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Commission votes to settle lawsuits

LAWRENCEVILLE -- The settlement of two lawsuits with the government means a billboard will be replaced and the county will pay 25 percent more for land, documents reveal.

Commissioners approved settlement terms last week on the two cases, although officials were slow to reveal details.

In one agreement, commissioners said they would pay $1.75 million for land condemned in 2009 for the replacement and widening of the Ga. Highway 324 bridge over Interstate 85 in Buford.

While county spokesman Joe Sorenson said the land appraisal was restricted information, the county previously paid $1.37 million into court for the property, located on the south side of the bridge in the area of the relocated Morgan Road. The county needed about 5.62 acres of right away with a total of 3.76 acres of permanent and temporary easements. A barn had to be removed as part of the acquisition of the property once owned by Brenda Ruth Pruitt Griffin.

The second settlement is expected to end federal and state lawsuits filed after the county denied five billboard applications from Olympus Media in 2011. The Zoning Board of Appeals upheld the denials, which were not detailed in the county's settlement documentation. But the company sued alleging infringement of its rights to free speech and due process.

The agreement does not obligate the county to pay any money, but it does allow the company to upgrade one of its existing billboards along Interstate 85, south of Jimmy Carter Boulevard, placing LED faces to allow for digital images.

The stipulations include making the billboard available for Amber Alerts, disaster information and other uses, allowing the county to advertise at certain times and prohibiting the advertisement of tobacco, hard alcohol and strip clubs or other adult establishments.

Chairwoman Charlotte Nash declined to discuss the cases specifically but gave some thoughts on why she considers settlement in some cases.

"Sometimes the legal precedent that could be set by a case is so important that I look primarily at the legal issues involved, with the help and advice of legal counsel," she said. Usually, though, it is a matter of weighing off the risks and costs of an adverse decision in court against the cost of settlement. In some cases, I may look at it as a business decision where we look at the cost of pursuing the case as opposed to the cost of settling."

Comments

R 1 year, 6 months ago

And per legal consul, settlements or court consent decrees allow resolution options to an issue that could never legally occur in normal operational or ordinance processes.

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skalawag 1 year, 6 months ago

So are you saying that using settlements or court decrees you are allowed to do something that would not be legal if you use normal procedures or processes?

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R 1 year, 6 months ago

Yes - it certainly can occur (and has in the past) In this specific instance - unknown.

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skalawag 1 year, 6 months ago

I don't know about you but for me it doesn't pass the smell test. Who is in charge of these proceedings? Are there hearings where the public can find out about such deals before they occur? If there are how far in advance of a decision are these hearings held? As a Gwinnette County tax payer how much is this costing me? And what worthwhile projects beneficial to the county as a whole are being under funded if not scraped to promote these sweetheart deals?

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Don_Coyote 1 year, 6 months ago

$1,750,000 for less than 10 acres adjacent to an interstate highway though without access to said highway? Gwinnett farm land must have appreciated.

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pcjohn 1 year, 6 months ago

How the heck can a land appraisal for property in our county be "restricted" information? All property assessments are supposed to be in the public domain. Something very fishy with this guy Joe Sorenson and that appraisal. I smell another bad land deal in Gwinnett..

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skalawag 1 year, 6 months ago

"restricted information" sounds like someone doesn't want the public to know what their county government is doing in their name. As you point out pcjohn something very fishy seems to be going on. And I for one don't want to be paying for some elected official's ability to line their pockets because I was asleep at the switch.

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Icu 1 year, 6 months ago

I don't see what the big deal is. Price seems more than fair when you look at the location.

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pcjohn 1 year, 6 months ago

The big deal is that the public is being kept in the dark about its potential worth as reflected in the county's assessment. Do you not remember the past history of this oligarchical BOC and their corrupt land purchases?

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sharongy 1 year, 6 months ago

After reading the following remarks by Chairwoman Charlotte Nash, I wonder if she has not settled the open records lawsuit filed against the county for failure to oversee the use of public funds by the Gwinnett Chamber because she thinks it would set a legal precedent requiring more accountability and transparency by commissioners? On the other hand, perhaps she weighed the risks and costs of an adverse decision in court and decided that the risk of allowing taxpayers to learn how their tax money was used by the chamber is riskier than complying with the law.

Chairwoman Charlotte Nash declined to discuss the cases specifically but gave some thoughts on why she considers settlement in some cases.

"Sometimes the legal precedent that could be set by a case is so important that I look primarily at the legal issues involved, with the help and advice of legal counsel," she said. Usually, though, it is a matter of weighing off the risks and costs of an adverse decision in court against the cost of settlement. In some cases, I may look at it as a business decision where we look at the cost of pursuing the case as opposed to the cost of settling."

On the front page of the Gwinnett Chamber Public Policy website, it says that they lobby for issues outlined by the Partnership Gwinnett strategy. Did I miss the election where taxpayers got to vote on which issues the chamber would use our money to lobby for or against?

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kevin 1 year, 6 months ago

Nash is not 100% transparent. Learn from this mess. More wasted taxpayer money, and your taxes will be higher on your next bill.

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