A Fulton County judge has moved to limit the remaining options for settling the disputed border between Bibb and Monroe counties, but Secretary of State Brian Kemp and Macon-Bibb County plan to appeal.
Superior Court Judge Kelly Lee has ruled that Kemp can’t accept more evidence, from a surveyor or from the counties, before making a decision.
“It’s another victory for us, but we’ve had many of those throughout this episode,” said Mike Bilderback, chairman of the Monroe County Commission. He said he will now wait to see if Kemp finally establishes a border, which is what Monroe has asked for years.
“He’s caused us to spend a lot of money on this court case,” he said.
Both Kemp’s office and Macon-Bibb County’s attorney say the issue is far from over.
“I very much disagree with the latest ruling issued regarding the Monroe-Bibb county line dispute,” Kemp said Wednesday via email through spokesman Jared Thomas. “It is very important that the Secretary of State be able to examine all evidence and speak with all relevant parties in order to reach the proper decision, and this ruling makes that more difficult. I am working with our legal counsel to determine the best option going forward to achieve a fair and just result for the citizens of Monroe and Bibb counties.”
Virgil Adams, Bibb County’s former attorney who is still handling the case for the Macon-Bibb County consolidated government, said Judge Kelly Lee’s order needs to be clarified in light of the Georgia Supreme Court’s recent involvement in the case.
“What we are going to do is, first of all, request that the trial court grant us what we call a certificate of immediate review, in other words, to certify that we need an immediate resolution to this issue based on her order,” Adams said.
The border dispute between Monroe and Bibb counties has gone on for a decade. At issue is tax revenue from a small area of land, which includes the parking lot of the Bass Pro Shops complex and some nearby neighborhoods as well as school districts and other government services in those areas.
A 2009 survey by Terry Scarborough didn’t settle the issue. It gave the contested land to Monroe County, but Kemp rejected Scarborough’s survey, saying the evidence was inconclusive. Kemp didn’t establish a definitive boundary either, so the case continued in Fulton County Superior Court.
Lee ordered Kemp to record Scarborough’s survey, and she denied Bibb County’s move to intervene in the case.
But in March, the Georgia Supreme Court sent the case back to Lee, saying she couldn’t dictate a result to Kemp and couldn’t prevent Bibb from intervening.
Bibb formally joined the case May 5. That same day, Kemp sent the court a letter saying he would let Scarborough present additional evidence.
“In the interest of fairness, I will also allow the counties to present additional evidence should they so desire,” Kemp wrote.
Monroe County challenged that intention May 8, and Lee agreed.
“To allow another evidentiary hearing suggests bias in favor of Bibb County, is fundamentally unfair, and undermines the statutory process,” she wrote in her latest order that was filed Friday.
Kemp already has said he can’t decide based solely on the information he already has, and he needs Scarborough to answer questions and submit “extraneous material,” Adams said.
“We think the Supreme Court’s ruling specifically stated that although the trial court could order the secretary of state to set the line, the trial court could not tell him how to go about doing it, could not dictate what process he used,” he said. “Bottom line is, we’re going to appeal.”
Lee’s order says Kemp needs to set the border “within a reasonable time.” That’s Bilderback’s only quibble with the latest ruling: If Kemp doesn’t reach a decision soon, Monroe County would petition the court to force his hand, even to find him in contempt, Bilderback said.
To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.