Fulton commission censures Hall

Fulton County commissioners censured Commissioner Natalie Hall on Sept. 6, 2023, accusing her of violating county ethics and personnel codes due to an affair with her former chief of staff.

Credit: Jim Gaines

Credit: Jim Gaines

Fulton County commissioners censured Commissioner Natalie Hall on Sept. 6, 2023, accusing her of violating county ethics and personnel codes due to an affair with her former chief of staff.

Fulton County commissioners voted 5-0 Wednesday to censure their colleague Natalie Hall. Hall sat silent throughout the proceeding, but Commissioner Marvin Arrington Jr. repeatedly tried to derail the vote — even after the vote was taken. He kept talking over other commissioners until Chairman Robb Pitts called for a five-minute recess.

Hall and Arrington did not vote.

County Attorney Y. Soo Jo said a motion filed Tuesday afternoon sought an injunction to shut down the commission meeting altogether, but she doubted it would meet with any success.

Jo did not specify who filed for the injunction. According to the superior court clerk’s office, it was submitted twice but rejected each time for filing errors.

Arrington argued that the censure should only be discussed in closed session, due to an ongoing legal case and because Hall’s conduct was a personnel matter. Jo said the matters in the censure discussion were already publicly known, and the item was placed on the agenda at Pitts’ request. Arrington sought to debate that, growing louder as Pitts called for him to stop.

“I made a decision that this was not eligible for executive session,” Pitts said. He repeatedly declared Arrington out of order, but Arrington continued to talk over him and other commissioners.

Other commissioners interjected and finally moved to vote despite Arrington’s continuing monologue.

He kept talking until after Pitts called for a five-minute recess. Even when the board reconvened Arrington continued disputing their ability to censure Hall, finally provoking a vote on whether he had violated the board’s decorum policy. That, raised by Ellis, passed 5-0: only Arrington himself voted no, and Hall did not vote.

When commissioners returned the clerk read the three-page censure into the record. Arrington spoke up again to say the commission had no authority to rule on personnel and ethics policies.

Commissioners Khadijah Abdur-Rahman and Bob Ellis said a county employee who engaged in similar behavior would be fired. The commission cannot fire, remove or silence one of its own members, so a public censure is the remaining avenue of action, Abdur-Rahman said.

Pitts said “years ago” then-Commissioner Lynne Riley was censured and fined $1,000 – “which she never paid, by the way” – following an accusation of leaking information from executive session; but that’s the only other censure of a commissioner he recalled in 20 years.

Pitts and commissioners Abdur-Rahman, Ellis and Bridget Thorne – two Democrats and two Republicans, in that order – filed the resolution to express “severe disapproval” of Hall, the Democrat representing District 4.

“The Board of Commissioners admonishes Commissioner Hall that her conduct was not in the best interest of the Board of Commissioners, Fulton County, or the residents of Fulton County, and urges her to refrain from such conduct in the future,” it says.

Hall’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

The resolution cites two matters as justification:

  • Hall’s acknowledged sexual relationship with her then-chief of staff Calvin Brock, who is seeking monetary damages from Fulton County on claims of sexual harassment and job retaliation; and
  • Hall’s hiring and retention of another staffer despite “apparent violations of County procedures, misuse of County property, and guilty pleas to crimes involving deceit and the forcible taking of property.”

Those show Hall exhibited “lapses in judgment and failure to safeguard the best interests of Fulton County resulting in damage to the reputation of Fulton County and the Board of Commissioners,” the resolution says.

While such a relationship, if consensual, may not be sexual harassment under federal law it would still violate county personnel and ethics codes as well as Hall’s oath of office, the resolution says.

Brock filed a discrimination complaint in early 2021 with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. At a weeklong hearing in early August on that still-unresolved complaint, Brock and Hall acknowledged a year-long affair that ended with his departure from his job as her chief of staff in September 2020. He accused her of planting several tracking devices in his vehicle and harassing him.

Hall claimed Brock initiated the affair and repeatedly promised to find a job outside her office, at which point she would make their relationship public. Their relationship deteriorated when she discovered he was sleeping with another woman, she said. Hall refused to answer multiple questions about the tracking devices.

The legal dispute is not only about harassment and retaliation claims, but whether Brock quit or was fired. Throughout the affair Hall was married but separated.

The second point refers to Jonathan Harris, hired as community engagement manager for Hall’s office despite his record of arrests on multiple charges. This summer a county police investigation found he was using county vehicles on nights and weekends without an official purpose.

The county responded by enacting a 30-day moratorium on vehicle use by commissioners and their employees. That’s due to expire, but another resolution up Wednesday – sponsored by Ellis – tells county staff to develop a mileage reimbursement policy for commissioners and their employees, and “divest or repurpose” the vehicles commissioners and their employees currently use.

Hall’s commission district page now shows only two staff members, neither of whom is Harris.

Ellis said Tuesday that his resolution on county vehicles is “not really linked” to Harris. Currently two vehicles are reserved for commissioners’ or commissioners’ staff use, and if the resolution passes those would be reassigned to other uses.