Dunwoody City Council has imposed a 90-day moratorium on ethics complaints while officials rewrite the city’s ethics ordinance.

After ethics complaints divided the council last year, council members have decided to take a look at the procedure the city uses to handle ethics complaints. The council on Jan. 14 unanimously approved the moratorium on new complaints while a new ethics process is developed and adopted into law.

“The responsible thing to do while going through the process is to put the moratorium in place,” City Manager Warren Hutmacher said.

City Councilman Denis Shortal said the moratorium on complaints does not mean Dunwoody city officials will operate without ethics.  “You do not make an ethical city by having ethics ordinances. You make an ethical city by electing ethical people. An ethics ordinance does not guarantee ethical behavior.”

The moratorium means the city will not accept new complaints until the new ordinance is written and adopted. The freeze will not prohibit the filing of new ethics complaints, Hutmacher said, but instead simply delays new filings.

“If something occurs that someone feels is a violation of ethics, it doesn’t mean they can’t file it,” Hutmacher said. “It just means they can’t file right now.”

Consideration of the sole ethics complaint now pending before the city will not be delayed by the moratorium, city officials said. The complaint will be handled under terms of the old ordinance, they said.

Hutmacher said city staff members would draft a new ordinance including a proposed rewrite of the procedures used to handle ethics complaints. The new process could be adopted by the council within two months, he said.

Council members decided to take a new look at the ethics ordinance after a pair of complaints filed by council members required months of consideration and ended up in negotiation last year.

Mayor Mike Davis and members of the council filed an ethics complaint against City Councilwoman Adrian Bonser, accusing her of leaking information from a closed council meeting about the sale and purchase of land for Project Renaissance, the city’s redevelopment project in the Georgetown community.

Bonser then filed a complaint against the mayor and other council members accusing them of holding an illegal executive session and failing to provide adequate public notice. She also filed a complaint accusing Davis of threatening her and asking her to leave office.

The city’s Board of Ethics dismissed the charges against City Council for holding an illegal executive session, but upheld the charges against Bonser and Davis. The board recommended that they attempt to come to an agreement through mediation before proceeding with a formal ethics hearing.

As part of the agreement, council members agreed to take a look at the ordinance. The agreement also called for training sessions for council members on the Georgia Open Meetings Act.

At the Jan. 14 meeting, Bonser said she thought the training sessions should be held before the ordinance is revised.

“It’s important our ethics ordinance is not used as a political tool,” she said.

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Joe Earle

Joe Earle is Editor-at-Large. He has more than 30-years of experience with daily newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.