ATLANTA — Major changes have been made to a controversial proposal that alters the way members of Atlanta's Ethics Board are appointed, as the city fought back against accusations of unethical motives driving the sudden move.
On Tuesday, a five-hour debate ended in amendments to the proposed legislation that Channel 2 Action News first reported in August. It drew questions from several council members -- Felicia Moore, Mary Norwood and Andre Dickens -- who ended up removing their names from the original proposal on Tuesday.
In its original form, the legislation could have wiped out the current Ethics Board, replacing it with members who would require mayoral appointment. Board members, who independently investigate city code ethics matters, told Channel 2 it was a move that blindsided them. The city argued it was trying to avoid potential problems levied in DeKalb County Superior Court, where a judge ruled an elected official had to be involved in the Ethics Board appointment process.
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That decision is being appealed to the State Supreme Court right now. Atlanta skeptics, including government watchdog groups, encouraged the city not to base its own policies on a decision addressing another county’s board. They also pointed out the decision was not state law.
On Tuesday, Atlanta council members debated the proposal language and heard from more than half a dozen community and ethics board members concerned that the legislation would strip the board of its independence. The amended version retains current board members through their respective three-year terms and ensures the language communicates that the mayor only signs off on the appointees of seven independent organizations.
FIGHTING AGAINST THE PAY-FOR-PLAY THEORY
For the first time, Mayor Kasim Reed stepped into the debate to debunk what he and supporters called a false theory: that the new legislation was drafted to retaliate against a board that’s deciding whether the city’s economic development arm can get premium Mercedes-Benz Stadium tickets to attract new business to the city.
“There’s been a lot of conversation about politics. If there’s any politics going on it’s not on my side of the ball,” Reed told the council.
“I don’t have any ax to grind with the Ethics Board and this doesn’t have anything to do with tickets,” he said. “Enough of questioning people’s motives. Y’all don’t need tickets. I don’t need tickets. Please.”
Reed said the legislation would put the same board members in place, but that amendment was made about an hour before he took the floor to address the full council.
Councilman Howard Shook asked Reed about the language in Section 2 of the proposal.
“Section 2, where it says 'shall be appointed by the mayor,' (it) has a different meaning than what y’all want us to take away.” Shook said.
Reed nodded in understanding before suggesting a change to the language.
“You can say, 'The mayor shall appoint the individual recommended by the group,' so that would remove the mayor’s discretion,” he said.
By 5:30 p.m., the council passed a number of language amendments to the legislation. Councilwoman Cleta Winslow, who introduced the original proposal, assured the Ethics Board there were no under-the-table motives at play.
“We are in an election season, and that’s what I’m saying. Why would we do something stupid? You got me?” she said. “That would be crazy for us to do that. That would be political suicide.”
Cox Media Group