Kastorf said attorneys for the ethics board initially agreed to the consent order because, at the time, a legislative fix to the appointment issue appeared imminent. That’s no longer the case, he said.
Lawmakers from DeKalb did produce ethics legislation in 2019, but the scope was far wider than just fixing the appointment process. The changes would’ve included removing the county’s ethics officer position and replacing it with a person whose role was more clerical. County employees would’ve also been required to submit their complaints to the human resources department.
Critics said the changes actually weakened ethics oversight in DeKalb. And voters overwhelmingly shot down the proposal in a November referendum.
Legislators are taking up the issue again this session, but discussions have thus far been rocky and unproductive.
Stacey Kalberman, DeKalb County’s ethics officer, said she and the board are trying to remain optimistic.
But, she said, “we’ve been trying to get a legislative fix in for the last 3 1/2 years and it hasn’t worked yet.”
Attorney Dwight Thomas is representing Barnes Sutton — the ex-commissioner who was arrested last year on bribery and extortion charges — in the ethics litigation. He told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution he's opposed to the ethics board's new request.
“This was an agreement,” Thomas said. “That’s not how you do it. That’s not how you practice law. Nobody forced anybody to do anything.”
Thomas has asked the judge for more time to file a formal response to the ethics board’s motion. And timing will be key.
The state legislature is less than halfway through its current session, and any significant delay in the consent order matter could render the ethics board’s latest legal push moot. Assuming, of course, that lawmakers produce new legislation.
“It can’t possibly be Mr. Thomas’ position that the board never gets to operate again” if there’s no legislative fix, Kastorf said.