DeKalb County, GA, March 13, 2017 – by Trey Benton – State House Representative Vernon Jones (D-91) has threatened Legislation that would return the selection of Ethics Board appointees back in to the hands of those the Board is tasked with watching over – the DeKalb Board of Commissioners (BOC) and the CEO. Emails to Jones’ office requesting the Legislation he has touted during committee meetings have not been returned. The Post has learned State Rep. Scott Holcomb (D-81) has also made multiple requests of Jones to produce a draft of his proposed Bill and has yet to receive it either.
On Friday, DeKalb County Commissioners said in an email blast that any Bill that “would erase the reforms made by the 2015 DeKalb Ethics bill passed by the Georgia General Assembly (with unanimous support from the DeKalb Legislative Delegation) and overwhelmingly approved by 92% of the vote by the DeKalb citizens”, would “take DeKalb backwards by erasing the strides that we have made in ethics reform would ignore the will of our constituents in approving these reforms.”
“The 2015 ethics legislation removed this appointment power from the Board of Commissioners and the CEO and gave the appointment power to seven independent entities that are not themselves regulated by the DeKalb Ethics Board and are independent of the DeKalb government administration,” the eblast states. “By doing this, the new appointment process removed the inherent conflict of interest that previously existed by allowing commission members to appoint the very Ethics members that reviewed their conduct.”
With DeKalb voters overwhelmingly approving the reform measure in November of 2015, the “Ethics Reform Bill”, House Bill 597, provides that instead of Ethics Board Members being selected by County Commissioners and the CEO, they would be selected by DeKalb County Chamber of Commerce, Leadership DeKalb, the DeKalb Delegation of the Georgia Legislature, the Chief Judge of the DeKalb Superior Court, the DeKalb Probate Court, the DeKalb Bar Association, and one member shall be appointed by the six major universities and colleges located within DeKalb County – Agnes Scott College, Columbia Theological Seminary, Emory University, Georgia State University, Mercer University, and Oglethorpe University.
Another change included in the reform measure is the DeKalb Ethics Board will no longer be able to suspend or remove an Elected Official from Office. But, they do gain the power to impose fines up to $1,000 per violation and refer cases for prosecution to the DeKalb Solicitor.
With the threat by Jones to return the appointment power back to those the Ethics Board watches over, all of the potential political reasons the BOC should not be selecting their “judge and jury” could come back in to play.
On Monday, Jones said that he was tabling his proposed Bill, which he still has not released to the public. Jones indicated that he is placing his proposed bill “on hold” while a lawsuit filed by former DeKalb County Commissioner Sharon Barnes Sutton is resolved. Sutton is the subject of an ethics inquiry.