Group criticizes ordinance
New version of ethics rules gets first reading at meeting

CONYERS - The advocacy group asked to help draft Rockdale County's new ethics ordinance criticized the most recent version Tuesday, just as the county Board of Commissioners was holding the first reading of the document.

The first of two separate readings of the ethics ordinance was done during the Board of Commissioners' regular meeting Tuesday, without anyone speaking during the public comment segment.

County law requires two readings before a vote can be taken on new ordinances. The second reading is scheduled for the next Board of Commissioners meeting at 10 a.m. Oct. 28.

Rockdale County Board of Commissioners Chairman Roy Middlebrooks commented that it had been a long process to get the ethics ordinance on the agenda, adding that board members had received comments from many people in the community.

"Hopefully, we have put together a strong ethics ordinance, and one I believe the biggest majority can agree on," Middlebrooks said. He added that public comments are still being received, and there could possibly be a revision of the ordinance between the first and second readings.

Meanwhile, the Citizen obtained an e-mail sent to County Attorney John Nix from Common Cause of Georgia Executive Director Bill Bozarth that listed four concerns with the ethics ordinance as written.

Bozarth criticized the exclusion from the ordinance of appointed and volunteer positions on various boards and authorities by saying such omission "leaves open the possibility of conflicted behavior with serious consequences without a proscribed grievance process available to the public."

Bozarth suggested that the county could possibly identify specific volunteer positions that are deemed the most critical to be covered by the ordinance as a possible solution.

Middlebrooks had in the past opposed including volunteer positions because he said it is difficult to find people willing to serve. He has also argued that accountability of those positions falls on the Board of Commissioners, who can dismiss anyone who does anything inappropriate.

In a section restricting former commissioners from representing interests to the county for three years after leaving office, Bozarth noted the restriction is solely for private interests, and that certain kinds of public employment could be spelled out as exceptions.

Bozarth also took exception to allowing gifts up to $250 in value. Those gifts include hospitality, meals, conferences or other business events unrelated to the county. He argued that a ban on gifts should be broad and cited examples of similar bans in Cobb and Chatham counties.

He called the ability to fine complainants in the ordinance "a major flaw" and a provision that "creates an unacceptable potential to silence complaints."

Bozarth noted that affidavits required to support complaints should be enough to ward off false claims.

Bozarth sent the e-mail during the Board of Commissioners meeting, according to the message's time stamp. He also sent copies of his concerns to Garvin Haynes of the county's Democratic Party and David Shipp, chairman of the county Republican Party, both who requested a county ethics ordinance last year.

Ruth Wilson, Democratic candidate for county clerk of courts and former Rockdale County Democratic Party chairwoman, and Julie Mills, Rockdale County chief of staff, were also sent copies of Bozarth's e-mail.

Jay Jones can be reached at jay.jones@rockdalecitizen.com.