The Union Recorder

August 26, 2013

Ethics board to review new evidence

Vaishali Patel
The Union-Recorder

MILLEDGEVILLE — The City of Milledgeville’s ethics board is expected to review additional documentary evidence related to the ethics complaint filed against City Councilman Phillip Joiner, District 4, when the ethics hearing reconvenes Monday.

Local business owner Danielle Fields, who filed the ethics complaint, requested Tuesday evening that the board not close evidence because she plans to submit additional documents for the board to review.

During Tuesday’s proceedings, members of the ethics board called on witnesses to speak under sworn testimony regarding allegations against Joiner, including wasteful spending, lack of timely compliance with Georgia Municipal Association (GMA) mandated training, neglect of courses paid for by the City of Milledgeville and expenditures in conjunction with the National Main Street conference in Des Moines, Iowa in May 2011.

Fields said she will submit additional documents including a certified transcript from GMA documenting Joiner’s checked-in at training, guidelines provided to newly elected officials regarding training and an invoice from Joiner submitted to Digital Bridges for the National Main Street conference held in Iowa.

According to the testimony of Digital Bridges Director Tommy Cook during Tuesday’s hearing, after discussions with former director Heather Holder the Iowa trip was agreed upon. Joiner’s role was to help showcase the new Shop Local web template at an exhibition booth during the conference to promote the initiative.

“Then Heather said it would be a good idea if [Joiner] came with me to help work the crowd and establish a good name for ourselves since he’s a good salesman. Phillip came into the office a couple of hours later. He was interested, and we discussed the idea of selling websites,” Cook said while under oath Tuesday. “Heather and I spoke before Phillip came in to work out what would be a fair fee to pay him. We did the rough math, and the trip would cost $1,500 for us, so we thought $500 would be a decent sum of money for him to help us sell. We did not itemize it out.”

Joiner was “responsible for all of his own travel arrangements, including airfare, hotel, mileage and meals,” as stated in a March 26, 2012, email to The Union-Recorder from Harry Battson, former Georgia College associate vice president for strategic communications. He explained Joiner’s purpose for the trip on behalf of Digital Bridges as a promoter.

“Phillip assisted in booth set-up, distributed marketing materials to conference attendees, encouraged attendee interaction and assisted with gathering contact information from individuals interested in the Shop Local website,” Battson said via email last year.

After Joiner agreed to contracting with Digital Bridges, he spoke with City Manager Barry Jarrett that same day about him going to Iowa in a dual capacity. Under sworn testimony Tuesday, Joiner said he discussed the trip with Jarrett to utilize it as a joint venture. Jarrett testified Tuesday that the city made no request to Joiner to attend the conference on its behalf; however, the city approved the trip.

“I did make it clear to Mr. Jarrett that I was going to be working with Digital Bridges and also networking on behalf of the city as a representative of Milledgeville. I didn’t price it out, but I asked Mr. Jarrett if I could go ... there was no objection. I submitted the request, and it was approved,” Joiner said during his testimony Tuesday. “I networked and talked to quite a few people over the course I was there. I was able to do some sales work with Digital Bridges. I didn’t attend any classes, and the City of Milledgeville didn’t pay for classes or the conference. I came back with ideas for Digital Bridges and the City of Milledgeville.”

Milledgeville Main Street/Downtown Development Director Carlee Schulte said during Tuesday’s hearing that she was unable to attend the National Main Street conference in Iowa due to her budget and did not request anyone to go on her behalf.

“The cost of attending the conference is from $1,200 to $1,400 depending where it’s held. I had to apply for a scholarship, one that I just received last week to attend the next national conference,” she said during the proceedings. “Phillip talked to me right before the conference to let me know he was going to be attending on the city’s behalf and with Tommy [Cook].”

Joiner, who announced last month that he does not plan to seek reelection this year, requested city funds to make the trip, a request that was approved and covered expenses for airfare, accommodations and other traveling costs.

“Mr. Joiner requested funds to go to the conference. No one else from the city could go, and that’s not a violation of any city policy that I’m aware of,” Jarrett said when asked about the trip Tuesday.

Documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act Open Records Request filed by The Union-Recorder last year contradict that testimony.

The invoice dated June 13, 2011, from Joiner to Digital Bridges was for $2,000 for “sales consultation, marketing strategies, travel” to Des Moines, Iowa, for the National Main Street conference from May 22 to 24.

Joiner reiterated at Tuesday’s hearing that his attendance was beneficial.

“[The conference] benefited me to have a better understanding of what other downtowns do as a business person located downtown as well as representing downtown as a councilman,” Joiner said. “As many opportunities we can get to engage to put Milledgeville on the map, I think I do a good job with that.”

Joiner announced in early August that he will not seek reelection to the District 4 seat. His current term runs through Dec. 31.

The ethics board will reconvene at 4:30 p.m. today in City Hall executive chambers to deliberate findings and provide a recommendation for Council and the mayor. If the ethics board does not complete the hearing process by Monday, an additional meeting will be required.