The Union Recorder

May 11, 2013

Public trust hinges on how city responds complaint

The Union-Recorder

MILLEDGEVILLE — A little more than a year ago, Milledgeville City Council selected members for a committee to be charged to uphold the city’s newly established code of ethics for elected officials and personnel.

Now 12 months later, that committee has its first complaint before it.

The events of the past week have set in motion allegations of unethical conduct by a City Councilman, and these allegations mustn’t be taken lightly — by neither the ethics board, nor by Council itself.

Already there has been a shakeup on the ethics board, as one member has stepped down. Still, in order for City Council to uphold an effective measure of transparency, the process most be carried out as the board was charged to do when it was originally formed.

Serious allegations have been brought forth involving improper use of taxpayer money and questionable judgment from an elected official who took an oath to uphold the office in a positive, trustworthy and responsible manner.

Adopted last spring, the city’s code of ethics relates to travel, representation and business dealings of city employees, elected officials, appointees and volunteers with the purpose to encourage high ethical standards in official conduct, while also setting guidelines, seeking disclosure and providing terms of discipline for those who refuse to abide by the policy’s terms. The policy outlines finance responsibilities and expressly forbids the use of city funds, facilities, personnel, equipment or supplies for personal use.

Although some may find the timing of this complaint questionable, and it would be easy for some to disregard these claims as personal attacks — if the allegations didn’t involve taxpayer dollars and irresponsible conduct that, if merited, places the city in a very poor light.

Even if some of the allegations documented in the complaint transpired before the formation of the new ethics policy and the ethics board, the improprieties related to travel and expenses should have been addressed in some form as soon as they were discovered by city officials.

The time of the alleged improprieties do little to detract from the fact that elected officials should be held to a higher standard as they are assigned to upholding the public trust. Yes, this is a city election year and voters will have their say at the polls come November. But if the claims in this complaint are merited, timing should not be used as a means to deflect the responsibility of civic duty and ethical conduct by saying wrong predates right.

Despite what anyone says about this complaint, its timing or whatever speculation that may arise, these allegations must be responded to in a serious and transparent manor. They also must be addressed carefully and expediently.

While the rest of us on the outside looking in are afforded the chance to look through a different type of lens of scrutiny, the leaders of the city of Milledgeville, along with the three-member ethics board absolutely cannot. Neither can any member of City Council.

The crux of the city’s ethics policy is to allow a process for citizens to stand up for the values of their community and to demand more from their leaders. Being elected is a privilege — not a right. Regardless of the motivations of the complainant, the complaint stands on its own and warrants examination.

The state of public trust depends on how city officials respond.