Senoia OK's new ethics regulations

The Senoia City Council Monday night approved an upgrade to the city’s ethics ordinance that addresses frivolous ethics complaints. The ordinance now includes a litmus test for potentially frivolous ethics violations against elected or appointed officials and city employees.

Containing a 180-day window for bringing complaints, the amendment creates a way to determine the merit of a claim, said City Administrator Richard Ferry, noting that if the complaint meets the approved criteria the ethics board can proceed with hearing the matter and, if not, the board can reject the complaint.

Ferry said the primary main difference in the new procedure is that the amendment now requires a review of the complaint while the old procedure did not.

An overview of the amendment states that an alleged ethics violation, including all pertinent documentation, must be presented in writing and that the respondent will have 30 days to file a response.

The procedure includes the establishment within 30 days of an ethics board to be appointed by the mayor and council. The ethics board will set an initial hearing no later than 15 days after the response is filed to determine the merit of the complaint.

The merit of the complaint against an elected official must meet what is essentially a litmus test. That test will be determined by a number of criteria pertaining to issues such as the timing of the complaint, the nature of the complaint, the publicity surrounding it, the participation of the complainant in publicizing the complaint, the relation of the complainant and respondent prior to the complaint’s filing and whether respondent is a candidate for office and the complainant, whether individually or as part of a group, is opposing the respondent.

If found by the ethics board to have merit a separate hearing will be held within 30 days. If found without merit, the complaint will be dismissed.

Pertaining to a complaint against an appointed official or city employee, the mayor and council will examine the validity of the complaint based upon the same criteria utilized for determining the merit of complaints against elected officials. If found to have merit, the mayor and council will appoint and ethics board that will hold a hearing within 30 days.

The ethics board at the hearing will examine the complaint and can, if found frivolous, the board can dismiss it. A complaint brought solely to gain political advantage will be considered frivolous.