Developer files lawsuit, ethics complaint against Forsyth commissioner

A developer who hopes to build homes on a controversial site near Lake Lanier has filed both a lawsuit and an ethics complaint against Forsyth County’s commission chairwoman, accusing her of slander and of improperly interfering with the project’s progress.

The commissioner, Laura Semanson, has expressed concerns that development of the former Lanier Golf Course could lead to contamination of the lake, which provides drinking water for most of metro Atlanta.

She has — thus far unsuccessfully — urged the county to order work stopped at the site off Buford Dam Road while more testing and due diligence are completed.

The property features two ponds, once used for irrigation, narrowly separated from the lake by an earthen dam.

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The lake is about 4 feet above full pool

Decades ago, golf courses were known to use a variety of chemicals that are either prohibited or greatly restricted today. Some are concerned those chemicals and heavy metals could still be hanging around, especially in the ponds.

Semanson, the Lake Lanier Association and others say disturbing the dam could cause contamination from those ponds and the surrounding soil to leech into the larger lake.

But Danny Bennett, the developer hoping to clear the way for more than 300 homes to be built, has maintained that he has completed all testing that’s required by law.

He and partner Danny L. Reid are now taking the battle to court.

Forsyth County Commissioner Laura Semanson. (Via (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

In a civil lawsuit filed Monday in Forsyth County Superior Court, they say Semanson’s “false statements” regarding potential contamination on the site, as well as others made about the developers’ plans, were “calculated to injure” them. A separate ethics complaint filed with Forsyth County makes similar allegations, calling Semanson’s “ongoing crusade” unbecoming of her position.

Semanson said attorneys were reviewing both actions filed against her but declined further comment.

Semanson is not the only one to raise questions about work on the old golf course site.

Still, the lawsuit accuses her of damaging the reputation of the developers and jeopardizing future business. It asks for her to be “immediately restrained from publishing or communicating false and defamatory statements concerning Plaintiffs and from interfering with Plaintiffs’ contractual and business relations.”

“Her improper actions have cost Plaintiffs significant amounts of time and money in terms of additional operating costs and lost productivity,” the suit claims.

The ethics complaint Bennett filed against Semanson says her actions violate two sections of the county’s ethics code. One of those sections orders elected officials to uphold the Constitution, federal, state and local laws; the other warns them to “never engage in other conduct which is unbecoming to a member or which constitutes a breach of public trust.”

If the complaint meets basic administrative requirements, it will be formally filed and served to Semanson, who will have 30 days to respond.

The filing will also start the process of forming the county’s Board of Ethics, which would consist of three members randomly drawn from a pre-determined pool. The pool is made up of experienced attorneys who do not work or live in Forsyth County.

If the ethics panel determined that the complaint is credible, a formal hearing would be held. If the panel then determined that a violation of the ethics code did take place, potential punishments range from written warning and reprimand to removal from office, though state law would make the latter highly unlikely.

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