LAWRENCEVILLE -- A Gwinnett County Commissioner has called accusations about his involvement in a land deal involving a state agency "infuriating" and is frustrated that he has little recourse to respond.
Commissioner John Heard told the Daily Post on Thursday evening that a lawsuit filed March 1 in Fulton County Superior Court was in response to a Lawrenceville property owner losing a bid to house an office of the Division of Family and Child Services. Heard, an architect and planner, was mentioned in the 68-page lawsuit filed by Fred B. Hand III after the two men had a phone conversation about the property on Grayson Highway in Lawrenceville.
While documents filed with the lawsuit indicated that Hand was interviewed as part of an investigation by the GBI and FBI, Heard said he was never contacted by either agency.
"The investigations were apparently dropped," Heard said.
During the one conversation Hand and Heard had in March, 2012, Hand said in the lawsuit that Heard told Hand, "I own this lease, boy!" and also demanded $240,000 per year for 15 years to deliver the lease to Hand Properties. Hand went on to state in the lawsuit that Heard said failure to pay would, "guarantee that you will not get this lease."
"When I got to the parts where my name was mentioned, I was infuriated, to say the least," Heard said. "Saw where he was talking about me and saying that I had demanded all this stuff. He said, I called him boy -- that's not in my character."
Heard added that the figure he was accused of demanding was not even in the deal.
"It'd be crazy to demand that kind of money, it shows how ridiculous the claim is," Heard said.
Heard said his first response was to sue Hand, but attorneys he talked with said claims made in a lawsuit are immune to defamation suits.
An email sent to Hand's attorney was not answered.
The bid to house the DFCS facility was initially granted to Brand Properties, but that has since been revoked by the State Properties Commission. Heard said he still plans to submit a proposal when available.
In a letter dated Feb. 20 to Hand's attorney, David H. Flint, from the Georgia State Financing and Investment Commission and signed by deputy state property officer Marvin Woodward, Woodward wrote that the position Flint made in a appeal from a denial of Hand's bid was disingenuous.
"The only evidence of any improper communication regarding this procurement was the evidence made by your client, Fred B. Hand III," Woodward wrote. "...To date, there has been no evidence from law enforcement or any other source to suggest that state personnel or Brand Properties engaged in any inappropriate conversations or actions regarding this procurement, with Commissioner Heard or anyone else."
Heard said recent ethics ordinances have been put in place to avoid this type of incident, but he won't change how he does business.
"As long as I don't have a conflict of interest with my job at the county, I'm going to try and get work where I can," Heard said. "It's maddening that someone can call you out in a lie and you can't go outside and tell them, 'Let's settle this man to man.' You can't bring them in a court of law."