The Union Recorder

May 15, 2013

City ethics board makes another change

Kyle Collins
The Union-Recorder

MILLEDGEVILLE — After a crazy week, the City of Milledgeville's Board of Ethics has three members adequately meeting service requirements. 

Two appointees, Baldwin State Court judge Alan Thrower and Georgia College professor Clifton Wilkinson, Jr., were disqualified in the last seven days before signing affidavits after the board received its first ethic complaint against a city official May 3.

During Tuesday's City Council meeting, Mayor Richard Bentley appointed Dr. Mike Holmes and recommended Charles Moore for Council consideration, which they approved. The two new ethics board members join Patricia Hicks on the panel charged with investigating ethics complaints filed against city officials and designees.

The three-member ethics board was originally finalized May 23, 2012, when Patricia Hicks joined Wilkinson and Thrower on the ethics board.

Local resident Danielle Fields, a downtown business owner, filed the complaint a week and a half ago against District 4 City Councilman Phillip Joiner that started the city procedure of handling its first ethics case.

City Attorney Jimmy Jordan noticed a problem with Thrower's eligibility last Tuesday. Since the people of Baldwin County elect Thrower, he didn't meet the core requirements spelled out by the ethics ordinance adopted March 2012.

“It was an oversight on my part,” the city attorney said last week.

Each board member is required to sign an affidavit after appointment stating they are over 21, a registered city voter, a city resident and not an elected official.

Wilkinson was the second ethics appointee removed because he moved out of the city limits requiring two replacements during Tuesday's regular meeting. Only one needed Council's majority vote.

“(Wilkinson) has moved out of the city and informed us of that after receiving his notice of the complaint and affidavit to sign,” Bentley said. “We had two folks to reappoint. Holmes appointment didn't require Council approval.”

Holmes is the Vice President and Dean of Academics at Georgia Military College. The mayor's ethics board choice is also a retired Navy officer.

“I can't think of anyone more suited to a Board of Ethics than a retired Naval officer and someone who is employed by GMC,” Bentley said.

Moore is a retired attorney with extensive legal experience Bentley sees as essential during this ethics investigation.

“My concern and goal all along was to have someone with some legal experience because this is an evidentiary hearing. I felt like they could draw on that person's experience,” the mayor said.

Hicks, the mayor and Council have all received official copies of the complaint. Jordan said Holmes and Moore would have the proper documentation soon.

“Tomorrow, we will deliver copies of the complaint and the affidavit. The ordinance requires them to sign an affidavit to make sure they meet all requirements to serve on the board. Assuming they get those signed, we'll talk in terms of an organizational meeting,” the city attorney said. 

Since the ethics panel lacks established hearing procedure to this point, protocol must also be established. Part of the first meeting is organizational and the other the initiation of the investigation into the complaint against Joiner. 

The city's ethics board wasn't scheduled to convene until this week to review the documentation, according to Jordan, and the process of reviewing the case will not be hindered by the recent board member shake up. 

For those complaints not dismissed, the Board of Ethics would then collect evidence and add the findings and results of its investigations to the complaint file. The group must hold a hearing within 60 days of the Friday, May 3 filing.

“The objective would be to come within the original 60-day period,” Jordan said. “The ordinance says going beyond the 60 days doesn't invalidate what the board would do. In fairness to everyone involved, we need to get it done as judiciously as possible.”

Upon the board's review, findings pass on to 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.

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