Gwinnett judge dismisses suit over money county gave Chamber

The Gwinnett County school district and county government did nothing unlawful by giving as much as $4 million in recent years to the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce’s economic development wing, a judge has ruled.

Gwinnett County Superior Court Judge Randy Rich dismissed a claim Monday by resident Sabrina Smith that the school district’s actions were unconstitutional and violated the state’s open-records act. Rich made a similar ruling in favor of the county government last month.

Georgia governments have many legal protections from lawsuits. Rich said there was no waiver in this case to open the county government and school district to legal claims.

Smith’s attorney, Christopher McClurg, said they will probably appeal or file another lawsuit. Smith filed an open-records request in September asking for emails and invoices associated with the deal but McClurg said the request was denied.

“We have no idea how that money is being spent,” said McClurg. “It ought to scare the hell out of everybody.”

Smith, chairwoman of the citizen watchdog group Gwinnett Citizens for Responsible Government, filed the lawsuit in November 2012, claiming that the chamber’s economic development arm commingled public and private funds and illegally denied her written requests to learn more about how taxpayer funds were being spent. The partnership began in 2007. McClurg told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that she thinks the county and school board are using the money to pay for political campaigns led by the chamber, such as support for a 1 percent sales tax for transportation projects.

Officials involved in the effort insist they are being transparent. In May 2013, they voluntarily provided the AJC with records showing how much county money was spent. They also provided the AJC with a list of contributions from other public entities — about $85,000 from nine cities in 2012.

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