Brown ethics hearing, round two Wed. night

The Fayette County Ethics Board tonight (Wednesday) is expected to consider an ethics complaint filed against sitting County Commissioner Steve Brown that was filed last month by former County Commissioner Robert Horgan.

The complaint alleges that Brown violated three county ordinances by issuing an order to a county employee, disclosing information discussed by the board in executive session and violating the commission’s attorney-client privilege.

The ethics board met Jan. 16 to conduct a hearing on the complaint, but things went awry before the hearing even began.

Ethics board member Dan Langford, who is also mayor of the town of Brooks, defended Brown against the allegations and moved for dismissal of the complaint. The motion failed for lack of a second and Langford then tendered his immediate resignation, citing the wishes of Brown and two other current county commissioners.

Brown had sought the removal of Langford from the ethics board on the grounds that Langford’s position as Brooks mayor makes him ineligible because of the business relationships Brooks has with the county.

Langford’s motion to dismiss the charges came prior to scheduled presentations from Brown and Horgan, as Langford defended Brown’s decision to seek legal advice from the attorney general on the redistricting issue.

Langford said he might have done “exactly the same thing” in seeking advice from the attorney general particularly because of the fact that the issue was so complicated and politically charged.

Langford also defended Brown’s communications with a staff member as “a polite request” and not an order.

Langford’s motion to dismiss the complaint died for lack of a second, and he subsequently tendered his immediate resignation, citing Brown’s wishes and also those from two other current commissioners who asked him to step down as well.

At that point with two of the three ethics board members remaining, alternate Larris Marks was asked if she could take Langford’s place at the hearing. Marks declined, stating that she had not yet seen the complaint filed by Horgan.

Tonight’s hearing is expected to begin at 5:30 p.m. in the county commission meeting room at the county government complex in downtown Fayetteville.

Horgan contends he has written proof of all three violations, contained in copies of emails and a letter sent by Brown.

In the letter to Horgan dated Nov. 12, 2012, Brown admits to “instructing” the county’s human resources director to contact the state attorney general’s office about legal requirements for releasing the names of top candidates for the county manager’s position.

That, Horgan contends, is a violation of county ordinance 2-209(n) which states in part that “Commissioners shall not, acting alone, make suggestions to the department directors or their employees regarding the performance of their duties, nor give instructions to department directors or other employees.”

Brown said last month that he was simply trying to find out how to follow Georgia law on the matter. But he added that he didn’t feel comfortable getting the legal advice from then-county staff attorney Scott Bennett or county consulting attorney Don Comer. Brown said he does not trust information that comes from Bennett.

Horgan also claims that Brown disclosed executive session information via a March 9, 2012 letter to State Attorney General Sam Olens in which Brown inquired about potential legal action in which the commission would sue itself to resolve a redistricting issue that that Georgia Legislature failed to act on.

Brown contends that he worded the letter carefully to not reveal any details about the facts or strategy in the case.

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