ATLANTA (AP) — The newly hired chief executive of Georgia's ethics commission said Tuesday that he will ensure the agency is efficient, non-partisan and resistant to outside pressure.
Members of the commission voted Tuesday to hire Stefan Ritter, a senior assistant attorney general, as the agency's new executive secretary. The commission, officially known as the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission, is tasked with enforcing campaign-finance and other ethics laws.
Commissioners and staff are under pressure to make changes after a year of turmoil marked by lawsuits from former employees. Also, an October state audit questioned the agency's ability to ensure the laws were being fully followed by candidates, campaign committees, lobbyists and others.
Commissioners fired the former executive secretary, Holly LaBerge, in September after a judge fined her for failing to turn over key documents in a lawsuit against the agency.
Ritter, who has focused on education, elections and government services during his 18 years with the attorney general's office, said the agency must address weaknesses in the audit but added that he's grateful for progress made by recently hired staff.
"We are going to get the work of the commission done — by the law, by the regulations, by the book — and we're going to get it done efficiently," he said. "All of these things in various regimes have been problems."
Lawmakers added about $768,000 to the agency's budget this year for eight new positions. Gov. Nathan Deal requested the additional funding in his budget proposal. He not yet signed the budget for the fiscal year beginning in July.
Commission Chairwoman Hillary Stringfellow called Ritter the most qualified out of four finalists and "ready to hit the ground running."
"We'll take a look the audit and at our budget and sit down as a commission with Mr. Ritter and formulate our goals together," she said.
Wiliam Perry, executive director of the open government group Common Cause, said Ritter's record in the attorney general's office gives him "cautious optimism."
"I'm interested to see what Mr. Ritter does as the leader of an agency," Perry said. "The ball's in his court now to lead the commission at his discretion."