Cobb County resident Debra Fisher filed an ethics complaint this week against Commissioner Jerica Richardson that says she should have recused herself from voting on the county’s electoral map passed in an attempt to overturn the redistricting map passed by the state Legislature.
The complaint was filed Monday with the Cobb County Board of Ethics.
The commission’s Democratic majority approved the alternative district map to preserve Richardson’s seat on the board after Republican state lawmakers bypassed the typical redistricting process and drew her out of her district, which would have effectively ended her term halfway through a four-year term.
Fisher, who has a leadership role in the Cobb County Republican Party, argues in her complaint that Richardson’s votes on the county-passed electoral map should be voided because of “both a personal as well as a fiduciary conflict of interest.”
Voiding Richardson’s votes would essentially nullify the board’s 3-2 approval of the county map.
The complaint alleges Richardson has financially benefitted from the county’s move through the 501(c)4 organization, called For Which It Stance, that she founded in March 2022.
According to its website, For Which It Stance is dedicated to “protecting local control” and seeks to “preserve our democracy through ensuring access, transparency, and the separation of powers when it comes to elections and representation.”
The organization has publicly defended Richardson and the county’s actions online and at county meetings. It is a nonprofit political advocacy committee, said Mindy Seger, its executive director.
“We drive toward issues, not candidates or specific elected officials,” Seger said.
Seger declined to comment on anything involving the organization’s financials until the ethics complaint has been resolved.
Likewise, she declined comment when asked directly if the organization is volunteer-based and if anyone is paid a salary.
Seger said the organization was founded to show “how people can be empowered and engaged” in government issues, and that some donated funds go toward civic engagement classes and educational opportunities related to government structures.
Fisher did not provide proof of Richardson’s alleged financial benefit in the complaint. She referenced the For Which It Stance website and said “the appearance of impropriety is all over” it.
“On almost every single page it either says, ‘Donate here,’ ‘Get involved,’ or ‘Be a member,’” Fisher said. “I think it’s pretty cut and dry.”
The Cobb County Code of Ethics says officials cannot participate in county business in which they have a “financial interest, a fiduciary interest, a corporate interest, or an employment interest.”
The code also says officials should disclose conflicts of interest and remove themselves “to avoid the appearance of impropriety.”
Richardson is listed as the registered agent on the organization’s nonprofit filing with the state and as its founder on the website, and she declined to comment through Sophia Cherribi, the nonprofit’s spokeswoman.
Cobb County spokesman Ross Cavitt also declined to comment.
Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)4 defines social welfare organizations, different from political action committees, as nonprofit organizations that “must be operated exclusively to promote social welfare.”
According to the IRS website, social welfare excludes “direct or indirect participation or intervention in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office,” but a social welfare organization can “engage in some political activities, so long as that is not its primary activity.”
The Board of Ethics rules allow Richardson 30 days to respond to the complaint, and the board will conduct a review within 60 days of the complaint to determine if there is enough evidence “to support a reasonable belief that there has been a violation.”
The ethics complaint is the latest iteration of scrutiny the Board of Commissioners has faced for its move to amend its electoral map, which divided the board along party lines and led to conflict among the commissioners, state officials and residents.
The board is also facing an imminent court challenge where a judge will determine whether the board has the authority to redistrict itself under the home rule statute.
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