Ethics committee pouring over prior recommendations

— The work can seem tedious but members of the Clayton County Board of Commissioners’ ethics advisory committee treated their task as something worth taking the time to get right Thursday.

The committee took its time to discuss how it should handle issues such as records retention, nepotism and how long a former commissioner should wait to do business with the county once they leave office. It is in the process of reviewing the ethics reform recommendations a previous advisory committee made to commissioners a few years ago.

“We need to feel we’ve reviewed it thoroughly and passed something on to the commission that is the best proposal that we can come up with,” said committee Chairman Larry O’Keefe.

The committee is meeting every few weeks and going over its predecessors’ recommendations one section at a time. The next meeting is scheduled for June 20. Committee members have been discussing each section as a group but they are not to the point where they are setting firm decisions on what to change and what to keep. The previous recommendations were never adopted by the commission.

Their recommendations could lead to the county’s first-ever ethics policy for commissioners and county employees who are not governed by civil services rules and regulations. That includes members of boards appointed by the commission.

One of the key issues this week were recommendations dealing with nepotism. Committee member Rev. Marie Green said she had concerns about how many extended family members county employees were responsible for disclosing.

Green said she would be OK with employees having to disclose immediate family members and in-laws who do work with the county. However, the previous recommendation calls on employees to also disclose relationships to other relatives, such as nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles and cousins.

She also said she had concerns about employees not being allowed to advocate for the employment of their relatives when they would be allowed to advocate for their next-door neighbors. She said employees shouldn’t be allowed to be advocates for their neighbors and friends if they can’t do the same for their relatives.

“If you can’t say good things about your niece, then you shouldn’t be allowed to say nice things about you neighbor,” Green said.

O’Keefe, who helped to create the previous recommendation, said the issue about relatives was included to keep employees from giving jobs to relatives simply because they are related.

“When you’re in the public sector, and you’re on the public dime, you have to err on the side of caution,” O’Keefe said.