ATLANTA — Lowndes County officials are fighting a state board, and now a trial court judge, in an appeals court case involving the delivery of local governmental services.
Lowndes County has claimed the commissioner and board members of the Department of Community Affairs acted unlawfully and with impunity when they declared a 2008 service delivery agreement was expired. Then, a trial court judge ruled against the county, saying the commissioner and board members of DCA were protected by sovereign immunity.
The case, known as Board of Commissioners of Lowndes County v. Mayor and Council of the City of Valdosta, et al., will have its opening oral arguments Thursday, June 27. The hearing will focus on whether state officials can be taken to court.
It all started in 2008 when the county and five Lowndes cities signed a service delivery agreement, which is meant to eliminate duplication of services and competition among local governments.
Lowndes County Attorney Walter Elliott argued the agreement remains in effect as long as no additions are made to the existing agreement or a new agreement is made. Since then, the agreement has not been revised and a new agreement has not been made.
The agreement is supposed to be revised and renewed every decade. The county and municipalities have failed to reach a new agreement in a process that started three years ago.
The DCA has the responsibility of reviewing and revising SDS agreements but does not have the ability to declare an agreement expired that has not been revised, Elliot said.
The DCA commissioner and board members decided the original 2008 SDS agreement between the county and cities had expired. The DCA put sanctions on the municipalities until a new agreement could be reached.
Elliott said the DCA commissioner and board members went beyond their powers as a state entity when they decided the 2008 agreement had expired.
However, a trial judge ruled against the county, saying it brought an improper suit against the state of Georgia, according to documents.
The judge agreed with the commissioner and board members that sovereign immunity bars the county from suing them.
Now, the county is challenging the sovereign immunity in an appellate court, claiming the commissioner and board members acted outside state powers and, therefore, are not protected by sovereign immunity.
"Accepting the argument of the commissioner and board members, they are above the law," the county said in its lawsuit. "Accepting their argument, they can act unlawfully with impunity, exceed the scope of their lawful authority with impunity and violate state statute with impunity.
"In this Orwellian world, persons aggrieved by their unlawful conduct are without recourse. This is not the law," according to the county.
If the appellate court rules in favor of the county, it will go back to the lower courts for a decision on whether the 2008 agreement remains effective or is expired.
Thomas Lynn is a government and education reporter for The Valdosta Daily Times. He can be reached at (229)244-3400 ext. 1256