Chairman Brown wants taxpayers to pay for his ethics lawsuit
Fayette County Commission Chairman Steve Brown is asking his fellow commissioners to pay for the attorney he selected to represent him in an ethics hearing earlier this year.
The attorney’s fees include the filing of a lawsuit in which Brown is seeking to overturn a decision of the ethics board that he violated a rule forbidding commissioners from ordering county employees.
Brown was not admonished, fined or otherwise penalized by the ethics board for the violation, but is apparently pursuing the matter on principle. It is a principle that stands to cost taxpayers $2,128.85 and counting, according to a bill Brown forwarded from Griffin attorney Andrew J. Whalen III.
Brown’s request will be considered Thursday night by the commission during its regular 7 p.m. meeting. Also on tap is a review of the county’s current and prior ethics ordinances, which is expected to be the lead-up to deeper changes in the county’s ethics rules governing the conduct of elected officials and also county employees.
The commission in January changed the language in the ethics ordinance to allow commissioners to direct county employees. Previously, commissioners dealt directly with the county administrator only on the theory that the administrator oversees all county employees and can make orders to affect necessary actions while keeping employees away from the potential political influence of individual commissioners.
In a letter to his fellow commissioners, Brown complains that he is “appalled” that the legal funds “had to be spent” to defend him in the ethics case.
However, no part of the county’s ordinance required Brown to have any legal representation in that ethics hearing, and the citizen who made the complaint, former county Commissioner Robert Horgan, represented himself in the case without an attorney. Brown in his memo contends that Horgan should be responsible for covering the legal fees.
The decision to appeal the ethics board’s Jan. 23 ruling against Brown — that he improperly ordered the county’s human resources director to consult with the Georgia attorney general’s office on a hiring matter — was Brown’s choice. It was not required by the county’s ethics ordinance, nor was it authorized by a public vote of the county commission.
Brown contends that his communication with the HR director was a request, not an order. The 2-1 vote that Brown violated the ethics ordinance was favored by ethics board members Scott Rowland and Sheila Huddleston with ethics board member Larris Marks voting against.
The ethics board later cleared Brown of a separate accusation that he violated the ethics ordinance when he ordered the marshal’s department to investigate a missing hard drive from the county-owned office computer of former county attorney Scott Bennett. Bennett has said he took the hard drive from the computer to have it wiped of information, and that has led the commission to forward the case to the office of State Court Solicitor Jamie Inagawa for investigation of a possible open records violation.
Bennett has contended he has done no wrong in the matter, and that the action was approved by former County Administrator Jack Krakeel.