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DeKalb County, GA – The DeKalb Citizens for Advocacy Council (DCAC), a volunteer group pushing for transparency in county government, hopes to keep the beleaguered DeKalb County Board of Ethics from becoming a secondary victim of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The group recently released the results of a survey sent to candidates for all DeKalb state House and Senate seats measuring their support for new legislation to fix the board’s appointment process.

“If or when the legislators return either this month or next, their focus must be on the budgeting process, and ethics will most likely not be on their agenda,” Mary Hinkel, chair of DeKalb Citizens told Decaturish in an email. “Nevertheless, the citizens of DeKalb County, who are responsible for developing and passing the 2015 Ethics Act and who wisely refused to weaken the act with the November referendum, must continue to make sure the issue of the nonfunctioning Board of Ethics remains a priority for the delegation.”

DeKalb County has not had a functioning Board of Ethics since 2018 when the state Supreme Court ruled its appointment process unconstitutional.

Last year, District 10 state Sen. Emanuel Jones filed a bill in the Georgia Legislature to fix the appointment process, but later revisions to the bill led some members of the delegation to oppose it. The measure was passed by the Legislature but ultimately rejected by DeKalb voters in a November referendum, leaving the board in limbo.

January 2, 2020
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DeKalb vote on ethics referendum by House district. Note: * denotes district with portion outside DeKalb

My Twitter colleague Eli Spencer Heyman (follow @Elium2) loves data, maps, and politics. He’s broken down results from November’s DeKalb ethics referendum by House district (see maps). Here’s what jumps out from his work: While DeKalb voters rejected the controversial proposal by a whopping 61-39 percent margin, several legislators were completely out of sync with their constituents on the issue. Eleven of DeKalb’s House districts voted in resounding fashion against the controversial referendum that would, among other things, eliminate the county’s ethics officer. However, only six DeKalb representatives opposed the bill that set up the measure. During the General Assembly session, only one Senator opposed the bill.

Legislation was necessary to reform the Ethics Board because it had been rendered inoperative following a state Supreme Court decision striking down its appointment process. SB7, as first proposed by Sen. Emanuel Jones, was designed as a simple fix to a legal flaw in board’s appointment process. However, after this “clean fix” passed the Senate, things got complicated in the House. The bill was rewritten to weaken the board’s staffing and authority in several ways. (Read background story.)

Because it was local legislation, most legislators outside DeKalb simply deferred to the local delegation’s contentious 7-6 approval of the bill. When the changed version went back to the Senate for approval, Sen. Sally Harrell (SD40) cast the only vote against it.

In the House, DeKalb Reps. Mike Wilensky (HD79), Matthew Willson (HD80), Scott Holdcomb (HD81), Mary Margaret Oliver (HD82), Becky Evans (HD83), and Michele Henson (HD86) voted “No” on Senate Bill 7. Voters in the six legislators’ districts followed suit.

 

 

 Before sending the email below, please review these instructions first: 

1. Always add your name and street address; legislators want to know you really are in their district. 

2. If you decide to email all the DeKalb legislators and not just your own, it’s important to email each one separately; we have been advised that emails written to several legislators don’t get the same attention as one sent separately. 

3. If you email more than your legislator, it’s important to say who your legislator is and why you are writing to someone who isn’t yours. (Ex: “We need all of the legislators to work together as a team to get this work done.”) 

Model Email message to legislators and commissioners: 

While DeKalb voters successfully defeated the Ethics Referendum in November, it will take a concerted effort on the part of citizens and elected officials to get the Ethics Board back up and running as soon as possible. I support the expectations expressed by the DeKalb Citizens Advocacy Council: 

1. Legislators should focus on the simple fix: just fix the board appointment process to satisfy stated court requirements. Going beyond this will likely delay success in this effort. 

2. Fix the appointment process NOW so the new board can be seated. 

3. Legislators should engage in a transparent process to produce the proper legislation. 

4. If a task force is formed to produce another bill dealing with reforming the Ethics Act further, a representative from the DeKalb Citizens Advocacy Council should serve on the task force. 

Ethics Is the Issue, Not Race 

In 2015, voters of DeKalb County spoke clearly of their desire to have strong Code of Ethics. The referendum passed with 92% of the citizens voting to approve the Ethics Act. Voters in all areas of DeKalb County, South, North, East and West, agreed on this legislation. 

On November 5, 2019, voters will decide on a revised Ethics Act that diminishes and guts the independence and authority of DeKalb Board of Ethics. 

Some proponents of the revised act have interjected the issue of race as a divisive tactic to divert attention from the real issue: this referendum does not provide the same level of ethics oversight as the current 2015 legislation. They want to undo what you passed in 2015 by voting YES on the revised Ethics Act. It is a major step backward. 

Only those who are unethical themselves or protect others who are not ethical fear a strong Board of Ethics. 

Ethical behavior knows no color, ethnicity, religion, or party affiliation. 

We expect our elected officials and county employees to conduct the citizens’ business with transparency, honesty, and accountability. It is the purpose of a strong Board of Ethics to make sure this happens and to restore citizens’ confidence in its government. 

Do not be fooled by the callous racial rhetoric. Ethics is the issue, not race. 

Vote NO on the revised Ethics Act 

dekalbcitizens.org 

 

You might go to the polls and see a ballot item asking, “Aren’t puppies cute?”

You click “Yes,” and next thing you know, some senator’s brother-in-law is getting a no-bid contract to sell food to dog pounds across Middle Georgia.

DeKalb County voters next month will face a seemingly innocuous question: “Shall the Act be approved which revises the Board of Ethics for DeKalb County?”

Hmm. I can almost see voters’ thought processes while trying to decide that question: “Ethics are good, right? And almost a quorum of the former County Commission has been indicted. So I suppose I’ll vote yes!”

However, if it read: “Shall the Act be rewritten to weaken the Ethics Board and stick it to an ethics officer who has overstepped her bounds?”

Well, then voters might not be so enthused.

 [Name of neighbor, friend, contact] 

DeKalb County will be holding municipal elections on November 5. All of us in DeKalb, including the unincorporated areas, will also have an opportunity to vote on a referendum to revise the County Board of Ethics. Voters approved the current board of ethics in 2015 by 92%. Unfortunately, the revision being considered on the November 5 ballot will significantly remove the effectiveness of what was approved two years ago. 

In analyzing the bill, Paul Root Wolpe, Ph.D, Director, Emory Center for Ethics wrote: 

“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 posture that got it in trouble in the first place. I would agree that this bill should be strongly opposed.” 

Another take on the bill can be found at: https://www.ajc.com/news/local/torpy-large-when-ethics-effort-just-weakens-the-watchdogs/erVMSiw9hQAQatFQrCZtbI/ 

At this time when many governmental officials are “ethics-challenged”, I encourage you to vote “NO” on this referendum. For more detail on this issue, see https://dekalbcitizens.org/. 

Thanks, [your name] 

PS: If you feel that a yard sign with “Vote NO” on this referendum would be useful, you can order one at https://dekalbcitizens.org/.