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Judge dismisses one of four claims in 50 Oaks lawsuit
 tcooper  / 

Glynn County Superior Court Judge Stephen Kelley dismissed one complaint from St. Simons Island residents in their lawsuit against the county over approval of the 50 Oaks subdivision.

A group of five St. Simons Island residents took the county to court in September over the Community Development Department director’s approval of a preliminary subdivision plat for 50 Oaks, a planned development of 54 townhouses in 15 buildings behind Bennie’s Red Barn on North Harrington Road.

Construction hasn’t started due to the lawsuit. Plaintiffs claim mistakes in a 2005 rezoning mean the procedure was not done properly and is invalid, and is not compliant with local ordinance besides. As such the county shouldn’t have approved 50 Oaks’ preliminary subdivision plat, they claim.

Attorneys for the county and 50 Oaks’ developers, however, maintain the rezoning was done correctly and that the window to appeal that rezoning has long since passed.

While three more claims remain, Kelley dismissed the plaintiffs’ request that he review and reverse the community development director’s decision.

“An opinion came out from the Georgia Supreme Court that’s pretty hard to get around. The argument that (certiorari) is the wrong remedy for this kind of lawsuit,” said Geremy Gregory, an attorney for the residents.

The opinion he referred to came out of the Housing Authority of Augusta v. Gould lawsuit, which the Supreme Court ruled on in March.

When an employee of the Housing Authority of Augusta cut off Carrie Gould’s housing assistance, Gould appealed the decision. A hearing officer, also an employee of the authority, listened to both sides and upheld the employee’s decision.

She then sought a writ of certiorari — which, if granted, means a higher court will review the ruling made by a lower decision-making entity, in this case, the housing authority — from Richmond County Superior Court, or to have the hearing officer’s decision reversed and to be given a new hearing on the decision.

The writ of certiorari only applies when the decision being appealed is judicial or quasi-judicial, and the superior court judge initially found it met the criteria. The authority fought back, however, and got the case dismissed.

The following decision by the Georgia Court of Appeals reversed the superior court’s ruling.

“We agree with Gould that the hearing officer’s decision is subject to review on certiorari because the hearing was quasi-judicial in nature and the hearing officer exercised judicial powers. Thus, we reverse the superior court’s dismissal of the petition,” the appeals court decision states.

First, for an act to be quasi-judicial “all parties are as a matter of right entitled to notice and to a hearing, with the opportunity afforded to present evidence under judicial forms of procedure.”

Second, the Supreme Court stated a quasi-judicial act is “akin to a judicial act,” in that it involves “an ascertainment of the relevant facts from evidence presented and an application of pre-existing legal standards to those facts.”

Finally, the decision must be “sufficiently final, binding and conclusive of the rights of the parties” for it to be considered quasi-judicial.

The state Supreme Court found the housing authority’s decision was not quasi-judicial in that it did not meet the third criteria.

It was not “sufficiently final, binding and conclusive of the rights of the parties” to qualify.

Based on that case, Kelley said he couldn’t classify Thompson’s decision as quasi-judicial because the parties were not entitled to notice and to a hearing, and could not grant the plaintiffs request for a writ of certiorari.

“Where (the Glynn County subdivision regulations do) not provide for notice and a hearing before a decision is made on an application for preliminary plat approval, much less one involving judicial forms of procedure or a decisional process properly characterized as judicial in nature, the court cannot find that the first indicia of a quasi-judicial act is met,” Kelley wrote.

“That’s the one that hung us up because Glynn County has taken away that procedure,” Gregory said.

Under the Islands Planning Commission’s public comment policy, citizens were allowed hearings on preliminary subdivision plat applications until June 2018, when the Glynn County Commission shifted the responsibility of approving or denying preliminary plats from the IPC to the Community Development Department’s director.

Claims for injunctive and declaratory relief remain. The St. Simons residents are also seeking a writ of mandamus, which would require the county to undo the original rezoning.

Blessing of the Fleet

CAP is ready to help when needed
 lhobbs  / 

We three grown men occupied a space Saturday that was less roomy than the interior of a Mini Cooper, but our panoramic view of the Golden Isles was as vast as the horizon.

