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DeKalb-Ethics Board Issue Highlights Importance of Voter Education

For Immediate Release

Pending Ethics Cases Need To Be Resolved

[DeKalb County, GA]—While the DeKalb County Legislative Delegation has yet to provide a legislative remedy to seating the Board of Ethics, citizens who have filed ethics cases and those who stand accused remain in limbo.

“As CEO Michael Thurmond stated after the November election, the current situation that leaves us without a seated Board of Ethics is untenable,” states DeKalb Citizens Advocacy Chair Mary Hinkel. “Without a full board to hear the cases, both sides are in difficult positions. Those who stand accused cannot receive vindication; those who have lodged complaints are potential targets of retaliation.”

Through a Freedom of Information Act Request, DeKalb Citizens Advocacy Council (DeKalb Citizens) recently received information on pending ethics cases in the county. While the ethics office is able to review the submittals and contact the parties involved for additional facts, these cases can only be acted on by the Ethics Board.

Pending cases include violations of the county’s commitment to an harassment free workplace, allegations that the county is allowing unlicensed individuals to do work that is mandated to be done by licensed professionals, and complaints that the county has violated open meetings laws.

“We believe these are serious allegations that deserve to be heard,” states Hinkel. “We urge our legislators to think of those employees and citizens who risked their careers and livelihoods to file these complaints. What will happen to them if action is not taken quickly to seat an ethics board?”

The Georgia Supreme Court ruled that all members of the ethics board must be appointed by elected officials. DeKalb Citizens believes it is in the best interest of the county’s residents and businesses if those appointments are made by elected officials not under the purview of the ethics board.

DeKalb Citizens is calling on the delegation to move with all deliberate speed to pass a bill that will seat the ethics board, allowing the board to promptly resolve these and other pending cases.

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For more information, visit dekalbcitizens.org/about-us.

The DeKalb Citizens Advocacy Council (DeKalb Citizens) is registered as a nonprofit corporation in the state of Georgia and has filed an application for recognition of exemption under IRS Section 501(c)4. DeKalb Citizens Advocacy Council is a group of community members from throughout DeKalb County, Georgia, that formed a ballot committee to defeat the revised ethics act, which was on the ballot for the November 5, 2019 general election. DeKalb Citizens’ mission is to educate the citizens of DeKalb County about county governance issues and to advocate for informed citizen engagement. The organization’s members research topics, including filing open records requests and seeking out best practices from other jurisdictions. The goal is for DeKalb County to model excellence in citizen engagement and county responsiveness to citizen concerns.

www.dekalbcitizens.org

Media Contact:

Mary Hinkel                                    Martha Pacini
maryhinkel@comcast.net                      marthapacini@gmail.com
(404) 312-8646                                           (404) 285-7042

 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 

 [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/.