Plumbroke at the BOC

18 U.S. Code § 242. Deprivation of rights under color of law

“Whoever, under color of any law, statute, ordinance, regulation, or custom, willfully subjects any person in any State, Territory, Commonwealth, Possession, or District to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States, or to different punishments, pains, or penalties, on account of such person being an alien, or by reason of his color, or race, than are prescribed for the punishment of citizens, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both; and if bodily injury results from the acts committed in violation of this section or if such acts include the use, attempted use, or threatened use of a dangerous weapon, explosives, or fire, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both; and if death results from the acts committed in violation of this section or if such acts include kidnapping or an attempt to kidnap, aggravated sexual abuse, or an attempt to commit aggravated sexual abuse, or an attempt to kill, shall be fined under this title, or imprisoned for any term of years or for life, or both, or may be sentenced to death.

(June 25, 1948, ch. 645, 62 Stat. 696; Pub. L. 90–284, title I, § 103(b), Apr. 11, 1968, 82 Stat. 75; Pub. L. 100–690, title VII, § 7019, Nov. 18, 1988, 102 Stat. 4396; Pub. L. 103–322, title VI, § 60006(b), title XXXII, §§ 320103(b), 320201(b), title XXXIII, § 330016(1)(H), Sept. 13, 1994, 108 Stat. 1970, 2109, 2113, 2147; Pub. L. 104–294, title VI, §§ 604(b)(14)(B), 607(a), Oct. 11, 1996, 110 Stat. 3507, 3511.)

Dear Glynn County Board of Commissioners:

Before I get to the subject of this long message, let me explain that my subject line, “DUNCAN’S CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES”, comes from an epigram by Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) and first appeared in his essay on “Thoughts on Various Subjects, Moral and Diverting”: “When a true genius appears, you can know him by this sign: that all the dunces are in confederacy against him.” That epigram inspired the title of “A Confederacy of Dunces”, the novel by my friend and Tulane classmate, John Kennedy Toole (for which he was awarded the Pulitizer Prize posthumously). I would not waste “confederacy of dunces” on any ordinary dunces. But in the matter I am bringing before you, that honorific is warranted.

Some, if not all, of you may find this message tedious. But please consider this: reading, understanding, and starting to act upon what I have put before you may be far less time-consuming than giving depositions about what you knew and when you knew it before the 2016 decision by four of you to “disclaim interest” in Plumbroke Road—and less time-consuming for three of you elected after that decision if you fail to act upon what you have an opportunity to learn by reading and understanding this message.

After receiving nearly a hundred pages of documents from the Glynn County Attorney’s office on April 4th ten days after I filed a GORA request, I went through those documents and arranged them in chronological order. Here is my brief summary of the salient documents and statements as the scheme evolved to get the Glynn County Board of Commissioners to approve unanimously Resolution #R-08-16 on February 18th, 2016 “to execute an associated Disclaimer of Interest in property which is on or about Plumbroke Road” on Saint Simons Island.

The purpose of this chronological summary and my comments is to encourage you to take immediate steps to begin the process of revoking that resolution disclaiming interest in protecting the right of the public to use property dedicated to public use forever in 1940.

Please accept and read my chronological summary of and comments on the data dump I received on April 4th of this year:

On March 31st, 2015, William Ligon, an attorney for Patrick Duncan, had an assistant send a “Dear Aaron” email to Glynn County Attorney Aaron Mumford enclosing a plat of the Peterson Subdivision. In this email, Mr. Ligon wrote: “I would like to confirm that the county does not claim an interest in Lot 13, the proposed park at the Marsh.” This seems to have been a careless reference to two separate parcels: lot 13 (which was set aside and dedicated for a park or public street) and another parcel to the east of lot 23 which was set aside and dedicated as a “park and play grounds” at the time this subdivision was platted in 1940. In this email, Mr. Ligon asks Mr. Mumford “Do you think that the County could give a Quit Claim deed to confirm this?” (i.e., that the county does not claim an interest in Lot 13 or the proposed park).

MY COMMENT: Please note that there is no reference in this email to the need to quit claim, abandon, or disclaim interest in Plumbroke Road itself. No documents responsive to my GORA request have been provided to me for the three and a half month period between the time of Ligon’s March 31st email and the letter described below. Perhaps this matter was discussed in phone calls or face-to-face meetings.