The space between the front windshield and the propeller did not appear large enough to hold a Briggs and Stratton lawnmower engine. However, we were in fact cruising faster than 100 mph, holding steady at 1,200 feet above the Altamaha River delta spread out below us.

Still, this old Cessna 172 Skyhawk is a very little airplane, even with the 180 horses under the hood. Just then, 10:52 a.m. to be specific, something from somewhere inside the knobs and dials on the plane’s control panel started going off like the security alarms at a compromised liquor store.

“Aha! That’s it,” pilot Bob Speight said, as if he expected this alarming development all along.

“OK, I think we’ve got it,” Greg Moore called out from what passes as a backseat on this little bird.

The two men conversed for the next couple of minutes in a series of aeronautical acronyms and numbered sequences that smacked of gibberish to the uninitiated. Suddenly, the Cessna teetered toward sideways as it banked into a turn that offered a nearly parallel view from the passenger side window of the forest below.

Welcome to the Civil Air Patrol, Coastal Patrol Base 6, St. Simons Island. This trusty old 2001 Cessna is the heart of the local CAP squadron’s lofty civilian mission to provide a protective eye in the sky along our stretch of coastal Georgia. Saturday’s exercise was actually part of the quarterly drill for CAP Group IV, which includes the aforementioned squadron based at McKinnon St. Simons Island Airport, as well as squadrons from Savannah, Statesboro, Augusta and Effingham County.

Speight is one of four CAP pilots with the St. Simons Island squadron, and also its squadron commander. Moore is among more than 30 volunteers who keep the local CAP activities running smoothly. On Saturday’s operation, Moore served as photographer and mission observer. A reporter with The Brunswick News was invited to ride along in the front passenger seat, for ballast perhaps.

The alarm that went off moments earlier was actually tethered electronically to a homing device known as an ELT. Every aircraft, everywhere, has an Electronic Location Transmitter these days. The things emit an emergency notice if a plane’s altimeter measures a sudden descent that would indicate distress.

In real life scenarios, the U.S. Air Force Rescue Coordination Center regularly calls on CAP squadrons across the country to respond in such emergencies. Nationwide, some 90 percent of calls to the center are ultimately entrusted to CAP squadrons.

Search and rescue crews such as that of Speight and Moore can hone in on the emergency transmission with GPS coordinates and pinpoint the exact location of the plane in distress. For this exercise, a fellow CAP volunteer had driven out to Jesup and covertly planted an ELT on the ground. Sort of a fox hunt in the sky.

We were over the Altamaha River basin in western Glynn County when the ELT alarm started caterwauling.

Seconds later Speight came out of the banking turn and into a path directly in line with the ribbon of U.S. Highway 341 below us. For the purposes of this exercise, it appears perhaps a pilot with engine trouble went down on or near this rural stretch of U.S. 341. “He was maybe in trouble and trying to use 341 as an emergency field,” Speight said.

As he circled a section of the railroad track that ran beside the highway, the ELT alarm grew louder, indicating we were closing in on it. “All right, Greg, standby for marking GPS coordinates,” Speight called out. “Thirty-one, twenty-two, fiftyish?”

To be precise, it was N 31 22.566 and W 08 37.138, according to the handheld GPS doohickey Greg handed up to me after jotting down the coordinates. “Got it,” he called up to Speight.

Their efforts Saturday marked the continuation of a Golden Isles aerial tradition that dates back to 1942 and the early days of World War II. That is when the first Civil Air Patrol formed at the airport on St. Simons Island, which at the time also was a naval air base.

Enemy submarines were a serious threat to the area, as evidenced by the German U-boat that torpedoed two merchant ships offshore from St. Simons Island and left 22 seamen dead on April 8, 1942. With legendary local pilot Sam Baker as its leader, the newly formed Civil Air Patrol vigilantly took to the skies and canvassed the offshore waters for signs of enemy threats. CAP pilots throughout the coastal U.S. played a significant role in the quick elimination of the menace of German U-boats.

