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Commission Chairman Brown avoids ethics penalty, plans legal appeal

Although he was found to have violated two provisions of the Fayette County government ethics ordinance, county Commission Chairman Steve Brown was partially absolved of one of the charges which spun off from seeking advice from the Georgia attorney general’s office.

The other charge, however, dealt with Brown issuing an order to the county’s HR director via email. Brown contended at the Jan. 23 hearing before the county’s ethics board that the email was actually a request, noting that had he considered it an order he would have followed up to make sure it was followed.

However, as ethics board member Scott Rowland noted, he has occasionally gotten a “request” from his boss that was actually a direct order. Ethics board member Sheila Huddleston suggested that the county’s organizational structure required Brown to take such requests to the county administrator instead.

The ethics board ruled on a 2-1 vote that Brown committed the two alleged ethics violations, but it voted 3-0 to issue no penalty for either violation. In fact, the ethics board members said Brown should have the right to consult an outside attorney on a legal matter involving the county if he questions the validity of the legal advice given by the staff attorney.

Brown said Monday that he plans to file a legal challenge to overturn the ethics board’s decision, particularly because he believes he should have the right to seek legal advice even if the matter in question came up during executive (closed) session.

Brown’s request to the HR director had to do with the protocol for handling the interview process for a new county administrator, which was being undertaken in late fall by an informal committee consisting of the three then-commissioners elect along with Brown and fellow holdover commissioner Allen McCarty, all of whom would be working together in January of this year.

Horgan contended during the Jan. 23 hearing that the county’s ethics ordinance is designed to protect employees from having influence over individual commissioners by requiring commissioners to “follow the chain of command.”

The two ethics board members who ruled that Brown had violated the ethics ordinance were Rowland and Sheila Huddleston; the third ethics board member, Larris Marks, voted against. Marks, who authored a motion to dismiss the ethics complaints that died for lack of a second, was nominated to the board by Brown as an alternate late last year. Rowland and Huddleston were nominated and approved as regular board members by Brown’s political adversaries including then-Commissioner Robert Horgan, the person who filed the ethics complaint against Brown.

In defending his actions on seeking legal advice, Brown explained in detail why he didn’t trust Bennett’s advice, which resulted in Brown penning the letter seeking specific advice from Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens. Horgan contended that letter violated the secrecy of an executive (closed) session for legal purposes. All of the ethics board members said they felt the ordinance should be rewritten to allow individual commissioners to resolve such questions.

The ethics hearing featured some fireworks between Brown and former county attorney Bennett. Early in the hearing, Brown listed a variety of reasons why he didn’t trust any of Bennett’s legal advice, which led him to seek the attorney general’s opinion on the legal matter having to do with the county’s redistricting process.

Bennett got in his shots later on during the hearing when he was called as a rebuttal character witness by Horgan. Brown’s first act in the hearing was to present local resident Bob Ross as a character witness, and Ross heaped praise on Brown for how he handled various situations and has admitted faults on several occasions.

Bennett noted that Brown has accused him on several occasions of interfering with the process of hiring a county administrator. Bennett said his only involvement came when he was speaking about the matter on the phone with Commissioner Allen McCarty, who had said the list of five finalists for the position was prepared by the county’s human resources director. Bennett said he conferenced in the HR director who said that he had gotten the list from Commissioner Brown.

Earlier in the meeting, Brown accused Bennett of withholding information about a property owner near the proposed TDK Boulevard extension between Peachtree City and unincorporated Coweta County, and also of violating his employment contract with the county in representing clients in private practice while he was employed as the staff attorney for the county.

The result, Brown said, was that he could not trust Bennett “even on most routine legal matters.”



The whole ethics process seems silly to me. Brown calls his pal Bob Ross to tell everyone how great he is. Horgan calls Bennett to substantiate his claim and the three ethics members have to play principal over this "scandal".

I don't blame Mr. Brown for wanting to check his facts especially when he didn't trust the information provided to him. Just like I don't believe everything I read on the net.

However, Mr. Brown did fail to follow the rules and he was called for the foul.

Change the rules if needed to correct the problem, but I don't want to see that the taxpayers are paying for this appeal. PTC spent enough money and wasted time with our mayor to go thru another useless battle that the only person "gaining" something is Mr. Brown.

Hopefully the other commissioners will step to the plate and argue that this should be paid for by Mr. Brown alone and not the taxpayers. Than again, I doubt they will step on his toes.

NUK_1's picture

Brown was already found guilty on a rather minor ethics charge in PTC as Mayor and now he gets nailed(rightfully on one count) on minor ethic charges this time.

Correct your behavior and stop spouting off at the mouth about "transparent and open government" when you have a major problem backing up your speech with actions.

You make a huge deal about everyone before you violating this and violating the law that(which was never proven) and you have failed to show yet that you are any different. Your drooling acolytes would excuse you for killing baby kittens, but the FC taxpayers expect a lot more than the PTC taxpayers got from you as Mayor. You're fortunate you ran against someone who was so bad that FC thought you were better. That was pathetic.

Grow up, already. Seriously. You are more immature than Don Haddix at this point and it becomes obvious that you've never done anything in your life besides be a wanna-be politician who cannot run on anything besides how much he hates everyone else. You have no clue about how to govern and it showed not only in PTC and that you learned absolutely nothing from that humiliation when you stupidly ran again or challenged Ramsey.

Tell me about that district voting diatribe that was published to The Citizen a few years ago again? It seems to have forgotten about it even though I post it back up here constantly and none of your cowardly supporters will ever comment about it? They don't dare say anything negative! You have your followers well-trained, I must admit. It's almost like a cult.

Stop reading your press releases and look into the mirror.

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