Strengthening homeowners' rights when it comes to homeowner associations and broken promises made by developers got the attention of Douglas County’s legislative delegation when they met with representatives from the county, school system and other key officials Thursday
Homeowner protection was among the items on the Douglas County Board of Commissioners' state legislative priority list, which also included expanding behavioral health support, jail diversion programs for the mentally ill and sales tax reform.
Douglas County District 2 Commissioner Kelly Robinson has led the fight on homeowner rights in Douglas County and has drafted proposed legislation, which was presented to the legislators at the meeting
For the past two years, Robinson has hosted an HOA boot camp after observing how homeowner associations govern themselves, focusing on legal, financial, collections and maintenance issues.
He spoke to the legislative delegation in support of amending the Property Owners Association Act to provide protections for property owners when homeowner associations fail to meet their obligations and to provide greater guidelines for fiscal management and governance regarding elections, reserve funds and reporting.
The BOC also supports providing strong guidelines for administrative transitions from builders to HOAs, a greater level of transparency in finances and financial reporting.
“Developers are promising home buyers with selling things that are not happening,” Robinson said.
Douglas County’s attorney, Ken Bernard, told the legislators that state legislation is needed.
“From a consumer standpoint, the homeowner has no rights,” Bernard said. “State law might leverage more strength upon it. When the developer is out of money, it’s over.”
While state Rep. J. Collins, R-Villa Rica, said he would support the legislation, he said he felt more could be done here at home.
“I would support this,” Collins said. “ I think a state statute should be put in place but more could be done locally with developers.”
State Sen. Donzella James, D-Atlanta, said she had listened to her constituents and is in favor of consumers being protected.
“Developers don’t fulfill promises,” she said. “A homeowner has to sign a contract agreeing to join the homeowners' association and has to pay the fees upfront.”
The Douglas County BOC also threw its support to sales tax reform requiring the collection of sales tax on online transactions and limited exemptions for sales taxes. The county government officials also said they support counties having access to sales tax data from the Georgia Department of Revenue to ensure that sales taxes are being paid to the correct jurisdictions.
Collins acknowledged that a large amount of revenue is being lost locally through online sales which should be going back into the county. He did point out, however, that individuals living in Douglas County selling online at such sites as Ebay, would also have to pay sales tax as well.
County Public Defender Monica Myles asked the delegation for state funding to take some of the burden off the county for public defenders.
“A public defender is required to be on the accountability courts and there is not a lot of funding,” she said. “There is a lack of housing and rehabilitation doesn’t exist.”
Myles said that she is losing highly-trained and well-regarded public defenders to jobs in other areas due to lack of adequate pay.
Following the meeting with the BOC, the delegation met with Douglas County Superior Court Judges Beau McClain and Cynthia Adams, along with Douglas County Juvenile Court Judge Peggy Walker.
Walker warned the delegation to watch out for those who want to priviatize child welfare.
"Look at the data for states that have privatized and look at the budget," she said. "Our numbers are better and our costs are significantly less than states who have privatized."
She said, "I do not believe turning over such authority to for-profit companies will better serve our children and families."
Walker also said House Bill 359 addressing Power of Attorney for the care of a minor child is "problematic and puts children at risk of abuse, neglect and sexual exploitation."
Walker listed the need for enabling language in accountability courts' statutory framework to allow problem-solving in domestic violence and early childhood courts, for ages zero to 3. She also asked for legislation to deal with the removal of guns in domestic violence cases, legislation that Alabama has already passed.
McClain is the judge responsible for the felony drug accountability court, while Adams is now heading the mental health court.
Entering its third year in 2018, McClain said the court started out with four participants; today it has 83. There have been two graduations since the program began.
As it stands now, despite growth expectations by both the governor and Legislature, McClain said, “We cannot grow any quicker.”
He told the delegation that 15 percent of the population of participants in the program are homeless and “that is the biggest issue we face everyday.”
McClain said the participants’ past environments are not conducive to someone with drug and alcohol issues.
“They have nowhere to go,” he said.
He asked the legislators to get the Re-entry Partnership Housing (RPH) program of the Georgia Department of Community Affairs to provide funds to give homeless folks someplace to live.
In the meantime, the county has provided the courts with a house it owns behind the Douglas County landfill to house homeless women in the accountability court program.
McClain said he is working on a plan to house 30 people in renovated double-wide trailers at the former animal shelter.
Despite the obstacles, McClain said there are success stories from within the felony drug court. One program graduate has earned her paralegal license and is working for a local attorney. Several graduates have gone on to earn a CDL license; one has become a dental technician; another a certified electrician.
McClain said the same needs recur every year and will continue to do so.
“We do not have access to a psychiatrist who can prescribe medications some of our patients need to cope,” he said. “We need prescription assistance. We need solutions to opioids.”
The judge said the program had its first overdose death of a participant who was otherwise compliant.
McClain said felony drug court participants could benefit from the drug Vivitrol which prevents relapse to opioid and alcohol dependence following detoxification.
“It would be revolutionary,” he said.
Adams said a challenge to the mental health accountability court is getting needed medication in a timely manner.
“We just don’t have enough services,” she told the delegation.
Adams said that she has been approached about starting a Parental Obligation Accountability Court — but the judges are already stretched with those already in existence.
She said that she could like to see the county have a family law clinic in Douglas County, as other counties already have, which would serve people "who want a simple divorce, for example, and they don’t know where to go."
Members of the Douglas County legislative delegation attending the meeting were state Rep. Roger Bruce, D-Atlanta, who leads the delegation, Sen. Mike Dugan, R-Carrollton, Rep, Micah Gravley, R-Douglasville, Rep. William Boddie, D-East Point, Collins, Rep. Kimberly Alexander, D-Douglasville and James.