The Clayton County Board of Ethics is scheduled to meet tonight, Wednesday, August, 10, at 6:30 p.m. in the Board of Commissioners Conference Room II at 112 Smith Street.

The seven-member appointed board “investigates ethics complaints, adjudicates alleged ethics violations, provides advisory opinions regarding the ethics code, and recommends revisions to the ethics code, as necessary, to the Clayton County Board of Commissioners,” according to the county’s website.

Members include Chairman Walter Nix, who is appointed by BOC chair Jeff Turner; Karen Sullivan, who is nominated by the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce; Shonterria Martin Stokes, who is nominated by the Clayton County Bar Association; Maria Thompson-Kendall, who is nominated by the Clayton County Council of Mayors; Tiffany Jones, who is nominated by the NAACP Clayton County Branch; Robert Bell, who is appointed by District 2 Commissioner Gail Hambrick; and Trinelle Gillespie, who is nominated by Clayton State University.

How to file an ethics complaint

If you suspect or have evidence that a county official, employee, contractor, supplier, vendor, or individual violated the Clayton County Code of Ethics (Ord. 2014-288), you can file a complaint with the Board of Ethics. However, certain rules apply. None of this is legal advice—it’s just an outline of the complaint process based on the Ethics Board’s webpage:

  • Ethics complaints cannot be anonymous.
  • If you submit an Ethics Complaint form, you are required to appear before the Ethics Board.
  • You have to file the official complaint form within 60 days of the time you first became aware of or suspected the possible ethics violation.
  • You cannot file an ethics complaint against any civil service employee, the sheriff, the tax commissioner, the probate court judge, the clerk of Superior/Magistrate Court, the clerk of State Court, or the district attorney. Those positions exist under the Georgia state constitution.
  • Write out the exact nature of the alleged ethics violation. That means you have to point to the section of the Ethics Code that was allegedly violated, as well as state any “names, dates, times, and other factual details.” In other words, general complaints complaining about an official you don’t like is not the basis for an ethics complaint.
  • You must cite the specific section of the Ethics Code the official allegedly violated. Those include:
    • Sec. 70-63 Impartiality: the person cannot act in a way that gives the impression of improper influence, undue favoritism, or undue influence “by the kinship, rank, position or association with any person/entity.” For example, a department head cannot sway the bidding process.
    • Sec. 70-64 Acquiring an Interest: the person cannot “influence, accept or acquire” an interest in any business transaction directly or indirectly affected by their “official act or actions.” For example, a commissioner cannot vote to approve a zoning change for a property in which they hold a financial interest.
    • Sec. 70-65 Abstention: any official or employee who does have a relationship with someone or an interest in a county matter “shall disclose the relationship or interest and shall abstain from participating in such official acts or actions affected thereby including engaging in any discussions or debates regarding same.” For example, if a commissioner’s spouse is seeking a zoning change for their business, the commissioner would have to say that they are abstaining from the vote because that person is their spouse, as well as not try to “put in a good word” for their spouse before the vote.
    • Sec. 70-66 Representation: No employee or official “shall appear on his or her own behalf, or represent, or appear on behalf of any person/entity, whether paid or unpaid, concerning any contract, matter, or transaction which is or may be the subject of an official act or action of the county, except in the regular discharge of their official duties.” For example, if the county is trying to get a business to locate here, a commissioner cannot “freelance” a deal behind the scenes without the full commission’s approval. An official also cannot “use or attempt to use his or her official position to secure unwarranted privileges or exemptions for himself, herself, or other person/entities.” That means a commissioner cannot ask a law enforcement officer to not write them a traffic ticket because they are a commissioner, or ask for other special favors because they are a department head. Another example: a county attorney cannot represent an person or business “whose interests are in conflict with the interest of the county” if that person or business has a lawsuit against the county.

      What’s more, these requirements remain in place for two years after the person quits, is fired, or leaves office. If a former county commissioner is convicted of a felony related to soliciting or awarding a county contract, that ban lasts 7 years from their conviction.

