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City council hires lawyer to investigate reduced fees
Annexation fee investigation pic 1
The newly approved 2017 City of Dawsonville organizational chart as drawn by City Manager Bob Bolz. - photo by For the Dawson County News

The Dawsonville City Council last week moved to investigate actions taken by Mayor James Grogan to reduce fees for several Dawsonville property owners.

During its April 3 meeting, the council voted to hire an investigator to look into why fees were lowered for some individuals wishing to annex their property into the city, and find out who authorized the actions.

Council member Caleb Phillips made the motion after a short discussion about creating a set annexation fee, a job the council voted to table until a later meeting.

"In light of the difference in the fees that were changed for other annexations and not knowing how that came about, or where to go, I will make a motion to hire special investigator Abbott Hayes (Jr.) to investigate who authorized the reduced fees and if there was any other misuse in fees in the city or misuse of city funds under the direction of City Manager Bob Bolz and City Attorney Dana Miles," Phillips read.

Council member Angie Smith seconded the motion and it was approved unanimously.

"Especially before we decide to set a new fee, we need to see where we went wrong, where the problems happened before," Smith said.

Phillips said later that there were three lowered fees that were a red flag for him and required the council take steps to hire an investigator.

"I would feel liable as a city council member if I saw something I wasn't sure was right but didn't do anything about it," Phillips said.

The fees Phillips referred to are rezoning fees from August of 2014. Three applicants from Gold Creek shared the cost of rezoning their properties to R2, or single-family residential, and annexing into the city, a cost that normally would have been $250 each.

Instead each property owner was charged and paid $83.33. Receipts obtained from the city clerk state that the fees were charged "per Mayor."

The city has no annexation fee, but properties being annexed into the city must be rezoned because county and city zoning classifications don't align.

An additional apparent fee decrease occurred in January of 2014, when one property owner rezoned to R3, or multiple family residential, and was charged $250 as opposed to the $350 normally charged for that zoning.

The fee decreases were first brought up at the council's March 6 meeting, during which the council voted to deny a request from the mayor to allow 18 Gold Creek property owners to annex at a discounted rate.

At that meeting, both Smith and Phillips made it clear that unauthorized decreases in zoning fees were not ok with the council.

"I'm not sure if what applicants pay is on the paperwork that makes it to the council members or not," Smith said last week. "I haven't been looking for it, it might be there and I've just not paid attention. But from this we've learned not to assume that everyone is being charged the correct amount."

Council member Jason Power said he voted to approve hiring the investigator as a measure of good housekeeping.

"We just have to make sure the city funds are being handled appropriately," he said. "It's our duty to make sure there are no misunderstandings."

City Council Member Mike Sosebee had no comment on why he voted in favor of the motion, and Grogan said Monday he hadn't spoken with any of the city council members about the annexation fees or the investigation since the vote.

"I have no idea why they would want to look into it," Grogan said.

City Manager Bob Bolz said Monday that he is waiting to hear from Hayes to begin the investigative process, and that there is no estimate yet on how much it could cost the city. Hayes is an attorney from Gainesville who currently represents the cities of Gainesville and Maysville.

Phillips said he hopes to have answers from the investigation as early as the May 15 meeting.

As the mayor's actions are called into question, the council also voted April 3 to approve a new organizational structure drawn by Bolz. The chart shows how city employees operate under the mayor and council, and illustrates that the mayor has no direct oversight, unlike a previous chart drawn up by former manager David Headley.

Headley's chart had a line connecting the city council and the mayor on one tier, and lines connecting them to the city manager a tier below. Bolz's chart shows no line from the mayor to the city manager.

Bolz said this is intentional, as it is the way the city government has always been structured.

"I report directly to the city council," Bolz said. "That's the way it's always been. This is just how I decided to draw it up."

The mayor only votes when there are not enough city council members present at a meeting, and the power to hire and fire employees lies with the city manager. Before the city manager position was created in 2015, Grogan handled many of the responsibilities that now belong to the city manager.