The Dunwoody Board of Ethics voted to recommend City Council members attempt to sort out ethics complaints through mediation before scheduling formal hearings.
The decision came after nearly four hours of deliberation at the Board of Ethics’ Sept. 18 meeting. The board met to consider motions to dismiss ethics complaints against City Council members. Earlier this year, the mayor and City Council filed a complaint against Councilwoman Adrian Bonser, alleging that she leaked confidential information from one of the council’ private meetings, known as executive sessions. Bonser filed complaints against the mayor and other council members as well as the city manager and former city attorney, claiming they held an inappropriate executive session and did not provide proper public notice of a meeting.
Bonser’s attorney Matt Reeves asked the ethics board to dismiss the case against her, pointing to a lack of evidence that she disclosed any sensitive information and saying that the complaint was politically motivated.
“Dr. Bonser asked you to send a clear message that this board, the Board of Ethics, is here to hear bona fide ethics complaints and not to hear political matters or matters about personalities and not be a tool for any political or personal agendas,” Reeves said. “By dismissing this complaint tonight you can keep the floodgates from opening in the future for petty political matters.”
Steven Blaske, the chairman of the ethics board, said he has issues with the investigative report that concluded Bonser was the source of the leak. He also questioned the validity of the Feb. 3 executive session in question.
“It is my hope, I’ll admit, that there matters can be dismissed at this time,” Blaske said. “It really can’t stand for all those reasons.”
Though others felt there were enough questions to warrant a further hearing.
The ethics board voted 3-2 to deny the request to dismiss the complaint against Bonser.
Several council members addressed the board to defend themselves against Bonser’s complaint that they violated Georgia’s Open Meetings Act.
Councilman Doug Thompson argued that complaints about executive sessions should be made to the Georgia Superior Court, not the ethics board.
“If the ethics board does not have jurisdiction it must dismiss the case,” Thompson said. “It’s improper for this ethics board to deal with an open meetings act violation.”
Other council members said Bonser did not complain about the executive session until after city council members filed a complaint against her.
Councilman Denis Shortal called the complaint against him “frivolous and retaliatory in nature.” Councilman Terry Nall said the complaint is a “red herring” to distract the board and the public from the original issue.
In her complaint, Bonser also accused Mayor Mike Davis of asking her to resign before the investigation into executive session leaks was complete.
“The mayor was out there trying to bully and intimidate Dr. Bonser to resign,” Reeves said.
Davis told the ethics board he did ask Bonser to resign, though he said he did not threaten her.
“I did say the resignation would stop the process in its tracks, saving the city and her and all the rest of us any further embarrassment,” Davis said. “Is that an ethics violation? I don’t believe so. I don’t think there’s anything in our ethics code that says I cannot ask anybody in this room to resign.”
The Board of Ethics voted 4-1 to dismiss Bonser’s complaint against the mayor and council over the legality of the executive sessions and public notice, while upholding her complaint against Davis for asking her to leave office. Blake was the dissenting vote.
If council members are unable to reach a resolution through alternative dispute resolution, the ethics board will schedule formal hearings.