Rockdale ethics ordinance going back to drawing board

CONYERS -- The Rockdale County Board of Commissioners will take up revising the county's ethics ordinance this month with the goal of getting into compliance with the local law.

The ordinance has sat dormant since it was approved in October 2008. The law established procedures to address ethics complaints against the BOC and created a three-person ethics commission hear and rule on them.

County staff will draft some proposed amendments from discussions during last week's BOC work session and present them by March 13, according to Chief of Staff Greg Pridgeon.

Commissioner JaNice Van Ness asked staff to find a new way to appoint one of the three ethics commission members. The current ordinance allows the BOC to name one person to the commission and the county Bar Association to name another.

The third person is nominated by county employees and approved by the Rockdale Coalition of Homeowners and Civic Associations.

Van Ness said she liked keeping the BOC and Bar Association in the appointment process but wanted to see if there was a better way for selecting a third member.

"The one with the homeowners associations is a bit odd," she said. "I mean, not all of our employees live in the county."

The ethics commission has never met. County resident Dan Turner was the only person named to the ethics commission by the BOC a month before Oden took office. Turner's term expired and a replacement was not named.

Another possible change is the $500 fine for filing a false or frivolous ethics complaint. Oden named a study committee in 2010 to look at the ethics ordinance. The committee came back with 15 recommendations that included removing the $500 fine and having the county Democratic and Republican parties name two members.

"My point was that if people file a complaint, because people could do that all day long, obviously if you had a unanimous vote that a complaint is frivolous by the ethics commission than that person could be fined," Van Ness said.

At first, the commissioners discussed how to fill the seats on the ethics commission until County Clerk Jennifer Rutledge noted the board also had the option to amend the ordinance in order to address those open issues from the study committee.

The ethics ordinance pertains only to the Board of Commissioners and was championed by local businessman David Shipp and county resident Garvin Haynes in 2007 amid accusations against former Commissioner Jason Hill regarding his membership on the local arts council and the board of directors of a bank that did business with the county.

The law was controversial and never satisfied either side on the issue. Former commission Chairman Roy Middlebrooks deferred any changes to the law to current Chairman Oden, who succeeded Middlebrooks in 2009.