Board finds Georgia mayor’s talk show doesn’t violate ethics

Ethics complaints against Valdosta Mayor Scott James Matheson have been dismissed. (Image: City of Valdosta)
Ethics complaints against Valdosta Mayor Scott James Matheson have been dismissed. (Image: City of Valdosta)

VALDOSTA — An ethics board has dismissed a complaint that a South Georgia mayor violated the city’s ethics language by making offensive comments on his politically conservative radio talk show.

The Valdosta board voted 2-1 Wednesday, local news outlets reported, to dismiss the complaint against Mayor Scott James Matheson.

Opponents say they hope the City Council will revive the issue when the decision is presented to them.

“I think the City Council needs to decide whether they think it’s appropriate for the mayor of Valdosta to use his 15 hours of conservative talk show radio to speak for the city and speak as the mayor and speak for the city,” said Mark George. “All they have to do is say ‘No more.’”

The mayor said he is open to dialogue with opponents.

“Come see me,” Matheson said. “We’ll work together to solve whatever actual problem, not the problems with me, an individual’s problems with me, but we’ll solve whatever actual problems they see in this community.”

Several community groups filed the complaint in February claiming Matheson was violating city ethics rules by failing to give “the appearance of being independent, impartial, and responsible to the people,” as required by the ethics code, and was instead “partisan, biased, divisive, and not concerned about all constituents he is charged with serving” on his daily radio show.

The board consisted of Robert Jefferson, former Superior Court Judge Jim Tunison and former Lowndes County Solicitor General Richard Shelton. Tunison and Shelton voted to dismiss the case, saying Matheson is engaged in political speech protected by the First Amendment. Jefferson voted against the dismissal.

The board did not allow public comment, sparking complaint.

“I’d like to see a deeper investigation,” said Pastor Jimmy Boyd of Christian Love Bible Baptist Church. “I’d like to see first of all a panel that is not set up for (Matheson) to win. I would like to see more people that will look at the facts, look at it from a non-biased, nonpolitical standpoint, and then begin to make a fair judgment. That’s all I want. But his comments cannot be tolerated.”

Groups including the Mary Turner Project, Lowndes County Chapter of the NAACP, Concerned Clergies of Valdosta and the Valdosta-Lowndes Community Alliance filed the complaint. They cited comments Matheson made implying Democratic canvassers in Georgia’s January U.S. Senate runoffs were improperly paid, that COVID-19 spikes in Arizona and California came from “letting in tens of thousands of unchecked migrants in from disease-ridden nations,” and that federal judges improperly ignored voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election.

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