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Posted: Tuesday, September 18th 2012 at 12:00pm

Habersham County Commission kills property maintenance code

By Rob Moore Editor
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Maj. Curtis Tomlin, U.S. Army retired and advisor to the John F. Kennedy administration, urges the Habersham County Commission to abandon the proposed property maintenance code and the county's comprehensive plan. (Photo/Rob Moore)
CLARKESVILLE – The Habersham County Commission voted 5-0 Monday night to kill a proposed property maintenance code.

A standing room-only crowd of 150 filled the courtroom of the Habersham County Courthouse in Clarkesville, with many people speaking out against the document, calling it Communistic, Socialist, and a United Nations initiative, among other references.

Maj. Curt Tomlin, U.S. Army retired of Clarkesville, who worked with President John F. Kennedy’s administration as an information analyst and advisor, commented on Habersham County’s 2029 comprehensive plan.

“Your attention is invited to the 2029 comprehensive plan,” Tomlin said. “Going back to my training in the field of information analysis and research, I have this comment. Using the Department of Defense Training Manual, I would like to advise you that the concepts embedded in the comprehensive plan are without question totalitarian or communistic in nature. … We strongly recommend and urge that that plan be abandoned immediately and replaced with a plan that we, the people, put in place to do exactly or very similarly the same thing.”

Of the property maintenance code, Tomlin said, “Using the same standards that we were trained by the FBI … for Mr. John Fitzgerald Kennedy, you will find that all the concepts in that property maintenance document are totalitarian is nature, otherwise communistic. Again, we advise that it be abandoned immediately and we, the people of Habersham County, are quite capable of addressing it and redesigning that document so it meets specific objectives.”

Bob Guthrie of Cornelia, speaking as an individual rather than in his capacity as chairman of the Habersham County Republican Party, encouraged the commission to discard the comprehensive plan.

Noting that Monday was the 225th Constitution Day, Nancy Monaghan of the Hollywood community of Clarkesville pointed out the thousands of pages of regulations on the federal level and asked commissioners, “Do we really need more?”

Monaghan also presented county officials with copies of the U.S. Constitution.

Paul Cordella of Mt. Airy, who moved to Habersham County in 2008, said he recognizes that Habersham County has a problem with abandoned property, but asked the commission to consider a more concise ordinance.

Providing commissioners with a three-page abandoned property ordinance from Madison County, Ky., Cordella said, “We don’t need to reinvent the wheel. We don’t need more bureaucracy.”

Cal Krefft of Clarkesville, who moved to Habersham County in 2001, took issue with the commission requiring those who want five minutes to address the commission having to sign up “six and a half days before this meeting.”

Krefft also pointed out that there was no stated purpose in the document under consideration, adding that the document would give the code enforcement officer discretion to interpret and enforce the code.

“That’s what’s known as the 'make it up as we go along' provision,” Krefft said. “We don’t need to pass it to find out what is in it.”

Krefft’s comments received applause from throughout the courtroom.

Property owner Ronnie Gibbs said the document under consideration made him “feel totally disenfranchised.”

As he approached the microphone to introduce the proposed property maintenance code, Habersham County Building and Planning Director Tom Braswell said jokingly, “Mr. Chairman, commissioners, it appears I’ve found a way to bring the citizens out for public hearings. I will try to do that more often."

Because the battery in the wireless microphone was dying and had to be changed, Commission Chairman Lee Mulkey called for a five-minute break.

Even before the public hearing on the matter as the meeting resumed, Mulkey suspended the rules to allow the commission to deal with the issue.

“I would like for us to consider the fact that this property maintenance code does not need to be enacted under any circumstances,” Commissioner Chad Henderson said.

Almost before Henderson finished his statement, applause broke out in the packed courtroom.

Mulkey asked the audience to be patient while the commission followed procedure.

“We will make the motion to adopt it in order to kill it,” Henderson said.

His motion was seconded by Commissioner Sonny James.

The commission voted 5-0 not to approve the property maintenance code.

When Mulkey again suspended the rules to allow public comment, Bill Dover, a former state representative who lives in the Hollywood community of Clarkesville, addressed the commission.

“On behalf of all the people in this county, I want to thank each one of you for that decision,” Dover said. “Goodnight and God bless you.”

Similarly, Mike Franklin addressed the commission.

“I just want to say thank you to all of you,” Franklin said. “I also want to say thank you to all these citizens for the decorum and the way in which you’ve conducted these affairs tonight. I appreciate the civility of this process.”

Guthrie again approached the microphone, asking the commission to consider placing lengthy documents or ordinances under consideration on the county website at least seven to 10 days before they are to be acted upon so people have time to sign up for additional time to offer comments during the meeting.

“This was a very lengthy document, and I was not able to get my hands on it until last night,” Guthrie said.

Tom Partington, who said he was with the CIA for 22 years and traveled all around the world looking at local governments, agreed that Habersham County needs a plan.

“We need a plan that you and I and everyone else here can understand, like Alabama’s,” Partington said. “Alabama has a plan with three pages. Let’s do something so everybody understands it.”

Following the meeting, Henderson discussed the proceedings.

“There was a property maintenance agreement that we had brought before us – I was about to say we were considering, but I don’t know that we were ever actually truly considering this,” Henderson said. “It gave powers to the county that the county does not need. Basically, I believe it had some issues with due process, I believe that there were issues with unlawful search and seizure, I believe that there were issues constitutionally overall with the way the property maintenance agreement is written.”

“One thing that we are definitely concerned with here in Habersham County, and in north Georgia and in our state, is property rights,” Henderson said. “We don’t like being told exactly what we can and cannot do on our own property, and I think that was spoken loud and clear here in the courtroom tonight – and I hope going forward that people will remember that in the ideas that we have in the ordinances that we put forward.”
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