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May 7, 2013

Ethics complaint filed against Councilman

MILLEDGEVILLE — Last March, the City of Milledgeville officially adopted an ethics policy and created a three-member ethics board to address complaints against city officials.

The board has its first case.

Local resident Danielle Fields, a downtown business owner, has filed an ethics complaint against District 4 City Councilman Phillip Joiner.

In her Friday, May 3 submission to the city’s Board of Ethics, Fields states the complaint isn’t a personal attack, but part of holding local leadership accountable from a purely ethical standpoint.

“Councilman Phillip Joiner has served as the District 4 City Councilman since 2010 and has constantly been in the headlines since stepping in. While I do not wish to comment on his personal travails, it behooves me as a citizen of the great city of Milledgeville to point out his blatant disregard and disrespect of his position, his constituents and his peers within the Council,” Fields states in the document.

Fields cited three instances of alleged unethical behavior in her opinion:

• 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 courses paid for by the City of Milledgeville;

• and Joiner’s expenditures for an event that he could not have attended while he was being paid by another entity.

To view a digital library of documents contained in the ethics complaint, click here: http://www.scribd.com/Milledgeville%20Ethics

In her complaint documentation, Fields submitted extensive travel, expense and Baldwin County Sheriff’s office incident report documentation detailing the stated claims against Joiner.

“These three instances are just the most recent in a long list of unethical conduct from Mr. Joiner,” Fields stated in her letter to the Ethics Board. “I feel the context as a whole leaves no choice but to ask for his resignation from his seat as councilman.”

Joiner said Fields has always shown high character though he referred to this filing as a political stunt.

“I find the timing quite curious. The individual filing — this is a former friend of mine — that has very publicly aligned [herself] with a person who has stated they are going to be running against me in an election, and we are six months away,” Joiner said in response to the complaint when contacted Monday by The Union-Recorder. “There is a good section of the complaint that can easily be interpreted that I don’t like the way Phillip does business. That’s something that’s settled at the polls not in an ethics complaint.”

Some of the instances cited in the complaint perceived as ethic violations did occur prior to the Ethics Committee’s creation, including references to expenditures in conjunction with a National Main Street conference held in Des Moines, Iowa in May 2011. Other incidents are more recent. The most recent incident, a harassment claim by a local resident, was filed in March with the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office.

“I realize that this trip was prior to the inception of the Ethics Committee,” Fields stated in the complaint. “However, I absolutely think that this issue alone is resignation worthy.”

Fields said people shouldn’t perceive this as a crazy, personal attack or an action that is politically motivated.

“I can’t support any candidate over the other now because I’m the chair of the GOP,” Fields said. “To say it’s politically motivated is discrediting the complaint.”

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.

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.

City attorney Jimmy Jordan confirmed by press time Monday that City Manager Barry Jarrett has the document and said the Board of Ethics, the mayor and Council members shall receive an official copy of the ethics complaint by Wednesday.

Jordan said he will study the ethics complaint, confirming the claims are legibly drawn and clearly address matters within scope of the ethics ordinance.

“My initial look is to just make sure that the mechanics of it are within the statute,” Jordan said.

According to the city ethics code, the three-member board then “shall review it to determine whether the complaint is unjustified, frivolous, patently unfounded or fails to state facts sufficient to invoke disciplinary jurisdiction of the city council.”

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 filing.

Since the ethics panel lacks established hearing procedure to this point, Jordan said protocol must be established.

“I need to make sure from a protocol standpoint what part of that process is open to the public, and if there are any matters that are privilege or confidential,” Jordan said.

Any city official who is the subject of an inquiry will be notified of the allegations prior to the first hearing held by the Board of Ethics. The official has the right to submit evidence and call his or her own witnesses.

“I’m an open book,” Joiner said. “I look forward to a forum where I can clear quite a few things up.”

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.

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