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Commissioners discuss ethics board
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Rockdale County Post  1 Commissioner Oz Nesbitt said he’s prepared to make a decision on what the county board should do in relation to implementing an ethics commission..

He just wasn’t prepared make that final decision during during the board’s Tuesday work session. The ethics board issue could drag on for another three weeks.

However, Nesbitt did shed a little more light on his stance about having an ethics commission in Rockdale County. 

He said if there’s a major issue with a commissioner’s ethics being questioned there are already organizations in place, such as the Association of County Commissioners in Georgia, to hold them accountable. Also, there’s an process at the state level that could potentially remove a commissioner from office if the grievance is a major offense.

But, Nesbitt truly believes that an ethics board is not needed in the community because citizens collectively have the power to vote a commissioner out of office if they feel the commissioner isn’t upholding high ethical standards. 

“The ethics commission are the voters in Rockdale County,” said Nesbitt during the work session. “When they find that someone is not doing what they need to be doing, they’re going to make  a decision ethically and make a decision whether they want to vote for that person or not.”

Nesbitt also called on the citizens to contact the commissioners and let them know if they felt the ethics board was a necessity for the community. 

“I want to hear from the public.” he said. “If we get an overwhelming response that this is something we need to be doing, then so be it. Otherwise, I still stand firmly that voters make decisions about the people who sit in these three seats.”

This ethic ordinance issue has been much discussed among the county commissioners since August. There’s currently a law, which was passed in 2008, to setup an ethics board however it’s never been enacted. Because of that, Post 2 County Commissioner JaNice Van Ness says the board is violating its own law and should do something to correct the situation.   

“At this point, I just feel like it’s important going forward that we’re complaint with our own ordinance and law,” she said. 

The first proposal, submitted Van Ness, allows the Rockdale Bar Association, the county commission board and Conyers-Rockdale Chamber of Commerce to each nominate one member to the ethics board as well as allowing citizens to apply for two reserve positions in case of emergency or conflict of interest. 

The other proposal, submitted by Rockdale County Chairman Richard Oden, allows one ethics commission member to be appointed by the Rockdale County Democratic Party, one by the Rockdale County Republican Party and one by the Rockdale Bar Association.

Nesbitt is the only commissioner who hasn’t taken an official stance on either proposal.

“You’re the holding factor, so it’s up to you,” said Van Ness.  

While not officially agreeing with either proposal, Nesbitt did indirectly state he didn’t support Oden’s proposal, which utilizes political parties.

“To tag bringing those people on just for that reason, because there a member of one party, I’m not in support of that,” he said. “I think we can be thinking about collectively moving this county together as whole and if we’re going to have a commission let’s just get good people, who understand good government, understands business and who’s going to make sure the best interests of this county going forward.”

Van agrees about not having political parties involved with ethical decision making based on research conducted by other counties. That same research also states that the county board shouldn’t be involved with appointing people to the board as well, which goes against her proposal.

She read a list of other organizations that would make for good candidates in appointing people to the three-member ethical board including League of Women Voters, medical professionals and others industry professionals. Van Ness received the list from Robert Wechsler, director of research for City Ethics, a non-profit organization formed in 2000.

“Certainly I’m always flexible and open to suggestions,” said Van Ness.

Oden remained quiet for much of the discussion.

Van Ness asked County Attorney Qader Baig what were his recommendations. Baig stated the only options for the board were to amend the current ordinance, rescind the current ordinance or enact a completely new ordinance.

The existing law on the three-member ethics board, which hears ethics complaints filed against county commissioners, outline that the board be composed of one person appointed by the Rockdale Bar Association, one person appointed by the Board of Commissioners as voted on by the majority of commissioners, and one appointed by county employees who live in the county drawn from a list of nominees chosen by the Rockdale Coalition of Homeowners and Civic Associations.

The commissioners have two more scheduled voting sessions, on Nov. 25 and Dec. 9, before Van Ness’ eight-year tenure in office expires this year to decide what they want to about this ethics board issue.

“You can always add another meeting if it’s a priority for you,” she said to Nesbitt when he inquired about how many voting sessions were left in the year. “It’s a priority for me.”