Mandatory mediation of the service delivery agreement among the Whitfield County Board of Commissioners, the Dalton City Council and the city councils of Cohutta, Tunnel Hill and Varnell ended without a deal. And on Thursday, Dalton City Council members are scheduled to meet with the city's attorneys to discuss how they will go forward.
"I don't know what our next step is," said Dalton Mayor David Pennington. "I won't know that until after we have had a chance to talk to our attorneys about what our options are."
The city, which hired a McDonough law firm as its special counsel for the service delivery discussions, filed a lawsuit on Nov. 5 against Whitfield County and the other cities, in Whitfield County Superior Court, seeking mandatory mediation of the agreement, noting that if the governments failed to reach an agreement during the mediation, "Dalton will petition the court to resolve all remaining items in dispute."
Thursday's meeting will take place at 4:15 p.m. in the second-floor conference room of City Hall. Council members will meet in executive session closed to the public and the media. Officials say the meeting will be informational only and the council members will take no action.
State law requires cities and counties to negotiate a new service delivery agreement every 10 years, spelling out which services the governments will provide and how they will be funded. The agreements are aimed at reducing duplication of services. The Whitfield County service delivery agreement — actually 39 separate agreements — covers items ranging from ambulance service to historic preservation to zoning.
The service delivery agreement among Whitfield County, Dalton, Cohutta, Tunnel Hill and Varnell expired on Oct. 31 after Dalton City Council members refused to agree to extend the existing agreement, saying they didn't believe some of the various agreements are fair to city taxpayers, who they argued are paying for services they aren't receiving.
David Emerson, acting administrative judge of Georgia’s 7th Judicial Administrative District, appointed Lookout Mountain Superior Court Judge Ralph Van Pelt Jr. to preside over the lawsuit after the four Superior Court judges for the Conasauga Judicial Circuit, which includes Whitfield and Murray counties, recused themselves.
Van Pelt, in turn, appointed Adele Grubbs, a senior judge with the Cobb County Superior Court, to oversee the mandatory mediation among the local governments. Representatives of the governments met in more than eight hours of mandatory mediation last week at the Dalton Convention Center without reaching an agreement.
The mandatory mediation period set by Van Pelt ended Sunday.
Whitfield County Attorney Robert Smalley said Monday that the next step in the legal process will depend on any actions taken by the City of Dalton.