      However, if that former commissioner is sentenced to prison, the 7 year ban starts when they get out of prison.
    • Sec. 70-67 Incompatible Employment: “No official or employee shall solicit, request, or accept employment with, or render services to, any person/entity, business, or professional association when doing so is adverse to and incompatible with the discharge of his or her official duties.” For example, if a county official owns a construction firm, they can’t be in charge of approving construction contracts.
    • Sec. 70-68 Nepotism: A county official or employee cannot directly or indirectly influence “the hiring, advancement, promotion, or transfer of a member of his or her family to any office or position with the county or a county agency.” That means a department head can’t make a manager hire a family member. In addition, any county official with the power to appoint or nominate members of “any county board, commission, or authority” cannot appoint or nominate a family member.
    • Sec. 70-69 Confidential Information: County officials and employees cannot use or disclose confidential information, which is information that does not fall under the state Open Records Act, for personal or financial gain, “under any circumstances.” That means a commissioner or other county official outside civil service protections cannot use confidential information from an executive session to get in on a real estate deal or to smear a political opponent.
    • Sec. 70-70 Disclosure: Any county official or employee subject to the Ethics Code must file a written public disclosure by January 31 of any transactions in which they, their business, or their family had an interest. They also must disclose any such interest before entering into “any transaction with the county, or any board or authority of the county.” The clerk of commission files a report of any noncompliance by February 15 each year with the Ethics Board and serves notice by certified mail “to any noncompliant official, employee, or appointed board member that they are to comply immediately” by March 1. If the person does not comply, they are suspended until they do comply. For example, if an appointed member of the Land Bank board is a real estate agent for a company that bought or sold property the Land Bank owned, but failed to report that fact, that person would be suspended until they filed the required disclosure.
    • Sec. 70-71 Rewards or Gifts: Short version: No “tipping” county employees or officials for doing their jobs. They get a salary to do their jobs. Exceptions include legitimate bonuses from their regular (non-county) jobs; plaques or certificates recognizing service; “actual and reasonable expenses” for food, drinks, lodging, and registration for “a county government related meeting”; “a commercially reasonable loan made in the ordinary course of business”; “swag” like pens and promotional items handed out to other employees and officials; gifts from family members. For example, it’s OK to eat a free hotdog at a county employee picnic. It’s OK to accept an plaque from a civic club. It’s not OK to book a five-star hotel on the county’s dime when colleagues are staying at a more moderately-priced conference center.
    • Sec. 70-72 Zoning: Officials and employees with a direct or indirect interest in a zoning matter cannot take part in it. For example, if a commissioner’s best friend is looking for a zoning variance, the commissioner should recuse themselves from the discussion and abstain from voting on the variance.
    • Sec. 70-73 Campaign Contributions: Under state law (State Campaign Contributions (O.C.G.A. § 21-5 Article 2 et seq.) and Financial Disclosure Action (O.C.G.A. § 21-5 Article 3 et seq.), certain campaign contributions are not subject to the county Ethics Code.
    • Sec. 70-74 Theft/Misuse of County Assets: County officials, whether elected or appointed, county employees, officers, and directors cannot “take, make use of, or knowingly misappropriate” county assets “for personal use, for use by another, or for an improper or illegal purpose.” They also cannot “remove, dispose of, or destroy anything of value… including physical items and electronic information” without the BOC’s consent. That means a county employee cannot use county gasoline for a personal vacation or lend a county vehicle to a friend who needs help moving. A department head can’t tell their uncle to pick up a bunch of old furniture for resale. And a county official cannot steal, embezzle, or misappropriate county funds for personal use. For example, a department head cannot create false records. An elected official cannot seek reimbursement for excessive expenses or for money that was not actually spent.
    • Sec. 70-75 Duty to Report: Each elected or appointed official, employee, officer, and director must promptly report “any circumstances that such person believes in good faith may constitute a violation of this Code.” While the Ethics Code does allow for anonymous reports “(in) the event that a reporting individual feels unable to disclose their identity,” anonymous reports “will hinder…the investigation and may make it more difficult for the board of ethics to protect the interests of the reporting individual.”
  • Include all supporting evidence and documents, attaching pages as needed.
  • Do not sign the form until you are in front of a notary public. You can find a notary public at 112 Smith Street during regular business hours, or you may find one at a bank, an attorney’s office, or other business advertising notary services.
  • Submit your notarized complaint to the Clerk of Commission, Clayton County Board of Commissioners, 112 Smith Street, Jonesboro, GA 30236. You can deliver your complaint in person, send it via U.S. Mail, or send it by FedEx, UPS, DHL, or another courier service.
  • If you prefer, you can scan in your notarized documents and send then as an Adobe .PDF file to ethical.complaints@claytoncountyga.gov. If you can’t do that yourself, you can take it to Office Depot, Kinko’s, or another place that can scan your paperwork into a single Adobe .PDF file and e-mail it to that address.
  • An outside attorney who works for the Ethics Board will send you an acknowledgement when the Board receives your complaint.
  • Within 30 days, the Board of Ethics will hold a closed meeting to review your complaint for “good and sufficient cause.”
  • If the board does not find a basis for the complaint, it will vote to dismiss it and report the details to the Board of Commissioners.
  • If the board does find that there may have been an Ethics Code violation, it will “conduct an investigation that includes a public hearing.”
  • Should the Ethics Board find an ethics violation did occur, it may make one or more recommendations to the board on any possible sanctions (see Sec. 70-76).
  • However, if the Ethics Board “finds evidence of criminal wrongdoing,” it shall refer the matter to the district attorney “or other such appropriate prosecutorial office for review.”

