News and Updates from
DeKalb Citizens Advocacy Council
July 2, 2020 Volume 1: Issue 16
As you have probably heard by now, the General Assembly passed revisions to the county’s Ethics Act and voters will have a chance to approve or disapprove of them in November. Considering last year’s problematic revisions and those suggested by some legislators this year before the General Assembly’s recess due to the pandemic, we are relieved by the legislation that was passed. The many revisions that threatened the independence of the Board of Ethics and that would have dramatically weakened its authority and its policies and procedures were not included in the final bill.
And, while the process was not completely transparent, we can report that through our active engagement and the work of Rep. Karla Drenner (Chair of the DeKalb House delegation), Rep. Viola Davis (chair of the House Subcommittee on Ethics) and Rep. Becky Evans (secretary of the DeKalb House delegation) we were kept informed on the bill’s process. We also recognize these elected officials who supported DeKalb Citizens in this legislative effort, especially over the last week of the session: Rep. Michele Henson, Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, Rep. Matthew Wilson, and Sen. Elena Parent.
Here are the names of those representatives who signed the bill in the House:
Michael Wilensky HD79 Michele Henson HD86
Matthew Wilson HD80 Viola Davis HD87
Scott Holcomb HD81 Billy Mitchell HD88
Mary Margaret Oliver HD82 Bee Nguyen HD89
Becky Evans HD83 Doreen Carter HD92
Renitta Shannon HD84 Dar’shun Nicole Kendrick HD93
Karla Drenner HD85 (signature on earlier version of bill)
Our Official Statement after House Passage and Prior to the Bill Moving to the Senate (06/20/20)
We reviewed this bill that was passed out of the DeKalb House Ethics Sub-committee late yesterday afternoon. As currently written, we will not oppose the bill.
We think the inclusion of an Ethics Administrator actually creates inefficiencies and delays in the Board of Ethics process of reviewing complaints, but we do not see that this materially weakens the work of the Board of Ethics or the Ethics Officer.
We note that all but one of the Board appointments will now come from the DeKalb Senate and House Delegations. We hope you will assume this responsibility keeping in mind the wishes of DeKalb citizens to have a diverse, independent group of county residents serving on the Board.
While recognizing the impact of COVID-19 on the General Assembly session, we still remain critical of a process that once again has come down to the wire without a robust opportunity for citizens to participate and time to seriously review and discuss the revisions with you.
Nevertheless, we appreciate the persistence and leadership of Rep. Viola Davis, members of the subcommittee, and other representatives who participated constructively in this effort.
What are the major revisions to the Ethics Act?
3 members will be appointed by the House legislative delegation
3 members will be appointed by the Senate legislative delegation
1 member will be appointed by the Tax Commissioner
2 alternate members will be appointed by the Clerk of Superior Court
You may be wondering why judges were not included in the appointment process. It turns out that a 1995 opinion issued by the state’s Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) stated that judges should not make appointments to or serve on Board of Ethics due to possible future conflicts if any of these matters were to result in litigation. Ed Williams of Concerned Citizens for Effective Government uncovered this opinion (Opinion 222) and brought it to our attention.
The 2018 Georgia Supreme Court ruling stated that only publicly elected officials could make appointments. Considering the JQC’s opinion, the Tax Commissioner and Clerk of Superior Court were two of only three remaining elected constitutional officials who could make the appointments. As constitutional officers, they are elected county wide and their ethical behavior is not overseen by the DeKalb Board of Ethics, but by state and/or professional agencies.
To respond to the unsubstantiated “judge-jury-executioner” criticism of how the Ethics Officer handled and investigated complaints, a new position was added to the staff of the ethics office. An Ethics Administrator will receive and review complaints, notify the subjects of complaints that a complaint has been filed, and report the complaints to the Board for decision-making about further investigation by the Ethics Officer. The Ethics Administrator will be selected by the Board of Ethics and serve at the pleasure of the Board. The Ethics Officer, at the direction of the Board, will continue to do preliminary investigations to determine jurisdiction and probable cause, in addition to pursuing previously mandated duties, including educating and training county employees and officials, advising officials and employees regarding disclosure statements, urging compliance with the code of ethics, and monitoring and acting upon information obtained from the “ethics hotline.”
Addition to Proscribed Conduct re Receipt of Gifts
The legislators added a new subsection that states no employee of the Purchasing and Contracting Department shall accept any gift of value from anyone who has had or may be anticipated to have any business with or before the department. This was already in effect, but it will now be added to the code.
An addition was made to the section dealing with Disclosure of Interests in which officials or employees with a potential conflict of interest in a matter shall recuse themselves from participating or taking any official acts or actions in any manner of the county affected by that individual’s conflict of interest.
This, too, has been policy, but will now be in the code.
In addition to actively working to encourage voters to pass the Ethics Act revision bill in November, we will be monitoring how the House and Senate delegations fulfill their appointment responsibilities. It is important to us that they make a public call for nominations and they use a vetting process that results in a board of diverse, qualified, and independent citizens from throughout the county.
As always, thank you for your interest and support.