Former commissioner tries to shut down DeKalb Board of Ethics

It's been more than a year since a judge ruled that four members of the DeKalb County Board of Ethics were appointed using a flawed method.

But the board has continued operating with those members while the case is on appeal. And, last month, a replacement for one of them was named using the same method that might turn out to be illegal.

VIDEO: Previous coverage of this issue

That was the final straw for former Commissioner Sharon Barnes Sutton, who filed the original legal challenge arguing that community groups shouldn't have a say in the appointments because they aren't accountable to the public. She has asked Superior Court Judge Asha Jackson to formally bar the four members, which would effectively shut down the seven-member panel.

“They’re just totally ignoring the judge’s order,” Sutton said Friday, in response to the county’s position that no change is needed while the case is on appeal. “And my lawyer told me that what they said was incorrect, that they can’t just do that. They would have to go before a judge and ask for permission.”

Jackson ruled last year that the 2015 restructuring of the Board of Ethics was unconstitutional because it allowed outside groups to appoint most members. Georgia law requires elected officials to make these appointments, Jackson said.

Sutton filed her suit after the Ethics Board began investigating her on accusations she misspent public funds.

She considered Jackson's ruling a victory. Since then, Sutton and her supporters have complained about the board continuing to operate under the status quo while the Georgia Supreme Court deliberates.

Members have continued to hear cases and make rulings, such as their recent decision to fine former DeKalb Commissioner Stan Watson $9,000 for using public resources for campaign duties and for asking county vendors to make donations he funneled to secret accounts.

Attorney Darren Summerville, who represents the Ethics Board, said he had not yet crafted a formal response to Sutton’s request that the four members immediately step down.

Jackson scheduled a hearing for July 20, but the Board of Ethics said it did not receive proper notice and it was canceled. Sutton said her attorney is now on leave and the hearing likely won’t take place until mid- or late August.