February 22, 2008
CONFLICT OF INTEREST OR NOT?
The February BOC meeting had some interesting discussion,
but one of the most contentious was the discussion about “Conflicts of
Interest” and the county’s “Code of Ethics.”
During the Agenda Comments Mr. Fisher of D&D Restaurant
on the square spoke. He told how 5 different
food service operators were gone since the opening of the Red Clay Café—the
business owned by Comm. Pennamon and his wife.
He told how the City and Downtown Development Authority had marketed,
answered the phone, promoted and developed this business months before it ever
opened. Reportedly, Better Home Town and DDA employees spent their time working for the business
while being paid with taxpayer dollars. Mr. Fisher wanted to “complain” about the County sending
business to the Red Clay Café—that is holding the County Christmas
Party there—and how this was a conflict of interest for Comm. Pennamon. He ended with, “Competition is fine, but we
want an equal chance to share in county’s business.”
Comm. Bernard then
brought up the Jasper County Code of Ethics.
He said, “I drafted this code of ethics from the National Assoc of County
Commissioners code. This is not the best
code of ethics.” Comm. Bernard then read
some questions from an ACCG publication about county business and a member of
BOC benefiting from it. AG Opinion
#82-82—a case in Macon—was
also cited that said the Mayor can’t lease city property and the Mayor can’t
sell a truck to the city. Comm. Bernard
said this is
about the “Appearance of conflict” and “given this Red Clay thing that has come
up, we need to go back and revise this [ethics] code. He ended with, “The County should not be
contracting with any entity owned by a BOC member.”
said, “The P&Z contracted with D&D?
What’s the difference?” Comm.
Bernard replied, “You are one in violation of ethics policy.” The County Attorney
read the State
Law on the Code of Ethics, OCGA 45-10-1 and 45-10-3. One of the items was “A commissioner should
not directly or indirectly engage in business with government—this is
inconsistent with gov’t duties.” Apparently,
Comm. Pennamon still doesn’t feel that he has any conflict at all.
Comm. Bernard said
his purpose is to revise the Ethics Policy.
He would like the County
Attorney to draft a much
more specific document and made a motion to that effect. It was seconded by Comm. Pennamon.
Comm. Yarbrough wanted
the County Manager to explain how the county used
services of Red Clay Cafe. The County Manager
said the Christmas dinner for County
Employees was held there. He said, “We contacted Frank’s; Charlie
Elliott; Café on Frobel; and Red Clay.
They were each contacted by telephone.”
No written bid was obtained.
Comm. Bernard again
emphasized that it is the perception
of conflict. It is the perception
among other merchants and the people as a conflict. (During this Christmas Dinner, both Comm.
Pennamon and Comm. Hill won door prizes, and neither declined to take them even
though is was the Employee’s Christmas Party.)
The vote was 4-1 with
having a stronger ethics code drafted. Hopefully this one will have some
teeth—fines, sanctions, etc. for any violations.
As a side note,
what will the JCWSA do now about their ethics code? They said as they adopted the BOC’s as their
own, that what was “good enough for the Commissioners was good enough for them.”
TWG says Ethics and
Conflicts of Interest should be of utmost importance for any board member of
any authority or committee as well as the BOC.
If any member can’t sign a Code of Ethics, one that means something and
has some teeth, then they don’t need to be on the board. It is suppose to be about service to the County, not using
one’s position for personal gain.