John Ernst
John Ernst

It’s nothing new that some politicians in local or state government abuse their positions of power.

Former DeKalb Commissioner Elaine Boyer recently pleaded guilty to two counts of fraud and was sentenced to 14 months in jail. According to Boyer’s own confession, she pocketed our tax dollars for her own personal use. At the time of her misdeeds, she claimed to be our fiscal savior.

Corruption in politics is a tale as old as time. In our state, we’ve had Schrenko and Walker and now Boyer. It’s foolhardy to believe that we’ll one day rid ourselves completely of unethical behavior. In DeKalb County, many point to flaws in our county executive form of government as the reason for abuse.

Whatever the case, DeKalb has the strongest ethics board in the state — on paper. Members of the Board of Ethics now have the ability to fire unethical employees, whether they be secretaries, department heads, members of the Board of Commissioners, or even the CEO himself.

Within the past year, we addressed a major defect of our Board of Ethics. For a long time, we lacked funding and full membership.

After pushing the Board of Commissioners and the Interim CEO’s office for an increase in funding, we received nearly $200,000 for our annual budget, a nearly 10-fold increase over previous board budgets. We also were able to push DeKalb County to fill all of the remaining vacant board seats, we hired investigators, and we hired a lawyer with ethics experience at the State Bar to advise the board.
With our house now in order, we’ve focused on moving through our caseload of complaints efficiently and effectively.

Since March 2014, the Board of Ethics has received over 30 complaints and requests for advisory opinions. While we’re happy to be in a position to now deal with the workload, we also find ourselves needing someone to assist our all-volunteer board with day-to-day operations.

That need is why about two months ago, we initiated a process to hire an Executive Director, who reports directly to the board. The Executive Director will be responsible for fielding tips about unethical behavior, giving ethics training to county employees, and bringing concerns to the board for review.

I am excited that the board is taking this next step in ensuring a more ethical and transparent county government. I am also pleased that the Georgia General Assembly passed legislation to reform the ethics board so that all appointments, starting in January 2016 (if approved by voters by referendum), will come from community organizations outside of DeKalb County government.

The new law will also give the board the ability to impose fines on unethical county employees.

I remain hopeful that we will restore local government from the crisis of confidence that has been afflicting it for years. We will only be proud of our government when we make ethics an essential and integral component of leadership.

–John Ernst chairs the DeKalb County Board of Ethics.

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