With this week’s unsealing of the grand jury presentment about land deals made by Gwinnett’s Board of Commissioners, we learned some things that were suspected — Chairman Charles Bannister resigned in exchange for not being indicted — and some things we’ve known — that district courtesy is “at the root of the problems with each land transaction.”
However, we did not learn much evidence behind the indictment of Commissioner Kevin Kenerly, who is accused of taking a $1 million bribe from a developer for negotating a favorable deal in the county’s purchase of land for an expansion to Rabbit Hill Park. Nor did we learn if the developer in question, David Jenkins, will be charged. Jenkins bought the property for $8 million and later sold it to the county for $16 million.
While only two criminal issues were brought forth in the report — Kenerly’s indictment and the decision not to indict Bannister on perjury charges — the report was nonetheless troubling. It painted a picture of commissioners being uninformed and in some cases playing blatant politics at a high cost to taxpayers.
District courtsey — the practice of deferring to the commissioner representing the area where the transaction is proposed — was lambasted in the report, making a point we have made in past editorials that the practice allows commissioners to “avoid responsibility and accountability” for their votes.
Though the 23-member panel did yeoman’s work in examining the deals, we do not agree with the grand jury’s decision to exchange an indictment of perjury for Bannister’s resignation. The grand jury said it felt that “assured, permanent removal from office was the appropriate solution to one of the problems we uncovered in our investigation.”
There are many in the county who agree with that assessment, but it is our opinion that the role of the grand jury is to bring charges to light, not decide punishment.
Punishment, or lack thereof, is also at issue when it comes to Jenkins, the developer at the center of the Rabbit Hill issue. When specifically asked if Jenkins received immunity for testifying against Kenerly, District Attorney Danny Porter said, “I can’t discuss that.”
Porter said though the grand jury has submitted its report, the probe is not over. There are still questions to be answered, but as we move forward the report serves as a reminder to the pitfalls of district courtesy and the importance of accountability and transparency of the Board of Commissioners.
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