What is the punishment for breaking the Code of Ethics?

The Ethics Board can recommend one or more sanctions to the Board of Commissioners, depending on the results of its investigation. The BOC would vote on whether or not to impose any sanctions the Ethics Board recommends.

The type of sanctions imposed also depend on whether the person is a non-civil-service employee (for example, an appointed department head); a county official (for example, a elected county commissioner); or a contractor, vendor, supplier, or other individual doing business with the county.

Employee sanctions

  • Written warning or reprimand
  • Suspended without pay
  • Fired
  • “Recovery of value transferred or received by the county” (for example, paying back any money that shouldn’t have been taken)
  • Cancel the contract or reject the bid/offer
  • $1,000 “administrative sanction” (fine) per violation

County official sanctions

  • Written warning or reprimand
  • Removed from office (“in accordance with and as provided by local or Georgia law”)
  • “Recovery of value transferred or received by the county” (for example, paying back any money that shouldn’t have been taken)
  • Cancel the contract or reject the bid/offer
  • Disqualified or suspended for up to 5 years from “consideration of an award of county contract”
  • $1,000 “administrative sanction” (fine) per violation

Contractor/vendor/supplier/individual sanctions

  • “Recovery of value transferred or received by the county” (for example, paying back any money that shouldn’t have been taken)
  • Cancel the contract or reject the bid/offer
  • Disqualified or suspended for up to 5 years from “consideration of an award of county contract”
  • “Permanent disqualification from award of any county contract for any subsequent repeated breach”
  • Evidence of any criminal wrongdoing sent to district attorney or other “appropriate” prosecutor for review

If you are a county employee who is aware of specific instances of alleged wrongdoing by a public official, you may wish to contact a private attorney quickly for advice about time limits, nuances, and specific protections under Georgia’s whistleblower laws.

The Clayton Crescent investigates alleged wrongdoing by public officials and welcomes documentation that supports or disproves any such allegations. You can send hard copies to us at P.O. Box 1865, Jonesboro, GA 30298 or contact our executive editor, Robin Kemp by e-mail at editor@claytoncresent.org. If you have more or bigger files than you can attach to an e-mail, upload them at https://claytoncrescent.wetransfer.com/

Robin Kemp

Robin Kemp is executive editor and CEO of The Clayton Crescent, which she founded in 2020. She has worked for Gambit, CNN, The Weather Channel, Clayton News, Henry Herald, and numerous freelance outlets....

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