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Ethics beef with PTC mayor could be costly to taxpayers

There is some concern that an ethics complaint filed against Peachtree City Mayor Don Haddix will eclipse the $10,000 in city funds he is accused of misusing to defend himself in a lawsuit filed by former Mayor Harold Logsdon.

The revelation of the expenditure in May riled Haddix’s fellow council members to the point where they voted to dock his pay for the remainder of the fiscal year, reducing it from $750 a month to about $75 a month.

There is significantly more at stake here, as Haddix has selected an attorney to represent him in the ethics complaint, Anne Kaufold-Wiggins of the Balch & Bingham law firm.

Responding to a question Thursday night from Councilman Eric Imker, Haddix noted that Kaufold-Wiggins’ hourly rate is $300.

By contrast, City Attorney Ted Meeker charges the city $110 an hour. And while normally Meeker would be able to advise the ethics board, he will not be able to do so in this case because he is listed as a potential witness in the hearing.

Because of that the council voted Thursday night to appoint attorney Laurel Henderson to advise the ethics board. Henderson bills at a rate of $150 per hour.

It was noted that an ethics complaint filed 10 years ago against former city Councilman Steve Rapson cost the city about $36,000. There is no way for the city to limit the number of hours worked by the attorneys in the case, Meeker said.

If the board ultimately finds Haddix violated the ethics ordinance, it can take one of several actions including a formal reprimand, admonishment not to violate the ethics ordinance again or it can recommend “termination, resignation or recall” and also recommend prosecution in city court.

There is no provision for the ethics board to levy any sort of a fine or require restitution in any case, but there is no requirement for the board’s action to be ratified by council.

Haddix, who was sued last year by Logsdon in his personal capacity only, hired his own attorney and settled the case in December, but later convinced the Georgia Interlocal Risk Management Agency (GIRMA) to cover his attorney’s fees and the $3,000 settlement with Logsdon. Because of the city’s contract with GIRMA and the $25,000 deductible, GIRMA cut a check to Haddix which had to be reimbursed by the city.

City resident Steve Thaxton in the ethics complaint said that Haddix used the process to avoid seeking approval from council to cover the costs. But GIRMA officials have written that had the agency known from the beginning that the lawsuit centered on an email Haddix sent to a city employee, it would have covered Haddix from the very beginning of the case.

Councilman Eric Imker said he wanted to make clear that if the mayor intends on suing over his pay reduction, any such legal work should be billed to him and not the city, although the ethics complaint legal work will have to be covered by the city.

The city’s ethics board for the hearing will consist of an already-appointed chairman and four people drawn out of a hat from a pool of nine persons, each of whom were appointed by council members. That drawing is expected to take place at a special called council meeting at 6:15 p.m. Tuesday night.

At the beginning of the year each council member including the mayor was allowed to appoint two members each to the pool of ethics board members.

If the ethics board determines that Haddix committed a violation, it has several choices according to city ordinance:

• A public reprimand and admonishment not to violate the ethics code in the future;

• A formal reprimand;

• Public censure;

• Recommendation for termination, resignation or recall;

• Recommendation of prosecution in municipal court; and

• No admonishment and no further action.

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