On June 15th, 2015, William Ligon sent a signed letter to Assistant County Attorney Will Worley. In this letter, Mr. Ligon stated “there is no evidence to indicate an acceptance of the street by Glynn County” and that “We are asking for a Quit Claim deed to Plumbroke Road and the two proposed parks in order to confirm that Glynn County does not have an interest in the roads or the parks.”

MY COMMENT: Please note that Mr. Mumford seems to have handed off the matter of Plumbroke Road to Mr. Worley. Nearly three months pass before the next paper record provided to me.

On September 9th, 2015, Noah Priest-Goodsett, another assistant county attorney, sent an email to Mr. Ligon with the subject line “Patrick Duncan/Plumbroke Road Issue.” In this email, Mr. Priest-Goodsett wrote “William, I am doing an additional review of the issued [sic] concerning Plumbroke Road. I will provide you with my thoughts and opinion as soon as I have completed my review.”

MY COMMENT: Please note that Mr. Worley seems to have handed off this now second-hand matter to Mr. Priest Goodsett, who is now employed elsewhere.

On September 17th, 2015, in an email with the same subject line as his September 9th email, Mr. Priest Goodsett wrote: “William, The County Engineer and I are conducting a site visit of the road on Friday, and I am awaiting some documentation from Public Works. As such, I don’t yet have complete information or a conclusion to share with you. . . .”

MY COMMENT: It is clear by now that Mr. Mumford and two of his assistants have been very helpful to Mr. Ligon and his client. Perhaps the three new members of the county commission should ask the four sitting commissioners who voted on this matter in 2016 if the Plumbroke Road “issue” was ever discussed in county commission workshops, special-called meetings, or executive sessions. Nearly three more months pass before the next paper record provided to me was created.

On or sometime before December 9th, 2015, Mr. Ligon’s office prepared and delivered to the County Attorney’s office drafts of two quit-claim deeds by which Glynn County would quit-claim to Patrick Duncan and Orion Douglass the three tracts dedicated for public use in 1940 (Plumbroke Road, lot 13, and the proposed “park and play grounds”.

MY COMMENT: What began more than eight months earlier has finally produced an actual legal document.

On December 9th, 2015, Mr. Ligon sent a signed letter to Mr. Priest-Goodsett that began: On behalf of Mr. Patrick Duncan we are asking the County to confirm that it has no interest in the fifty (50) foot right-of-way and proposed parks depicted on the subdivision plat of Sam Harris Tract . . . by signing the quit claim deed previously delivered to your office.” In this letter, Mr. Ligon asserted without qualification that since 1940 the proposed right-of-way and parks “have never been opened, used by the public or maintained by the county” and [without citing evidence] that “This has been confirmed by research performed by Glynn County officials.” Mr. Ligon then claimed that “Once the quit claim deed is obtained, Mr. Duncan will be able to make adjustments to the location of the road.”

MY COMMENT: I recommend the county commission ask Mr. Ligon which “Glynn County officials” conducted the research that confirmed his claim. And despite Mr. Ligon’s claim that “Mr. Duncan will be able to make adjustments to the location of the road,” Mr. Duncan does not seem to have made any “adjustments to the location of the road”; instead, he re-platted the original 1940 plat without any change to the location of the road.

On December 9th, 2015, Mr. Priest-Goodsett sent an email to Mr. Ligon attaching an “Affidavit of Abandonment” as an example of something that he “thought . . . might be somewhat helpful to you in generating a resolution for our review.”

MY COMMENT: By raising the possibility of “abandoning” the road, Mr. Priest-Goodsett seems to have muddied the legal waters by implying the county owns Plumbroke Road. See the next item:

On December 30th, 2015, Mr. Ligon sent a signed letter to Mr. Priest-Goodsett asking that Glynn County “confirm by Quitclaim deed that it has not accepted the fifty (50) foot right-of-way and proposed parks depicted on the [1940] subdivision plat.” Mr. Ligon repeated his earlier claim that the “right-of-way and proposed parks have never been opened, used by the public or maintained by the county” and that “This has been confirmed by research performed by Glynn County officials.”

