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Thank you DeKalb voters!

 

The “Revised Ethics” referendum has been defeated: 61% NO.

A message to DeKalb voters


As candidates and voters alike wrestle with the COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences, election season progresses and ethics legislation for the DeKalb Board of Ethics continues to be stalled in the Georgia General Assembly.


DCAC remains committed to keeping ethics legislation on the agenda of DeKalb state legislators and on the radar of DeKalb citizens. With that in mind, DeKalb Citizens Advocacy Council (DCAC) surveyed all DeKalb House and Senate candidates in order to create a voter guide focused on the issue.


We applaud those candidates who participated and respect the opinions they voiced in their responses and comments. For those candidates who did not participate, we would ask you to consider if you are acting in the best interest of citizens by not responding. And, we would remind you of this passage from a 2013 DeKalb Grand Jury special report on ethics:


“In this country, governmental organizations derive their authority from the trust and confidence placed in it by its citizens. Without this trust, representative democracy could not exist either because people would not respect the authority of their institutions, or because government would usurp that authority for itself, and cease acting in the interest of its citizens… Ethics provides the roadmap for behavior that promotes essential public trust in
government.”

Thanks to DeKalb voters heeding our recommendations, we were successful in defeating the referendum that would have weakened DeKalb County government ethics. 

However, our work is far from done.  We still need to get the Ethics Board back in operation.  We’re not sure how the legislators will approach this issue. 

Our points are these:

  • Time is of the essence.

  • Legislators should focus on the simple fix: just fix the board appointment process.

  • We expect there to be a transparent process to produce the proper legislation.

  • DCAC must be included in the process.

 
 

How can we implement a better Board of Ethics appointment process that meets the constitutional test established by the Georgia Supreme Court? 

Rather than having private community groups appoint board members, they could nominate candidates for the Board of Ethics.  Elected officials would then appoint from the pool of nominees.  This is a very simple change to the current ethics act.  It doesn’t require a referendum.

 

Other local governments affected by the State Supreme Court decision (such as City of Atlanta) have already adopted this simple change.

What role can/should the Charter Review Commission play in revising Ethics legislation?

The Charter Review Commission is not yet formed.  We don’t know when it will be formed.  However, it is our viewpoint that, if and when the commission is formed, we could have those well-qualified people discuss any additional “fixes” to improve the Board of Ethics and strengthen the Code of Ethics.

 

In the meantime, the DeKalb legislative delegation should stay focused on the immediate issue at hand: revising the appointment process in a timely manner so the Board of Ethics can get back up and running.

I’ve heard that the ethics officer and the Board of Ethics are essentially the judge, jury and executioner all in one. Is this wrong? 

That just isn’t the case.

The process works like this: 

(1) The ethics officer investigates the complaint to determine if the Board of Ethics has jurisdiction over the matter and if there is sufficient evidence to proceed. 

(2) If so, then the person filing the complaint prosecutes the complaint. 

(3) The Board of Ethics hears the matter, reviews the evidence, and makes a decision.  This unified process assures that the board’s decision-making is informed and swift.  Any decision can be easily appealed to Superior Court if desired by the parties involved.

 

To emphasize:  There is no single person or board that is a judge, jury, and executioner.  The current rules assure that the process is well considered, balanced, can be appealed, and is fair.

 
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