Legal challenge doesn’t stop work of DeKalb ethics board

The DeKalb Board of Ethics is moving forward with a case against former county Commissioner Stan Watson, even as its own legal standing is being challenged.

The Georgia Supreme Court will hear arguments next month about whether a majority of the ethics board's members were appointed illegally. If a lower court's decision is upheld, the process used to appoint four board members will be invalidated, board operations halted and decisions made by new members over the past year possibly called into question.

Ethics Board Chairman Dan DeWoskin said the group was reluctant to continue its work after Superior Court Judge Asha Jackson’s ruling in March 2017.

But the board’s attorney told members in early 2017 they are free to hear cases filed by residents while the appeal is pending, DeWoskin said. Since then, the board has moved forward with its work.

“Since we filed an appeal, it puts us in a status quo to where we were before the Superior Court made its judgment,” Ethics Officer Stacey Kalberman said.

The board is in the process of scheduling a hearing for Watson to answer accusations that he used secret accounts to manage money he solicited from county vendors to fund community events and possibly campaign activities.

After the Ethics Board decided in 2016 that there was probable cause to investigate the case against Watson, he turned over several boxes of records he had previously removed from county property, Deputy Ethics Officer Tonya Nix Wiley said. Those boxes provided new evidence that allow staff to streamline and provide more details about the charges against him, she said.

Ex-DeKalb Commissioner Stan Watson. AJC file photo

Credit: Hyosub Shin

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Credit: Hyosub Shin

Among the community events in question is a 2014 health and wellness fair held at a Decatur church. Watson is accused of asking the Fulton-DeKalb Hospital Authority for a $5,000 donation filtering the money through an account held at the YMCA. This happened when the hospital authority's contract was under review by the county and commissioners were also debating whether to spend taxpayer dollars renovating the South DeKalb YMCA, Wiley said.

“At the same time the Y is coming to the board for this $5 million public-private partnership, Mr. Watson has set up this side arrangement for the Y to be his fiscal agent to funnel this $5,000 through for this wellness event at his personal church,” she told the Ethics Board.

During Thursday’s meeting, board members also reviewed but took no action on three new cases.

One case involved a decision by six of seven DeKalb commissioners to give themselves 60 percent raises. Ed Williams, who is now running to unseat one of these commissioners, is accusing these commissioners of violating the Georgia Constitution, the county's organizational act and open meeting laws.

A complaint was also filed by the owner of a Decatur consulting firm and accuses various county officials of allowing work in the Watershed Management Department to be handled by contractors who are not licensed professional engineers despite requirements stating otherwise.

The third complaint accuses Commissioner Greg Adams of running afoul of county ethics laws when he violated sexual harassment policies.

All three of these cases are in the initial stages. Eventually, the Ethics Board will vote on whether there is probable cause to pursue investigations.

Georgia Supreme Court hearing on DeKalb Ethics Board appointment process

When: May 21, 10 a.m.

Where: Cobb County Superior Court Ceremonial Courtroom

70 Haynes St, Marietta