Dear Decaturish – Vote YES on Ethics ReferendumCarol Calvert holds a sign during a ‘Get out the Vote’ rally hosted by the Avondale Alliance for Racial Justice in Avondale Estates on September 19, 2020. Photo by Dean Hesse.
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Dear Decaturish readers,
DeKalb voters are once again voting on revisions to an Ethics Act passed in 2015 by 92% of voters. This time I encourage you to vote YES, and here are the reasons why:
1. The Board of Ethics remains independent; no one under the purview of the Board of Ethics is making appointments to the Board.
– Unlike the 2019 bill, this bill does not provide for the CEO to make a Board of Ethics appointment and does not call for the Board of Ethics to submit its policies and procedures to review by the CEO and confirmation by the Board of Commissioners.
2. DeKalb employees continue to have direct access to the ethics office to express concerns about ethics violations.
– Unlike the 2019 bill, this bill does not require employees to funnel complaints about their immediate supervisor through the Human Resources Department and exhaust Merit System remedies before turning to the Board of Ethics.
3. The position of Ethics Officer is retained, and the Ethics Officer is still vested with the authority to investigate and file ethics complaints, as well as provide training and advice to county employees.
4. The Board’s authority to investigate and report to the public has not been weakened.
– The 2019 bill included a provision that required the Board of Ethics to abandon the investigation of elected officials or county employees if the resigned, retired or completed their term of office.
– The 2019 bill included a provision that prevented the Board from rendering any decision on a complaint against a candidate within 45 days of an election.
The major change is how board members are going to be appointed. Four appointing authorities – House and Senate legislative delegations, Tax Commissioner and Clerk of the Superior Court – are responsible now for making appointments to the Board. Other changes include: 1) the addition of an Ethics Administrator to receive complaints; 2) a requirement for county officials or employees with a conflict of interest on an official county action to recuse themselves; 3) a ban on members of the DeKalb Purchasing and Contracting Department accepting gifts from anyone who might conduct business before the department; and 4) the appointment of two alternate board members to serve if needed.
DeKalb Citizens (DCAC) is encouraging the appointing authorities to work together and to use a uniform, coordinated application and interview process so there is transparency and public accountability. In our view, these initial appointments – and the process for making them – signals an important new beginning for the Board of Ethics.
But, even after the vote, it will be incumbent upon citizens of DeKalb County to step up and volunteer to serve on the Board. If the Board is to reflect the diversity, expertise, and experience of DeKalb residents, we must have a qualified pool of candidates who represent the racial, geographic, gender and professional diversity among the candidates being considered.
For more detail on this issue, see https://dekalbcitizens.org.
– Mary Hinkel, Chair, DeKalb Citizens Advocacy Council
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