MY COMMENT: By repeating what he wrote on December 9th, Mr. Ligon seems to have indicated he does not wish to explore other options.

On January 4th, 2016, Mr. Priest-Goodsett sent Mr. Ligon an email with the subject line “RE: Patrick Duncan” in response to Mr. Ligon’s December 30th, 2015 letter. Mr. Priest-Goodsett copied this email to County Attorney Mumford. The second paragraph of this email is particularly relevant and interesting: “As we discussed in detail regarding your letter of December 9, 2015, my office is not comfortable recommending that the board execute quitclaim deeds when other citizens have interests in the property you wish to be quitclaimed to your client(s) exclusively. In your current letter [apparently the Ligon letter dated December 30th, 2015], you note, that your client ‘will’ (in the future) secure interests of third parties to the road and park. As such, it is clear that Mr. Duncan does not, at the time of the request, own all of the interest in the park or in the road.” Having expressed himself very prudently, Mr. Priest-Goodsett continues: “Given the above, as I see [it,] you have two options: 1.) Prepare a Resolution for the Board [of Commissioners] to disclaim interest in the park and road. This would require no further proof of ownership interests and would not require the pending transactions to be completed prior to the request being made. This option is preferable to my office and would limit the necessity of further review.”

MY COMMENT: If there is a smoking gun to be found in this stack of documents, this is it: a clear acknowledgement that the county attorney’s office is aware that the property rights of others are involved. But having stated that awareness, Mr. Priest-Goodsett then offers Mr. Ligon a way to “limit the necessity of further review” by “his” office. In other words, by advising Mr. Ligon to prepare a resolution for the BOC to disclaim interest in Plumbroke Road and the two parks, he seems to be making it clear that the county attorney’s office wishes to wash its hands of any responsibility in this matter and leave it up to any affected property owners to hire lawyers to recover their right to access Plumbroke Road or to access their property by way of lot 13 dedicated in 1940 as a park or public street connecting to property on the west side of the Plumbroke subdivision.

On January 29th, 2016, Melinda Bruley White, an attorney in Mr. Ligon’s office, sent Mr. Priest-Goodsett an email with the subject line “Disclaimer of Interest.” Her message begins: “Here is my shot at the disclaimer.”

MY COMMENT: Mr. Ligon has apparently tired of this matter and has passed the buck to Ms. White. I will not comment on her reference to her “shot at the disclaimer”.

On February 2nd, 2016, at 11:26 AM, Ms. White sent Mr. Priest-Goodsett an email with attachment that may be another draft of the “DISCLAIMER OF INTEREST IN REAL PROPERTY” she created. In this draft, she describes the 1940 plat and asserts it shows “an unopened fifty (50) road, ‘Proposed Park and Playground,’ and “Lot 13 ‘Reserved for park or street’ for which the [sic] appears to never have been any acceptance by Glynn County, any maintenance by Glynn Count, or any public use in any respect”.

MY COMMENT: Ten months after at least two private attorneys first began to bill their client (Mr. Duncan) and three county attorneys began to bill their clients (the taxpayers of Glynn County), this confederacy of Mr. Duncan’s Dunces brought forth a blunt instrument that seems more suitable to matters before a probate court than a county commission.

On February 2nd, 2016, at 11:47 AM, eleven minutes after her first email, Ms. White sent Mr. Priest-Goodsett a second email with the subject line “Plumbroke Road” and a seven page pdf attachment entitled “Road and Access Law: Researching and Resolving Common Disputes”. In her email, Ms. White advises Mr. Priest-Goodsett that “The only remaining issue involves Mrs. [Berthenia] Gibson, who owns Lot 2 with ingress/egress directly to Demere [Road] and no land adjoining Plumbroke Road. She doesn’t want to sign anything. Apparently she told Mr. Duncan that she doesn’t like lawyers and has nothing to do with that land anyway. Currently, she has no plans to object to the County’s disclaimer of interest or attend any Commission meeting.”

MY COMMENT: This is, as far as the documents I have received indicate, the only time any of Duncan’s Conspiracy of Dunces raised the possibility or notion that members of the public might wish to attend a county commission meeting in order to object to “the County’s disclaimer of interest”. There is, as far as I can determine, no record that any abutting property owners were ever informed by county staff that a resolution drafted by Mr. Duncan’s attorneys would be on an agenda for action.

