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Group offers county leaders an ethics code

By Valerie Baldowski

vbaldowski@henryherald.com

A group of activists, who have been monitoring Henry County's government for more than two years, want to propose a new code of ethics for the Board of Commissioners.

The group, Third District Community Coalition, Inc., (3DCC) has a 32-page document it plans to offer at the board's June 15 meeting, according to Brenda Padovani, a member of the group.

The proposed code of ethics, which was adopted at the general meeting of 3DCC on May 24, is designed to address any appearances of impropriety, or violations of ethics, Padovani said.

Key provisions in the code's general conflict-of-interest section, include requirements that officials, or employees with an interest in a contract, must disclose that interest prior to solicitation, bidding, negotiation, or approval of the contract. Another provision mandates that members of boards and commissions must attend meetings, and members of any ethics board created, must serve a four-year term.

In the area of nepotism, the group wants rules denying family members of "an official, or employee," any chance to benefit, financially, from a commission's decision.

"The reason why it's needed is, with conflicts of interests, 90 percent is appearance," said Charles Downey, past president of the group. "When there's an appearance, people lose trust in the local government officials. There's no mechanism in the government that will hear any charges of conflict of interest."

Henry Commission Chairman Elizabeth "B.J." Mathis said 3DCC members may not be fully informed about existing rules and regulations that govern the conduct of county commissioners when it comes to voting.

Three laws regulating conflict of interest are already in place, said Mathis.

Specifically, an excerpt from Georgia law, 36-67A-2, regulates conflicts of interest in rezoning actions applicable to each "local government official" involved in a rezoning action, noted Mathis.

A general statute from Georgia law, O.C.G.A 45-10-1, entitled "Code of Ethics for Government Service" applies to "any person in government service," she continued. Also, Henry County ordinance No. 3-2-4, entitled "Conflict of Interest," applies to every county "board member, commission member, or authority board member" serving on, or under, the board of commissioners, added Mathis.

"The sum total of these three documents provide a wide basis for dealing with conflict-of-interest issues that may arise in Henry County," she said. "It is possible 3DCC isn't aware of them."

Padovani alleges that, in the past, there have been several instances in which a county commission vote on a rezoning request from the Henry County Zoning Advisory Board (ZAB) gave the appearance of favoritism.