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Randy's Corner

About North Georgia's publisher Randy Golden contributes a look into life in north Georgia, the Web, or anything that's on his mind.

Monday, September 19, I awoke to some disturbing news - the 18-acre site of the Webber School in Sandy Springs was in danger of being condemned because Fulton County officials had decided it would be a good place for a new elementary school. In a strongly worded letter the officials recommended the school sell the property to the county or else the county would condemn the property and buy it under using eminent domain. School officials, who had completed site studies and other, required expensive paperwork, had just held their groundbreaking the day before.

What's even stranger is that Webber school officials had been in negotiations to willingly sell their land to Fulton County, only they wanted to recoup their losses on the preparation work that had already been done. The county would have only paid "fair value" in the condemnation, not including the nearly million dollars already rung up by the school to develop the property. The policy of eminent domain says that the land must be used for a greater public good – is a public school a greater public good than a private school? I don’t think so. Also, there are other 18-acre sites available within a reasonable area for Fulton County to build a school.

Preservationists in Henry County wanted to protect the site of the battle of Lovejoy Station, site of the last Confederate victory in the Civil War. They wanted it for historical preservation and reenactments, but Henry County commissioners decided to take the land and give it to developers who were going to add 300 homes to the metro area—just what we needed.

Eminent domain was a concept in law that permitted local, state and federal government the right to take land from an individual, normally paying for the property, then building a road or a park. This is known as the "Takings Clause" of the U. S. Constitution. However, a recent Supreme Court ruling (Kelo v. City of New London) changed the way government views the concept of eminent domain. Under the ruling, anything a government wants is in the realm of public good, so if the county wants your land for a development to increase the tax base, well, have at it and there is absolutely nothing you can do to stop them.

In a strongly worded dissent, Justice O'Connor rebuked the majority's conclusion, asserting that "the beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process," giving government a "license to transfer property from those with fewer resources to those with more.” O’Connor is absolutely right. The Constitution was never intended to create class differences between two groups of people or people and corporations. Furthermore, although I am not a lawyer, I don’t believe the wording of the Takings Clause gives any government the right to take an individual’s property and give it to a non-government entity.

This is wrong, and it is not what our forefathers had in mind when they drafted the United States Constitution. One of the basic tenets of American law (and English law before that) is that “Every man's house is his castle…that no matter how humble, even the king must ask permission before entering.” It is embodied in both the fourth and fourteenth amendments and as Herman Talmadge said at the Watergate hearings, “It still means something in my part of the county.” But that’s been revised with this judgment. With this ruling the government now owns every speck of land in the United States and they are just letting us borrow it until they need it.

What can we do about this travesty of justice? Lots. First, write your Congressman and let them know you disagree with the ruling. Second, encourage your Congressman to vote for legislation strengthening the test for words “in the public good” to be narrowly construed. Third, don’t elect commissioners who will misuse the power of eminent domain, and don’t reelect those who have. I think we should start with the folks in Fulton and Henry Counties.

Randy Golden, Publisher

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