The local CAP squadron has remained in service to coastal Georgia ever since. It is one of the oldest CAP squadrons in continuous operation in the U.S.

These days, folks like Speight, Moore and longtime local volunteers Joan and Roy Scarborough give freely of their time to maintain that commitment to service. In addition to being on standby for emergencies ranging from stranded boaters to downed private planes, the local CAP regularly conducts aerial patrols of our coastal and inland waterways.

CAP pilots take to the skies for Sundown Patrols four days a week, Thursday through Sunday, “looking for anything out of the ordinary,” Moore said. The Glynn County Commission allocates $12,500 annually to keep the Sundown Patrols flying.

After the ELT portion of the exercise wrapped up Saturday, Speight put the Cessna on northeasterly course for a pulp mill in rural Liberty County. The scenario involved post-storm damage reconnaissance, for which Moore had a zoom lens camera. Moore, who turned “a stone’s throw from the Ice Age” this year, was a CAP cadet as a teenager back in his native Indiana. After attending Indiana University on a full ROTC scholarship, Moore spent 12 years in the Air Force.

“I’ve been wearing a blue uniform since I was 14,” he said. “I’ve always been a believer in giving back and serving God. God, the Air Force and CAP have been so good to me over the last 50 years that I’m happy to give back some of my time.”

Moore opened a hatch in the side window, poked his camera lens out of it and snapped away as Speight made runs at 1,000 feet on either side of the pulp mill.

“You good?” Speight asked.

“Yeah, I’ve got enough photos,” he said.

The little Cessna skirted the coast on the leg back home to St. Simons Island. It was a stunning view, from the ocean waters swelling into waves along the beach to the artfully intricate blend of inland waterways and marshland beyond it. But all these two seemed interested in was spotting kayakers and boaters who might be in trouble.

Speight first got involved with CAP while still in high school back home in Dunwoody near Atlanta. He has been a licensed civilian pilot since he was a young man. A manager at the King and Prince Hotel on St. Simons Island, he got involved with the local CAP squadron eight years ago as a way to be of service and improve his flying skills.

“To me, it’s great fun,” said Speight, 50. “And it got me flying again, helped me become a better pilot. And there’s also the volunteer aspect of it. I’m out here helping out and that has been very rewarding.”

G Street Park could be renamed
 gjackson  / 

The G Street Park in Brunswick got its name for a simple reason: It’s on G Street.

But the park may soon be renamed in honor of Abe Brown, the former owner of Hall, Jones and Brown Funeral Home that was located across from the park for several years. The request will be considered at Wednesday’s Brunswick City Commission meeting.

Brown was the first African-American coroner elected in Glynn County and the state of Georgia in 1984, serving two terms in office. He served a partial term in 2013 as county coroner in 2013 after the death of Jimmy Durden.

He was also a member of the Glynn County Airport Commission and the Glynn County Board of Elections. The recommendation is to approve the request to rename the park to Abram F. Brown Sr. Park in recognition to his lifelong service to the community.

“Mr. Brown was truly a caring leader and a dedicated public servant whose accomplishments and life are worthy of such an honor,” according to the recommendation.

Commissioners will also consider a proposal to enter into service agreements with five different companies for “on call” engineering services.

The request, if approved, will speed up the time associated with seeking companies to provide engineering services for the city. The companies will help the small city public works department perform tasks such as transportation and traffic engineering, storm water drainage improvement study and design, multi-use paths, environmental regulatory permitting, land surveying, construction administration and geographic information systems database administration.

Seven firms submitted proposals and five were selected: Goodwyn, Mills & Cawood; EMC Engineering Services; Thomas & Hutton; Georgia Water & Environmental Services and Jone & Edmunds.

All five companies are capable of providing city services and four of the businesses have offices in downtown Brunswick.

If city officials approve the recommendation, price proposals will be obtained from the companies prior to the start of the project. Since the firms have all been deemed to be qualified to provide the services, projects will be awarded based on primarily on price and schedule.

Approval of the proposal will help the city avoid up to a 90-day requirement to advertise a project.