Council hires lawyer for ethics board
From left, council members Doug Thompson, Adrian Bonser, Denis Shortal and Mayor Mike Davis discuss hiring an ethics board lawyer.
Dunwoody City Council approved an outside attorney to serve the city’s Board of Ethics when it is called for the first time in the young city’s history.
At the council’s June 26 meeting, the board discussed the contract of Richard Carothers, who will serve as an attorney for the Board of Ethics. The board is to hear a complaint against City Councilwoman Adrian Bonser that was filed by the mayor and the other members of the council.
The complaint alleges that Bonser leaked confidential information from the council’s executive sessions to the public. Bonser has denied leaking any information.
On June 21, Bonser filed a counter-complaint against the mayor and city council alleging they held an improper private meeting and did not provide adequate public notice.
She also accuses Mayor Mike Davis of trying to force her out of office.
In her letter of complaint, Bonser claims the council’s closed meeting to discuss the sale of portions of the 16-acre property known as the “PVC Farm” in February was not legal.
“The executive session law in effect at the time only allowed an executive session to be held on the topic of ‘future acquisition of real estate,’ not disposition of real estate,” Bonser wrote.
Bonser’s complaint also alleges Davis asked her to resign from the council before an investigative report was complete, “using taxpayer funds to misuse the Board of Ethics and Code of Ethics for his political agenda.”
The ethics board has requested Richard Carothers serve as its attorney. At the City Council’s June 26 meeting, the city’s acting attorney, Cecil McLendon, told the council he thinks it’s necessary for the board to have an attorney outside of his firm, which is representing the city.
“The board has to be independent in this case,” McLendon said. “One of the things that is fundamental to any of these processes is we avoid even the appearance of impropriety. This has to be something that is so removed from the city. Not in all ethics cases would we have any issue. But when participants are members of council, I think it is appropriate to have an outside counsel to represent your board.”
McLendon said having an attorney will also uphold the integrity of the ethics hearing.
“The boards in these situations are serving as judges. It’s a quasi-judicial hearing,” McLendon said. “I think it is very important if you have a citizen board that you have someone with experience that can give them guidance.”
Bonser said she was “completely opposed” to hiring Richard Carothers.
“Our city manager has interviewed and vetted the attorney for the Board of Ethics which means he has a conflict of interest right now and Richard Carothers can no longer be used by the Board of Ethics. They have asked for independent counsel,” Bonser said. “We need to allow this ethics board to select and vet their own ethics attorney.”
But other council members said they were confident in hiring Carothers because he is an expert in ethics.
“I have done my due diligence and done my research on Mr. Carothers and I know he is the ethics attorney handling cases in a number of municipalities around us,” said Councilman John Heneghan.
The council members danced around the ethics charges that have been filed against each of them.
“It’s illegal to be talking period about any ethics charges. Completely illegal,” Bonser said at one point during the meeting when Davis began to address one of the complaints.
The council voted 6-1 to hire Carothers. Bonser was the dissenting vote.
Heneghan said he was disappointed that the city’s legal resources are being tied up in these ethics complaints.
“I’m disheartened at the money wasted on this process and even more disappointed that this subject has distracted this city government from actually doing the people’s work,” Heneghan said. “The city of Dunwoody was not created to line the pockets of attorneys.”