The Union Recorder

May 20, 2013

City ethics panel meets to get organized prior to discussing complaint

Vaishali Patel
The Union-Recorder

MILLEDGEVILLE — The City of Milledgeville’s ethics board held its first meeting Monday to discuss the functions of the three-member board and the process for addressing its first complaint.

“This is an important board for the city; it serves a very important function and it’s what gets the city designated as a city of ethics,” said city attorney Jimmy Jordan during the meeting. “We have recently received an ethics complaint. There was no reason for the board to meet [beforehand] because that is the function of the board; it’s a citizen’s committee that complies and carries out terms of ethics.”

The Board of Ethics consists of members Dr. Mike Holmes, vice president and dean of academics at Georgia Military College, Charles Moore, a retired attorney, and newly appointed chairperson Patricia Hicks, retired warden for the state of Georgia. The board will first be charged with investigating the ethics complaint filed by local resident Danielle Fields, a downtown business owner, against City Councilman Phillip Joiner of District 4.

“We’re first charged in determining the applicability of this ordinance to the complaint, whether the complaint sets forth allegations that are within the parameters of what is governed by the ordinance, and whether it is unjustified, frivolous, patently unfounded or fails to state facts sufficient to invoke disciplinary jurisdiction of the City Council,” Jordan said. “If you take what’s in the complaint being true, does it establish probable cause for you to continue your investigation?”

Jordan briefly explained the rights of the board to hold closed sessions under the Georgia Open Meetings Act, a copy of which each member of the board will receive either electronically or in hard copy form.  

“This is an open meeting that is governed by the Georgia Open Meetings Law, which recently changed a year ago. Based on my research and talking with other city attorneys in particular, there will be parts of your meetings that will not be open to the public,” Jordan said. “Your investigative function that you will carry out at times will need to be in a closed session. All of your votes will be required to be in an open session, but all of your deliberations can be in a closed session.”

Moore asked if any state laws outside the ordinance would bear on the way the board operates or deals with particular matters similar to the complaint.

“There are probably some state laws that may give you some guidance from the standpoint of how their agency does it,” Jordan replied. “I don’t know anything from the state law standpoint that would impact this ordinance and how it would impact this ordinance, but we can definitely look at that and certainly gather that information for you.”

During the meeting, the board also established City Clerk Bo Danuser to be in charge of taking minutes for every meeting.

The ethics board is scheduled to next meet at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 4 in the City Hall chambers to review the pending ethics complaint.

“We will review the complaint at the next meeting and ... determine if there are any allegations within the complaint that are found to be within the ordinance and we will move forward with the investigation,” Jordan said. “The investigation has to be completed within 60 days and then they have seven days after that to forward a recommendation to the City Council for the mayor and council, but the ordinance does state that failure to comply within 60 days would not invalidate the action of the board or action of the subsequent action of the City Council if they decided to take action. Anytime there are complaints filed against an elected or appointed official, we would like to move those along as best as we can, but don’t want to sacrifice thoroughness and get ahead of ourselves.”

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