Ga. Senate approves DeKalb ethics bill, removes referendum clause

The Georgia Senate has signed off on a plan to reconstitute the DeKalb County Board of Ethics, and a voter referendum to implement the changes is no longer required.

Sen. Emanuel Jones, the bill's primary sponsor, said the Senate's attorney issued an opinion saying a countywide vote is unnecessary since the bill revises a law ratified by voters in 2015.

Other provisions in Senate Bill 7 are unchanged. The DeKalb Ethics Board members would now be appointed by the county’s House and Senate delegations, the Board of Commissioners, the county probate judge and chief Superior Court judge.

All seven members will serve no more than two, two-year terms. The law requires upcoming vacancies to be filled at least a month in advance.

The Senate unanimously approved the bill as part of Wednesday's local consent calendar. The legislation now goes to the DeKalb House Delegation for approval, which would then place the measure in play for that chamber's local consent calendar.

The Ethics Board was sidelined last year after the Georgia Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that said the board was operating illegally because a majority of members were appointed by private groups and not elected officials.

Jones, D-Decatur, said new reports that former DeKalb Commissioner Sharon Barnes Sutton had been subpoenaed by a federal grand jury was proof the board needs to get back to work.

Sutton filed the lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the board while she was under investigation.

“This is why we need to reconstitute the ethics committee immediately in DeKalb County,” Jones said.