One county has endured botched elections, questionable tax lien sales and jail conditions so poor they require federal oversight. The other has seen two commissioners charged with bribery, a third accused of the same in a civil lawsuit and a chairman who resigned to avoid a perjury charge.
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Two counties, lots of trouble
Fulton and Gwinnett counties have seen more than their share of troubles in recent years. A few examples:
- A lawsuit over jail overcrowding and other problems has kept the county jail under federal supervision for seven years. The Board of Commissioners recently approved new locks they hope will help persuade a judge to drop the supervision.
- The Secretary of State’s Office is investigating mismanagement of elections that led to long lines at the polls and an inordinate amount of paper ballots cast last November.
- Tax Commissioner Arthur Ferdinand has aggressively used tax lien sales to collect property tax revenue. Critics say the process puts property owners in danger of losing their homes over small debts they didn’t know they owed.
- In 2010, a grand jury found the Board of Commissioners paid millions of dollars too much for land in deals that benefited well-connected developers at the expense of taxpayers.
- The jury indicted then-Commissioner Kevin Kenerly for bribery, claiming he accepted or agreed to accept $1 million to arrange for the county to buy land. Kenerly denies the charge, which is still pending. The jury decided not to indict then-Chairman Charles Bannister on a perjury charge when he offered to resign.
- Last year, Commissioner Shirley Lasseter and three others pleaded guilty to bribery charges. A federal corruption probe continues.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has investigated problems in Fulton and Gwinnett counties for years and tracked bills designed to address Fulton’s problems in the recent legislative session. Recently, critics have asked why state lawmakers focused on Fulton while ignoring pleas to address corruption at the Gwinnett Board of Commissioners. Today’s story explores the reasons for the different treatment of the two counties.