The Dunwoody mayor and City Council’s attempt to implement a policy barring members of the Dunwoody Homeowners Association from serving on city boards due to a fear of conflict of interests and potential lawsuits is unfounded and likely unconstitutional, according to an attorney hired by the DHA.
Seth Weissman, a real estate attorney and professor at Georgia Tech’s School of City and Regional Planning, presented his opinion at the DHA’s Aug. 14 meeting.
“I have found nothing that your activities need to be constrained or creates a conflict of interest,” Weissman told DHA members.
Weismann also questioned the apparent unwritten policy that was conceived of behind closed doors and then emailed out to members of the DHA who also serve on city boards.
He said any threats from the city prohibiting DHA members from talking about the email due to attorney-client privilege or slapping them with an ethics complaint if they did so gave a “star chamber” feel to the city government.
“That is not the way we do business in America. The government can’t say you can’t talk about it,” Weissman said. “That’s a ridiculous position to take.”
While he understood the mayor and council’s desire to not be sued, the policy that was implemented and then suspended due to heavy backlash from DHA members would do nothing to stop any lawsuits.
“I very strongly believe that if this policy is adopted or not adopted it would not affect in any way how much litigation” the city may face, Weissman said.
Weismann explained conflict only arises on governing boards when there is a financial or property interest and none exists for those who sit on neighborhood boards or who attend public meetings.
“I see no limitation whatsoever who you can speak to or what meetings you can attend,” he said. “There is not a reported case in Georgia contrary to this.”
When it comes to the Zoning Board of Appeals, however, Weismann advised DHA board members who serve on the ZBA not participate in DHA board votes on issues that are likely to come before the ZBA.
DHA President Robert Wittenstein said after the meeting the board voted to create a policy “out of an abundance of caution” that ZBA members leave the room before a vote is taken on such a matter and to record in the minutes that the person has left the room.
The board also voted to make clear through policy that the DHA board is not bound by DHA decisions when serving on city boards.
“These have always been true, but now we are going to formalize it,” he said.
The DHA board will also not move forward with an ethics complaint or an attorney general complaint against the city pending what the City Council’s outside counsel advises.
The City Council voted to get an outside opinion on the DHA board member policy and also on whether or not the council violated state law by implementing such a policy behind closed doors. When that opinion will be made public is still not known.