DeKalb County ethics board chair resigns

Surprise decision comes days after a former deputy ethics officer files new federal lawsuit
Alex Joseph resigned as the chairwoman of DeKalb County's ethics board.



Alex Joseph resigned as the chairwoman of DeKalb County's ethics board.

The chairwoman of DeKalb County’s ethics board has resigned.

In a text message to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Alex Joseph wrote that she was proud of what was accomplished under her leadership but had “serious concerns” about the “culture” of the board tasked with providing oversight of county officials and employees.

“Specifically,” Joseph wrote, “I am concerned that the board seems determined to conduct business in closed door meetings. In my opinion, all discussions should take place on the record. The ethics board should be a model of transparent, accessible government.”

It was not immediately clear if a specific incident sparked Joseph’s resignation, which came a little less than a year after she took over the chair position.

Georgia’s Open Meetings Act allows public entities to discuss matters like litigation and personnel issues in closed door “executive sessions,” and the ethics board’s duties certainly present plenty of opportunity for such situations to arise. But the use — or, for some, overuse — of executive sessions has been a topic of discussion among board members.

A representative from DeKalb’s ethics office referred inquiries to the board’s attorney, who did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The ethics board’s next meeting, previously scheduled for Thursday evening, was canceled.

The board — which was reconstituted in 2021 after more than two years in legal and legislative limbo — has long been a destination for disarray.

Naturally, then, Joseph’s resignation came just a few days after the county’s now-former deputy ethics officer filed a new federal lawsuit accusing the ethics board of racial discrimination and retaliation.

The suit rehashes many of the same allegations LaTonya Nix Wiley made in prior complaints, which an outside investigation commissioned by the ethics board found to be unsubstantiated.

The lawsuit calls that probe a “sham” and adds in Wiley’s recent termination as proof of retaliation.

Wiley had been on paid administrative leave for months before a Jan. 19 meeting in which the ethics board eliminated her position altogether.

In a pre-meeting memo explaining that decision, Joseph wrote that the deputy ethics officer position was not mandated by legislation governing how the ethics office works. She also contended that the ethics office’s two other full-time employees — the chief ethics officer and the on-staff administrator — should be able to handle the necessary duties on their own.

“[W]e cannot continue to bleed a second six-figure salary indefinitely while we figure out whether we need a third staff member and what kind,” Joseph wrote at the time.