Chairman Brown gets ethics case costs repaid by taxpayers
The Fayette County Commission Chairman Steve Brown got what he wanted April 25 when commissioners voted 3-0 to reimburse Brown for more than $2,000 in legal expenses he incurred fighting an ethics complaint filed by former Commissioner Robert Horgan.
Voting in favor of the reimbursement were commissioners David Barlow, Randy Ognio and Charles Oddo. Commissioner Allen McCarty did not attend the meeting and Brown was not in the room when the agenda item was discussed.
Barlow in his support for reimbursing Brown said he had done quite a bit of research and had heard from citizens weighing in on the issue.
“Commissioner Brown was working for the benefit of the county and not personally,” Barlow said. “He was working for the good of the county and I support reimbursing him.”
Ognio in offering his support for the reimbursement said Brown, “... was acting in an official capacity and that created the situation. I agree with the reimbursement.”
And Oddo in a lengthy prepared statement offered his opinion that he supported reimbursing Brown
“... The question to answer is, is it fair that Commissioner Brown should be marked as unethical by the county he was serving if in order to serve the best interests of the county, he technically violated an ordinance? I don’t believe so,” Oddo said.
“The question then becomes, is it fair that Commissioner Brown pay the legal expense to absolve himself of the verdict? Legally, I do not believe the county is obligated to do so, and under other circumstances, I would say no,” Oddo said.
“If I could feel reasonably sure that there were legitimate unethical lapses on Commissioner Brown’s part resulting in the ethics complaints and the subsequent guilty verdict, I would not consider reimbursing legal expenses as viable,” Oddo said.
“But I am not at all comfortable with the entire process from the creation of this Ethics Board to the verdict handed down. Regardless of anyone’s feelings about the individuals involved in this episode, the facts were far less damning than must be necessary to arrive at a guilty verdict. Therefore, ethically, I believe reimbursement it is the proper thing to do,” Oddo said.
A breakdown of the reimbursement showed that $1,875 of the reimbursement is being paid to attorney Drew Whalen who represented Brown at a Fayette County Ethics Commission hearing. The balance totaling $253 is for Brown’s petition in Fayette County Superior Court to appeal an earlier ethics board decision that found him guilty of two other violations.
Brown in an April 12 letter to commissioners said he should be reimbursed for legal fees to respond to an ethics violation allegation by former Commissioner Robert Horgan.
The ethics board on Jan. 23 ruled against Brown, saying that he improperly ordered the county’s human resources director to consult with the Georgia attorney general’s office on a hiring matter. Brown maintained that his communication with the county human resources director was a request, not an order. But the ethics board disagreed on a 2-1 vote that Brown had violated the ethics ordinance.
Although the ethics board ruled Brown violated the county ethics ordinance, he was not penalized for the infraction.