Brookhaven City Council will redo its recent vote on the Skyland Center bonds issuance on Dec. 23 due to ethics concerns about Councilman Joe Gebbia’s relationship with a school that was interested in the building. Gebbia resigned from the Brookhaven Innovation Academy’s board as part of the re-vote discussion, said city spokeswoman Ann Marie Quill.
The council had voted Dec. 15 to approve a $3.3 million bond issuance to purchase the state-owned building on Skyland Drive. Gebbia was among the council members who voted and called it a “sweetheart deal.” BIA has expressed interest in the building as a potential school site in the past, though it appears unlikely to use it in at least the short term. Gebbia was a BIA board member at the time of the bond vote.
“There were concerns that because Joe Gebbia was on the board of BIA when the vote was taken, this could be legally challenged” on ethics grounds, said Quill. She could not clarify where the concerns came from, but she believes it was “done out of an abundance of caution.”
Gebbia said in a press release that city attorney Chris Balch advised him that “there is no direct conflict” in holding the council seat and a BIA board position. “[Balch] did, however, conclude there remains the ‘appearance’ of impropriety created in this situation,” Gebbia continued in the press release.
“Therefore, despite the legal grounds to continue serving dual roles, and with the intent to be fully transparent, I tendered my resignation as a member of the Board of Directors of BIA effective Monday, December 21,” Gebbia wrote. “This will allow [the] Council to re-vote on the purchase of the Skyland building on [Dec. 23] without the ‘appearance’ of any conflict of interest.”
Mayor Rebecca Chase Williams could not immediately be reached for comment.
“Board members have to make personal decisions about their ability to volunteer for BIA based on their workload and potential conflicts,” said BIA board chair Jennifer Self Langley. “On behalf of the BIA board, we will certainly miss Joe’s involvement in our efforts moving forward to build the school.”
BIA, a new public charter school, was created by the City Council but now operates as an independent agency. Its relationship with the council has caused repeated ethics concerns. Another councilman, Bates Mattison, recently was hired as BIA’s interim executive director. An ethics review ordered by Williams found that Mattison can hold both jobs, but must recuse himself from BIA-related votes. Mattison recused himself from the Dec. 15 Skyland bond vote.
During a September council vote on starting the bond issuance process, Balch said that both Gebbia and Mattison, who were both BIA board members at that time, did not have to recuse themselves from the vote, at least as the situation stood then. Mattison chose to recuse himself anyway, saying he wanted to avoid even the appearance of conflict, but Gebbia did not recuse himself.
The City Council’s Dec. 23 re-vote, slated for 10 a.m. at City Hall, will be followed by a re-vote by the city’s Development Authority as well.
This story has been updated with comment from Councilman Gebbia.