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 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 told council members.

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.”

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 it will simply delay 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.”

On Jan. 23, the city ethics board dismissed a complaint filed under the existing law by resident Joe Hirsch in December accusing the mayor and council of discussing the sale of real estate illegally in closed sesson.

The board said Hirsch’s complaint was filed improperly.

“I don’t think the city’s concern with an ethics complaint should be procedure,” Hirsch said afterwards. “It should be on ethics.

Hirsch said he plans to take his complaint to state officials for consideration.

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 treview the ethics ordinance after a pair of complaints filed by council members ended up in mediation last year.

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

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

Chuck Stanley contributed to this report.

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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.