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    Ethics Commission drops Lisa Borders lobbying complaint

     

    The state has dropped an ethics investigation of Atlanta mayoral candidate Lisa Borders (right) because the person who filed the complaint could not prove misconduct.

    Borders, who is president of the Atlanta City Council, was accused of improperly lobbying Georgia legislators to pass a so-called “private cities” bill on behalf of her then-employer, Cousins Properties. At the time, she was a vice president of the development firm.

    On the last day of the 2007 legislative session, Borders met with a number of lawmakers outside the House chambers in the company of lobbyists who were working to pass the bill, according to a complaint filed with the State Ethics Commission. This constituted “obvious lobbying,” the complaint alleged, but she was not registered to do so.

    The commission dismissed the complaint April 23. It said its investigation turned up no evidence that Borders broke the law.

    The decision came a day after Borders’ attorney reiterated that Cousins did not pay her to lobby and that she had been at the Capitol in her official capacity as council president. (Elected officials performing official duties do not have to register as lobbyists.)

    Neill Herring (left), a lobbyist for the Sierra Club and other environmental groups, filed the complaint. But the commission looked into the matter but could not pursue it further because Herring had no firsthand knowledge of an ethics violation, said Rick Thompson, the agency’s executive secretary.

    “We look for actual evidence and when there is no evidence, we decide what to do,” Thompson said. “Should evidence come forward that causes us to change our minds, we’re more than happy to look into it further.”

    The commission had planned to call Borders in for a hearing in May, according to the agency’s investigative file, obtained under the Georgia Open Records Act.

    Within a week, at the urging of Borders’ attorney, Mark H. Cohen, the agency reversed course and tossed out the allegations:

    —    On Friday, April 17, a letter informing Borders of the ethics hearing was drafted. The letter was stamped “CANCELLED” and never delivered.

    —    On Wednesday, April 22, Cohen e-mailed the commission a statement that Cousins never paid Borders to lobby.

    —    Later that day, a commission investigator prepared a memo stating he had found no evidence of illegal conduct by Borders.

    —    Thompson wrote Cohen the next day, April 23, to report the complaint had been dismissed.

    An investigator spoke to Herring in November to follow up on his complaint, records show. But the commission did not contact other witnesses named in the complaint who said Borders was with another lobbyist who was working on the private cities bill.

    Thompson says the agency doesn’t have the resources to call every witness named in every complaint.

    “Our responsibility is to investigate a complaint thoroughly and when we exhaust all our avenues in the investigation and we come up with no concrete evidence, then we decide whether or not to pursue it,” he said.

    A coalition of developers was pushing the bill, which would have amended the Georgia Constitution to allow developers to levy certain fees on landowners.

    The General Assembly passed the bill, pending voter approval. Voters rejected the constitutional amendment in last November’s general election.

    An amateur video of Borders, taken on the last day of the 2007 legislative session, is posted on YouTube.

     

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