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
[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/.
For Immediate Release
Community Leaders Lining Up Against the Fatally Flawed Ethics Act on DeKalb County’s Ballot for November 5, 2019
[DeKalb County, GA]—DeKalb County community leaders are lining up against the Revised Ethics Act that will be on DeKalb County’s ballot on November 5, 2019.
Dr. Paul Wolpe, Director of the Emory Center for Ethics, an internationally renowned ethics expert and a DeKalb County citizen, has reviewed the proposed legislation. “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,” Dr. Wolpe concluded.
Leading members of the first Blueprint to Redefine DeKalb, including Ted Daniel, Brenda Pace, Robert Glover, Judge Patricia Killingsworth, and Dan Wright, have joined PRISM (Pride Rings In Stone Mountain), DeKalb Strong, and Concerned Citizens for Effective Government in taking issue with the proposed ethics board changes.
“Requiring employees to go through Human Resources first will no doubt have a chilling effect on county employees reporting wrong-doing when they see it,” stated Judge Killingsworth, who is also a prior chair of the Board of Ethics, and who strongly disagrees with the proposed amendment. “By discouraging and indefinitely delaying the right of an employee to file a complaint with the ethics board, this bill could very well result in unethical acts going unpunished.”
Further, a 2017 study of DeKalb’s Culture by the University of North Georgia’s BB&T Center for Ethical Leadership stated that “Due to below average scores on indicators such as leadership confidence, perceptions of the county’s leadership ability to articulate a clear future and vision, employees understanding of the county’s values, and overall communication we recommend remediation for the county government and its employees.”
“Voters need to send a clear “no” to the county and legislature regarding this flawed revised ethics act,” stated Mary Hinkel, chair of the DeKalb Citizens Advocacy Council. “The only thing the Supreme Court struck down was the appointment of four of the seven members of the board who were selected by community groups. The simple fix of those four appointments can be made, and the board can be up and running by the end of March.”
For more information, visit www.dekalbcitizens.org/about-us.
The DeKalb Citizens Advocacy Council (DeKalb Citizens) is registered as a nonprofit corporation in the state of Georgia and will be filing shortly 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 has formed a ballot committee to defeat the revised ethics act, which is 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.
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.
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