Judge to handle ethics violations
By Stephanie Johns
During Monday night’s Madison City Council meeting the Ethics Regulations Code Amendment prompted a bit of discussion from council members and citizens alike.
City Attorney Joe Reitman explained that the amendment would now have Georgia Municipal Association (GMA) model language and recommended that the council allow a municipal judge to serve “as a committee of one.”
In years past three citizens sat on a volunteer board and determined whether or not an ethics violation had been committed.
Reitman shared that he had spoken with Mayor Bruce Gilbert and that Gilbert had asked Judge Charles Merritt if he would be willing to serve. According to Reitman, Merritt had said he would serve.
Reitman said that when it comes to judicial or quasi-judicial decisions, “a judge is probably best.”
Gilbert asked whether any of the councilmen had a problem naming a judge to serve as a committee of one. Councilmen Fred Perriman and Rick Blanton said that it made sense to them.
Reitman said it would be different if they didn’t have someone with experience.
Perriman pointed out that the last ethics violation to come before the ethics committee was years ago. Reitman said he thought it was in 1993.
When the discussion opened up for public comment, Madison resident Eric Joyce asked whether GMA has a recommendation as to who might be best.
Reitman said the GMA leaves it to the city level.
Joyce then asked what happens when Judge Merritt moves on.
Reitman said they would have to revisit it at that time.
Madison resident David Land then shared his thoughts, saying he could agree that city employees under Nunn would be exempt and that the ethics committee would be a municipal judge. His concern was with holding volunteer board members accountable.
“Before you expand it to include myself and others, clean up the language,” Land said, requesting that that volunteers be provided ethics training. “It’s not simple - I’ve never been trained on it.”
Land then shared his concerns that volunteers would be subject to appearing before a judge and a $1,000 fine.
Madison resident Stratton Hicky shared his concerns about having a municipal judge serve as a committee of one, “You can’t have someone subject to ordinances and be the decidor of a violation.”
He then said that they could add a clause that says, “If allegation is made against the municipal judge, it shall go to X.”
Reitman said the rationale behind having a municipal judge serve as the ethics committee of one is so that they have a qualified decidor in questions of ethics.
Gilbert said, “It takes the politics out of it by having a judge. It also takes members of the board off that committee.”
Gilbert reiterated that they had only had one ethics violation in 35 years and said, “You’re taking good people from another board: they don’t meet, they don’t have training.”
Reitman said, “What my gut’s telling me: have a judge make judicial decisions.”
Reitman then addressed the board and recommended they approve the change to accept the judge and to leave the rest for another night.
Printed in the September 13 edition.