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Steve Brown: The Essence of the Matter
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I take no pleasure in writing this. It does not come from a place of celebrating an attack, but rather from the sad but necessary place of realizing that things have gone too far and must now change.

An article in the Covington News by Meris Lutz on Monday, July 7, quoted County Attorney Tommy Craig as saying he was “not familiar with the internal structure” of Green Hill and was unaware of Baker’s role in the company. (Jim Baker is CEO of East Georgia Land (EGL) and Baker & Lassiter, Inc. EGL wants to build an unwanted private landfill here and is suing the county.)

Tee Stribling, another principle in Green Hill P3, said both the BOC and the county attorney were aware of the “general structure” of Green Hill and that members of East Georgia were also members of Green Hill, in another Meris Lutz article of July 9. What a tangled web we weave....

Mr. Craig worked behind the scenes for months to put together the rejected Green Hill P3 deal which would have not only turned Newton County into a regional garbage dump, but would have placed huge financial liability for related legal and regulatory compliance issues into the hands of the fledgling Green Hill company. Claiming to not be familiar with the partnerships involved in Green Hill indicates a complete lack of due diligence of vetting their make up as substantiation of their suitability as a partner of the county in these hugely serious matters. It also indicates a complete lack of working knowledge of a company with which a deal worth 100's of millions of dollars was being forged. All of which amounted to putting the county at massive risk based on an unknown.

Mr. Craig has a history of involvement in numerous previous real estate deals concerning either principles or land that are part of the acreage on which East Georgia wishes to host a private landfill. Baker & Lassiter, Inc. was formed in 1989, before Mr. Craig represented Lassiter Properties in a land dispute in 1994. He also dealt extensively with Lassiter Properties over the course of years to purchase land for the Bear Creek Reservoir and the county landfill. This tangle of corporate relations and land acquisition schemes underlie the totally unacceptable Green Hill deal and the resulting lawsuit from one of its partners. If Mr. Craig, despite his earlier dealings with some of the principles, was truly "not familiar" with any of this, he missed, to use a favorite word of attorneys, the essence of the matter.

One has to wonder if this is a pattern. His outrageous million-dollar a year pay misses the essence of public fiscal responsibility in a county as economically stressed as Newton. The nearly two decade long, $20,000,000 Bear Creek Reservoir fiasco missed the essence of properly meeting Corps of Engineers requirements, not to mention missing the essence of the true state of both our population growth and adequate water supply. Approving, if only tacitly, the absurd results of the hatchet job that has been done to our form of county government over the course of a few sitting boards, missed the essence of workability, if not legality, in our government structure. Keeping what should be public records of legal services and billings for the county in his office misses the essence of transparency and accountability. First agreeing, then changing his mind in the shower to disagree and support the reversal of stripping JC Henderson of his duties for accepting an unethical loan from the county, and accomplishing that by the legally questionable tactic of merely purging the official minutes after the fact, violates the essence of sound counsel.

In essence, the long serving Mr. Craig, with this latest incredible claim of being ignorant of the parties with whom he attempted to turn Newton County into a regional dump, appears to have lost his viability as county attorney and should resign. That would be the essence of civic duty.

Steve Brown