News and Updates from
DeKalb Citizens Advocacy Council
January 23, 2020 Volume 1: Issue 8
We are working diligently to get the DeKalb delegation to pass a clean amendment to the original ethics bill simply to fix the appointment process. Once that gets passed, other modifications, which may be more contentious, can be addressed through the Charter Review Commission. The 18-24-month commission process will ensure that any concerns or issues with the Board of Ethics and its operations will get the full, serious discussion they deserve.
As we meet with DeKalb legislators who do not favor a bill fixing only the Board of Ethics appointment process, including Rep. Billy Mitchell and Rep. Renitta Shannon to date, we are hearing several questions/concerns that we think are based on rumor, innuendo, or misinformation. We have listed those concerns and our responses below.
We hope to meet soon with Rep. Bennett, Carter, Davis, Drenner and Kendrick. If you live in these districts, and you agree with the DCAC approach – fix the appointment process in a clean bill; leave other matters to the Charter Review Commission – please communicate with your Representative.
Concerns Raised in Opposition to Just Fixing the Board Appointment Process
Why can’t ethics charges be kept confidential? Complaints can be damaging to people, even when they are dismissed.
The Board of Ethics is subject to the Open Records Act, and while the investigative file is exempt from disclosure during the investigation, the filed complaint is not. When the investigation is closed, the full file is subject to disclosure. The Board of Ethics is bound to follow state law and cannot act any differently than any other governmental organizations.
The best way to deal with a complaint that should be dismissed is to have the Board of Ethics act upon it promptly. Unfortunately, for anyone who has a complaint sitting in the ethics office right now who believes it should be dismissed, we do not currently have a functioning Board of Ethics that can dismiss it. The ethics officer does not have the authority to dismiss a complaint that falls under the jurisdiction of the board.
Isn’t the way ethics complaints are processed under the 2015 bill unfair? Doesn’t the ethics officer act as judge, jury and executioner all in one?
The ethics officer is neither the judge, jury, nor executioner of any complaint filed with the ethics office. It is the sole authority of the members of the Board of Ethics to determine whether probable cause exists to proceed with a complaint, whether a complaint should be dismissed or proceed to a full hearing, whether any violation of the Code of Ethics exists, and whether to issue a penalty as a result of a violation.
The duties and authority of the ethics officer and his/her staff regarding complaints, as delineated in Sec. 22A(i) in the current Code of Ethics, are limited to the following:
• receiving all complaints, whether written or through the tip line, and responding promptly to the non-anonymous complaints to confirm receipt of the complaint, and to request additional information as necessary to help determine whether (1) the board has jurisdiction over the claim, and (2) there might be probable cause for the board to determine that it has jurisdiction of the claim;
• performing a preliminary legal investigation, as necessitated by anonymous or incomplete complaints, for the sole purpose of determining if the Board of Ethics has jurisdiction over the claim, and whether there might be enough probable cause for the board to hear the complaint.
• providing records and the recommendations of the ethics officer to the members of the Board of Ethics to review and determine what further action to take on each complaint and each request for a formal advisory opinion;
• performing a more extensive and detailed investigation if directed by the Board of Ethics;
• making all documents available to the parties should the board order a hearing on the complaint.
Should any legislator have evidence of unfairness and/or bias on the part of the Board of Ethics and/or the ethics officer, they are entitled to file a complaint with the Board of Ethics, who will be able to address it when all seven board members are seated once again.
Shouldn’t members of the Board of Ethics be required to recuse themselves for conflicts of interest or other appropriate problems?
Yes, and that’s a fair point to be added into the Board’s policies and procedures or added through additional legislation. However, currently, even without this requirement, the members of the Board of Ethics are covered by the Code of Ethics and would be obligated to report any possible conflicts the same as any other employee, appointee, contractor, and elected official in the county.
Shouldn’t there be at least one alternate member to step in, in case there's a last-minute problem with getting a quorum?
Again, that’s a fair point to be added into future legislation after in-depth discussion concerning which elected officials should select the alternate member(s) and the process to be followed. There’s no guarantee that one alternate could be available at the last-minute either. Further discussion on this matter is warranted, but why should this delay getting an Ethics Board back up and operating?
Under the current Act, the Board never failed to reach a quorum until after the Georgia Supreme Court issued their ruling in the fall of 2018, holding that the process for appointing four of the seven members of the Board of Ethics was unconstitutional. Why should this question prevent the Board of Ethics being reconstituted now?
How You Can Help:
Send an email or written note to the CEO, your county commissioners, and your state legislators expressing your support for the points outlined below.
- Time is of the essence: The appointment process must be dealt with NOW in order to get the Ethics board working again as soon as possible
- We expect a simple fix that would correct the Ethics board appointment process. Going beyond this fix is what gets ethics legislation in trouble. Additional issues can be dealt with by a DeKalb County charter review or by separate legislation.
- We expect legislators to undertake a transparent process in their deliberations.
- It would be our hope that we could convey to County residents that the process was transparent and that we are in support of the resulting legislation.
Before sending the email, please review these instructions first:
- Always add your name and street address; legislators want to know you really are in their district.
- If you decide to email all the DeKalb legislators and not just your own, it’s important to email each one separately; we have been advised that emails written to several legislators don’t get the same attention as one sent separately.
- If you email more than your legislator, it’s important to say who your legislator is and why you are writing to someone who isn’t yours. (Ex: “We need all of the legislators to work together as a team to get this work done.”)
your communication with your DeKalb friends and contacts. Ask them to communicate their support. We want a wave of public opinion to wash over our legislators so they stay focused on doing the right thing: fixing the board appointment process in a timely manner.
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