Type to search

Ethics hearing results in no sanctions against Stone Mountain councilmember

Stone Mountain Trending

Ethics hearing results in no sanctions against Stone Mountain councilmember

Gil Freeman

This story has been updated.

Stone Mountain, GA — The Stone Mountain Ethics Committee met on Feb 22 to hear two ethics complaints against Councilmember Gil Freeman. 

Freeman is accused of using his position as councilmember to avoid paying the costs associated with a broad records request. But the ethics committee ultimately didn’t have enough votes to take action against him. The request, which can be viewed here, was to access essentially all the DDA’s records, bank statements, and correspondences from varying periods over the past three years. 

Both ethics complaints refer to the same incident, claiming Councilmember Freeman erred in a special-called meeting on Friday, Nov. 3 by bringing and voting on a motion to turn an open records request for documents about the DDA into a council inquiry/request for information. 

The complaints allege Councilmember Freeman using his elected position to avoid paying for the requests is a financial conflict of interest. They argue that this means it was inappropriate for him to have brought or voted on the motion. 

While complaints refer specifically to the one incident, it came directly on the heels of a different open records request filed by Councilmember Freeman on Sep 21. A more comprehensive review of the key events in the unfolding saga can be found here. City staff has fulfilled the first open records request but has yet to fulfill the other inquiry.  No formal action was taken by the council regarding the first request, and Councilmember Freeman has not, of yet, had to pay for this. 

A major problem going into the hearing is that relevant parties were broadly confused about what had happened. In the weeks before the meeting, the council and citizens, when discussing their perspectives on the unfolding saga, have used the terms “council inquiry” and “open records request” interchangeably. 

The complaint filed by Eileen Wrede Smith, former secretary of the DDA and wife of mayor pro tem Ryan Smith, alleges that bringing and voting on the motion to turn the second request into a council inquiry violates sections 20-153 (4), and 20-155 of the City of Stone Mountain’s Code of ordinances. These sections are from the part of the code that essentially outlines what qualifies as an ethics violation. The text of the statutes is listed below.

20-153 (4), 

Attempt to use his or her official position to secure privileges that are not available to the general public;


A member of the governing authority shall disqualify him/herself from participating in any official act or action of the city directly affecting a business or activity in which he/she has an interest.

The code also says “Interest means any direct pecuniary [relating to, or consisting of money] benefit…”

Carl Wright, member of the Stone Mountain DDA and Planning Commissions also filed a complaint that makes the same allegations, while also alleging this same action violated Georgia code statute 36-30-6 – Voting Upon Questions by Interested Councilmembers. The full section can be found here

Wrede-Smith summed up the essence of the complaints. “I don’t deny him the ability to ask for information, but when I make a [voluminous] open records request. I have to pay for it and I have paid for open records requests.” 

She continued, “There’s other citizens and council members in this room who have made open records requests and had to pay for them. So… Why is Mr. Freeman different?

Essentially, the committee was tasked with answering whether Freeman, in the process of looking for the information, used his position as a council member to waive or attempt to waive a fee he would have had to pay.

Councilmember Freeman’s testimony defending himself largely ignored this question. Almost the entirety of the testimony was actually about the first Open Records Request regarding the HPC.

Freeman did justify his approach by saying both requests were part of a larger investigation to see if city administration was being weaponized to take advantage of citizens, citing trends of gentrification. Ethics Board member Jean-Maiden responded to Freeman’s testimony saying if he had better explained his motivations at the start of his investigation the hearing probably could have been avoided.

Councilmember Freeman stated at one point in his testimony that he did not ask for the fee to be waived, but on the document he submitted, he did say, “Please waive any costs associated with this request, or first inform me about such costs.” He also argued that the complaint should have been dismissed because it was not notarized and improperly filed. 

At one point, near the end of Freeman’s testimony, Ethics Committee member Elaine Vaughn asked “Mr. Freeman, are you going to pay for these records being pulled to investigate?” To which, Councilmember Freeman replied, “No.”

Several witnesses were called to testify, including City Clerk Edmondson, Councilmember Teresa Crowe, past Councilmembers Gina Stroud-Cox and Chakira Johnson. 

The committee ended up voting on two motions, one to dismiss and the other for an oral reprimand. The vote on the motion to dismiss ended up being a tie, which according to the ethics code means it failed and the motion for an oral reprimand received a majority of votes (5-3) but not the ⅔ majority it needed to pass.    

Mayoral appointments Velma Howard and India Pullin voted in favor of dismissal, then in favor of oral reprimand. Tracy Cumbie, Troy Richmond, and Elaine Vaughn voted against dismissal and for oral reprimand. Stacey Green and Mary Jean Maiden voted yes to dismissal and no to oral reprimand. Both stated that Councilman Freeman could have handled the situation better. 

Notably and somewhat dramatically, in the last action of the meeting, the deciding no vote on oral reprimand was cast by Phil Townes, who was appointed by Ryan Smith, current Mayor Pro Tem and husband of complainant Eileen Wrede-Smith. Townes earlier voted no on the motion to dismiss. 

A formal copy of the decision has yet to be published, but the city attorney said that it would be passed on to the city council in “a few days.”

Want Decaturish delivered to your inbox every day? Sign up for our free newsletter by clicking here.

If you appreciate our work on this story, please become a paying supporter. For as little as $10 a month, you can help us keep you in the loop about your community.