Two DeKalb County housing officials were cleared Wednesday of ethics charges stemming from their solicitation of political and charitable contributions from a private developer. George Maddox and Dorothy Williams, both board members of the DeKalb Housing Authority, each accepted $2,500 in donations from the developer. The DeKalb Board of Ethics found no evidence that the transactions influenced their official actions.
What’s the difference between an apparent conflict of interest and the real deal? In the world of government ethics, it’s all about the language crafted by the lawyers and the wiggle room they’ve left for other lawyers to argue about. Ethics codes in Georgia vary from one jurisdiction to another. Many prohibit a public officer from trading on his or her position for personal benefit but, as they say, the devil’s in the details.
Twice a year, members of the Cobb County ethics board meet to deal with housekeeping matters. Then they go home. For a time last year, DeKalb’s ethics board couldn’t even muster a quorum. And in Fulton, a state legislator contends the ethics board cannot impose fines or sanctions because its members were appointed improperly. Bottom line: Local ethics boards get no respect.
The fallout from Clayton County schools’ recent meltdown, in all likelihood, will drift down on Georgia’s 179 other boards of education this summer. Lawmakers are nearing final approval of a bill, to take effect July 1, that would set minimum ethics standards for local school boards and empower the governor, in some cases, to remove members who can’t adhere to them. Read on …