did nothing. We sent in our papers over a month ago. Our check cleared April 15."

That form in question, dubbed the U.S. Citizen/Qualified Alien Affidavit, is readily accessible on the county government's Web site. It's a simple form, calling for a signature and a check mark next to a statement that says the applicant is either a "United States citizen or legal permanent resident" or a "qualified alien ... lawfully present in the United States."

That, however, isn't the point, said Hagler, who added she knows of at least four other businesses affected by the same issue.

It's that they weren't told of what she called the "new step."

"It's absolutely crazy, because (code enforcement) knew that we tried to renew it online, knew they had our money, knew we needed to do something else, and never informed us," Hagler said. "If you change your requirements, you have to notify us. They took our money and then cited us anyway."

Hagler produced records showing that a check for $545.91 was written to Gwinnett County License & Revenue on April 5, then received and cashed 10 days later.

Messages left with Gwinnett County Code Enforcement office Friday afternoon were not returned. It was not verified whether the form in question was indeed a new addition to the process.

The stories from numerous sides of the case have varied throughout the week.

In the initial release sent out by Gwinnett County police on Tuesday, officials said mall retailers were warned of the impending sweep, giving them "the opportunities to bring their certificates current." It also said that the 60 businesses cited were "found to be operating without an Occupational Tax Certificate, a business license."

Simon and the Mall of Georgia issued an official statement reading that "any licensing is an agreement between the individual retailer and the county."

On Thursday, Gwinnett County Code Enforcement commander Lt. Chris Long clarified some of the earlier erroneous statements, saying that 1) his office did not issue any warning of the impending sweep and 2) some of the businesses could have been cited simply for not having their licenses posted, not lacking one altogether as the initial police release said.

Friday, Southeast Gold Buyers broke the silence maintained by other cited retailers contacted throughout the week.

"I'm sure some of the other stores' stories are different, but (Code Enforcement) is making the mall look bad, and they're making 60 other stores look bad," Hagler said. "We have 30 locations inside of Atlanta. We don't operate without business licenses."

Hagler said her business is unsure whether it will pursue legal action against the county.