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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.

 

  

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.

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.

 

 

 

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.

  

Georgia Sen. Emanuel Jones’ office announced this week the cancellation of two remaining town hall meetings intended to educate DeKalb County voters on the ethics referendum provision on the ballot.

Several lawmakers responded first with dismay about Jones’ decision, and later with defiance.

The meetings will go on, several legislators told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, because they made promises to answer questions about the controversial proposal ahead of Election Day in November.

“We’ve made a commitment to constituents to be accessible over the next month, and I fully intend to fulfill that promise,” Rep. Matt Wilson, D-Brookhaven, said.