State Rep. Viola Davis (D-Stone Mountain), chair of the DeKalb County House Ethics Committee, commends the recent approval of House Bill 1243, which was approved through a local ballot referendum with a margin of 87 percent. Passed during the 2020 legislative session, HB 1243 updates the codes for the DeKalb County Board of Ethics.
“It is a blessing to have the ethics referendum pass by a large margin, showing the taxpayers and voters’ approval,” said Rep. Davis. “I have worked on this issue for more than 15 years as an activist, missionary and government watchdog. With the help of the chairs of the DeKalb County Legislative Delegation, State Rep. Karla Drenner and State Sen. Emanuel Jones, along with the members of the delegation, a majority worked in unity to ensure DeKalb County had strong ethics legislation.”
The approval of the referendum enacts House Bill 1243, which addresses the appointment process and terms of office for the delegation challenged by Judge Asha Jackson in 2017. As a result of Jackson’s challenge, the board has remained dormant since August 2018 after the Supreme Court of Georgia ruled that the board was unconstitutional due to its members being appointed by non-elected entities.
House Bill 1243 corrects the appointment process by having three ethics board members appointed by members of the DeKalb County House Legislative Delegation and three members appointed by members of the DeKalb County Senate Legislative Delegation; one member would be appointed by the DeKalb County tax commissioner. The DeKalb County Legislative Delegation is currently working on the appointment process and strives to give the public at least a two-week notice on the application process for the board.
HB 1243 also addresses the issue of malfeasance, wrongdoing and alleged corruption by updating language regarding receiving gifts, especially within the Department of Purchasing and Contracting.
“With removing gifts from the purchasing and contracting department, we sent a strong message to whistleblowers that their sacrifices were not in vain,” said Davis. “There is pride in drafting strong ethics legislation that received more than 80 percent of the public’s approval. With that said, the DeKalb County Legislative Delegation needs to take a bow.”
To address the issue of conflict of interest and the need for people to recuse themselves when a conflict exists, this legislation includes a section on conflict of interest and recusal to make sure investigations are fair and balanced. HB 1243 also ensures a quorum in cases of conflict of interest and recusal. The bill’s sponsors included the appointment of two alternate members by the DeKalb County Superior Court Clerk. The alternates will ensure a quorum when members of the board are absent, have a conflict of interest or find it necessary to recuse themselves or while a vacancy exists on the board.
The legislation also keeps a full-time ethics officer, who is also a member of the Georgia Bar Association; the ethics officer will train officials and employees on ethical conduct, and this officer will conduct an investigation after the ruling of the DeKalb County Board of Ethics. HB 1243 also adds a full-time ethics administrator position to receive complaints, maintain records of the board and notify the board of complaints received.
For more information on House Bill 1243, please click here.