The Union Recorder

December 6, 2013

Councilman Joiner asked to resign, reimburse city

Vaishali Patel
The Union-Recorder

MILLEDGEVILLE — Milledgeville City Council and Mayor Richard Bentley requested Thursday that Councilman Phillip Joiner, District 4, resign from office effectively immediately and reimburse the city for training classes paid for by the city. 

Council announced the final decision during Thursday’s called meeting in regards to the ongoing ethics complaint filed against Joiner by local business owner Danielle Fields.

When reached for comment, Joiner, who did not attend the meeting, said resigning is not in his plans.

“I will certainly not be resigning; that’s not going to happen. We have one scheduled meeting left, and I do not plan to resign. There’s certainly nothing in the provision ... in our code that will compel me or force me to resign. It’s an empty gesture for political cover,” said Joiner immediately after learning about Council’s decision. “I love all of my peers on Council and the mayor and have no ill feelings toward them, but I disagree with them.”

Council is also requesting Joiner to reimburse the city for training classes that were paid for by the city, classes Joiner was registered to attend after the city’s code of ethics was adopted March 27, 2012. Joiner failed to receive credit from the sponsor of the training classes.

“My attorney and I don’t agree with it. [Fields] did not in any way at any time ever prove anything at all; she never submitted any evidence. I’m certainly guilty of not being organized in paperwork, but the city has never once paid me to attend a conference for which I did not attend. I’ve attended every single conference that the city has paid me. We’ve stipulated that and there’s no evidence to disprove that,” Joiner said. “I have little as three weeks left; this is easy because [Council and the mayor] won’t be working with me in the future. It’s an easy political high road.”

Mayor Bentley said he hopes the decision sends a message to the public in how serious Council is about the ethics ordinance.

“We are serious as the public is in expecting elected officials ... and others covered in the ordinance ... to adhere to ethical behavior and elected officials are held to a higher standard. We are also sending a message to future elected officials and appointees that we expect them to act in an ethical manner,” Bentley said. “Mr. Joiner was a colleague of ours so this wasn’t a very pleasant process. We felt like it was necessary and acted with what we felt was our responsibility to the public.”

Fields said the reason she filed the complaint was to “hold our elected officials accountable to the people they represent.”

“I’m glad this is over. [Joiner] is no longer a Councilman after Dec. 31, so this no longer is about him; it’s about setting a precedent so others know not to misuse taxpayer money,” she said. “To assume that I’m happy that he was not re-elected is a joke. It’s not about who was in office; it was about how they treated the office and the constituents while they were there.”

During Thursday’s called meeting, Joiner’s attorney Donald Oulsnam urged Council to not take action on allegations or events that took place before March 27, 2012, when the board of ethics was enacted.

“The biggest problem with the findings about the board of ethics is the same argument I’ve made to them twice at their two meetings. You should not consider the first three allegations because those events took place prior to March 27, which is prior to when the city enacted a city ethics ordinance that created the board and set forth the prohibitions,” he said. “If the city is to take any action on any event that took place prior to March 27, you would be violating … the Georgia Constitution. I don’t want my city government punishing someone that was not unlawful.”

Fields reiterated to Council members the reason she filed the ethics complaint was not election-related.

“What I expect is a precedent to be set that deters someone from doing it again,” Fields said before Council and mayor deliberated in executive session for more than an hour. “[Joiner] should be censured even though there’s one meeting left, and he should pay the money back for the Des Moines [Iowa] trip; I don’t know if it’s legal, but I hope it would be.”

Fields filed the ethics complaint against Joiner in May. In it Fields waged allegations of unethical behavior against Joiner, which resulted in the city’s ethics board ruling that the Councilman violated two subsections of the city’s ethics ordinances.

The board called witnesses and received additional documentation during the proceedings, which spanned sessions in August.

The board found Joiner to be in violation of the ordinance that includes “all public funds shall be used for the general welfare of the people and not for personal economic gain.” The other ordinance the board ruled Joiner did not comply with reads, “no city official shall draw travel funds or per diem from the city for attendance at meetings, seminars, training or other educational events and fail to attend such events without promptly reimbursing the city therefore.”

The hearing concluded Wednesday, Aug. 28. The ethics board wrote up its findings for the mayor and Council including its recommendation. The city’s ethics ordinance states “the decision of the board of ethics shall be rendered to mayor and aldermen within seven calendar days after completion of the final hearing.” In October, city attorney Jimmy Jordan said the transcript from the proceedings had been delayed, resulting in the city officials’ inability to move forward on the matter.

“The record in this is quite voluminous. Once the ethics board delivered findings to the mayor and aldermen, we felt it was prudent to give them ample opportunity to review the record. Based on that timeframe, this was the next available time we could get the mayor and Council together as an elected body for this special called meeting,” said Jordan. “The three members of the ethics board dedicated a lot of their time, were extremely well prepared at the hearings, and were very diligent in their deliberations. The City of Milledgeville is very fortunate those individuals are serving on this ethics board.”

City Manager Barry Jarrett will deliver a certified copy of Council’s resolution to Joiner Friday.

Council’s last meeting of the year is slated for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at city hall.

“I’m terribly disappointed in their decision,” Joiner said. “It’s kind of sad, but I know they have to do what’s best for them and keep the city’s reputation intact. I understand, but I don’t agree.”