Dunwoody City Council delays votes about ethics board
Dunwoody Board of Ethics Chairman Steven Blaske
The Dunwoody City Council put the city’s top ethics official in a difficult spot during the council’s Aug. 13 meeting.
Board of Ethics Chairman Steven Blaske asked the City Council to approve bylaws for the board, but members of the council are also the targets – and filers of – ethics complaints. The ethics board considers requests to dismiss the complaints at a September hearing, but the City Council on Aug. 13 delayed acting on Blaske’s request.
“We asked for bylaws and procedures multiple times and never got them,” Blaske said. “As soon as we were called upon this year to hear some complaints, we realized those bylaws were never put into place.”
In September, the ethics board will deliberate on the merits of complaints filed against each of the city council members. The mayor and city council filed a complaint against Councilwoman Adrian Bonser alleging she leaked confidential information about land transactions from a Feb. 3 executive session. In return, Bonser filed complaints against the other council members and the mayor, accusing them of holding an improper private meeting.
Councilwoman Lynn Deutsch said she didn’t feel comfortable voting on the bylaws.
“It’s like the defendant being asked to make the rules the jury is going to use to deliberate,” Deutsche said. “It’s not your fault, but it’s problematic.”
Councilman Terry Nall said the city needs to reconsider its entire ethics ordinance.
“We have a very troublesome ethics ordinance and we really need to change it,” Nall said.
Bonser agreed that the council needed to delay a vote on the bylaws.
“We don’t have any business right now altering this,” Bonser said. “We’ve already acknowledged our ethics ordinance needs a lot of work. You’re asking us to conform this to our flawed ordinance.”
Blaske also asked the council to appoint alternate members to the board of ethics and approve the hiring of a hearing officer for the upcoming meetings of the Board of Ethics.
Blaske said the ethics board’s attorney recommended hiring an attorney or retired judge to serve as a hearing officer to make the board’s hearings quicker, more efficient and accurate.
“The feeling was our purpose should be to serve more as a jury,” Blaske said of the ethics board. “We at least think there will be a lot of lawyers present. It would very much prolong the hearing we as a board had to rule on objections and we may make some mistakes.”
Acting city attorney Cecil McClendon said he would talk with the ethics board’s attorney about hiring a hearing officer and report to council at its next meeting.
The ethics board plans to meet in September to hear motions to dismiss the ethics complaints. If the complaints are upheld, the board will meet in October deliberate. According to the city’s ethics ordinance, the board would then make a recommendation to the City Council.
Blaske said he didn’t think anyone ever envisioned the City Council members being involved when the ethics ordinance was written.
“The answers here are not easy. We’re going to struggle with what we have and do the best we can,” Blaske said.