Attorneys for three different parties presented arguments to the Georgia Supreme Court about an ongoing border war Tuesday.
Monroe County and Bibb County have been in legal limbo for several years over where their shared border lies. Secretary of State Brian Kemp appealed to the state Supreme Court after a lower court ordered him to accept a new county line between the two. Bibb County appealed because attorneys for the county thought they should have been included in that lower court’s decision.
In 2005, Monroe County asked then-Governor Sonny Perdue to appoint a surveyor to assess the boundary. The surveyor submitted a redrawn line that would award a swath of land to Monroe County and create an “island” of Bibb County inside Monroe.
Secretary Kemp rejected the survey, so Monroe County filed a petition for a “Writ of Mandamus,” which a court can issue to force a government official to act. Now, the Supreme Court must decide whether that lower court had the authority to issue the writ of mandamus. The lower court also compelled Kemp to accept the line as drawn by the surveyor in 2009.
Kemp is represented by Georgia Solicitor General, Nels Peterson. Peterson argued the court does not have the power to force Kemp to decide on a border, let alone make the decision for him.
“In the event—and we don’t believe that it does but—in the event that mandamus is available to direct the Secretary to establish a line, mandamus is not available to direct the Secretary where to establish the line,” Peterson told the Georgia Supreme Court. “That is the quintessential exercise of discretion: determining from the law and from the evidence where the line should be.”
Monroe County’s attorneys said the lower court was right in issuing the writ because they claim Kemp was required by law to make a final border determination.
“Here there is a clear legal right to having some sort of line set,” said Monroe County attorney Lititia McDonald. “The statute says after the survey is submitted to the counties and any protests are filed and upon a hearing of any protests, and this language I will quote directly and it’s important, ‘The Secretary of State shall determine from the law and evidence the true boundary line in dispute between the counties.’”
The land in question is the site of a large shopping area, anchored by Bass Pro Shops.
“What’s at stake is a lot of money actually,” explained Bibb County attorney Virgil Adams. “The line that was prepared by the surveyor goes through Bass Pro and it also disrupts a lot of residences and other businesses in Bibb County.”
Monroe County Commission Chair Mike Bilderback said his county does not want to take away tax revenues from Bibb County, but instead wants to clarify jurisdictional issues for the citizens who live in the area.
“As development increases in that area, we’re going to only have more occurrences. So since we’ve invested this much money and time, we need to go ahead and see it through,” said Bilderback. “It’s to make sure that our citizens and Bibb County citizens know where they can go for permitting, who’s protected by what planning and zoning board, whether it be ours or theirs. We’re here to support the citizens and give them the protection that they want for their community.”