The price tag of up to $50,000 for a special investigator’s report about an alleged leak from a city council executive session may grow now that the Board of Ethics has decided to pursue hiring an attorney to help it with its first ever case. In a move that concerned at least one member because of cost, the board voted last Thursday to ask city council to approve a contract for a lawyer.
Janet Webb, ethics board member, said she understands and appreciates the need to have an independent and nonbiased attorney, but wanted to discuss the pros and cons of hiring one and the order of actions that the city has taken.
“My understanding is that the reason for the Board of Ethics is when any situation such as this comes up that the board is to be notified,” said Webb. “I believe that the city has already spent, what $50,000?”
City clerk, Sharon Lowery, said that she did not know the amount.
“Maybe, and from my perception, it appears that we did put the cart before the horse and that’s $50,000 that’s been spent,” said Webb.
The board, which had only met once before in 2009 to elect their chairman, convened to begin the process of investigating a formal complaint filed by the mayor and council against fellow councilor, Adrian Bonser. The complaint alleges that Bonser leaked information at council’s executive session last February about the purchase of land in the Georgetown area.
Assistant City Attorney Bill Riley advised board members to pursue independent counsel to protect the integrity of the board and to guide them through the process.
Steven Blaske, board chairman, agreed that the board should have counsel.
“We want to do this efficiently and we want to do it well, but we also want to do it legally and right and so we need to listen to someone who is experienced in this area,” said Blaske.
Riley said that it was his job to recommend an attorney for the board and he recommended Richard Carothers, an assistant attorney of multiple small cities in Gwinnett County.
“We use Mr. Carothers on a number of different kinds of issues when there is a need for attorneys to represent two different entities within the same sovereign,” said Riley. “We represent the city of Dunwoody as a whole but there needs to be separate representation for the Board of Ethics in Dunwoody.”
Riley also said that Carothers works with Dunwoody as a hearing officer.
Webb asked if Carothers had ever before acted as counsel for Dunwoody.
Riley said that he did not think Carothers had ever represented the city previously, but was not sure if Carothers had ever sat as a hearing officer for the city.
Cecil McLendon, Dunwoody assistant attorney, also said that he wasn’t sure if Carothers had sat as a hearing officer.
“I do not believe he’s represented the city or any of the boards in a capacity like this,” said McLendon.
Riley said that Carothers has been vetted by city manager, Warren Hutmacher, in terms of his expertise as a city attorney or as an attorney for the board.
“Having been said, this is my independent analysis,” said Riley. “This is my job.”
Blaske said that the board members could vet Carothers themselves if the city council were to contract with him.
“When we first meet him, we can discuss any issues we have and if we, for some reason, found that he would be inappropriate, we could seek other counsel,” said Blaske.
Council was expected to vote on whether or not to approve the attorney contract at their meeting on Monday night.
The board was missing two members at the meeting, but had enough for a quorum. The three members present were Webb, Blaske and John Francis. Not present were Wade Wright and Wade McGuffey.
In other matters Monday night, the council was to authorize the city manager to purchase the first three parcels of the former Emory Shallowford hospital property to make was for Project Renaissance, the 35-acre site that was the subject of the alleged leaks.
Council also was to approve John Wieland Homes and Neighborhoods as the developer.
Police Chief Billy Grogan brought to the council for discussion a five-year staffing plan for his department.