Dutton ethics complaint died in tied vote

SHEILA A. MATHEWS :::

The ethics complaint filed against Spalding County Commissioner James Dutton by Sharon Royl will not move forward due to a tied two-two vote during the Monday night Board of Commissioners meeting.

In discussion prior to the vote, potential changes to the current ethics code were cited as a reason to table the vote until a later meeting.

Citing previous discussions regarding the ethics code, Commission Chairman Gwen Flowers-Taylor expressed her position that commissioners should not sit in judgment of fellow commissioners, as well as her perspective on the need to revise the current code.

“It did not cover everything that I think that we talked about in terms of how it would go to the Ethics Committee and when they would let us know whether or not they were going to go forward with an investigation, so I just really wish that this Board would table this until we have something to work with.
We’ve got Commissioner Hawbaker’s ethics complaint that we’re holding on because we haven’t got the ethics ordinance together and I just don’t think it would be fair for us to go in knowing that the ordinance is not what we want.”

Commissioner Rita Johnson asked whether it should be tabled pending Clay Davis, who was last week appointed by Governor Brian Kemp to fill Don Hawbaker’s seat on the Board.

“So, should we at this point, instead of setting a date to hear it, should we go ahead and set a date to finalize the ordinance?” Johnson asked. “We’ll have a fifth commissioner here.”

Flowers-Taylor reiterated her position that the Board must prioritize revising the ethics code.

“I mean I think that it’s important that we, if it takes all day to work through this, we need to get it right and if, in fact, we want the original complaint to go to the Ethics Board, then it should not even come to us until they have decided that they’re gonna go forward, so, and I don’t know.”

County Attorney Stephanie Windham said there are alternatives to the current procedures.

“There’s options as far as who it goes to first, whether it be the county attorney, whether it be the county attorney from a neighboring county or whether it goes straight to the Ethics Review Panel to hear first,” Windham said.

Flowers-Taylor said the code should be fair to both the accuser and the accused and cited personal experience in the process.

“I want to be fair to the person that is making the complaint, but I also want to be fair to the person who the complaint is going against because I’ve been the person it’s being made against and it’s not nice when you get in the middle of an ethics complain and the ethics ordinance is not clear,” Flowers-Taylor said. “And we all know that ours is clear as mud. The old one was as clear as mud. I mean, it’s up to the Board, but I think we need to table it.”

“Based on our discussions and the proposals I have submitted to the Board, it would not come to you until the end and it would be a recommendation as to the appropriate action to take,” Windham said.

Dutton, the subject of an ethics complaint pertaining to statements posted to his personal Facebook page, agreed with the need to revise the ethics code, but said the current complaint against him should move forward to a hearing.

“I think, whereas I agree we need to overhaul the ethics and there’s a bunch of crazy loopholes that certainly need to be addressed there in our current ethics, I think that this ethics complaint was filed according to these rules and any change in the ethics methodology wouldn’t effect this complaint even if we did change it, just like if somebody was arrested for breaking the law and the law changed in the meantime, they still broke the law at the time, you still have to play by that set of rules,” Dutton said. “You don’t get to change the rules while something is pending. If we approved the changes to the ethics, that would affect any ethics complaint moving forward. I wouldn’t want someone to be in the situation where we’re playing by these rules and all of a sudden during the game, the rules change, and that’s what we would be doing if we hold off on this pending the currently hypothetical approval of changes. So, I think we owe it to the people that made the complaint, I think we owe it to the Board, to set this down at the next available hearing and that’s why I motion to set it down at our next Board meeting, the third Monday in February.”

Johnson then asked how the Board should move forward with numerous outstanding ethics complaints against Don Hawbaker, complaints that have all been previously tabled.

“So, what do we do with the other pending ethics complaints that you said we still have out there? I mean, we’ve kind of just negated those. We haven’t addressed those either, so, I mean, we’re just kind of just moving on, which I get moving on, but we’ve got things we’ve got to go back and fix or at least address,” she said.

Windham explained that the complaints against Hawbaker were tabled due to his arrest and subsequent indictment in a criminal case that has not yet been adjudicated.

“And that’s going to be dispositive of that. Like, it could render it moot. If it doesn’t render it moot, then I think we have to act on it, but if it renders it moot…whereas the same can’t be said here, so that’s why these had to be taken differently,” Dutton stated.

Johnson then expressed concern with moving forward with only four sitting commissioners.

“Once again, we have a commissioner that hasn’t started yet, so I mean, I’m wondering, should we, we can still go ahead and set a date if you’d like, that’s fine, but I know I feel hard pressed to do this when there’s still four,” Johnson said. “We know we’re going to have five sworn in tomorrow.”

Dutton countered a hearing scheduled for the Feb. 15 Board meeting would include the newly sworn-in fifth commissioner, and that any future changes to the ethics code would not pertain to the complaint Royl filed.

The procedure, should the Board approve Dutton’s motion for the hearing to be held Feb. 15, was explained by Windham.

“And at the meeting, at the hearing, it would only be the four commissioners. Mr. Dutton would not participate in that, and it would be to review the allegations, and if three commissioners agree that a prima facia violation of our ordinance exists, then you would vote to empanel the Ethics Review Board,” Windham said. “The Ethics Review Board would actually not be drawn at that meeting but would be drawn at a future meeting.”

The Board then voted on whether to hold a hearing on Royl’s ethics complaint during its Feb. 15 meeting, with Flowers-Taylor and Johnson opposing the motion and Dutton and Commissioner Ryan Bowlden in favor.

“Two to two. So, we’re just kind of dead in the water,” Flowers-Taylor said.

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Comments

  1. fellow patriot says:

    James Dutton is an honorable patriot, He has the people in mind. The people who are concerned about truth and
    justice should look in the mirror. He is great and integrity driven patriot, we should have more like him. We need people who are not afraid to take on the left crazies and cancel culture, people who understand freedom of speech, not those who are for totalitarian wokeness and muzzles.

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