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Commissioners to continue work on ethics policy
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County staff will continue working on an ethics policy discussing a proposed ordinance that would put that policy in place.

Effingham County commissioners have been looking at an ethics policy proposal for about six months, County Administrator David Crawley said.

“The idea is a system of checks and balances,” Chairman Dusty Zeigler said. “It has its place. The intent of it is not to stifle any awarenesses created by one or more commissioners. The intent of it is to stop direction or giving undue influence for a department to take a direction.”

Zeigler noted that the proposal is a draft that can be modified to suit the commissioners’ liking. But commissioners were split on even having such a policy.

“I don’t think we even need it to start with,” Commissioner Reggie Loper said. “It just makes more stuff for someone to keep up with. Why fix it if it’s working?”

Commissioner Verna Phillips, however, was in favor of an ethics ordinance.

“I believe we should have it,” she said. “We need to have some sort of document that’s a guide. If you don’t have anything, then everything goes. This might be a little overkill. But we need to have something as a starting point.”

“We’ve talked about this for at least six months,” Crawley said.

The commissioners’ proposed ethics policy is based on a model provided by the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia, and the same model is used in many counties. After discussing the policy with the county attorney, Crawley said the commissioners may not have to create an ad hoc committee or a standing board of ethics.

“That responsibility would fall to the board of commissioners,” he said.

The ordinance under consideration would govern the actions of the commissioners and employees and committees that answer directly to the commissioners. Crawley said it was unsure if the ordinance would apply to such entities as the board of elections and Industrial Development Authority, which have commissioner appointees serving.

The ordinance would govern the commissioners, county employees and officials the commissioners have direct control over, Crawley added. There is a human resources policy in place for county employees that deals with standards and ethical issues. Ethics complaints against county employees would come through the county attorney and to the county administrator before going to the board of commissioners. Ethics complaints against commissioners would be filed with the county clerk before coming in front of the rest of the commissioners.

But if an ethics complaint involved more than three commissioners, Crawley said he wasn’t sure how that would be handled.

“There’s still a little more research on our end,” he said.

The proposed ordinance also calls for commissioners to pay their taxes in a timely fashion.

“That should be in every ordinance covering every elected official,” Phillips said.

Commissioner Myra Lewis said she had several issues with the ordinance and how its intent grew. She also pointed to the human resources manual that covers employees.

“It just seemed to get broader and broader and broader,” she said.

Lewis also wondered how the policy would affect commissioners’ relationships with their constituents, if for instance, they call about pothole.

Crawley said that would not be a problem if commissioners inquire of county departments and employees about problems but that they should not exert undue influence.

“I think the intent is that the board needs to act as a board,” Crawley said, “so you don’t have the conflict of interest. I think it refers to direction that would be of an ethics concern, if you’re asking some to act in an unethical or improper fashion.”

Crawley and Commissioner Bob Brantley said the ordinance deals with instances such as a commissioner asking a department head to hire someone or terminate someone’s employment.

“Just about every profession has to deal with ethics,” Brantley said.