Clayton County Board of Ethics, Board of Commissioners wrangle over complaint

Clayton County Board of Ethics member Orethea Hensley, who represents District Four, asks who placed a resolution on the Board of Commissioners’ consent agenda seeking an investigation into how the Ethics Board handled a complaint against the BOC.

JONESBORO — The Clayton County Board of Ethics met Monday night amid tensions between that body and the Board of Commissioners.

The friction is related to a procedural vote during the BOC’s Dec. 18, 2018, meeting, which lasted until after 11 p.m. and saw a number of zoning-related ordinances pushed through before former District Four Commissioner Michael Edmondson left office.

Those ordinances were rescinded at the January 2019 meeting, after new District Four Commissioner DeMont Davis took office. The BOC removed Edmondson from the Development Authority of Clayton County, where he also had served while on the BOC, and replaced him with Helen McSwain. Edmondson took the matter to court, arguing that he had not resigned from DACC. McSwain countered that, as the BOC’s designee on DACC, Edmondson lost his appointment when he lost the election. However, due to a 1995 change in state law that specifically removed the link between the two positions, Superior Court Judge Robert L. Mack ruled in favor of Edmondson. Thus, Edmondson is entitled to serve out his DACC term through March 1, 2021 unless the Georgia General Assembly changes the law. Swain is also serving on the expanded nine-member board.

On Jan. 3, local activist Robb Leatherwood had filed a complaint with the Ethics Board that the BOC had held a vote to appoint Dr. Aleika Anderson to the Development Authority without following proper procedure. Anderson is also vice chair of the Clayton County Board of Education.

Leatherwood’s statement of facts read, “At the BOC meeting on 12/18/18 agenda item #15 was in discussion. Chairman Turner mentioned that this item was added after the end of business on 12/12/18, therefore violating county ordinance, section 2-35-01(a), requiring that all agenda items be submitted accordingly. Hambrick, Gregory and Edmondson voted it through anyway, violating their own ordinance.” Leatherwood claimed the vote violated impartiality rules.

On March 11, the body acknowledged having received Leatherwood’s complaint, but did not hold a hearing on it at its March 19 meeting. On July 2, the Ethics Board attorney read a statement into the record that the Ethics Board had found Leatherwood’s complaint to be true but that it did not violate county ethics rules.

At last week’s Board of Commissioners meeting, District One Commissioner Sonna Singleton Gregory introduced Resolution 2019-94, authorizing the county attorney to look into the Ethics Board’s review of Leatherwood’s complaint “and make findings of fact and conclusions concerning whether the Ethics Board complied” with the county’s Code of Ethics.

Chairman Jeff Turner made a motion, which Commissioner Gail Hambrick seconded, to change the language from “county attorney” to “third-party attorney.” The amended resolution passed unanimously as part of the consent agenda.

According to the ordinance, Leatherwood’s complaint alleges that “certain members of the County Board of Commissioners violated Section 2-35-01(a) when voting on agenda item #15 at the December 18, 2018 Board of Commissioners’ meeting.” That item was an appointment to “the Development Authority Board/Redevelopment Authority Board and Urban Redevelopment Agency to fill the unexpired term of Dr. Alieka Anderson,” a term that expired on March 1 and was a full BOC appointment.

The Ethics Board has 30 days from the date it receives a complaint to hold a closed-door meeting and determine whether the complaint has merit. If it does, the board will investigate and then hold a public hearing. If it does not, the Ethics Board will dismiss the complaint “and report such dismissal and the details of the complaint to the Board of Commissioners.”

Should the investigation find an ethics violation, the Ethics Board may make recommendations, including sanctions under county ordinance, to the BOC. In the case of possible criminal wrongdoing, the Ethics Board will refer the case to the district attorney “or other such appropriate prosecutorial office for review.”

During the Aug. 6 BOC public comment period, District Four Ethics Board member Oreatha Ensley asked who had placed the resolution on the agenda. Singleton said she had.

”OK, that’s all I wanted to know,” Ensley said, and left the podium.

In other business Monday night, the Ethics Board voted to recommend the Board of Commissioners suspend four appointees to various boards because they did not submit their ethics disclosures by March 1:

♦ Emma Godbee (Tourism Authority♦ );

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