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Rockdale ethics board ordinance vote delayed
Board members need to officially submit their proposals
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Rockdale County Post 2 Commissioner JaNice Van Ness attempted to get the version of an ethics ordinance she proposed passed again during the Rockdale County Board of Commissioners voting session Tuesday morning. 

However, the legalities surrounding the practice of approving a new ordinance prevented any vote from taking place. 

The existing laws 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. 

Although this law was passed in 2008, the ethics board has not yet been activated.

Van Ness stated her ethics ordinance proposal that 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. 

It was the same ordinance she proposed at an earlier board meeting this year in August that died on the floor due to lack of a second after she made a motion to approve it. 

Rockdale County Chair Richard Oden then stated his ethics ordinance proposal that 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.

Oden kept reiterating that this proposal was put together by the citizens of the county, but Van Ness shot down that claim because of the committee who put the proposal together.

“Mr. Chairman, that’s a very misleading to say a citizen’s committee,” said Van Ness. “You appointed the members. This board did not appoint the members. You selected a couple of people, and those people had different (backgrounds and ideas) but that was not a body that was selected by us, so it doesn’t fully represent the citizens of this community.”

Van Ness then asked Post 1 County Commissioner Oz Nesbitt if he had a hand in picking the members on the ethics selection committee.

“I knew that the chairman was putting together a committee to discuss a possible ethics commission or ethics committee to view and oversee some of the complaints coming through the Board of Commissioners, but I had no active hand in terms of selecting who they were,” he said. 

The committee appointed by Oden to represent the community was made up of a representative from the Rockdale Bar Association and one member from the local democratic and republican parties.

After some more back-and-forth disagreement between Oden and Van Ness about the true nature of Oden’s proposal, Van Ness decided to formally request to have her proposal approved by the board.  

But, in the process of Van Ness making her request, Rockdale County Clerk Jennifer Rutledge interrupted her.

Rutledge informed the board that the matter at hand was only a discussion about the ethics ordinances, and since no official ordinance had been submitted prior to the meeting a vote shouldn’t take place. 

“To make this a clean process, it’s my opinion Mr. Chairman, you will need to submit your legislation, (and) Commissioner Van Ness you will need to submit your legislation in the next cycle which will be an agenda review on (Nov.) 18 and a first read on (Nov.) 25,” she said.

Rutledge also stated that any ordinance going before the board needs to be properly advertised and then have a first and second reading. The ordinance can’t be waived on the second read without unanimous consent. 

Nesbitt quickly thanked Rutledge for intervening in the discussion and reminding the board about the laws governing ordinance approval.

“As of right now, my position is that we need to go back, and I appreciate what Mrs. Rutledge just said about getting the ordinances fine-tuned,” said Nesbitt. “Let’s take a look at those (ordinances) and see are they going to meet the needs of this community in terms of progressively moving us forward, or are they going to be set up along party lines and all other types of lines that could have a negative influence in terms of decision making when an issue may come up.”

Both Van Ness and Oden stated they would submit their proposals to the Rutledge in time to be put on the next week’s work session agenda. That meeting will begin at 10 a.m. on Nov. 18 at the Assembly Hall, 901 Main Street, Conyers.