The ethics battles continue among Dunwoody city officials.
The Dunwoody Board of Ethics on June 12 found City Councilwoman Adrian Bonser had violated the city’s ethics code by sending “discourteous” messages during an email exchange with a constituent. The board voted to recommend that Dunwoody City Council publicly reprimand Bonser.
“I think there was a technical breach of the ethics code as to courtesy,” Ethics Board Chairman Steven Blaske said. “We are trying to hold our public servants to the highest possible standard, and courtesy was in the code.”
Blaske said that while the emails from the constituent, Stephen Chipka, were also discourteous, the board is only tasked with judging Bonser’s emails.
“We need to treat all citizens with courtesy, irrespective of whether they are courteous to us,” Blaske said.
Bonser said the email in question was one of more than 100 messages from Chipka. She said she was responding to an email in which he threatened to try to have her medical license revoked.
Two days earlier, during the June 10 City Council meeting, Bonser publicly announced she was filing ethics complaints against Lenny Felgin, a city attorney, and against city ethics Hearing Officer Jennifer Keaton over the handling of the complaint against her.
Speaking to her fellow council members and members of the public during the portion of the meeting set aside for council comments, Bonser accused Mayor Mike Davis of orchestrating efforts against her.
“This process is all for the amusement of the mayor and his acolytes,” Bonser said. “There’s a loss of credibility in this city …. The members of the city ethics board are being abused by the mayor and council. It needs to stop.”
Davis declined to comment on Bonser’s claims, as did Felgin.
Bonser claimed at the council meeting that the ethics board had not allowed her to sufficiently present her defense to the charges against her by Chipka. “They’ve not even providing [all] my evidence to the Board of Ethics,” Bonser said.
After the Ethics board decision, Bonser said she was confused by the ruling. She said she felt it would “open up a whole new can of worms for Dunwoody.”
“If courtesy is now the new standard, then I would like to be called ‘Dr. Bonser’ in our council meetings and if council members don’t do that, I guess that’s not just discourteous, that’s disrespectful,” said Bonser, who is a dentist.
“[Chipka] accused me of being threatening and abusive in one email and I got charged for being ‘discourteous’ in another email he didn’t complain about. That doesn’t make sense.”
The recommendation for a reprimand was one of several Keaton presented to the ethics board to consider.
Alternative suggestions were for Bonser to be encouraged to write a letter of apology to Chipka, that she takes an educational course about handling threatening situations, and that her city email privileges be revoked. The ethics board is an advisory board which makes recommendations to the council.
Dunwoody city officials have been fighting over the city’s ethics rules for years.
Earlier this year, the council rewrote the city’s ethics procedures after complaints by Bonser and Davis took months to decide under the city’s original rules.
Davis accused Bonser of improperly disclosing information from a closed meeting about the city redevelopment project known as Project Renaissance. Bonser accused other council members of holding improper closed meetings.
Both complaints eventually were dismissed.
“This is all about a game they’re playing where they are trying to have me have the first ethical charge stick in the city of Dunwoody,” Bonser said after the June 10 meeting.
“The more they do this, the more they get caught in their own traps. I’m tired of the games. It’s too much. All I want is for everything to be as fair as possible. The field needs to be level. The ethics ordinance is not supposed to be a ‘gotcha.’”
–Melissa Weinman and Joe Earle