County still looking over ethics plan

CONYERS - Rockdale County officials said Friday a proposed ethics ordinance is close to being released once Common Cause Georgia reviews some suggested changes.

County attorneys have been reviewing the 14-page draft ordinance since Common Cause Georgia delivered a copy to the county last month. The attorneys will mark up the document for revision, send it to the Rockdale County Board of Commissioners for discussion and then send the document back to Common Cause for suggestions.

Rockdale County spokeswoman Julie Mills said the public will also be able to review the ordinance and suggested changes, also called red-lined items, the same time that the commissioners receive it from the county attorneys.

Mills said it is not certain when the review of the proposed ethics ordinance would be completed; however, officials hope to get the process started soon since the measure was tabled indefinitely a year ago.

"At that time everybody will have a chance to weigh in, and we will see what Common Cause's thoughts are on the changes," she said. "So, we will have a dialogue with them and hopefully the process can speed up now that the General Assembly is no longer in session."

The county's proposed ethics code seeks to spell out the process by which county commissioners and appointed members of volunteer boards, such as the Conyers Rockdale Planning Commission, determine when members should abstain from votes on which they may have conflicts of interest.

The request for an ethics code came last year from Garvin Haynes of the county's Democratic Party and David Shipp, chairman of the county Republican Party, with the Rockdale County Libertarian Party later voicing its support.

Common Cause Georgia was asked in the fall to help draft the ordinance after no progress had been made for months on the measure.

The nonpartisan group delayed its work on Rockdale County's proposed ordinance until after this year's General Assembly session ended in April.

Common Cause Georgia provided Haynes and Shipp a copy of the draft ordinance to review and provide comment before delivering the document to county officials in May.

One item the county will recommend for revision is a reduction in the maximum fine for an ethics violation from $10,000 to $1,000, Mills said.

"That is just something that is very much out of line from what we have seen from other ordinances," Mills said.

Another proposed change in the Common Cause version would be the process by which county employees would select a member to sit on the proposed three-member Board of Ethics.

Under the current draft ordinance, an appointee to the local ethics board is selected by a majority vote among all employees of the county. Mills explained this raised a concern because a significant number of county employees do not live in Rockdale County.

The draft ordinance also calls for the Board of Commissioners and the county's bar association to appoint the other two members of the ethics board.

Mills described most of the red-lined items as "minor changes in the verbiage" for clarification purposes.