Boswell did not respond to a request for comment on the report. The GDOT referred to a statement made in April that Boswell’s involvement had not influenced his decision to approve access to the freeway.
Ian Taylor, who lives near the site of the proposed mall, said Boswell’s involvement was inappropriate despite the findings of the Inspector General’s report.
“Without slandering anyone, it’s not fair,” Taylor said. “If you make money selling real estate then don’t hit the fucking commission that will potentially make you more money.”
The controversy stems from a developer’s plan to build the mall on 47 acres near a proposed Ga. 316 interchange at the Oconee connector. To move the project forward, landowner Maxie Price has applied for a new zoning of the property to the Oconee County Board of Commissioners. He also asked the GDOT for a red light and an entry on the Oconee connector.
The GDOT initially rejected the request, saying the access point was too close to a ramp slated for the $ 70.5 million exchange. Instead, GDOT proposed allowing an aisle that would allow vehicles to turn right – but not left – in and out of the mall.
Price objected, saying the GDOT and Oconee County agreed to allow a lane and median break in 1997 in exchange for a right of way for the roads. This agreement was reaffirmed in 2009.
Price has asked Boswell and the chairman of the State Transportation Board, Rudy Bowen, to turn over copies of these agreements to the GDOT, according to state documents. Citing the deals, GDOT chief engineer Meg Pirkle canceled district staff from the agency and granted Price’s request for the median break.
In April, Boswell said he had not pushed for the freeway access Price was seeking. He said his only implication was delivering the previous agreements so that the GDOT could review them.
Pirkle said Boswell’s involvement was not a factor in his decision.
Last week’s Inspector General’s report confirms Boswell and Pirkle’s accounts. He discovered that Pirkle initially received the documents from Bowen, not Boswell. He said Bowen had no financial connection with Price or the mall ownership.
Boswell then met with Pirkle and GDOT Commissioner Russell McMurry to deliver another copy of the documents. The report says the meeting took place “before (Pirkle) officially communicated their final decision” regarding access to the motorway.
Boswell told an investigator he believed McMurry was aware of his business relationship with the owner. Pirkle told an investigator she was only aware of Boswell’s business relationship with the owner after making her decision.
Pirkle said she canceled district staff due to GDOT’s prior commitment to allow the midway break. District engineers told the Inspector General’s office that they were not aware of the engagement. All parties described the decision to allow the median break “as a matter of routine that did not cause alarm”, according to the report.
The Inspector General found that “GDOT employees acted appropriately and professionally, and the road design decision was taken without undue influence”.
Taylor, the Oconee County resident, still believes Boswell should not have been involved, given his financial interest in selling the mall property.
Georgia’s code of ethics states that members of state councils should “never take any official action regarding a matter under circumstances where they know or should know that they have a direct or indirect monetary interest in the matter. of this matter or in the result of such official action.
But the Inspector General has no jurisdiction over the State Transportation Board, which is part of the legislative branch of state government. The report said it “confined its findings to the actions of relevant GDOT employees overseeing the highway project in question.”
William Perry, founder of the Georgia Ethics Watchdogs group, said the Inspector General’s report did not answer all of his questions about the involvement of members of the State Transportation Board in the case. Among other things, he wants to know why Boswell and Bowen were involved.
“The conflict of interest (for Boswell) in all of this stinks of heaven,” Perry said.
It is not known whether the mall in question will ever be built. In May, the Oconee County Council of Commissioners denied Price’s request for a zoning change for the property.