Fayette Chairman Brown appeals ethics verdict

Fayette County Commission Chairman Steve Brown is determined to have his day in court. A filing in Fayette County Superior Court has Brown appealing the decision by the Fayette County Ethics Board that found him guilty of two violations of the county ethics ordinance that were alleged by former Commissioner Robert Horgan.

In the petition to the court, attorney Drew Whalen said the ethics board found Brown to be in violation of the ethics ordinance because he gave “a direct instruction to the county’s human resources director to seek a legal opinion from the Ga. Attorney General.”

Brown at the Jan. 23 hearing said the matter was simply a request, and not an order, but it was noted that the HR director acted on that request as if it had been an order by bringing it to the attention of the interim county administrator.

Brown also said he was acting on behalf of the hiring committee established to select a new county administrator, and that if he had felt it was an order, he would have demanded that the HR director comply with the request, which Brown says he did not do.

The Fayette County Ethics Board also found Brown in violation of the ethics ordinance because he disclosed “information to others that is protected as part of an executive session,” Whalen said.

The issue centered on a letter Brown wrote to the Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens inquiring about whether the county could legally sue itself, which Horgan insisted was a violation of the county’s attorney client privilege and also improperly disclosed matters discussed in executive (closed) session.

Brown had previously noted that he did not trust the advice of former county attorney Scott Bennett.

Whalen insisted that the appeal was filed because the ethics board’s findings do not follow the weight of the evidence produced at the hearing.

Additionally, the board’s decision is in violation of Brown’s constitutional rights and is grounds for judicial review, Whalen said.

“The order of the ethics board is also subject to judicial review because it is ‘arbitrary and capricious’ as one of the provisions that Commissioner Brown was found to have violated has now been removed from the ordinance,” Whalen said.

The 2-1 votes that Brown violated the ethics ordinance on both counts were favored by ethics board members Scott Rowland and Sheila Huddleston with ethics board member Larris Marks voting against.

Horgan filed both ethics complaints against Brown in November before Horgan left office.