Lawrenceville mayor admits conflict of interest

One of the votes to hire the Lawrenceville firm, Precision Planning Inc., was later wiped out after the city attorney noticed Millsaps' involvement, and the City Council voted again.

But the other was not flagged.

"Well, I just screwed up, I guess," Millsaps said in a recent interview. "I'm guilty, I guess."

While acknowledging that both votes were conflicts of interest, Millsaps contends they were mistakes and that he doesn't need to do anything differently.

"I don't know that I'll be more careful," he said. "I hope I'm careful enough now."

Lawrenceville's ethics code states that city officials are prohibited from "participating in the deliberation of or voting on any matter involving his financial or personal interest." If violated, the punishment is determined by the City Council, and could range from a reprimand to removal from office, City Attorney Tony Powell said.

The state has a similar law: public officials can't vote on matters in which they are "personally interested." Though the behavior is prohibited, it does not come with a punishment, said Attorney General's Office spokesman Russ Willard.

"If I'm guilty of being negligent, then send me to jail," Millsaps said. "I haven't intentionally done anything wrong. If I screwed up, I screwed up."

Millsaps, an accountant, has been on Precision Planning's payroll since 1984, he said.

He said he was the firm's financial vice president for two years before resigning in 1986. Since then, he remained with Precision as a part-time employee, serving as its accountant and reviewing the firm's financial statements each month, Millsaps said. He estimates that he gets less than 10 percent of his income from Precision.

Precision Planning, run by founder and president Randall Dixon, gets a lot of work from Lawrenceville and other governments in Gwinnett County. In 2008, the company collected $454,000 from the city of Lawrenceville. As of August, Lawrenceville has paid the company $407,000 this year, county records show.

Millsaps took office in November 2006, shortly after winning the election, after the outgoing mayor died.

In August 2007, he acknowledged a connection to Precision Planning, recusing himself from a potential vote when the company was competing for a well water contract.

"I've never tried to hide the fact that I was a Precision Planning employee," Millsaps said.

Two months later, Millsaps put forth his first vote for Precision.

The City Council was considering hiring the company to design a sidewalk for an alleyway in downtown Lawrenceville, and the four council members were deadlocked at a 2-2 vote.

Millsaps, who only votes when the City Council is at an impasse, broke the tie and got Precision the work, for which it was paid $2,250.

"This one, obviously, I didn't think about," Millsaps said.

The second vote came about a year later, in September 2008.

It was a vote to award Precision Planning an additional $108,000 contract for a water treatment facility project that it had been working on, City Clerk Bob Baroni said.

Again, Millsaps voted to break the tie and award Precision the additional work.

"I was surprised," City Council member P.K. Martin said. "Literally, I couldn't believe it happened."

At a City Council meeting later that month, Millsaps said he had mistakenly voted because he thought the vote was to reduce Precision's contract by $9,000.

"I thought what I was voting on was a reduction," he said. "And I didn't see how it could be perceived as being a conflict if I'm voting to reduce it."

Both the city and state laws, however, say that officials must abstain from voting on "any" matters in which the official has a person interest.

Powell, the city attorney, brought the issue to Millsaps' attention, and the City Council voted on it again without Millsaps.

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