DeKalb commissioners propose quick fix to ethics board

03/13/2018 -- Decatur, GA - DeKalb County commissioner Kathie Gannon during a DeKalb County board of commissioners meeting in Decatur, Tuesday, March 13, 2018. ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

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03/13/2018 -- Decatur, GA - DeKalb County commissioner Kathie Gannon during a DeKalb County board of commissioners meeting in Decatur, Tuesday, March 13, 2018. ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

A group of DeKalb commissioners is proposing a quick fix to get the county’s long-languishing ethics board back in business.

Commissioners Kathie Gannon, Steve Bradshaw and Lorraine Cochran-Johnson introduced a resolution Tuesday that provides an outline for fixing the ethics board’s appointment process. The resolution is set to be considered by the full commission next month and would ultimately be passed along as a recommendation to DeKalb’s legislative delegation in the General Assembly, which has the power to change the county’s ethics code.

The Georgia Supreme Court ruled in August 2018 that DeKalb allowing non-elected entities to appoint board members was unconstitutional. The ethics panel has been effectively dormant since.

A sweeping — and divisive — proposal to restructure the ethics board was shot down by DeKalb voters in November, sending officials back to the drawing board.

The commissioners’ new proposal would give separate appointments to DeKalb’s state House and Senate delegations. Other appointments would be given to the county’s chief state court and magistrate judges and the county tax commissioner.

The existing appointments delegated to DeKalb’s chief superior and probate court judges would be preserved, but the community organizations that were previously granted appointment powers would only be able to submit non-binding nominations or recommendations to the county’s chief ethics officer.

All of that reflects a growing sentiment that legislators should focus on the easy fix — changing who makes appointments — to get the ethics board back up-and-running as quickly as possible.

“We call on the DeKalb delegation to simply change the appointment process and make no other substantive changes,” Cochran-Johnson said in a news release. “This is an easy fix that can be accomplished within a few days of the upcoming session.”

State Rep. Matthew Wilson, D-Brookhaven, has already announced plans to file a bill that would do much of what the commissioners are proposing when the legislative session begins next month. But his proposal would involve appointments by the mayors and city council members of DeKalb's 12 cities.

Since the ballot referendum failed in November, groups like the DeKalb Citizens Advocacy Council have also pushed for a fix to the ethics board that only changes the appointment process.

“Any other issues can be addressed separately in a separate reform bill,” Mary Hinkel, chair of the group, told the county commission during its Tuesday meeting.

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