On February 9th, 2016, Ms. White sent Mr. Priest-Goodsett an email asking “if you had had a chance to look at the draft resolution and disclaimer yet” and reminding him that “I think you told me the deadline to get on the next agenda is tomorrow”. She then adds, apparently as an aside, that “Patrick [Duncan?] mentioned something about Mr. Hainley [as in David Hainly, then the director of the Department of Community Development] suggesting to him that this would be appropriate for an executive session.”

MY COMMENT: Wow! Is this another smoking gun? David Hainley seems to have joined the Duncan Confederacy of Dunces by suggesting this matter be “resolved” in an executive session out of public view. Although there are no documents in the data dump provided to me in response to Mr. Hainley’s suggestion, please note that it was Mr. Hainley, not one of the three county attorneys, who actually presented the resolution disclaiming interest to the county commission nine days later when he told the county commission in public session that “the county never spent a dime on the road and that’s part of why we don’t want to claim any interest in it.” I suggest it would be in the interest of the current county commission to invite Mr. Hainley back to a future meeting to explain what the other part or parts “of why we don’t want to claim any interest in it” might be—or how many thousands of dimes of county staff time was spent bringing this matter to a conclusion that benefitted Mr. Duncan.

On February 10th, 2016, Mr. Priest-Goodsett responded to Ms. White (and copied his response to Mr. Mumford and Mr. Ligon) with the following carefully crafted example of CYA: “Please find my revisions to the Disclaimer and Resolution. If William [Ligon] is in agreement with my revisions I will reserve an agenda item today and place the attached on the February 18, 2016 Agenda. Please note, however, that I also need a letter from William making and explaining his request to the Board of Commissioners that they make the resolution and execute the disclaimer. This will need to be included [in? with?] the item’s support materials.”

MY COMMENT: Mr. Priest-Goodsett, perhaps on his own or with the advice of Mr. Mumford, seems to have realized what a slippery slope he has found himself on.

On or before February 17th, 2016, apparently in response to Mr. Priest-Goodsett’s request for “a letter from William”, Ms. White sent him “VIA EMAIL AND HAND DELIVERY” a letter dated February 17th, 2016, the day before the county commission meeting. This letter begins with “Dear Noah: Thank you in advance for your assistance with this matter. I know that you and William Ligon, from our offices, have discussed our client’s concerns about certain title issues which may relate to the above referenced property.” After repeating some of the claims made by Mr. Ligon in his December 9th, 2015, and December 30th, 2015, letters to Mr. Priest-Goodsett, Ms. White then states that “our client Patrick Duncan . . . wishes to address any possible lingering confusion over access to the parcels.”

MY COMMENT: This letter seems to be so important that four separate copies of it were included in the data dump provided to me. If the seven county commissioners who voted to disclaim interest in these three properties actually read and understood this letter, why didn’t even one of those consenting adults ask why the county commission should take part in Mr. Duncan’s wish “to address any possible lingering confusion over access to the parcels”?

On March 3rd, 2016, the county commission approved the minutes for their February 18th, 2016, meeting. Here are the minutes for the final item on the agenda, the disclaimer of interest: “A motion was made by Commissioner Brunson and seconded by Commissioner Stambaugh to approve this item. The motion carried unanimously.”

MY COMMENT: As these minutes were included in the data dump of documents provided to me, they are fair game for this chronology and comments. These minutes include nothing about the laughter by some commissioners about the name of the road, nothing about Mr. Hainley’s statements, nothing about then-Chair Dale Provenzano’s explanations, and no hint about why Mr. Hainley, and not someone from the county attorney’s office, presented this item for discussion and action while County Attorney Mumford sat silent.

I recommend you watch the very end of the archival video for this meeting. You will find a link to that video below my post-script. Or send me an email requesting a link to my wife’s video excerpt of that agenda item.

Respectfully Submitted,

Julian Smith

PS: In early 2017, Commissioner Browning nominated Mr. Duncan for appointment to the Glynn County Islands Planning Commission, perhaps in respect for his obvious ability to understand how to get things done here in Glynn County, deep in the blighted Bight of Georgia.