With all the recent turmoil in DeKalb County government, it is easy to forget that the DeKalb delegation to the state Legislature took key steps toward reform in this year’s General Assembly.
Two reforms — the establishment of an independent internal auditor and purchasing reform are being implemented now — but the third reform, reorganization of our Board of Ethics, requires voter approval in the election Nov. 3 to go into effect.
I urge you to go to the polls and vote ‘yes’ on Board of Ethics reform.
DeKalb’s Board of Ethics has been handicapped in the past decade by neglect and abuse.
Until two years ago, when I carried the board’s request for a budget increase from $1,500 to $140,000 per year, the board was denied the resources required to hire a staff and conduct investigations. Worse, appointments to the board were ignored by the CEO and the presiding officers of the Board of Commissioners, so the membership dwindled and they couldn’t consistently draw a quorum to conduct business.
When these failings became public, ethics board leaders were removed and replaced with political supporters. The board we have now is limping along, but this year’s legislation could go a long way to right the ship.
The key elements of the reform subject to voter approval include:
Board Composition: Instead of the current 7-year terms, appointed by the CEO and commission, the seven members of the board of ethics will serve staggered 3-year terms, and will be appointed by the DeKalb County Bar Association, the Chamber of Commerce, the Legislative delegation, the judge of Probate Court, the chief judge of the Superior Court, a committee of the six major colleges and universities in DeKalb, and Leadership DeKalb. Appointments are time-limited, members must reside in DeKalb County, and satisfy standards ensuring that there are no conflicts of interest.
Scope of Responsibility: Jurisdiction is expanded to include all appointed officials, employees and contractors with the county, paid or unpaid, as well as the CEO and county commissioners.
Staff: One staff position, not to exceed a six-year term with responsibilities to include: educating the board on ethical conduct, monitoring a “hot line” for complaints and reports of alleged violations, reporting suspected violations to the board, obtaining disclosure reports and filing an annual report with the board, the CEO and the public. The board’s budget will be guaranteed to support staff and operations.
Penalties: Violations of the Code of Ethics will include public reprimands; fines not to exceed $1,000; referrals for prosecution in State Court, and upon conviction, fines of up to $1,000 perviolation and up to 6-months imprisonment. In the case of a contractor, contract will be suspended and individual disqualified from performing work as a contractor or sub-contractor in DeKalb County in the future.
The question on the ballot states: “Shall the Act be approved which revises the Board of Ethics for DeKalb County?” I’m voting “yes” and hope you will, too.
Jeff Rader represents District 2 on the DeKalb County Commission.