The DeKalb County Board of Ethics unanimously decided Thursday that there is probable cause to move forward with a case against former Commissioner Stan Watson.
Watson is accused of three ethics violations related to spending more than $90,000 that he solicited from county contractors and held in a private DeKalb Chamber of Commerce account.
The board voted 6-0 to move the case to a full hearing, which could take place early next year.
But Watson’s attorney, Doug Chalmers, told the board he might go to court to challenge its authority to hear the case.
Chalmers said the board isn’t operating legally because four of its seven members are appointed by private organizations rather than by elected officials. A 1979 Georgia Supreme Court decision limits private appointments to public office.
It’s the same objection raised by DeKalb Commissioner Sharon Barnes Sutton in a pending lawsuit. A judge put Sutton’s ethics case on hold last year, and a hearing on the lawsuit is scheduled Dec. 12.
Watson is accused of soliciting donations for county events from contractors, using county resources to raise money for his political campaign committee and removing records from his office when he resigned in March, according to a report prepared by DeKalb Ethics Officer Stacey Kalberman.
“Through our investigation, we have found plenty of evidence to back up the three violations found in my probable cause report,” Kalberman said. “I’m confident that we’ll be able to fully prosecute the case.”
Among other things, Chalmers argued that the allegations against Watson lacked specificity.
The board considered his complaints and then decided to move forward with the case.
“There was sufficient evidence for us to find probable cause,” said Board of Ethics Chairman Larry Schall. “It’s not a finding of guilt. It’s the first step.”
Chalmers declined commenting on the case beyond the legal objections he raised during the meeting. Watson didn’t attend the meeting.
Watson said last year that he raised funds from vendors so that he wouldn’t have to use taxpayer money for various events, including the DeKalb International Food and Music Festival, the DeKalb Police Alliance and community breakfast meetings.
Watson left office in March to make an unsuccessful run for DeKalb tax commissioner, but he could still face fines up to $1,000 if he’s found to have violated the Code of Ethics.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.
Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism. AJC.com. Atlanta. News. Now.
Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism.
With the largest team in the state, the AJC reports what’s really going on with your tax dollars and your elected officials. Subscribe today. Visit the AJC's Georgia Navigator for the latest in Georgia politics.
Your subscription to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism. Visit the AJC's Georgia Navigator for the latest in Georgia politics.