Brown wants Brooks mayor booted
Commissioner with pending ethics complaint says it’s improper for elected official to judge him
Fayette County Commissioner Steve Brown, accused of violating the county’s ethics ordinance, is asking for one of the county’s three ethics board members to abstain from the inquiry.
Brown contends that Brooks Mayor Dan Langford, one of three appointees to the ethics board earlier this year, should not be involved in the process because he is an elected official and since the town of Brooks “conducts business” with the county.
Brown points out that Langford himself at first questioned his eligibility to serve based on the wording of the county’s ethics ordinance which requires each ethics board member to be “a citizen” of Fayette County. The ordinance, however, does not explicitly forbid elected officials from serving on the ethics board.
“Just the working relationship alone between governmental jurisdictions is reason enough for Mayor Langford to abstain,” Brown wrote in an email. “Why do we have ethics boards, so elected officials can rein [sic] judgment over other elected officials?”
Brown is accused of violating three county ordinances by making an order to a county employee, disclosing information discussed by the board in executive session and also violated attorney client privilege: the latter two of which he did without first seeking approval from his fellow commission members.
The ethics complaint was filed by fellow Commissioner Robert Horgan, who contends he has written proof of all three violations, contained in copies of emails and a letter sent by Brown.
In the letter to Horgan dated Nov. 12, 2012, Brown admits to “instructing” the county’s human resources director to contact the state attorney general’s office about legal requirements for releasing the names of top candidates for the county manager’s position.
That, Horgan contends, is a violation of county ordinance 2-209(n) which states in part that “Commissioners shall not, acting alone, make suggestions to the department directors or their employees regarding the performance of their duties, nor give instructions to department directors or other employees.”
Brown said he was simply trying to find out how to follow Georgia law on the matter. But he added that he didn’t feel comfortable getting the legal advice from either county staff attorney Scott Bennett or county consulting attorney Don Comer.
Brown said he does not trust information that comes from Bennett, whose last day is Dec. 31.
Horgan also cited the March 9, 2012 letter that Brown wrote to State Attorney General Sam Olens in which Brown inquired about potential legal action in which the commission would sue itself. Although the letter does not mention it, Brown was specifically referring to a potential effort to have the county’s new five-district map ratified by a federal court since the legislature failed to vote on the associated local legislation earlier this year, a fact blamed on a failure to meet public notice requirements.
Brown noted that he was careful to word the letter to Olens in such a way as to not reveal any details about the facts or strategy in the case.
“All I asked is can a county government sue itself, which is exactly what we did. Is asking that illegal?” Brown said.
The county did not sue itself in that case; rather, Peachtree City private attorney Rick Lindsey sued the county in federal court and won an order to enforce the new five-district map.
“I think it’s a legitimate question and I don’t think you can sue yourself,” Brown said, adding that he has a duty as a public official to disclose unlawful activity.
Under the county ordinances, the ethics board is obligated to review the complaint and ultimately take one of the following options:
• No admonishment and no further action;
• A public reprimand and admonishment not to violate the ethics code in the future;
• A formal reprimand;
• Public censure;
• Recommendation for termination, resignation or recall; or
• Recommendation for prosecution in the State Court of Fayette County.
The board can also decide to “admonish, formally reprimand, publicly censure” any complaining party who files a petition determined to be “unjustified, frivolous, patently unfounded or factually insufficient.”
The county ethics board, appointed late this year, consists of Brooks Mayor Dan Langford, attorney Sheila Huddleston and Peachtree City financial planner Scott Rowland along with two alternates: Pota Coston, a former criminal investigator for the Internal Revenue Service and Larris Marks, a retired human resources director for the U.S. Army Forces Command.
Should Langford bow out, either Coston or Marks would take his place on the ethics board. Both Coston and Marks were nominated to the board by Brown.