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    Ethics panel: ‘Substantial’ belief that Balfour broke rules

     

    By JIM WALLS

    June 1, 2012 — The Senate Ethics Committee said today it’s investigating Rules Chairman Don Balfour after finding “substantial cause” to believe he violated rules for expense reimbursements.

    The panel will try to negotiate a settlement with Balfour and, if that doesn’t work, will hold public meetings on the matter, committee Chairman John Crosby of Tifton said after a three-hour closed-door meeting that Balfour did not attend.

    Details of the investigation will remain confidential, Crosby said, while the investigation is pending. Balfour will be given a copy of the complaint drafted by the committee in the next few days.

    Today’s announcement leaves two major questions unanswered:

    • Will the ethics case be resolved and details released before the July 31 Republican primary, in which Balfour faces two opponents?
    • How far has the committee cast its net? Balfour has returned about $800 for what he’s described as minor mistakes in his recordkeeping, but complainants have asked the committee to review all of the senator’s expenses for 2011.

    Atlanta Unfiltered first reported in February that Balfour last year was paid more than $25,000 in per diem and mileage for state business conducted outside of the legislative session. Legislators are paid about $24,000 a year in salary and per diem for part-time service.

    Most of the 123 days for which Balfour claimed per diem were charged to the Rules Committee, which meets daily during the session but never met once in 2011 after the Legislature had adjourned.

    The Ethics Committee is still sorting out all the legal requirements for handling legislators’ expenses, Crosby said, citing the state Constitution, Senate rules, the committee’s rules and Georgia law. “We actually need to review all the rules concerning how these matters are handled,” he said.

    The committee does not plan to refer the case to law enforcement agencies, Crosby said, responding to a question by Debbie Dooley of the Georgia Tea Party Patriots, who filed a complaint against Balfour with the committee.

    Balfour has requested no additional per diem since the 2012 session adjourned in March, records of the Legislative Fiscal Office show.

    Here’s the full text of the statement released today by the Ethics Committee:

    The Senate Ethics Committee met today as a follow up to the meeting it held on May 2, 2012.

    Matters that come before the Senate Ethics Committee that are in the nature of a complaint must be kept confidential. The Senate Rules provide that “any complaint that is brought to the Committee must remain confidential until the Committee has determined that substantial cause exists that a violation has occurred.”

    The Committee initiated its own investigation and will be serving Senator Balfour with a copy of a Complaint. The Committee found that substantial cause exists to believe that Senator Balfour violated Senate Resolution 5 as it is further defined in the Senate Administrative Affairs Per Diem Policy and will seek to negotiate a settlement of the matter with Senator Balfour. Any settlement will be a matter of public record and will be filed with the Secretary of the Senate. If no settlement is reached, the Committee will hold public meetings on the issue.

    As to alleged complaints filed by members of the public, as reported by the media, these matters cannot be commented upon at this time due to Senate Rules regarding confidentiality.

     

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