After a pair of ethics complaints split Dunwoody City Council last year, council members came together to approve a new city ethics ordinance.

The new ordinance, adopted unanimously by the council on April 1, reworks the city’s process for handling ethics complaints.

Councilman Terry Nall said the new ordinance addresses issues discovered during the consideration of competing complaints filed last year by Mayor Mike Davis and Councilwoman Adrian Bonser.

“The first ordinance looked good on paper, but failed miserably in practice,” Nall said after the council vote. “It’s a better process now. It’s like everything. You learn from your mistakes.”

City officials said a moratorium imposed on the filing of new ethics complaint filings likely would expire April 14 since the new ordinance has been adopted. The council adopted the moratorium in January, when it began the process of rewriting the ethics ordinance.

Resident Tony Delmichi argued that council members should have found someone else to rewrite the city’s ethics rules. “I don’t think the public will trust any self-regulating rewrite by City Council,” he said.

Council members decided to rework the city’s ethics ordinance after the complaints filed by the mayor and council members required months of consideration and ended up in negotiation.

Davis and members of the council accused Bonser 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 of failing to provide adequate public notice. She also filed a complaint accusing Davis of threatening her and asking her to leave office.

The dispute ended up before a mediator. Eventually, all the complaints were dismissed.

After the vote, Bonser welcomed the changes to the city’s ethics process, saying the complaints last year took more than 10 months and cost her thousands of dollars to resolve.

The new ordinance is “more concise. It speeds up the process,” Bonser said.

“The goal is to make it as short and painless as possible, and not drag it out for 10 1/2 months, like the last one,” she said.

The new ordinance sets time limits on various parts of the process, such as requiring an ethics hearing officer to complete his or her investigations, including any hearings, within 45 days of receiving the complaint.

Under the ordinance, the city Ethics Board would hear complaints in a procedure much like a trial.

The hearing officer, who must be a lawyer who does not live or practice in Dunwoody, will oversee each case like a magistrate judge. The ethics board will serve as a “jury,” the ordinance says.

A lengthy discussion during the council’s consideration of the revised ordinance April 1 centered on whether ethics board members should be allowed to ask questions.

Councilman Denis Shortal argued board members should be allowed to raise questions during the hearing. “The citizens should have all the information they need to rule [on the case],” he said.

The council voted 6-1, with Shortal voting against, to allow board members to question only the hearing officer about legal issues.

“It is the complainant’s obligation to prove the case,” Councilman Doug Thompson said. “It is not the ethics board’s obligation to ask a lot of questions.”

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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.