MILLEDGEVILLE — The first hearing on an ethics complaint filed against Milledgeville City Councilman Phillip Joiner, District 4, has been delayed.
After nearly 30 days of collecting evidence, the City of Milledgeville’s ethics board was set to hold its initial hearing Tuesday on the pending ethics complaint filed by downtown business owner Danielle Fields against Joiner.
City attorney Jimmy Jordan received a letter Friday afternoon from Joiner’s attorney, Donald Oulsnam of Frier & Oulsnam in Milledgeville, requesting a two- to four-week continuance due to Joiner suffering from a fall.
“Unfortunately, Mr. Joiner spent much of [Thursday] night and early [Friday] morning in the hospital after suffering a fall resulting in a separated shoulder and ligament damage. As a result, Mr. Joiner is on bed rest, heavily medicated and cannot drive or otherwise assist in the preparation for the currently scheduled Board of Ethics hearing,” Oulsnam’s letter to Jordan states.
Oulsnam was contacted Friday afternoon by The Union-Recorder but was not reached for comment before press time.
Jordan said Joiner is allowed a continuance because of “good cause.”
“Anytime you’re in a hearing setting, the protocol, whether a court hearing or administrative hearing, a continuance would be granted for good cause. Based on [Oulsnam’s] representations, [Joiner] is unable, due to medication, to participate in preparing defense and will not be able to attend the hearing,” Jordan said. “He is well within the good cause showing for allowing the matter to be continued. The continuance will be granted, so the hearing will not be going forward Tuesday.”
According to the Milledgeville City Council ethics ordinance, “a hearing shall be held within 60 calendar days after filing of the complaint.” Fields filed her complaint May 7, which makes the 60-day mark July 6.
“The provision in the ordinance states that strict compliance with times and dates is not fatal, so it does not invalidate actions ... we try to adhere to them, but they are in some ways like guidelines,” Jordan said. “The fact that Mr. Joiner requested a continuance, he would be barred from objecting to the hearing beyond the 60 days as a result of his request. The hearing has been continued due to his request, not the board’s.”
During a June ethics board meeting to review the complaint, the three-member ethics board determined two of the three allegations within the complaint were within the ordinance, including allegations against Joiner regarding wasteful spending, lack of timely compliance with Georgia Municipal Association (GMA) mandated training, neglect of courses paid for by the City of Milledgeville (Section B) and expenditures in conjunction with Main Street conference in Des Moines, Iowa in May 2011 (Section C). The board determined the harassment allegations in Section A of the complaint did not fall under the ethics ordinance.
Ethics board members Mike Holmes, vice president and dean of academics at Georgia Military College, Charles Moore, a retired attorney, and board chair Patricia Hicks, a retired prison warden for the state, initiated the investigation and added results to Joiner’s complaint file.
Fields and Joiner have the right to submit evidence and call their own witnesses during the hearing. Findings will pass on to Mayor Richard Bentley and Council for action based solely on the presence of a discernible ethics violation. The rules allow for the censure of an official, or Council may ask for a resignation from office.
“If they don’t get through all of the evidence in the first day of the hearing, then they can set another date and that will be up to the board. The board then has seven days to formulate a recommendation to the mayor and council,” Jordan said. “Then the mayor and council will be required to consider the recommendation by the Board of Ethics and review what the board has compiled and make their own decision.”
In the letter to Jordan, Joiner’s attorney, Oulsnam, recommends August dates as the possible dates for rescheduling the hearing. The ethics board plans to convene to discuss matters and officially set the hearing date.
“Neither [Fields nor Joiner] would have to be at the hearing; they are both afforded the opportunity. Fields would be able to present any documentation or witnesses to support her complaint, and Joiner, being accused of the violations, could do the same,” Jordan said. “It’s basic principle of our jurisprudence that flows into an administrative hearing that when accused of something, a person has the right to present evidence in support of their position; it’s fundamental fairness.”
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 City of Milledgeville officially became a City of Ethics within the Georgia Municipal Association last June.
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