Lawmakers pass new DeKalb ethics board legislation

The Georgia State Capitol. (Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com)
The Georgia State Capitol. (Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com)

Credit: bandres@ajc.com

Credit: bandres@ajc.com

Legislation that could revive the DeKalb County Board of Ethics achieved final passage in the Georgia Legislature on Friday, clearing the way for a second ethics-related ballot referendum in as many years.

The new bill, crafted by state Rep. Viola Davis and members of DeKalb’s House delegation, would fix the appointment process for the county’s ethics board, because the current guidelines were ruled unconstitutional almost two years ago. It would also keep the current county ethics officer position, while creating a new administrative position that supporters say would add balance when investigating complaints against county employees and officials.

The controversial ethics legislation lawmakers passed last year was struck down by voters in November. Davis' bill, however, includes the extra oversight that some have pushed for while removing components that voters found unacceptable in 2019. It gained support from members of DeKalb's House and Senate delegations, as well as the DeKalb Citizens Advocacy Council, which spearheaded the opposition to last year's failed proposal.

House Bill 1243 won final passage on Friday after clearing the House and Senate. The revised ethics law will be put up for a public vote in November if Gov. Brian Kemp signs it or allows it to become law without his signature.

“We expect the bill will be signed by the governor and we hope the voters of DeKalb will pass it in November. In our opinion the legislation does not materially weaken the work of the Board of Ethics or the Ethics Officer,” the DeKalb Citizens Advocacy Council said in a statement Monday.

The group said it will closely monitor how the state lawmakers make their appointments to the board, pushing for a “publicly transparent process.”

DeKalb's ethics board has been unable to take formal action since 2018, when the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that the use of private organizations to appoint some members of the seven-person board is unconstitutional. The new bill addresses that issue by placing three appointments each in the hands of DeKalb's state House and Senate delegations. The seventh appointment is decided by the county tax commissioner.

DeKalb’s Clerk of Superior Court would also appoint two alternate ethics board members, who would serve in the case of vacancies or conflicts of interest.

The bill would also create a new “ethics administrator” position. That person would be responsible for collecting and documenting all complaints before passing them along to the ethics board. The board would then decide if complaints merited a full-fledged investigation. If so, such complaints would be handed over to the ethics officer.

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