Democrats raise questions after course change of ethics investigation

by: Lori Geary Updated:

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ATLANTA - Georgia's Democratic leaders say an abrupt turn of events by the embattled state ethics commission proves there is a cover up at the highest levels of state government.

Channel 2's Lori Geary reported two weeks ago that the ethics commission voted in public for an independent prosecutor to look into personnel issues and lawsuits filed against the agency surrounding an investigation into Gov. Nathan Deal's campaign.

Some now accuse Georgia's own ethics commission of breaking the law when it decided to change course and back away from that independent prosecutor.

"There had to have been secret meetings and secret discussions going on about this," said state Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, during a Wednesday afternoon news conference.

Channel 2 Action News obtained a letter sent by ethics commission chairman Kevin Abernethy requesting a performance audit instead of an independent investigation done by an outside prosecutor.

Fort and the Democrats disagree with that decision.

"We believe only an outside prosecutor can look at these issues. We can't have the fox guarding the hen house," Fort said.

Greg Griffin is now the state auditor. He was initially appointed by Deal and then re-affirmed by the Georgia Legislature.

"We don't think a performance audit is what's needed -- what is needed is a restoration of public trust which we don't feel can be done by someone who the governor appointed to this position," Democratic state Sen. Steve Henson said.

At the end of Abernethy's letter, he told Griffin the request was being made in accordance with the unanimous Sept. 30 vote of the commission.

Geary looked at the minutes from that meeting and there's no mention of the state auditor, only a special attorney general.

Democrats said they'll look into whether Georgia's open meetings law was violated.

"I think it calls into question whether the decision without a vote was legal," Fort added.

Channel 2 Action News has learned the state ethics commission chairman said he will take a public vote on this issue at the next meeting expected to take place in the next several weeks.

Griffin told Geary he values the independence of his office and said this performance audit will take months to complete.



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