Hicky questions councils’ ethics on Reams app

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By Nick Nunn staff writer During a public hearing regarding an application by Patrick Reams for Morgan Capital Investments for a conditional use permit for a congregate care home at 150 Hancock Street, Stratton Hicky, Madison resident, questioned whether Mayor Fred Perriman and three city council members – Bobby Crawford, Chris Hodges, and Carrie Peters-Reid – recuse themselves from the matter, considering that Reams had contributed to each of their campaigns during their 2013 campaigns. Madison City Attorney Joe Reitman asserted that, under the applicable city and state law, the council members would only be forced to recuse themselves if they had either a property interest in the application or a 10 percent financial interest in the business.

After it was stated by each of the Madison officials in question that they have no such interest Reams’ application was unanimously passed by the council. Section 1150 of Madison’s Zoning Ordinance states that applicants for zoning actions must disclose any campaign contributions of $250 or more that were made in the past two years to any “official of the City of Madison or… member of the Morgan County Planning Commission.” Reams contributed $1,000 to both Bobby Crawford and Carrie Peters-Reid and $2,400 to both Chris Hodges and Fred Perriman during their 2013 campaigns. Section 1160 states that recusal is only necessary when “any city official who has a property interest in any real property affected by a zoning action which the City will consider, or has a financial interest in any business entity which has a property interest in any real property affected by a zoning action which the City will consider, or has a member of the family having any such interest…” The Official Code of Georgia Annotated (OCGA) section 36-67A-5 states the procedure for settling a rezoning action when recusals have prevented the possibility of a quorum. Under such circumstances, the governing authority would petition the Superior Court for the appointment of a “disinterested special master” – a competent attorney of law in good standing with at least three year’s experience – to hear the evidence related to the proposed action. Reams’ application proposes a full-time assisted living facility, which would be able to house approximately 70 residents and employ 90 full-time and part-time employees.

Hicky stated that he was in favor of the application but thought that the contributions received by the city officials in the past created an ethical conflict of interest, regardless of the applicable law. “This is a city of ethics,” said Hicky. “I think this means you shouldn’t be able to vote on the matter before you,” continued Hicky, recommending that the city opt to use the procedure stated by state law, which would have the Superior Court handle the matter. Reitman reasserted that “the law is clear” on the matter and that no conflict mandating recusal exists. He also said that sending the matter to Superior Court would be an unnecessary use of taxpayer funding. Reitman also added that he has relayed Hicky’s concern to the Georgia Municipal Association, and that the city would “revisit” the issue if it turns out that there is a conflict of interest. Before voting to approve the application unanimously, each member of the council that received a contribution from Reams stated that his contribution did not color their judgment on the matter before them. “This has nothing to do with him giving us donations,” said Crawford. “We’re here to do the right thing.

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