DeKalb officials cautioned against donations for community events

7:41 a.m. Friday, Oct. 20, 2017 Atlanta News
The DeKalb Board of Ethics voted 4-0 to approve an advisory opinion restricting solicitation of business donations for government events at the Central DeKalb Senior Center on Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017. From left: DeKalb Ethics Officer Stacey Kalberman, board member Brian Deutsch, DeKalb Deputy Ethics Officer LaTonya Nix Wiley, board Chairman Dan DeWoskin, board member Edward Queen, board member Robert Tatum and board attorney Gene Chapman. MARK NIESSE / MARK.NIESSE@AJC.COM

The DeKalb Board of Ethics voted Thursday to prohibit county officials from asking businesses involved with the county to fund government events.

Seeking those kinds of contributions would be unethical because they could influence government officials and damage the appearance of impartiality, according to the board’s advisory opinion, which passed on a 4-0 vote.

“Solicitation of funds by a public official or employee is prone to be problematic if the donor is seeking official action from the county, now or in the future,” says the opinion.

RELATED: Read the DeKalb ethics advisory opinion on soliciting donations

Violating the board’s guidance would be punishable with fines or a public reprimand.

The board issued the advisory opinion in response to a question from an unnamed county commissioner who wanted to know if it was permissible for MARTA to sponsor quarterly meetings with residents by providing $500 worth of food and janitorial services.

The DeKalb Commission regularly takes action on MARTA, appointing board members, entering into transit contracts and levying a 1 percent sales tax for the agency, according to the advisory opinion.

While donations from MARTA are inappropriate, small gifts from businesses that aren’t associated with the county could be acceptable, said DeKalb Ethics Officer Stacey Kalberman.

For example, a grocery store could donate to a Christmas party for government employees, or a turkey giveaway for police officers would be allowed, she said.