published Sunday, May 6th, 2012

LaFayette passes ethics resolution that allows residents to report complaints


North Georgia area cities with ethics ordinances:

• Calhoun

• Dalton

• Ringgold

• Varnell

LaFayette, Ga., officials have approved a resolution that would allow residents to report any ethical complaints about the City Council, mayor or city manager to the clerk's office to be addressed by a committee of three residents.

Council newcomers Chris Davis and Ben Bradford asked City Manager Frank Etheridge to put the ethics ordinance before the City Council after they heard about such ordinances at a Georgia Municipal Association training session, Davis said.

"I think I should be an ethical politician," he said.

While voters can remove unethical politicians from office, Davis said, "That's four years [in office]. They [voters] shouldn't have to wait four years."

Creating ethics resolutions has become a trend across Georgia, as more than 150 cities have passed one version that was approved by the Georgia Municipal Association.

There's a push for ethics discussions in Georgia because of scandals and complaints that have arisen recently, said University of Georgia political science professor Charles Bullock. He cited the recent cheating scandal in the Atlanta Public Schools.

"It's a winning hand when you come out and say we're for ethics," Bullock said.

If the resolution is passed, the association then designates that municipality a "City of Ethics."

The Georgia Municipal Association first must approve the resolution, which must address seven key principles, and then the council must pass an ordinance, association spokeswoman Amy Henderson said. The program was started about 12 years ago, and the idea is to strengthen trust in local government, she said.

"We're not saying this city's actions have proven [it] to be an ethical city," she said. "We're saying this city has adopted an ethics standards to meet ethics complaints going into the future."

Two years ago Dalton passed a similar resolution, but so far no complaints have been reported, City Manager Ty Ross said.

The LaFayette City Council should appoint citizens to its ethics committee at an upcoming meeting, maybe in mid-May, Davis said. He said LaFayette's ordinance was in the works long before a heated meeting in March at which several residents accused the City Council of ignoring earlier complaints about Public Safety Director Tommy Freeman, he said.

Complaints about department heads are directed to the city manager, he said.

"They're not affected by this [ethics resolution]," Davis said, explaining that the ordinance only applies to the council members, the city attorney, city clerk and city manager.

Officials say the ethics requirements are rules that officials already should follow, but that writing them in a resolution clears up any gray areas.

Some prohibitions include:

• No city official shall use such position to secure special privileges.

• No city official shall receive any compensation or gift in connection with his duties of office.

• No city official shall use city facilities, personnel, equipment or supplies for private purposes.

"You hope that most people wouldn't have to be told this is how to behave," Bullock said. "But if you have it as a resolution ... there's no downside to it."

about Tim Omarzu...

Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.

about Joy Lukachick Smith...

Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...

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