DeKalb ethics board dismisses complaint against commissioner

DeKalb County Commissioner Lorraine Cochran-Johnson
DeKalb County Commissioner Lorraine Cochran-Johnson

Credit: Courtesy

Credit: Courtesy

DeKalb’s ethics board has dismissed a two-year-old complaint against county commissioner Lorraine Cochran-Johnson.

An anonymous person filed the complaint against Cochran-Johnson in 2019, after she highlighted her own business in a newsletter emailed to constituents.

The ethics board, which is still sifting through a backlog of complaints after being reconstituted earlier this year, dismissed the matter Thursday night at the recommendation of ethics officer Stacey Kalberman.

“We simply don’t believe that the intent was there,” Kalberman said. ”We believe that this was a good lesson learned from somebody who was new to government.”

Cochran-Johnson was less than a year into her term as a commissioner when the newsletter was distributed. Kalberman said the commissioner has since stopped highlighting local businesses in her newsletters altogether and “regularly speaks and comes to the ethics office for advice.”

“She works very hard to ensure that she is not in violation of the ethics code,” Kalberman said.

Cochran-Johnson said Friday morning she was pleased to have the matter resolved and called it “a valuable lesson.”

The commissioner said the newsletter reference to her eyewear boutique was part of promoting a local business fair organized by New Birth Missionary Baptist Church. The church did not have a full list of participating businesses to share and asked her to list her own.

“I respect the board and their work to ensure ethics throughout DeKalb,” Cochran-Johnson said. “Hindsight tells me it was an error of judgment on my part to list my business, but when I was asked to participate [in the business fair] I was asked to use myself as an example of the caliber of businesses that would be present.”

“It certainly won’t happen again. I don’t want to be a part of the inherent distrust many have in government leadership.”

Ambreen Delawalla was the lone ethics board member to vote against dismissing the complaint Thursday night, saying she was “having a hard time” not finding probable cause to at least move forward to a formal investigation.

“I don’t think being new to a position and being unaware is a defense against any law in the normal world,” she said.