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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.”

 
Comm. Pennamon 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 Hill against 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. 

 


TWG
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