Council committee to review ruling of ethics violations by East Point mayor

Embattled East Point Mayor Earnestine Pittman, a longtime political powerhouse, faces the public and the city council at its meeting Monday in the wake of a lawsuit and ethical violations.

Last week former Superior Court Judge Gino Brogdon, who had had been appointed as a special ethics hearing officers, ruled Pittman had violated the city charter, acted against the financial interests of the city and created a situation in which she couldn't properly represent East Point.

Meanwhile, two residents — including one who filed ethics complaints against the mayor — have filed a lawsuit this month to remove Pittman, a retired teacher, from office, contending she failed to follow state and city laws and violated her oath of office — points bolstered by the last week's ethic ruling.

"I believe our mayor is fully aware that most power under our government belongs to the city manger and that she ignores that and will do anything she can to add to her own power," said Stephen Zink, who filed several key ethics complaints. I actually feel empathy for her because I believe in her heart she wants to do good things for the city."

Others who filed the ethics charges contend its time for the council to take action and remove the mayor. They are not optimistic.

"My hope is the council action will lead to change but my fear is it will be symbolic," said Constance Eckstein, one of the complaintants.

Pittman, who could not be reached for comment, dismissed the ethics findings.

"I apologize to the residents for any embarrassment that may result from the Hearing Officer's ruling," she wrote in a prepared statement last week.

Mayor Pro Tem Marcel Reed said he will appoint three council members to review Brodgon's findings and to recommend action said he considered the ethics charges serious although he said he not yet read Brogdon's decision, which he expected would be officially delivered to the councilMonday.

Brogdon's findings included:

  • Pittman violated the law when she, as part of a group, sued the city on Nov. 4 to block increases in utility rates because it placed her in a conflict of interest both financially and professionally since as mayor she was supposed to be the chief advocate for the city and its adopted policies. Pittman vetoed a council measure that the city recoup legal costs from the plaintiffs, which would have included her. Her group dismissed the lawsuit after new council members perceived as Pittman allies unseated two incumbents.
  • The mayor violated the City Charter and she overstepped her authority when she vetoed a severance-compensation package for former City Manager Crandall Jones — who was hired by the council and whom the mayor opposed —when he quit after a new council majority was elected last year. Pittman said she saved money by forcing a cheaper severance.

Teresa Nelson, one of the ethics complaints filers and a former council member, said Pittman's ethical lapses are a recurring pattern. She said in 2005 the city ethics board had found Pittman — then a council woman —violated the ethics code when she refused to recuse herself when a legal action by her husband was before the council.

Councilman Alexander Gothard, who often votes with Pittman but has broken with her on key issues, said he was getting calls from people who were outraged by the mayor and from those who thought the mayor was being targeted by constituents who oppose her on political rather than policy grounds. Passion, he said, dominated both sides.

"A lot of people think it is kind of ironic that people are pushing charges because she cost the city money in filing the lawsuit and that their lawsuit will also cost the people money," he said. "East Point is a diamond in the rough and people are willing to stand up up and fight for it by any means."