Resident RRDA members Jeff Duncan, John Konop and Tom Ware all called it quits from the controversial board shortly after recommending Monday night the Board of Commissioners accept Cowart Mulch’s offer to take the land in a 25-year lease purchase.
For the deal to move forward, members of the RRDA were going to have to execute the agreements, after commissioners voted Tuesday to accept the offer on the now-closed plant on which the county still owed more than $16 million.
They weren’t willing to do that, because they feared potential legal liability, although Commission Chairman Buzz Ahrens clarified Wednesday the RRDA members’ liability would have been as members of the board, not personal or financial liability.
Ahrens said he wasn’t sure if anyone explained to the RRDA members they would have to sign, but he thought that should have been understood, since the RRDA owns the facility.
“This does not have a black and white answer,” he said.
Whether there was personal liability or not, Duncan and Konop said they didn’t want to associate their names with an RRDA deal after the 2006 deal with Jimmy Bobo led to county taxpayers being responsible for $100,000 in lease payments on the Ball Ground facility.
“We’d be crazy to put our names all over stuff,” Duncan said Wednesday. “We want to help but we’re not going to take ownership of somebody else’s mess.”
Duncan and Konop said they asked county employees multiple times about the role of the RRDA and they never knew they were going to have to sign anything, because the board was only meant to act in an advisory capacity to commissioners.
“We asked a very simple question and (the county’s) answer was that we were a recommending body only,” Duncan said. “Our role, as we understood, was to come in and look at best practices and make a recommendation on any offers.”
Referencing multiple discussions in public meetings, Konop said the RRDA repeatedly asked the county to clarify how a potential deal would take place, but executing documents never came up.
Goes without saying?
According to Cherokee County Attorney Angie Davis, it might not have explicitly been told to the RRDA members they would have to sign the documents. But she also thought it could have gone without saying.
In a Wednesday email to officials and forwarded to the Tribune, Davis explained the most recent RRDA members were given a document in September 2013 explaining the roles of the board. The first page of that document says the RRDA owned the Ball Ground Recycling facility.
“While not explicitly stated that the owner of property would have to sign a document to sell or lease the property,” Davis wrote, “the notion that the owner of property must sign a document to sell or lease the property is elementary and would seem to go without saying, particularly when dealing with such a sophisticated group of business executives.”
Konop doesn’t like that logic.
“Are you telling me as a layman that I’m supposed to understand legally what’s going on?” he asked Wednesday. “We’re unpaid volunteers.”
He also asked several lawyers if he should sign the documents. “Guess what they said — No,” Konop said.
In Davis’ email, she said she regretted the confusion and also stressed the RRDA members wouldn’t have had any personal liability.
“It is a huge leap to suggest that signing a transaction document at the direction of the county (as required by the governing documents) in the official capacity as a member of the RRDA would create a personal liability,” Davis said. “It would not … This is the manner in which authorities with non-elected citizen members’ function all over Cherokee County and the state of Georgia.”
Duncan said he wanted to be clear he wasn’t accusing anyone of “being disingenuous” by saying he wasn’t told he’d have to sign.
“I can’t explain why there was a disconnect,” he said. “In the end, we just didn’t want to sign it, because we’re not elected.”
Konop said he couldn’t speculate why he wasn’t told about executing the documents.
In his letter of resignation, Duncan listed his other reasons for quitting, highlighting his disapproval of the county’s deal to guarantee Bobo’s $18.1 million in bond debt.
“Even a cursory review of initial contracts in this matter should raise serious concerns over the lack of protection they provide to the county and its citizens,” Duncan wrote. “Based on my 25-plus years of experience in private business, those responsible for crafting and executing these agreements would have been either terminated or demoted.”
“Even internally, no one’s gotten demoted or fired for this?” he asked.