Ga. lawmakers warned after ethics probe

The chairman of the state House Ethics Committee is reminding members of the Georgia House of Representatives not to use their elected position for personal gain following an Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation in May that raised questions about one member's conduct.

Rep. Joe Wilkinson, R-Sandy Springs, sent out a three-page letter to House members last week explaining "that it is extremely important to maintain a separation between your legislative duties and position and your private business."

The letter came from an official inquiry into an email sent by Rep. Mike Glanton, D-Jonesboro, to Atlanta Schools Superintendent Meria Carstarphen in which Glanton trumpets his legislative credentials, including his influence on education spending and policy, while attempting to stop the district from canceling a contract for his business.

"You may not be aware that I … serve on the Education (Academic Support) and Appropriations (K-12 Funding) committees in the House," Glanton said in his April 15 email to Carstarphen. "In addition, I served on the Study Committee for the Roles of the Federal Government in Georgia and Common Core and was recently appointed to serve on the Governor's Education Reform Commission."

Glanton was trying to arrange a meeting with Carstarphen in an attempt to save a $1.1 million teacher recruiting contract between the district and Jonesboro-based firm Global Teachers Research and Resources, where he is chief operating officer.

Using a legislative office for private gain is against House ethics rules and state law. Wilkinson said a bipartisan panel of legislative leaders looked at the Glanton email and decided it did not constitute a violation, in part because Carstarphen did not meet with Glanton and APS did not renew its contract with Global.

“I couldn’t find a smoking gun,” Wilkinson explained. “There was no quid pro quo.”

However, emails obtained by the AJC through an open records request show APS officials took Glanton’s messages as a strong-arm tactic.

“He is trying to use his influence as a legislator to convince us to keep the contract,” APS human resources director Pamela Hall wrote in a message to Carstarphen.

In a letter sent this week to Wilkinson, Glanton apologized "for the misunderstanding that occurred between me and the superintendent and staff of the Atlanta Public Schools."

“By way of explanation and not of excuse, I wanted you and the members of the House Committee on Ethics to know that I mistakenly took a shortcut in my communications with Dr. Carstarphen and her staff and combined a legislative communication with a work-related communication,” Glanton wrote. “I realize now that my email made it appear that there was a connection between the two communications when none was intended by me.”

The Carstarphen email is not the only time Glanton has co-mingled his legislative and personal business. Last year, Glanton emailed the Henry County Schools superintendent on a contract matter and introduced himself as a lawmaker and COO of Global in the same sentence.

Glanton declined further comment on the investigation.

Common Cause Georgia filed a complaint with the House Ethics Committee following the AJC’s report on the emails.

Clint Murphy, chairman of the watchdog group, said he was disappointed the complaint would notbe taken up by the full committee. But he said he is glad the organization filed it.

“This does serve as an example of the need for stronger conflict of interest laws, and more consistent and effective enforcement of those rules,” he said. “The public must have confidence that their elected officials are not enriching themselves through public service.”

While Wilkinson said the panel convened to examine the correspondence unanimously agreed to dismiss the complaint, he said it did provide an opportunity to remind House members of their obligations to keep their personal and public business separate.

“In the Navy, we called it a ‘stand down,’” he said. It’s a chance to pause, review procedures, and perhaps, head off future problems, he said.

Members were sent copies of the letter to their legislative and personal email addresses, he said.

“My memo has resulted in a number of telephone calls from members asking questions — and good questions,” he said.