News and Updates from
DeKalb Citizens Advocacy Council
March 30, 2020 Volume 1: Issue 13
Our last newsletter was dated March 9th
, so it’s been awhile since we communicated with you. We hope this newsletter finds you and your loved ones safe and well.
Coming Up Short on Ethics Legislation
While we know your first priority is coping with the public healthcare crisis and its consequences, we did want to bring you up-to-date on where we are with ethics legislation, or at least where we were once the General Assembly was suspended on March 12th.
Tyler Estep’s March 13th Atlanta Journal Constitution article “Clock ticking in fight for ethics legislation”
did a nice job clarifying the distinct roles of the Ethics Officer and the Board of Ethics in processing complaints. It’s worth a read. Here’s the link: https://www.ajc.com/news/local/clock-ticking-dekalb-county-ethics-legislation/bN4FLt89t3uJleqJpPB3pL/
DCAC Facebook Post
And for those of you not on Facebook, here is our March 13 Facebook post responding to the suspension:
“Ethics legislation in this Session of the General Assembly has stalled and DeKalb citizens and those with pending ethics cases have once again been shafted by some of our elected representatives. The Session may not resume due to the extraordinary situation presented by the COVID-19 outbreak, and we are facing the very real possibility that a seated ethics board will remain unattainable in 2020.
This wholly unacceptable situation recalls the saying: “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” Elected officials from the DeKalb Board of Commissioners (kudos to Steve Bradshaw, Lorraine Cochran-Johnson, Kathie Gannon, Nancy Jester, and Jeff Rader) and several DeKalb cities, including Avondale Estates, Brookhaven, Doraville, and Stone Mountain (kudos to those Mayors and City Councils), sent Resolutions to the DeKalb Delegation in support of “simple fix” legislation to amend the ethics board appointment process, the only amendment to our Code of Ethics required by the Georgia Supreme Court ruling in 2018.
If our DeKalb County Delegation had just made that fix, they would have been roundly applauded by their constituents for acting responsibly, and our ethics board would be working today. Yet, despite the clear and resounding message sent by the citizens, who defeated SB 7 in the November referendum, our House Delegation has failed to act. Now, sidelined by the virus and the flagrant lies and sideshow arguments that Rep. Vernon Jones and his allies continue to make about our model Code of Ethics, our legislators remain unable to pass the needed simple fix.
While some of the representatives may blame this on the shortened Session, don’t be fooled!
We are aware that it would have been possible to obtain the required nine votes yesterday to pass Rep. Viola Davis’ bill (which included a fix to the appointment process, plus three other acceptable provisions dealing with gifts, recusal and filling board vacancies). Unfortunately, these efforts collapsed due to:
This predicament requires us to ask: 1) Where was the CEO’s voice in this matter? Where was his leadership? and, 2) Why are the critics so afraid of an effective Ethics Officer and Board? What do they and their friends have to hide? Voters want to know.
- Ethics Committee Chair Viola Davis’ insistence on following a process of hearings that was incompatible with the time left in a busy Session and completely tangential to the task of fixing the appointment process,
- Rep. Renitta Shannon’s continued focus on immaterial issues with the bill, and
- Rep. Vernon Jones’ consistent attempts to torpedo an ethics process that was working well.
After this post, Rep. Davis
posted a nine-page Ethics Legislation Timeline defending the actions of her committee. In this document, she posed the question: “Should the ethics legislation be written using unethical procedures and hearing no public comment? Answer: NO!”
While we respect and celebrate Rep. Davis’ extensive experience as a community activist and her experience with the Board of Ethics (a successful experience we might add), the issue before the DeKalb Delegation was not to re-write ethics legislation. And, as far as public comment, the public has been weighing in ever since the November defeat of the ethics referendum.
No matter how you slice and dice it, the key “ethics process” issue to be addressed in the 2020 General Assembly session was simply fixing the board appointment process by identifying elected officials to replace the community organizations selecting four out of seven board members. Other concerns could
have been dealt with separately.
DeKalb Citizens Advocacy Council will be conducting a voter education project for the 2020 election. We are developing a questionnaire to gather information from all DeKalb House and Senate Delegation candidates concerning their perspective on ethics legislation. Candidate responses will be made public prior to the start of early voting in late April for the May 19 primary.
Thank you for your continued interest in DCAC and support of a strong DeKalb County Code of Ethics.