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Ethics panel backs off plan for closed-door deliberations
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By JIM WALLS
March 30, 2015 — Members of the state ethics commission have distanced themselves from a proposal requiring that they deliberate privately on complaints against political candidates and lobbyists.
The proposal was among dozens of rule changes considered last week at a public hearing. No commission members took ownership of the proposed language on closed sessions, and staff attorneys say they don’t even know how it got there.
Acting chair Dennis Cathey suggested that a “scrivenor’s error” might have led to the proposed change. Others thought the wording might have originated in an obsolete set of proposed rule changes posted last November. (It didn’t though. I checked.)
In fact, the idea first surfaced March 6 when proposals for dozens of new or amended rules were posted on the commission’s website. The summary of the rule change made no mention of closing meetings to the public.
Members of the “ethics bar” — the handful of lawyers who handle the bulk of cases before the commission — and open-government advocates urged the panel to keep the meetings open.
It’s unclear whether the commission has the legal authority to close its deliberations from public view. Georgia’s Open Meetings Act requires that government agencies meet in public except in circumstances specifically exempted by law.
The ethics commission tabled consideration of the proposed rule and several others for further review. Under the state’s Administrative Procedure Act, those changes will have to be advertised for another public hearing before they can be adopted.