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BOC ethics code changes suggested by panel
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Ethics ordinance reviewers are asking the public for input on what they would like to see changed in the ethics code governing the Rockdale County Commissioners.

Reviewers David Shipp, Garvin Haynes, and Mike Kessler presented the review panel’s suggested ethics ordinance changes at the South Rockdale Civic Association’s monthly meeting on Tuesday evening.

The panel had been convened at the request of Commission Chairman Richard Oden in 2009, said Shipp, and had been instructed to make the existing BOC ethics code tougher. The existing ethics code was passed in 2008 but not enacted, said Shipp.

Among the major changes they suggested was the appointment of the long-term members of the ethics board.

The existing code calls for one seat to be appointed by the BOC, one seat to be appointed by county employees, and one seat to be appointed by the Rockdale County Bar Association for three year terms. The reviewers suggested instead having the Rockdale Republican and Democratic parties appoint one member each. The third member would still be appointed by the Rockdale County Bar Association and would serve as a chairperson, voting only in the case of a tie.

Another major difference would be the elimination of penalties for complaints found to be without merit. Currently, an applicant could be fined up to $500 for an ethics complaint found to be without merit.

Instead, the reviewers suggested that all complaints would be weighed privately by the three long-term ethics board members and if found to be without merit, would be dismissed privately. If a complaint was found to have enough merit for a full board review, then three temporary board members, drawn randomly from a pool of volunteers, and one member appointed by the accused would be called to serve and the complaints would then be made public.

Shipp said this suggestion – eliminating the penalty – met with the most resistance from the commissioners.

Haynes said there should be no reason for a penalty if there was no public airing of unfounded complaints. “Whatever happens here would stay under wraps if it’s not a just cause,” said Haynes. “What’s the point of airing some foolish statement? But if it is just cause, then you have a full hearing and the public knows about it.”

Other suggestions by the panel include the prohibition of commissioners dating or having sexual relations with any county employee, and increasing the statute of limitations of complaints from six months of the incident to one year.

Shipp explained many of the changes suggested were taken from the state ethics code.

For instance, the dollar value of gifts allowed to be given to Commissioners would be raised to a $50 value instead of $25 and the value of educational seminars and conventions given to commissioners would not exceed $1,500.

SRCA attendees asked about ethics ordinances that had been proposed modeled on that of Cobb County’s ethics ordinance. Shipp said that proposal had been thrown out during the previous Republican-majority BOC administration and was not pursued by the current Democratic-majority BOC administration.

Attendees also suggested the three long-term ethics board members should file financial disclosure statements and that commissioners should disclose campaign contributions or promised campaign contributions from anyone coming up to do business with the county and before the BOC instead of just those seeking rezoning.

Tense exchanges occurred when an attendee asked Haynes whether there was a conflict of interest in Commissioner Oz Nesbitt purchasing his house from Haynes.  Haynes reminded the attendee that libelous statements could be pursued in court. When attendee Eleanor Davis reiterated the question, Haynes asked Davis how much influence in the community her husband, SRCA President Don Meyers, had when he was a banker.

Haynes added, “Does that mean Oz shouldn’t take his drycleaning to David’s (drycleaning) place?”

“That is the question,” said Shipp. “We are talking about part-time commissioners, even full-time commissioners. How much business can they do?”

Shipp and Haynes said they welcomed talking to community organizations for input on suggested changes to the BOC ethics code. Shipp can be reached at and Haynes can be reached at