BOC adopts new land acquisition policy

Photo by Tori Boone

Photo by Tori Boone

LAWRENCEVILLE -- The Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners approved a new land acquisition policy Tuesday that the chairwoman said is more comprehensive than its predecessor.

The new policy was created in response to a special grand jury report that led to former Chairman Charles Bannister's resignation and the now-invalidated indictment of former Commissioner Kevin Kenerly, who was accused of accepting a $1 million bribe from a land developer.

But Chairwoman Charlotte Nash said the policy also outlines "the right way to do business."

Nash said the policy will help both county staff and commissioners make good decisions and allow them to explain and justify their decisions to the public.

"It's important to line out and give both staff and commissioners (guidelines on) how the process is going to be handled and what each of our roles is in the process," Nash said.

The policy took two to three months to create, and Nash said a lot of thought went into its creation.

"We tried to learn from experiences that have occurred, not just in the last few years, but over a long period of time," she said. "It's very important that we have put together a good checklist of processes and steps that need to be taken" when land is acquired.

During the board's business meeting Tuesday, Commissioner Mike Beaudreau agreed with Nash's statement that the policy will be helpful to the county in the future.

"This is something her and I discussed for a while, but she took the lead on this," Beaudreau said. "I appreciate her leadership on this."

The policy states that all land acquisitions activities need to be legal. Additionally, the policy states it is subject to the county's Code of Ethics.

Following the brief introduction, the document outlines the fundamental duties of commissioners and of staff, describes how the initiation of the land acquisition process should be conducted and how recommendations should be made to the board for approval.

The policy states the board shall meet in executive session to authorize staff to proceed with land acquisition activities, to consider and discuss written reports recommending the acquisition of property, to consider authorizing an appraisal of property and to authorize negotiations for the purchase of property for the appraised amount.

The board shall vote on all final decisions to purchase land or accept donations of land in open meetings, according to the policy.

One addition to the policy is that the county attorney will provide the grand jury a summary report each quarter of all land acquisitions other than rights-of-way and easements.

Since grand juries review administrative operations, Nash said she felt it was appropriate to periodically report to them and address any questions that arise as a result.

"Obviously, this was important to me and the other commissioners that we're not just ignoring the recommendations that came from the special grand jury," Nash said. "It was important to heed the advice that came from that report and fashion it into the proposed policy that was adopted (Tuesday)."