The attorney for East Georgia Land and Development Company is demanding the county produce a long-sought zoning compliance letter saying that the company’s 427-acre tract adjacent to the Newton County landfill met the county zoning in effect in June 1997. The county was ordered to do so in a ruling by the Georgia Supreme Court in October 2014 after a 17-year legal battle.
That attorney also demands a second letter which would state that East Georgia’s plan to develop a landfill was not in violation of the county’s Solid Waste Management Plan (SWMP) in effect in June 1997. This demand goes far beyond the Supreme Court’s ruling.
The county must provide the zoning compliance letter as ordered, but the issuance of a SWMP compliance letter is a new and different matter. The Board of Commissioners must tread carefully at this point. There are significant legal issues to be addressed before acquiescing to this demand that the county waive objections to the use of East Georgia’s land as a landfill under the SWMP in effect in 1997. That plan was initially adopted in 1993 and amended in 2008.
There are other legal issues to be analyzed as the landfill saga continues.
The Supreme Court decision against Newton County ruled that the zoning ordinance of 1985 had not been legally adopted because zoning maps were not attached to the ordinance. Now it must be decided whether the responsibility for that failure rests on the county attorney who wrote and guided the ordinance through the adoption process.
If so, there follows the next scenario: When an attorney represents a client, he or she must meet a certain standard of care in performing services, i.e. making sure that the adoption of zoning ordinances is done appropriately and according to existing law such that it can withstand legal challenges. A review of the facts in this case by outside counsel may suggest that Newton County should demand from the county attorney’s professional liability insurance carrier payment of the costs of defending the case. That is why attorneys carry professional liability insurance.
Furthermore, the county attorney or his designees should be disqualified from further involvement in any litigation involving East Georgia or settlement discussions since the county attorney might have a vested interest in the outcome. The responsibility for seeking answers to these questions and issues lies firmly with the Board of Commissioners who should be cautioned to seek outside legal counsel at once and perform all due diligence.