A recent Georgia Supreme Court decision of Turner County v. City of Ashburn et al, which stated that the procedure for judicial resolution (arbitration) of the LOST negotiations between a county and city is a violation of the separation of powers doctrine and is unconstitutional is the basis for the Upson County
Commission calling the Joint Project Master Agreement between Upson County and the City of Thomaston null and void. But the BOC may find itself back in court soon as Thomaston Mayor Hays Arnold has stated in a letter responding to Upson County Chairman Rusty Blackston’s letter that the county’s action has left the city no choice but to seek judicial intervention to preserve the agreement.
Upson County and Thomaston had been in negotiations for the LOST and joint projects agreement since July 2012, with the joint projects agreement holding up the process. After going through all the steps leading up to arbitration by a Superior Court judge, both bodies decided to try one more time to come up with an agreement with the attorneys for each side handling the negotiations. The two sides approved the agreement the attorneys drew up on August 20, 2013. It is this agreement the county is now saying is null and void because it was done during the arbitration portion of the negotiation.
The city disasgrees, and Mayor’s Arnold’s letter expressing their opinion is below:
“It was with great disappointment that the City Council and I received Upson County’s notice that it would not honor the Joint Projects Master Agreement (“Agreement”) approved by the City and County during a joint session on August 22, 2013. In that notice, you state that ‘[o]ur community turns to us to harmoniously arrive at a resolution which is in its welfare.’ Yet, you and your body then use a recent Georgia Supreme Court decision as the basis for refusing to honor an agreement you openly and willingly entered two months ago.
“As you know, that Agreement was the result of months of good faith negotiations wherein both parties made concessions in an effort to finally agree on a way to handle joint projects and services for the benefit of our citizens. I and the members of City Council celebrated the approval of the Agreement as a sign that the City and County were embarking on a new era of cooperation and trust. Unfortunately, the County’s repudiation of that Agreement based on its far-reaching interpretation of a recent Georgia Supreme Court decision establishes that Upson County representatives cannot be counted on to honor their agreements.
“The City disagrees with your overly broad interpretation of the Georgia Supreme Court’s decision. As set forth in the joint ACCG/GMA memorandum, vetted by the Attorney General and the Department of Revenue Commissioner, that decision is limited to cases involving the actual resolution of the LOST dispute by a judge after arbitration and where no agreement is reached by the parties. It does not affect the LOST certificate executed by the City and County and filed with the Department of Revenue on September 6, 2013, which the City, and for that matter both GMA and ACCG, believes remains effective.
“In addition, that decision does not affect, and indeed does not even speak to, service delivery strategy agreements. The County’s unfortunate use of that decision to reject the Agreement is therefore even more troubling, especially since the failure to have a service delivery agreement in place may lead to sanctions being imposed on the City and the County.
“In abundance of caution, however, we, collectively, were advised by GMA and ACCG to file a clean certificate reflecting the Lost Distribution Certificate in place. The City fully expected the County to stand united with the City in this regard, because without an effective LOST certificate in place, that revenue may be entirely lost to this community, to the detriment of our citizens. You and your body refused to execute the clean certificate prepared and approved by the City. Although you did not provide the City with a copy of the Certificate of Distribution referenced in your letter, we understand it was executed only by the County and the Town of Yatesville. It is my understanding that the Certificate was required to be signed by the County and all cities in the county to be effective. I want to be perfectly clear, your decision, like Turner County’s decision to attack the constitutionality of the LOST judicial arbitration provision, could damage the financial well being of all of the citizens of this County.
“Please be advised that the County’s actions leave the City with no choice but to seek judicial intervention to preserve the Agreement. To do otherwise would potentially leave Thomaston citizens without vital services.”