The four remaining members of the DeKalb County Ethics Board defended their ability to act as a full board, chose a new chair and agreed to hire lawyers during a 20-minute Zoom meeting Monday — but said they’ll take no further action on regular business until new members have been appointed to the board’s five open seats.
Five of the board’s members have resigned in the last month, leaving just two regular members and two alternates.
Chair Alex Joseph went first, followed quickly by David Moskowitz, Candace Walker, Shawanda Reynolds-Cobb and Candace Rogers. That left only Nadine Ali and Rita Waymon as regular members, and Bill Clark and Carthea Simelton-Treminio as alternates.
The resignations came after Joseph’s failed attempt to remove Clark, whom she accused of insulting and obstructive behavior. Bonnie Levine, the board’s general counsel, quit on March 3, citing conflicts with the remaining members and fears of the remaining board members conducting business illegally.
On Friday, Joseph filed a petition with the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Office to remove Waymon, Clark and Simelton-Treminio. She accuses them of noncompliance with state laws, concealing corruption, unbecoming conduct and breaching public trust. Joseph did not ask for Ali’s removal.
Remaining board members have not responded to calls and emails seeking comment.
The board also faces a federal lawsuit and civil rights complaint from its former deputy ethics officer LaTonya Nix Wiley, alleging racial discrimination and retaliation.
Waymon presided as Monday’s meeting opened, and immediately asked Clark to make a statement on why and how the board was holding a special meeting.
Clark said members had “consulted with several knowledgeable lawyers” about whether the two remaining regular and two alternate members could act as a full board.
A board rule saying alternates must be appointed by a board chair in order to serve as regular members conflicts with the state statute that says alternates “shall serve” for the purpose of achieving quorum, Clark said. The law takes precedence, but the remaining members didn’t plan to take any actions beyond appointing an interim chair and the “absolutely critical” matter of finding legal counsel, he said.
“We’re saying ‘interim’ because we fully believe that once we are back to full capacity as a board they have every right to elect their own chairperson,” Waymon said.
The DeKalb state legislative delegation and two county officials put out a call Thursday for nominations to fill the ethics board’s five vacant seats. Nominations will be taken at email@example.com. They should include a resume and brief statement of the nominee’s interest in the board.
Ali nominated Waymon to serve as interim chair. Clark and Simelton-Treminio agreed.
Waymon declared Clark and Simelton-Treminio to be “official board members.” She then alluded to Wiley’s lawsuit as demonstrating need to hire outside lawyers.
“Therefore we feel that we must act in order to protect the board and the citizens of DeKalb,” Waymon said.
Clark moved to do so, and all four members voted yes.
“Our answer, in fact, to that lawsuit is due next month,” Clark said.
The same vote followed on the question of searching for a new general counsel, at Ali’s motion.
The volunteer board was on hold for more than two years due to a 2018 lawsuit challenging how members were appointed. The board was reconstituted in 2021 but stalled again when its longtime chief ethics officer quit in February 2022 and was not replaced until October.
Waymon praised Chief Ethics Officer Elisa Murphy and Ethics Administrator Kristin Rogers for their work and defended the board’s efforts to this point. She announced the board would not take further regular action until more members are appointed. The five empty seats are why the regular meeting scheduled for March 16 won’t be held, Waymon said, but she looked forward to having all of those filled by the April 20 regular meeting.
“And we assure you that when you come to this board you will find a welcoming and an inclusive group of people,” Waymon said.
Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com