Updated: Oct 4, 2020
On the final day of the Georgia legislative session June 26, lawmakers passed a new proposal to the DeKalb County ethics laws, one hopeful for voter approval in November.
The ethics board has been dormant and unable to make recommendations on complaints received since August 2018 when the Georgia Supreme Court ruled the board was unconstitutional due to its members being appointed by non-elected entities.
During the November 2019 election, 61 percent of DeKalb voters turned down a proposed ethics reform bill, Senate Bill 7, which would have allowed the ethics board to consist of two members appointed by the county’s House delegation; two members appointed by the county’s Senate delegation; one member appointed by the county CEO with majority confirmation of the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners; one appointment by the chief superior court judge; and one by the probate court judge. SB 7 also attempted to replace the ethics officer with an ethics administrator who has fewer duties and would have required county employees to first file complaints through the county’s human resources department for remedy.
Several versions of an ethics reform bill were heard during this year’s legislative session, following DeKalb citizens speaking at public meetings in favor of a ‘simple fix’ to the ethics code, only changing the appointment process of the ethics board.
Ga. Rep. Viola Davis, D-Stone Mountain, sponsored House Bill 1243 on June 20 which received a favorable vote among legislators toward addressing the DeKalb ethics code. It proposes:
*Three ethics board members appointed by the DeKalb County legislative delegation in the Georgia House of Representatives; three appointed by the DeKalb’s legislative delegation in the Georgia Senate; and one appointed by the DeKalb County tax commissioner.
*The appointment of two alternate members by the DeKalb County Superior Court Clerk to ensure a quorum when members of the board are absent, have a conflict of interest, or find it necessary to recuse themselves or while a vacancy exists on the board.
*Keeping the full-time ethics officer, who is also a member of the Georgia Bar Association. The ethics officer trains officials and employees on ethical conduct; monitors and acts upon information received through the ethics hotline; reports suspected ethical violations to the board; and would submit a monthly report to the ethics board and DeKalb commissioners.
*Adding a full-time ethics administrator position to receive complaints, maintain records of the ethics board, and notify the subjects and ethics board of complaints received.
*Complaints to be received through the ethics administrator
If HB 1243 is approved by voters in November, the new ethics board would be appointed by Dec. 31 and begin their roles Jan. 1, 2020.