Hank Griffeth

City Manager Hank Griffeth listens at Thursday’s ethics hearing. Local resident Gregory Barnes had filed a complaint with the city against Griffeth. The city’s ethics board dismissed the complaint on Thursday evening.

The Milledgeville City Ethics Board has determined that an ethics complaint filed against City Manager Hank Griffeth several months ago by Gregory Barnes has no standing under a city ordinance.

The unanimous ruling by the three-member city ethics board was handed down Thursday night following nearly a half-hour exchange between board members and City Attorney Jimmy Jordan during a hearing at City Hall.

The ethics board consists of an alternate member, Carey Jarrett, who served as chairwoman, along with Pam Beer and Irwin Griffin.

Earlier this month, the ethics board dismissed the same allegation made by Barnes against Milledgeville Police Chief Dray Swicord.

As was the case during the first meeting of the ethics board a couple of weeks ago, Barnes, a local businessman and pastor, did not attend Thursday night.

Reached for comment by The Union-Recorder concerning the ethics board’s decision, Barnes responded via email Friday morning. His comments were addressed to the city, as well as related to other matters.

“You did not vet any of the misinformation and disinformation that spewed from the city,” Barnes said in his email. “Let me reiterate to you that socio-economic discrimination against African-Americans in the city of Milledgeville is real. This community needs you to be at your best to challenge all — in this case both of us, to get to the truth.”

Barnes added he holds “no ill will” against the city’s ethics board for its decision.

“The process was skewed against me starting from the day I filed my complaint,” he said.

Barnes’ complaint was about him seeking a road closure for a community event that he had planned last year.

The request was turned down by Griffeth and Swicord and thus, Barnes filed an ethics complaint against both men.

Barnes had requested that a special master, an outside judge, be appointed by city council to hear his complaint against both Griffeth and Swicord.

During Thursday night’s hearing, Beer asked the city attorney if Barnes could refile his complaint.

“He could not refile in front of you, because the dismissal would be determined that he could pursue other avenues because what is going to be required of city council is city council is not simply going to be able to appoint a special master to hear Mr. Barnes’ complaint,” Jordan said. “Unless they say they’re not going to have an ethics board anymore. We’re just going to have a special master for every complaint.”

 The longtime city attorney said city council could not just appoint one in his opinion, simply to hear Barnes’ complaint. 

After nearly 25 minutes of discussing the various aspects, Beer made the following motion:

“I made a motion that we find Mr. Barnes’ complaint has no standing — that it lacks standing under the ordinance and that the complaint be dismissed.”

The motion immediately drew a second from Griffin.

“It has been moved and properly seconded that Mr. Barnes’ complaint has no merit, is there any discussion,” Jarrett asked before a vote was taken.

During that time, Beer said she would have loved for Barnes to have attended the hearing so she could have talked with him.

“So, would I,” Jarrett said.

Beer recalled she had made another motion to go forward with the complaint during the first hearing held earlier this month.

“So, I did not have my mind made up on this one, but lacking his courtesy to come and speak with us, I don’t think I have any other way to go except with this,” Beer said.

Griffin also commented.

“I was under the same impression of what she had,” Griffin said. “He had the opportunity to be here. Nowhere in the emails that I saw that he said, especially the ones I got today, said he would not be here or [that he had] a special conflict or something of that nature.”

Griffin said he believed if Barnes had such a conflict and had informed City Clerk Bo Danuser about it, that the city clerk would have called him and the other two city ethics board members about it.

“Put it this way, if one of us had got sick, we would have called Bo and said, cancel this tonight and we’ll move it to another night,” Griffin said. “He (Barnes) had the same opportunity to do so — move it straight up, and say, ‘I can’t be there because I’m sick or one of my children, if he’s got children, I don’t know — some reason, some good, legitimate reason. He did not come up and say that.”

Beer offered another possibility.

“Or even if he said, ‘Hey look,’ as he has claimed he did not get the email until Tuesday and he has not had time to prepare, ‘So, if you will, postpone it, and I will be at your next meeting,” Beer said.

Barnes said he never received that particular email.

Beer said she would have favored having another meeting, “but he’s pretty much indicated he’s not going to be here.”

Jarrett also commented before the vote was taken.

“I would certainly like to go on record in the discussion phase to say that making an ethics charge, in my mInd, this is me, not from the board, is a very serious matter, and if you are inclined to make an ethics charge, then it should be incumbent on that person to come before and be willing to participate,” Jarrett said. “And that’s the Carrie in me, and I take it very seriously.”

Following the vote to dismiss the complaint, Jarrett again thanked the city manager for attending and the cooperation that he had shown at the two ethics board hearings.

“It could not have been easy, but you are here and we appreciate your cooperation; we really do, because in my mind, this is a serious board, and we are appointed to take in serious matters and we give it serious consideration based upon the information we have,” Jarrett said.

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