The state ethics commission will meet in emergency session Tuesday to decide whether to remove the director of the transparency agency amid questions about whether he misused state computers, according to four people with knowledge of the situation.
Stefan Ritter, who has been the commission's executive director since 2015, could not be reached for comment. Staffers filed complaints against Ritter to the commission in December, officials told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News.
Jake Evans, who was elected chairman of the five-member panel in December, declined to comment “on individual personnel matters.”
“We take all personnel matters seriously and promptly investigate any employment-related allegations and take corrective action as needed,” he said.
The agency, formally known as the Georgia Government Transparency & Campaign Finance Commission, is charged with collecting campaign finance, vendor gift and lobbying expenditure reports, registering lobbyists, issuing advisory opinions, and dispensing penalties for violations.
Ritter was an 18-year veteran of the Georgia Attorney General’s Office when he was unanimously chosen over three other candidates to lead the agency. He had previously been the commission’s counsel and known as an expert on Georgia’s sunshine laws.
Ritter took control of the commission at a tumultuous time. The agency had been without an executive director for months after the firing of Holly LaBerge, who was sanctioned and fined for her role in a whistleblower lawsuit filed by her predecessor.
In 2015, a Fulton County jury found that her predecessor, Stacey Kalberman, was forced from her job for investigating the campaign of Gov. Nathan Deal, and it awarded her and her attorneys $1.15 million. In June of that year, the state agreed to settle lawsuits with three other former employees who alleged abuse and political retaliation, bringing the total in legal fees to $3 million.
After years of inaction, a backlog of more than 150 cases was finally cleared in 2017 — just in time for the agency to handle a slew of new complaints filed by Georgia residents, watchdog groups and political adversaries.
Ritter’s pay was increased from $165,000 to $181,500 in 2016 — a much bigger raise than most other state employees received — after the commission lauded improvement in the agency.
The commission put off making any decisions on a series of complaints made during the 2018 campaign, not wanting to influence the elections. So 2019 is expected to be a heavy year.
Among the cases Ritter has been working on is a nearly decade-old complaint against former Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine, whom the AJC reported never returned almost $750,000 in leftover campaign money after he lost the 2010 Republican primary for governor.
The commission filed new complaints against Oxendine in 2015 and 2017, the second one accusing the former commissioner of illegally using campaign money for personal gain. Ethics officials had hoped to resolve the case this year.
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