News and Updates from
DeKalb Citizens Advocacy Council
November 4, 2019 Volume 1: Issue 5
Election Day is upon us. As we reflect on this past week we want to thank all of you who have supported our efforts by canvassing neighborhoods, spreading the message through posts and emails, and/or posting yard signs. You are not alone: this past week many elected officials, including Commissioner Kathie Gannon; Reps. Becky Evans, Scott Holcomb, Mary Margaret Oliver and Matthew Wilson; and Senator Elena Parent have posted or sent out newsletters saying they are voting “No” on the Ethics referendum. Also, the Druid Hills Civic Association took a stand, officially recommending to its members that they vote No on revising the Act. No matter how the vote goes on Tuesday, we thank all of you for using your energy and resources to help us inform and engage the citizens of DeKalb County on this issue.
Here’s a bumper sticker we think sums up the drive behind what we’re doing:
Final Thoughts before the Vote:
#1: The CEO has suggested that while this bill may not be perfect, we should not let “perfect be the enemy of good.”
Let’s be clear: not only is this bill not “perfect,” it is not even close to being “good.”
As ethics expert Dr. Paul Wolpe reported after reviewing the legislation:
“The bottom line is that this bill is clearly meant to weaken and dilute the excellent
policy passed in 2015, without any convincing reasons to weaken the bill. DeKalb is
slipping back to a former posture that got it in trouble in the first place. I would agree
that this bill should be strongly opposed.”
#2: Senator Jones and others have said that the intent of the legislation has always been to place more power with the Board of Ethics, rather than with an Ethics Officer.
The Board of Ethics has always had “the power.” When the full-time position of Ethics Officer was created in the 2015 Code of Ethics, the purpose was to provide much needed assistance to the volunteer members of the ethics board to allow them to more efficiently and effectively process the complaints they received. In order to provide maximum assistance to ethics board members in carrying out their duties, the ethics officer was given the authority to review all complaints and to conduct preliminary investigations regarding board jurisdiction over the matter and whether there might be probable cause to warrant further investigation that might lead to a hearing. The ethics officer then presents all of the information gathered to the board members for them to make the final decisions on how to proceed. The ethics officer is required by law to alert the board to the possibility of any ethics violations that he or she may observe, to personally file complaints as he or she deems necessary, and to report suspected criminal violations to the appropriate state or local authorities. All of those duties require expertise in ethics and the law.
The position of Ethics Officer was also designed to provide daily assistance to employees, officials, contractors, and the public through continuing ethics education and by providing prompt informal advisory opinions on matters of ethics upon request. These requests are not infrequent, and the answers provided by the ethics officer have proven to go a long way toward stemming the number of unintentional ethics violations that might otherwise have been committed.
Unfortunately, Senate Bill 7 will place many of the duties performed by the ethics officer back on the volunteer board. Of particular concern, the new ethics administrator will not be required to alert the board of any possible ethics violations, nor will he or she have the authority to report suspected criminal violations to state or federal law enforcement agencies. He or she will not be qualified to act upon information obtained from the ethics hotline, or to provide suitable education or advisory opinions to the employees or the public.
In our view, the power, integrity, effectiveness and efficiency of the Board of Ethics in DeKalb County is being compromised by this legislation.
Call to Action: Vote No on November 5th!
Every vote is critical if we are to defeat this referendum. Please be sure to make it to the polls. Please encourage others to do so as well.