How can we implement a better Board of Ethics appointment process that meets the constitutional test established by the Georgia Supreme Court?
Rather than having private community groups appoint board members, they could nominate candidates for the Board of Ethics. Elected officials would then appoint from the pool of nominees. This is a very simple change to the current ethics act. It doesn’t require a referendum.
Other local governments affected by the State Supreme Court decision (such as City of Atlanta) have already adopted this simple change.
What role can/should the Charter Review Commission play in revising Ethics legislation?
The Charter Review Commission is not yet formed. We don’t know when it will be formed. However, it is our viewpoint that, if and when the commission is formed, we could have those well-qualified people discuss any additional “fixes” to improve the Board of Ethics and strengthen the Code of Ethics.
In the meantime, the DeKalb legislative delegation should stay focused on the immediate issue at hand: revising the appointment process in a timely manner so the Board of Ethics can get back up and running.
I’ve heard that the ethics officer and the Board of Ethics are essentially the judge, jury and executioner all in one. Is this wrong?
That just isn’t the case.
The process works like this:
(1) The ethics officer investigates the complaint to determine if the Board of Ethics has jurisdiction over the matter and if there is sufficient evidence to proceed.
(2) If so, then the person filing the complaint prosecutes the complaint.
(3) The Board of Ethics hears the matter, reviews the evidence, and makes a decision. This unified process assures that the board’s decision-making is informed and swift. Any decision can be easily appealed to Superior Court if desired by the parties involved.
To emphasize: There is no single person or board that is a judge, jury, and executioner. The current rules assure that the process is well considered, balanced, can be appealed, and is fair.
Who does the DeKalb Code of Ethics cover?
In Georgia, a county’s code of ethics covers all employees and the elected officials NOT mandated in the state’s constitution. Constitutional offices include: superior and state judges, the district attorney, the solicitor of state court, magistrates, judges of lower courts, the sheriff, AND their respective staffs. Constitutional positions are NOT covered by a county code of ethics because, in theory, ethical issues involving these positions are dealt with by professional, state-level organizations.
In the DeKalb Code of Ethics, any person elected or appointed to or employed or retained by DeKalb County or any agency [not including the constitutional offices mentioned above], whether paid or unpaid and whether part time or full time is covered by the code. Also, retired employees or former county employees are covered if and when they are later employed or retained by the county or a county agency.
What is the purpose of the Code of Ethics?
In order for the county to be properly governed and for citizens to have public confidence in that government, it is essential that the county’s officials and employees are, and give the appearance of being, independent and impartial and that they do not use public office for private gain. The Code of Ethics establishes the proscribed conduct that officials and employees SHOULD NOT engage in. The ethics office provides education and training for county officials and employees on awareness of ethical issues and compliance with the code. The ethics office also provides advisory opinions to all officials and employees who seek advice on ethical issues.
What is the budget for the Ethics Office?
The ethics office is the smallest division in DeKalb County government. The yearly budget of the Board of Ethics and officers is $500,000, which includes all expenses, including two legal officers who:
- Determine jurisdiction;
- Determine whether a preponderance of evidence is present to pass the threshold for an ethics claim;
- Manage the complaint process, including the Hotline;
- Provide ethics education to DeKalb employees and officials; and
- Provide necessary legal advice to the Board, which relies on the ethics officers’ expertise in this area.
- If the Board were to use outside legal counsel for these services, we, the citizens, would be paying much more and the operations of the Board of Ethics would not be as efficient and cost-effective.