UPDATED: DeKalb Ethics Board reprimands Commissioner Watson

The DeKalb County Board of Ethics reprimanded Commissioner Stan Watson on Thursday, finding he was guilty of ethical lapses but deciding against suspending him from office.

The board ruled that Watson had a conflict of interest when he voted twice to give his employer a county contract.

Watson was being paid as a consultant for APD Solutions, a property development company, at the same time as when he voted April 10, 2012, to award a $1 million contract for the company to rehab foreclosed homes. Watson voted again nine months later to add $500,000 to the contract. The DeKalb Commission approved the contract unanimously both times.

APD Solutions paid Watson $19,800 for his strategic advice from 2012 to 2014, according to an investigator for the Board of Ethics.

Board of Ethics Chairman John Ernst said he believed Watson should have been suspended. The board voted 4-2 against suspending Watson.

“I believe some form of a suspension is necessary to tell the public and elected officials that bad behavior will be punished,” Ernst said. “Mr. Watson failed to recuse himself and gave the impression he was under an undue influence of an employer.”

Watson, a DeKalb commissioner since 2010 and a former state representative, didn’t attend the hearing or return a phone call seeking comment.

An attorney for Watson, Lynn Whatley, said the commissioner made a mistake.

“I think he made some errors that were not intentional,” Whatley said. “Ultimately the Ethics Board didn’t see him as an intentional bad actor because they would have punished him worse.”

The board found three ethical violations by Watson on votes of 5-1, 5-1 and 4-2.

Watson didn’t reveal his relationship with the company before the county commission voted. He acknowledged that APD Solutions was paying him about $500 a month during an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News earlier this year.

When confronted about his votes for APD Solutions, Watson apologized.

“I don’t remember doing that, ” Watson told the AJC and Channel 2 in February. “If I did, it was a mistake and inadvertent.”

Other allegations of ethical lapses by Watson were dismissed in May.

A resident had accused Watson of improperly charging the county for nearly $5,000 in charges for his personal cellphone bills. The board also didn't move forward with an ethics complaint alleging that he used $1,880 in public funds to build a website, PoliticalStan.com, where people could donate to his campaign.

The board’s investigator said Watson used his cellphone mostly for county business, and Watson told him that he didn’t collect any money through his website’s link for campaign contributions.