The Union Recorder

August 28, 2013

Ethics board finds Joiner in violation

Vaishali Patel
The Union-Recorder

MILLEDGEVILLE — The City of Milledgeville’s ethics board ruled Wednesday that Councilman Phillip Joiner, District 4, violated portions of the city’s ethics ordinance.

The ethics board reconvened Wednesday evening to deliberate on findings and make a recommendation for council and the mayor to take action in the ethics complaint filed against Joiner by local downtown business owner Danielle Fields. 

After an investigation, and consideration of testimony and written evidence, Board of Ethics Chair Patricia Hicks said the board found Joiner to be in violation of two subsections of the ethics ordinance. 

The board found Joiner to be in violation of the ordinances that includes “all public funds shall be used for the general welfare of the people and not for personal economic gain.” 

“In at least five instances Councilman Joiner obligated the city to expend funds for training classes for which he failed to receive credit from the sponsor of the training classes,” Hicks, chair of the ethics board, said while providing the final recommendation Wednesday. 

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.”

“Councilman Joiner received travel funds and per diem from the city to attend the National Main Street conference having full knowledge that he was being paid to attend the conference by a third party,” Hicks said.

Joiner was not in attendance Wednesday, though his attorney Donald Oulsnam of Frier & Oulsnam was, along with Fields and local citizens.

The board will formulate a written correspondence to council and the mayor including its recommendations. Council also will receive the total record along with written findings within the next seven days. There is no time table for city council to take action.

“I anticipate the council will review the record, and they may choose to initially review it independently of each other. Then I assume they will have a meeting to discuss the matter in accordance with the ordinance,” said City Attorney Jimmy Jordan. “It’s up to them to make a decision in accordance of the ordinance that authorizes them to do so.”

During last week’s hearing, the ethics board called on witnesses to testify 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. 

The board reconvened Wednesday at City Hall to provide Fields and Joiner the opportunity to submit additional documentary evidence for the board to consider. 

Fields submitted 10 additional documents to be included into record while the city provided seven documents to the board. 

Joiner, through his attorney, did not submit any additional documents.

Joiner’s attorney called on Fields and Main Street/Downtown Development Director Carlee Schulte to testify under sworn oath regarding the new documentary evidence.

“I object to the vast majority of these documents. Pursuant to the ordinance, which this board is empowered to conduct this hearing, a city official subject to inquiry shall have the right to written notice of hearing and allegations to be represented by council ... and to hear by witnesses,” Oulsnam said to the ethics board before understanding and learning that he had the right to cross examine witnesses in regards to the new evidence during Wednesday’s meeting. “You’re depriving Councilman Joiner of his constitutional rights to cross examine and examine the documents. I should’ve had the ability to look at the notes before [Schulte] testified. This evidence should’ve been presented at the hearing.”

The ethics board closed evidence and adjourned to deliberate findings in a closed session before providing a final recommendation.

The additional documentary evidence Fields submitted included:

• an online copy of the invoice Joiner submitted to Digital Bridges concerning the trip to the National Main Street conference in Iowa;

• check-in rosters for GMA classes;

• training policies from the GMA website;

• email conversations with the Georgia College Foundation and the Carl Vinson Institute for an open records request; and

• a copy of the Riot Act.

“I am relieved at the findings. Now it’s in the hands of the council to act, so I will hold my breath and anxiously wait for them to lead and take action,” Fields said after the ethics board provided its recommendation. “I had hoped that this would be their findings. I worked pretty hard and put a lot of time and attention into this. It would’ve been pretty heartbreaking if they would’ve found otherwise.”