The grand jury, which first convened in September 2012, was the second to investigate the county-created Resource Recovery Development Authority and the RRDA’s dealings with Ball Ground Recycling.
A special committee of the September 2012 grand jury interviewed county commission chairman Buzz Ahrens and the four commissioners serving at the time of the grand jury investigation, along with County Manager Jerry Cooper, former county attorney Mark Mahler, former Development Authority of Cherokee County member Larry Lusk and private citizen Steve Marcinko.
The grand jury did not interview other involved parties, including Jimmy Bobo, David Bobo, former commission chairman Mike Byrd, former commissioner Derek Good and former county finance officer Amy Davis. In a response to the grand jury’s presentments, commissioners contend that interviews with these people and others could have brought additional information to light.
The grand jury found that the formation of the RRDA and establishment of the recycling center were “murky and virtually undocumented.”
In addition to citing the benefit of interviewing additional people, commissioners responded to this finding by saying that the formation of the RRDA and establishment of the recycling center were “very well documented and accomplished in a transparent and public matter.”
The response also said that several public meetings and hearings were advertised and held and that a validation proceeding was held before the Cherokee County Superior Court and was documented in the judicial records of the Superior Court.
In response to the finding that the grand jury did not find evidence of any other RRDA in Georgia established to relocate a private entity, the commissioners stated that the legality of the Cherokee County RRDA has been established multiple times. The response referenced state laws “the General Assembly and the courts of the State of Georgia have made law in the collective wisdom that authorizes this type of transaction.”
The grand jury found that Bobo purchased 61 acres on Ball Ground Highway in 2006 for $3.53 million and that the RRDA purchased 36 acres of the land for $3.68 million in 2007.
Commissioners, in their response to this finding, say reimbursements from the bond proceeds and the sharing of proceeds among the Bobo entities are “key points” in a lawsuit the county filed against Jimmy Bobo, David Bobo and their related companies in November.
Commissioners responded to several of the grand jury’s findings by reiterating that Ball Ground Recycling was not a county project, but a private project for which the county signed on to guarantee the debt.
The findings and responses dealing with Ball Ground Recycling’s status as a private project include the naming of Jimmy Bobo as the county’s “true and lawful agent” for the county in the arrangement, relying on the project architect’s certifications for draw requests, not recording Ball Ground Recycling as a county asset and not using the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia’s construction guidelines.
“The county’s only role was to guarantee the bonds (with the desired result of intended economic development), and ultimately take over ownership of the assets should there be a default by the private company,” their response states.
Commissioners state their intent to not enter into such an agreement with a private company again in the future several times in their response.
The grand jury found that the Cherokee Office of Economic Development purchased 53 acres on Highway 92 from Jimmy Bobo in 2009.
Commissioners said this property acquisition “is not part of the RRDA transaction and is only remotely and indirectly related to it.”
In its presentments, the grand jury made recommendations to the county commission. The commission has issued a response to each recommendation.
The grand jury recommended not limiting the cost of a forensic audit of the county’s dealings with Ball Ground Recycling. The Board of Commissioners has approved a $75,000 contract for the forensic audit. The commission responded to the grand jury’s recommendation by stating that the auditor can request additional funds if needed.
The grand jury recommended that commissioners pay to publish the full findings of the forensic audit in the Cherokee Tribune and the Cherokee Ledger-News. The commission stated that the results will be made available on the county’s website with a hard copy available for public review at the Bluffs county administrative office.
The grand jury recommended that the board of commissioners continue the forensic audit and lawsuit against Bobo and related entities. Commissioners said they intend to continue these efforts.
The commission has appointed three citizen members to the RRDA. Appointing citizen members was one of the grand jury’s recommendations.
The grand jury recommended that all RRDA assets be placed on county ledger books.
Since the county’s lease agreement with Bobo has ended, the Ball Ground Recycling site is now considered a county asset and will be included as such in financial records and will be subject to audit, commissioners said.
The grand jury recommended that the January 2013 grand jury continue the investigation into transactions between the RRDA and Ball Ground Recycling, and that the January grand jury also investigate the circumstances surrounding the Cherokee Office of Economic Development’s land purchase from Bobo.
Commissioners responded by stating that the continuance of investigation into the RRDA’s dealings is under the discretion of the district attorney, but continued investigation before the completion of the forensic audit “would seem to be unproductive and/or duplicative.”
Commissioners reiterated that the economic development office’s land purchase is only remotely related to the RRDA’s activities, but the board “welcomes and will fully support” a grand jury review of the transaction.
In response to the grand jury’s recommendation to continue efforts to follow the May 2012 grand jury’s recommendations, the county commission indicated they would continue following any recommendations that had not been accomplished.
“I don’t think there is really anything,” Ahrens said.
The grand jury’s 10th recommendation is that county employees be held accountable or disciplined for actions in the RRDA/Ball Ground Recycling deal.
“The board does not agree that the grand jury has uncovered any facts that would justify the disciplining of any county employees. The grand jury has also not indicated any specific facts, conduct, actions or omissions of any particular county employees that would warrant disciplinary action,” the commission’s response states.
The grand jury’s next recommendation is directed toward the citizens of Cherokee County: to be diligent in oversight of elected officials.
“The citizens of this county have been and continue to exercise diligence in overseeing the actions of their elected officials through such actions that include, but are not limited to, participation in public comments and forums, communications with their elected officials, participation in open meetings, and participation in regular and special elections of public officials,” the county’s responses states.
The grand jury further recommended that any real estate purchased by the county first be appraised by an independent licensed appraiser, that all capital assets purchased by the county be immediately added to county ledger books and that research be done to ensure all current capital assets are presently carried on the ledger books, recommendations the commission said are already followed as a matter of standard operating procedure.