By Jason Massad

The standoff between Dunwoody and DeKalb County over a disputed $7.5 million to improve Brook Run Park is about to turn serious and – potentially – expensive.

City officials said that Leah Ward Sears, a retired chief justice that served on the state Supreme Court, will be the lead attorney to represent the city in what could turn into a legal rumble.
Sears in 2009 joined Schiff Hardin, an international law firm with a headquarters in Atlanta. The firm has worked with the newly incorporated city on financing issues in the past, said city officials.

While Dunwoody is preparing for a legal fight, it has not yet filed suit against DeKalb County. City representatives declined to say when they would go to the courthouse. Dunwoody hired Schiff Hardin two months after contacting DeKalb about the disputed funds, said city representatives.

“Back in September, we sent [DeKalb officials] a letter and they never responded,” said Brian Anderson, city attorney. “We think we’ve given them a sufficient amount of time to respond.”

Anderson would not say how much the city would pay Sears.

Dunwoody officials say the county owes them $7.5 million that was allocated to Brook Run Park as part of a 2005 voter-approved bond that took place years before the city ever bought the park from DeKalb County.

DeKalb County officials, however, maintain that none of the more than $96 million in bonds approved by voters in 2005 for county parks was allocated to Brook Run Park.

Richard Stogner, chief operating officer for the county, says that he doesn’t recall anything approved by voters specifically stating that the 102-acre Brook Run Park was in line to receive any money from the bonds.

Anderson, for his part, said that the city has documents that show that in the run up to the 2005 vote, Brook Run Park was in line to receive millions of dollars, partly as a way of selling the parks bond package to residents in the northern part of DeKalb County.

The original amount allocated to the local park was $11.5 million, but the county has already spent $4 million on improvements, including the demolition of buildings from an old medical facility on the property and new playground equipment.

“We’ve got the documents that they have promised $11.5 million,” Anderson said.

Meanwhile, Sears will lead the case because “she’s from DeKalb, she’s familiar with those issues,” Anderson said.

According to Sears’ biography on the Schiff Hardin website, the former justice specializes in “high-stakes” cases where an appeal is likely. She was appointed to the state’s highest court in 1992, where she became the first woman and the youngest person ever to sit on that court.