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Here’s what you should expect to see on your ballot with regards to the Board of Ethics:

(   ) YES  “Shall the Act be approved which revises the Board of Ethics for DeKalb County?”
(   ) NO

Here are the reasons why you should vote YES:

  1. The Board of Ethics remains independent; no one under the purview of the Board of Ethics is making appointments to the Board.
    1. Unlike the 2019 bill, this bill does not provide for the CEO to make a Board of Ethics appointment and does not call for the Board of Ethics to submit its policies and procedures to review by the CEO and confirmation by the Board of Commissioners.
  2. DeKalb employees continue to have direct access to the ethics office to express concerns about ethics violations.
    1. Unlike the 2019 bill, this bill does not require employees to funnel complaints about their immediate supervisor through the Human Resources Department and exhaust Merit System remedies before turning to the Board of Ethics.
  3. The position of Ethics Officer is retained, and the Ethics Officer is still vested with the authority to investigate and file ethics complaints.
  4. The Board’s authority to investigate and report to the public has not been weakened.
    1. The 2019 bill included a provision that required the Board of Ethics to abandon the investigation of elected officials or county employees if the resigned, retired or completed their term of office.
    2. The 2019 bill included a provision that prevented the Board from rendering any decision on a complaint against a candidate within 45 days of an election.

 

As you have probably heard by now, revisions to the county’s Ethics Act were passed by the General Assembly and voters will have a chance to approve or disapprove of them in November.

Considering last year’s problematic revisions and those suggested by some legislators this year before the General Assembly’s recess due to the pandemic, we are relieved by the legislation that was passed. The many revisions which threatened the independence of the Board of Ethics and would have dramatically weakened its authority, policies and procedures were not included in the final bill.

In addition to actively working to encourage voters to pass the Ethics Act revision bill in November, we will be monitoring how the House and Senate delegations fulfill their appointment responsibilities. It is important that they make a public call for nominations and use a vetting process resulting in a board of diverse, qualified, and independent citizens from throughout the county.

Board Appointments

3 members will be appointed by the House legislative delegation
3 members will be appointed by the Senate legislative delegation
1 member will be appointed by the Tax Commissioner
2 Alternate Members will be appointed by the Clerk of Superior Court

You may be wondering why judges were not included in the appointment process.  It turns out that a 1995 opinion issued by the state’s Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) stated that judges should not  make appointments to or serve on Board of Ethics due to possible future conflicts if any of these matters were to result in litigation.  Ed Williams of Concerned Citizens for Effective Government uncovered this opinion (Opinion 222) and brought it to our attention.

Ethics Administrator

To respond to the unsubstantiated “judge-jury-executioner” criticism of how the Ethics Officer handled and investigated complaints, a new position was added to the staff of the ethics office.  An Ethics Administrator will receive and review complaints, notify the subjects of complaints that a complaint has been filed, and report the complaints to the Board for decision-making about further investigation by the Ethics Officer. The Ethics Administrator will be selected by the Board of Ethics and serve at the pleasure of the Board.  The Ethics Officer, at the direction of the Board, will continue to do preliminary investigations to determine jurisdiction and probable cause, in addition to pursuing previously mandated duties, including educating and training county employees and officials, advising officials and employees regarding disclosure statements, urging compliance with the code of ethics, and monitoring and acting upon information obtained from the “ethics hotline.”

Addition to Proscribed Conduct re Receipt of Gifts

The legislators added a new subsection that states no employee of the Purchasing and Contracting Department shall accept any gift of value from anyone who has had or may be anticipated to have any business with or before the department.  This was already in effect, but it will now be added to the code.

Recusal

An addition was made to the section dealing with Disclosure of Interests in which officials or employees with a potential conflict of interest in a matter shall recuse themselves from participating or taking any official acts or actions in any manner of the county affected by that individual’s conflict of interest. This, too, has been policy, but will now be in the code.

  

Legislation that could revive the DeKalb County Board of Ethics achieved final passage in the Georgia Legislature on Friday, clearing the way for a second ethics-related ballot referendum in as many years.

The new bill, crafted by state Rep. Viola Davis and members of DeKalb’s House delegation, would fix the appointment process for the county’s ethics board, because the current guidelines were ruled unconstitutional almost two years ago. It would also keep the current county ethics officer position, while creating a new administrative position that supporters say would add balance when investigating complaints against county employees and officials.

The controversial ethics legislation lawmakers passed last year was struck down by voters in November. Davis’ bill, however, includes the extra oversight that some have pushed for while removing components that voters found unacceptable in 2019. It gained support from members of DeKalb’s House and Senate delegations, as well as the DeKalb Citizens Advocacy Council, which spearheaded the opposition to last year’s failed proposal.

On the final day of the Georgia legislative session June 26, lawmakers passed a new proposal to the DeKalb County ethics laws, one hopeful for voter approval in November.

The ethics board has been dormant and unable to make recommendations on complaints received since August 2018 when the Georgia Supreme Court ruled the board was unconstitutional due to its members being appointed by non-elected entities.

During the November 2019 election, 61 percent of DeKalb voters turned down a proposed ethics reform bill, Senate Bill 7, which would have allowed the ethics board to consist of two members appointed by the county’s House delegation; two members appointed by the county’s Senate delegation; one member appointed by the county CEO with majority confirmation of the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners; one appointment by the chief superior court judge; and one by the probate court judge. SB 7 also attempted to replace the ethics officer with an ethics administrator who has fewer duties and would have required county employees to first file complaints through the county’s human resources department for remedy.

Several versions of an ethics reform bill were heard during this year’s legislative session, following DeKalb citizens speaking at public meetings in favor of a ‘simple fix’ to the ethics code, only changing the appointment process of the ethics board.

The legislation cleared the House on Thursday morning. There’s some language to be smoothed out, but Sen. Emanuel Jones, leader of DeKalb’s Senate delegation, said no significant issues are expected in that chamber.

If the bill gains final passage, the revised ethics law would be put up for a public vote in November — just a year after voters shot down a similar referendum.

But Davis and other legislators say the changes proposed in House Bill 1243 include the extra oversight that some have pushed for while removing components that voters found unpalatable in 2019.

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DeKalb voters may get to weigh in on another attempt to reshape ethics oversight in county government. New legislation crafted by state Rep. Viola Davis and her counterparts in DeKalb’s House delegation would fix the problematic appointment process for the county’s ethics board. It would also keep the current county ethics officer position, while creating a new administrative position that supporters say would add balance when adjudicating complaints against county employees and officials.

 
Map of DeKalb County

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.

DeKalb-Ethics Board Issue Highlights Importance of Voter Education