DeKalb voters will head to the polls this November to vote on revisions to an Ethics Act passed in 2015 by 92 percent of voters. The ballot will have no explanation of the revisions, and voters should not be fooled. This legislation does not revise the Board of Ethics, it guts the ethics board. 

How? By undermining the board’s independence, putting up roadblocks for reporting ethics concerns and compromising the professionalism and efficiency of the board and staff.

The DeKalb Citizens Advocacy Council, comprised of community members from throughout DeKalb County, asked DeKalb resident Dr. Paul Wolpe, Director of the Emory Center for Ethics and an internationally recognized ethics expert, to review the legislation.

Dr. Wolpe’s conclusion? 

“The bottom line is that this bill is clearly meant to weaken and dilute the excellent policy passed in 2015, without any convincing reasons to weaken the bill. DeKalb is slipping back to a former posture that got it in trouble in the first place. I would agree that this bill should be strongly opposed.”

Here are the primary issues with the fatally flawed ethics bill: 

Removes independence: The bill undermines the independence of the ethics board by giving the DeKalb County CEO and Commission review and approval of the ethics board’s policies and procedures. No other independent county board is required to compromise its integrity by having those under the purview of the board involved in its governance. In addition, the CEO will now appoint one of the members of the ethics board.

Creates reporting roadblocks: The bill requires employees to go through Human Resources before filing an ethics complaint against a supervisor, rather than reporting their concerns to the ethics board. Human Resources will make the decision of whether to report this to the ethics board and could possibly delay indefinitely an employee’s ability to go to the ethics board. This requirement will have a chilling effect on employees reporting ethics violations. And, what if the problem is in Human Resources?

Reduces professionalism: The revisions downgrade the ethics officer position to that of an “administrator” with no requirement for work experience or either legal or ethics training. It is considered standard for an ethics officer to have a law degree, but not so for an administrator. This legislation calls for a significantly less skilled individual, who will be unqualified to provide ethics education to employees (one of the officer’s primary functions), provide advisory opinions to officials and employees seeking advice on ethical matters, investigate complaints, or have the responsibility to report criminal activity to law enforcement.  

Why should DeKalb voters care about this issue? The ethics board has been working professionally and efficiently to root out DeKalb’s worst offenders and corrupt practices and to help create a culture of strong ethics among DeKalb employees and elected officials. Let’s keep the momentum going!

— Mary Hinkel

Chair of DeKalb Citizens Advocacy Council,www.dekalbcitizens.org

 

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