ATLANTA - The Franklin County District Attorney wants his county commissioners to decide whether he needs to take a boundary dispute involving a powerful local sheriff to a grand jury.
Our I-Team raised questions about whether Banks County Sheriff Carlton Speed, who is president of the Georgia Sheriff’s Association actually lives in Banks County.
Under Georgia law, a grand jury can request an official survey to resolve any county boundary dispute.
"This dispute seems largely to be the product of political squabbling between the two parties," says Franklin County District Attorney Parks White.
White, says a long-simmering political controversy over whether Banks County Sheriff Carlton Speed actually lives in Banks county could soon be settled.
"I'll need to bring it to the attention of the County Commissioners of Franklin County and see if they wish to have the Franklin County grand jury request a survey to determine where the county line should be and whether or not they believe there is a dispute that needs to be resolved," said White.
Two years ago, during an election loss court challenge, then State Representative Dan Gasaway argued Sheriff Speed shouldn't have voted in Banks county because he actually lived in Franklin County.
Sheriff Speed's key evidence was a survey showing the county line bending around his house. It was drawn by his wife's uncle, who has since passed away.
Karen Burry, head of the Banks County GIS department, backed the sheriff up. She testified she created this map when the Sheriff’s residency was questioned in 2015. It shows the boundary line curving around Sheriff Speed's home. She called it a kink in the line.
The judge ruled evidence in the case showed Sheriff Speed lived in Banks county. Ultimately, Gasaway won in court but lost his re-election. But, he didn't give up.
Gasaway hired a certified surveyor, who used the Banks county description written into Georgia law in 1858 to map the area around Sheriff Speed's home.
That curved line around the Sheriff's house is gone. The survey shows a perfectly straight boundary line and Sheriff Speed's property completely in Franklin County.
"I really believe a middle school kid on his computer can connect those dots and see what we are saying is true," says Gasaway.
"The line has been set by a person who was paid by Mr. Gasaway to pull the line. So, he's never wrong?" Sheriff Speed asked.
But, there is more. The I-Team examined Banks County's official maps over the years. We found the Banks County official map from 2016. There is the straight boundary line west of the Sheriff's home. In fact, you can see his house is clearly in Franklin County. But, then the map changed. In 2019 the boundary line moved, it now wraps around the Sheriff's home - putting him in Banks county.
When did the map change? According to the Internet Archives, less than two weeks before Dan Gasaway walked into a court of law to legally challenge where Sheriff Carlton Speed lived and voted.
Banks County GIS Analyst Karen Burry first wrote us "I have made no changes to the Boundary Data in the referenced area."
When we sent her the maps, she suddenly remembered there were two different maps. She wrote that "differences were found" in her data files and that she used Sheriff Speed's private survey done by his wife's family member and earlier tax maps to "validate the correct data."
She couldn’t remember when she put the maps on the internet.
(Are you saying if it's a problem it's a Banks County problem?) "Absolutely," said Franklin County DA Parks White.
White says he can't begin to imagine a county boundary would be changed just to benefit a candidate. For one reason, it could be illegal to do so.
"Improperly altering official documents and filing them can be a criminal act, yes," said White
White says that’s an issue for Banks County.
As for the boundary line dispute, White says the sitting grand jury can request an official survey be drawn to put the issue to rest. But, he wants Franklin county commissioners to first determine if Franklin County is hurt by the boundary dispute.
For example, is Franklin County losing property tax revenue if the Sherriff and other homeowners are paying Banks County taxes when they are actually located in Franklin county.
"It would be up to them to make a determination of whatnot, if it is in the interest of the county do even conduct any additional investigations," said White.
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