Bill revising makeup of DeKalb Ethics Board introduced in Ga. Senate

Senators whose districts include part of DeKalb County have taken the first step in reconstituting its Board of Ethics.

The board has been dormant ever since the Georgia Supreme Court decided in August to uphold a lower court ruling about its makeup. That ruling said the Ethics Board was operating unconstitutionally because a majority of members were appointed by private groups and not elected officials.

The DeKalb County Senate Delegation has now signed off on Senate Bill 7, which outlines new procedures for selecting who will serve on the seven-person board.

Under the proposal, the DeKalb House and Senate delegations will appoint two members each. One Ethics Board member will be selected by a majority vote of the county commission. The county’s Probate Court judge and chief Superior Court judge will continue to appoint one member each.

August 26, 2014 Decatur - DeKalb County Commissioner Larry Johnson speaks during a meeting at Dekalb County Government Administration Building in Decatur on Tuesday, August 26, 2014. A day after resigning from office, DeKalb County Commissioner Elaine Boyer announced in court Tuesday she pleaded guilty to federal charges accusing her of two schemes to pocket tens of thousands of dollars from taxpayers. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM DeKalb County Commissioner Larry Johnson speaks during an Aug. 26 meeting. (HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM)

Credit: Mark Niesse

icon to expand image

Credit: Mark Niesse

DeKalb voters would decide whether to approve these changes in a referendum on the ballot in November. If the measure passes, a new Ethics Board would be selected by Dec. 31.

Sen. Emanuel Jones, chairman of the county's Senate Delegation, said he has already begun the process of getting the bill approved in that chamber as part of a slate of local bills.

He has also spoken with Rep. Karla Drenner, the new chairwoman of the county's 16-member House delegation. Jones, D-Decatur, is hoping that a majority of DeKalb House members sign off on the bill and get it moving in that chamber, too.

DeKalb voters in 2015 approved allowing outside groups like the DeKalb Bar Association and Leadership DeKalb to appoint a majority of Ethics Board members as part of an effort to make it more independent. Former Commissioner Sharon Barnes Sutton soon after filed a lawsuit to challenge those changes.

While her legal challenges and later appeals were pending, the Ethics Board continued to operate as normal. But its activity grinded to a halt once the Supreme Court made its final ruling in August.

In 2017, DeKalb lawmakers considered legislation to allow elected officials to sign off on appointments to the Ethics Board in hopes of making Sutton's lawsuit moot. That effort fell apart when a  DeKalb House Delegation committee deadlocked on whether to approve the changes.