Debate over efforts to rewrite the city’s ethics complaint procedures came to a sudden stop during the May 11 City Council meeting.

“The city ethics ordinance is too important to rush through this process,” Councilwoman Adrian Bonser told other council members about the proposed rewrite of the ethics ordinance. “We need to get this right.”

On Jan. 14, the council approved a 90-day moratorium on acceptance of ethics complaints while the city worked out a new process for handling the complaints. On March 11, city staff members presented the council with a proposal for a new ordinance. City staff members based their draft on discussions council members held during informal meetings the previous month, City Manager Warren Hutmacher said in a memorandum.

“The revised ethics ordinance significantly changes the process for the consideration of ethics complaints,” Hutmacher wrote. “The list of offenses in the code has not changed.”

Under the proposed rules, complaints filed against the city manager, city attorney or city clerk would go directly to the City Council for consideration. Other complaints would be heard by the city’s ethics board, sitting as a “jury” during hearings run by a hearing officer.

The revised ordinance also says the city attorney would review complaints before they are sent to the board to make sure the complaints are “germane to the enumerated ethical violations in the ordinance,” Hutmacher’s memo said. “This will help to eliminate frivolous and politically charged ethics complaints,” he wrote.

Bonser indicated that she objected to a number of proposed changes. “There are so many things wrong with this … ,” she said. “This really concerns me. I am so angry right now.”

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

Mayor Mike Davis and members of the council filed an ethics complaint against Bonser, accusing her of leaking information from a closed meeting about a city redevelopment project in the Georgetown community.

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

All the complaints eventually were dismissed. The city ethics board recommended that Davis and Bonser attempt to reach an agreement through mediation.

On March 11, Bonser argued the proposed ordinance did not fit the terms of the mediation agreement. She said the council needed to appoint a committee to develop the new ordinance. “This is a legal issue,” she said.

The ordinance is expected to be taken up again at the council’s meeting on April 1.

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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.