ATLANTA -- The seven justices of the Georgia Supreme Court are the latest officials to examine how to draw the county line between Bibb and Monroe counties near Bass Pro Shops.
It is a border dispute that has dragged on for years, affects where children go to school and where taxes are paid on millions of dollars worth of property.
This (survey) is wrong. No doubt about it, Bibb County Attorney Virgil Adams said Tuesday on the steps of the Georgia Supreme Court. The 2009 survey hes talking about is one done by Terry Scarborough, which sketches Monroe County into a bit of land now taxed by Bibb, including the parking lot of the Bass Pro Shops complex and some nearby neighborhoods.
But Tish McDonald, an attorney for Monroe County, insists the survey is correct. The Scarborough line is based on competent evidence, and any objections that Bibb County had were frivolous, she told the justices.
The court is not being asked to draw a boundary. The state and Bibb County are asking the justices to settle questions about the Secretary of States role in setting county lines. In 2011, Secretary Brian Kemp rejected the Scarborough survey, a map requested by a Monroe County grand jury and subsequently ordered by then-Gov. Sonny Perdue in 2005. A special assistant administrative law judge later recommended that Kemp approve the line.
Mike Bilderback, chairman of the Monroe County Commission, dismissed suggestions that Monroe wants to grab tax revenue from the Bass Pro Shops complex.
If the Scarborough line is set, Bilderback said, Monroe County is willing to jog the border to keep the Bass Pro Shops development squarely in Bibb County.
But the two counties planning and zoning boards still need to know where one county ends and the other begins, said Bilderback, who watched the court arguments Tuesday from the audience. Weve had other development since then. As development increases in that area, were going to only have more occurrences, he said.
Bass Pro Shops is what got this argument started, Bilderback said.
In 2005, Monroe County residents had doubts about a 24-hour warehouse operation in their area, though they didnt oppose a store, Bilderback said. It got people to look very precisely at boundaries, and it drove a Monroe County grand jury to ask the governor to order the Scarborough survey.
The Scarborough survey has problems and misinterpreted or overlooked key data, such as Jones County records, according to Bibbs attorneys.
The survey teams had to make sense of references to a now-lost 1822 survey, figure out where and how many ferry routes crossed the Ocmulgee River in the area before the Civil War, and find lines first measured with rods and chains.
Theres also the continuing influence of the long-dead Dr. Lee Holt. He had the state Legislature declare his property part of Bibb County in 1877. By the Scarborough survey, that Holt alteration is an island of Bibb County completely surrounded by Monroe.
Bibbs attorneys argue the state Constitution of 1868 bans non-contiguous counties.
Bilderback said any Bibb island could get county services from Monroe, for a fee, so he sees no problem with it. The two jurisdictions already have utility deals: parts of Monroe County get water from the Macon Water Authority.
After Kemp declined the Scarborough survey, Monroe County made a legal move to force him to accept it. Monroe went to Fulton County, the home of Kemps office, and asked a judge to issue a writ of mandamus. Such documents order government officials to do their mandatory jobs. In January, the Fulton County court agreed with Monroe and ordered Kemp to accept the Scarborough line.
Here, there is a clear legal right to have some sort of line set, said McDonald, who represents Monroe County.
The secretary did not have the discretion to do what he did here, and that is to close the record even after we asked him to reconsider that decision and reopen the record to set a boundary, she said.
State Solicitor General Nels Peterson, on behalf of the state, said that the secretary of states job is to determine true boundaries, and that Kemp doubts the Scarborough survey.
Kemp is not simply flipping a coin. Hes not simply saying 5149. He has an obligation to determine the true boundary line, Peterson said. The Scarborough survey did not provide, in the secretarys view, sufficient evidence where the line ought to be, but it was enough for him to conclude in his weighing of the evidence that it was not where the survey said it was.
McDonald said Kemp needs to get the evidence to make a decision if whats in front of him is inconclusive.
Bibb also said it was unfairly excluded from the Fulton County hearing. Bibb did not find out about it until the judges order was issued. The Fulton court threw out Bibbs day-later emergency motion to intervene.
Given all that, the Supreme Court is being asked to decide if the Fulton County judges writ applies to Kemp in this case, and if it does, if it can force Bibb County to accept the Scarborough line.
The court decision is due in about six months.
Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report.