Fayette commission to change ethics ordinance?


The Fayette County Commission will conduct a special called meeting Tuesday evening to “discuss Fayette County’s ethics ordinance.” The meeting will convene at 5:30 p.m. at the large public meeting room at the county administrative complex in downtown Fayetteville.

The ethics ordinance has been front and center over the past few months as the county ethics board has met twice to consider ethics complaints filed separately against former county attorney Scott Bennett and against sitting commissioner Steve Brown.

Bennett was cleared of any wrongdoing, but the board ruled Wednesday that Brown violated the ethics ordinance twice: once by issuing an order to a county employee in an email and once by sending a letter to the state attorney general that disclosed a matter discussed in executive session; the board however decided not to enact any punishment on Brown for the violations.

That ethics complaint was filed in November by then-commissioner Robert Horgan, who this week filed a separate ethics complaint against Brown claiming that Brown issued another improper order to the county marshal’s office to investigate the destruction of information on the hard drives of the former county attorney and county administrator. Brown said Wednesday that he had his fellow commissioner’s permission to request that investigation, which would likely make the ethics complaint moot.

The three-member ethics board consists of appointees selected last fall by the commission, which also appointed two alternate members. One of the alternates served this week in the hearing against Brown following the resignation of ethics board member Dan Langford, who is also the mayor of Brooks.

If the ethics board determines that an ethics violation has occurred there are several options they have to resolve the matter, including:

• No admonishment and no further action;

• A public reprimand and admonishment not to violate the ethics code in the future;

• A formal reprimand;

• Public censure;

• Recommendation for termination, resignation or recall; or

• Recommendation for prosecution in the State Court of Fayette County.

The ethics board can also decide to “admonish, formally reprimand, publicly censure” any complaining party who files a petition determined to be “unjustified, frivolous, patently unfounded or factually insufficient.”

At Thursday night’s commission meeting, resident Bob Ross urged commissioners to remove a section of the ethics ordinance that forbids individual commissioners “from acting alone, (to) make suggestions to the department directors or their employees regarding the performance of their duties, nor give instructions to department directors or other employees.” Such a matter should be dealt with in an administrative ordinance instead, Ross said.

“To put it in an ethical context, if you say a commissioner asks a department head to do something that could be grounds for recall, that just seems absurd,” Ross said.

Ross was a character witness for Brown in Wednesday’s ethics hearing, and the two partnered up in a grassroots initiative last year to defeat the proposed regional transportation sales tax that was proposed for the Atlanta area, including Fayette County.

Also at Thursday’s commission meeting, resident Arnold Martin asked the commission to consider increasing the number of ethics board members from three to five.

Resident Dawn Oparah said she felt the commission should make sure the ethics board members are formally trained as well. Oparah said she did not like the way the ethics board members were seated because the process was not advertised to the general public. Brown replied that the new commission is working to get information about such openings to the public for all of the county’s volunteer boards, authorities and commissions.