Ethics board rules against commissioner Brown

On a split vote this evening, Fayette County’s ethics board determined that County Commission Chairman Steve Brown violated the county’s ethics ordinance on two separate occasions.

The board voted unanimously, however, not to penalize Brown for either of the infractions.

The board majority determined that Brown violated a county policy forbidding commissioners from issuing orders to county employees. The complaint filed against Brown referenced an email Brown sent to the human resources director in which Brown asked the director to inquire with the Georgia attorney general about a question dealing with the hiring of a new county administrator.

Brown contended the matter was simply a request, and not an order, but it was noted that the HR director acted on that request as if it had been an order by bringing it to the attention of the interim county administrator. Brown also said he was acting on behalf of the hiring committee established to select a new county administrator, and that if he had felt it was an order, he would have demanded that the HR director comply with the request, which Brown says he did not do.

Brown said the interim county administrator ordered the HR director to forward the inquiry to then-county attorney Scott Bennett.

The other ethics violation dealt with a letter Brown wrote to the Georgia attorney general inquiring about whether the county could legally sue itself, which former commissioner Robert Horgan insisted was a violation of the county’s attorney client privilege and also improperly disclosed matters discussed in executive (closed) session.

Brown contended that for numerous reasons he did not trust advice on the proposed lawsuit given by county attorney Bennett, therefore he felt obligated to seek further counsel — particularly to protect himself from liability. While all three ethics board members agreed Brown should have the ability to seek such legal counsel, they said the ethics ordinance needed to be rewritten to allow such.

The 2-1 votes that Brown violated the ethics ordinance on both counts were favored by ethics board members Scott Rowland and Sheila Huddleston with ethics board member Larris Marks voting against.

Horgan filed both ethics complaints against Brown in November before Horgan left office.

It also was revealed tonight that Horgan filed a new ethics complaint against Brown Jan. 22 on the basis that Brown ordered the county marshal’s office to conduct an investigation into former county attorney Bennett wiping the hard drives of his county owned office computer and laptop computer.

Brown said during the hearing that he thinks Bennett violated Georgia’s open records law by wiping the data from the hard drive.