The Union Recorder

May 9, 2013

Ethics board member disqualified

Kyle Collins
The Union-Recorder

MILLEDGEVILLE — An oversight during the City of Milledgeville’s Board of Ethics appointments disqualifies one of the three members from serving.

Considering the city’s first ethics complaint against a city official came in last Friday, City Attorney Jimmy Jordan noticed the mistake earlier this week.

The three-member ethics board was finalized May 23, 2012, when Patricia Hicks joined Georgia College professor Clifton Wilkinson Jr. and Baldwin County part-time state court judge Alan Thrower on the panel charged with investigating ethics complaints filed against city officials and designees.

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.

Jordan noticed a problem with panel member Alan Thrower’s eligibility Tuesday.

“Judge Thrower is a Baldwin State Court judge elected by the people of Baldwin County. It was clear he couldn’t sign that affidavit because he did not meet that requirement,” Jordan said. “When I discovered that, it was brought to the attention of mayor and Council, and the mayor is in the process of recommending a new appointment.”

Jordan said at the time of Thrower’s appointment by Mayor Richard Bentley and Council they thought it would be good to have someone with legal experience on the board. 

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

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

Fields cited three instances of alleged unethical behavior in her opinion including an inappropriate email to a member of the media, as well as other incidents of harassment that have been filed against Joiner; wasteful spending, lack of compliance with Georgia Municipal Association (GMA) mandated training and neglect of training courses paid for by the City of Milledgeville; and Joiner’s expenditures for an event that she alleges in her complaint he could not have attended while he was being paid by another entity.

Jordan confirmed Wednesday that the two current Board of Ethics members, the mayor and Council have all received an official copy of the complaint.

Joiner was also officially served notice of the filed ethics grievances against him.

The city’s ethics board wasn’t scheduled to convene until next week to review the documentation, according to the city attorney, and the process of reviewing the case will not be hindered by the recent board member shake up. A new member is slated to be appointed next week.

“It would be prudent for us to go ahead and have the third member on board before the ethics board meets,” he 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. 

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’s filling.

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.

The model ethics ordinance creating the ethics board was part of the City of Milledgeville’s designation as a Georgia Municipal Association City of Ethics in June 2012.

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. Council approved the new ethics policy in March 2012.

The policy outlines finance responsibilities and expressly forbids the use of city funds, facilities, personnel, equipment or supplies for personal use. The code ordinance also prohibits officials from drawing travel funds for sanctioned events and then failing to attend.

Milledgeville City Council regularly meets the second and fourth Tuesday of each month, which means the next meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.

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