Tag: Georgia Senate Ethics Committee

17
Sep

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for September 17, 2012

Wilma (ID 545273) is a darling little 8-month old puppy who needs a home. She is in cage 301 in the Puppy Room at Cobb Animal Shelter and is available for adoption today. She is up to date on shots, spayed & neutered, heartworm negative and will be microchipped; she is being treated for non-contagious demodex mange.

When calling the shelter about a cat or dog, please use THE ID NUMBER, the names are oftentimes made up by volunteers. This beautiful pet and many others need a forever, loving home and are available for adoption from the Cobb County Animal Shelter, 1060 Al Bishop Drive Marietta, Georgia 30008, call (770) 499-4136 for more

I am re-running the following dogs because they are still available and are in danger of euthanasia.

Rally is a 5-month old, 30 pound Shepherd mix who is available for adoption today from Walton County Animal Shelter. The adoption fee is $40, which includes full vaccinations, a voucher for reduced cost neutering and a sack of dog food. Because Rally looks just like my blind, old dog Roxy did when she was young, I will sponsor her adoption; this means that if you adopt her, I will reimburse the $40 cost. Seriously.

Dolly is a senior lab mix who looks like she was somebody’s dog, and she has ended up at Walton Animal Shelter, where she will be available starting tomorrow. She has possible arthritis, as it’s difficult for her to stand up, but in my experience with a senior Golden Retriever, it can likely be managed with medication and/or acupuncture and chiropractic. If you have questions about canine acupuncture or chiropractic, I am not an expert, but can provide a referral and tell you about our experience and how it changed our senior dog’s life. There is a place in heaven reserved for people who adopt senior dogs, and if you’re looking for a mellow, low-maintenance best friend, maybe there’s a senior for you.

Anna is still waiting for a home at Walton County Animal Shelter. Her picture has captured many peoples’ imaginations, and she has an online fan club. Maybe you’re the person for her.

Puppies are being adopted at a two-for-one rate at Walton County Animal Shelter currently, as they are overflowing and don’t wish to euthanize them.

Nat and his brother Geo are 2-month old, 15# Shepherd mix puppies who are available for adoption today from Walton County Animal Shelter.

Also available from Walton Animal Shelter are Duncan, Davie and Darla, who are three months old and weigh about 7 pounds each.


These last two puppies were turned in by their owner, which typically means no mandatory hold time, and they are immediately at risk of euthanasia, especially during this time of the year when shelters are overflowing.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

Photographed 9/5/2012 in Columbus, GA

Indicted former Gwinnett County Commissioner Kevin Kenerly says that the evidence against him shows that the $1 million he accepted from a Gwinnett County developer was a routine business transaction between him and a long-time business partner, rather than a bribe.

[P]rosecutors have granted immunity to the developer who allegedly slipped Kenerly $1 million. It’s a move prosecutors call necessary, and one the defense says has all but exonerated the embattled government leader.

Jenkins was granted immunity that February in return for his cooperation and testimony regarding his business dealings with Kenerly, Porter said after the hearing.

That cooperation thus far has been a boon for Kenerly’s defense, McDonough told the Daily Post, because court paperwork that outlines transactions involving Jenkins and Kenerly makes no mention of bribery, calling the $1 million legitimate and related to another deal.

“If (Jenkins) said he bribed Kenerly, he is protected by immunity,” McDonough said. “That’s not what he said — he said he never bribed Kenerly.”

Porter said he doesn’t believe everything that Jenkins has told prosecutors, noting that Jenkins could be prosecuted if he violates his immunity agreement.

Jenkins, a residential land developer and home builder in Gwinnett, owned Winmark homes.

After 16 years, Kenerly resigned as Gwinnett’s longest-serving commissioner in 2010, when he was first indicted on bribery charges. He also faces two misdemeanor counts of failure to disclose a financial interest in two zoning cases dealing with the same developer.

McDonough argues that the $1 million that provides the basis for the re-indicted bribery charge did not involve the Dacula park, but a townhome development called Silver Oaks in Lilburn. In a commission vote on that development, “everyone concedes Kenerly followed the law by filing his letter stating he had a financial interest, walked out of the board vote and did not vote,” the attorney said.

After the hearing, Kenerly expressed relief that the arrangement between Jenkins and prosecutors was made public. He reiterated that the Las Vegas trip was merely a gathering of friends, saying he paid the group’s $20,000 tab at Ceasars Palace. He pointed to the absence of bribery allegations by Jenkins.

“That’s what confuses me — I’m trying to figure out who (prosecutors believe) bribed me,” Kenerly said.

 More from the AJC:

Court record released Friday show Kenerly has admitted he agreed to accept $1 million from developer David Jenkins to cash out of a partnership on a Lawrenceville real estate development in 2007 – just a few months before Kenerly voted for Gwinnett to buy land from Jenkins to expand Rabbit Hill Park in Dacula.

District Attorney Danny Porter contends the $1 million was a payoff for Kenerly’s support of the Dacula land purchase. Gwinnett paid Jenkins $7.3 million more for the property than he paid for it a year and a half earlier.

But Jenkins, granted immunity from prosecution if he testified truthfully, told investigators the $1 million in payments to Kenerly were “completely unrelated” to the county’s purchase of the park land, court records show.

“He says he didn’t bribe me,” Kenerly said after a hearing in Gwinnett County Superior Court. “I still get charged with bribery.”

The Georgia State Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission has lost 41% of its budget over the past five years and critics say the state legislature is strangling the agency to prevent it from doing its job.

“There is no question in my mind they are being strangled by the Legislature in order to keep them from enforcing the ethics law,” said attorney Michael Jablonski, who often represents Democratic clients before the commission. “These are people who want to do their job. They just are not given the resources to do it.”

Marshall Guest, spokesman for House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, noted last week that the commission’s budget is about $250,000 larger than it was last year — the commission’s first budget increase since 2008. Guest said the increase went to hire a new auditor, a data programmer and for computer upgrades.

Taking a longer view, Guest said the commission’s budget today is 60 percent larger than it was in 2005 when Republicans took over both legislative houses.

“Even with the commission’s added responsibilities, overall, this is a dramatic step up in state funding given the economic downturn,” he said.

Click Here

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reviewed budget, staffing, revenue and case resolution records over the past decade to measure the arrhythmic pulse of the ethics commission over time. What the AJC found was a close parallel between the commission’s funding and its output.

In 2008, the commission closed 116 ethics cases, collecting $195,000 in civil penalties.

That year, the commission had a budget of $1.9 million and 18 staffers, including several investigators, a certified fraud examiner, and multiple employees dedicated to keeping the agency’s farm of computer servers humming. Using the measures of resources and production, that year was a high-water mark for the ethics commission.

In 2011, the commission closed just 15 cases, according to a database of resolved cases on the ethics commission website. On May 22, 2008, the commission closed 16 cases in one day.

On that day, commissioners assessed more than $172,000 in fines, including a record $80,000 penalty against the Georgia Association of Realtors for failing to disclose $585,000 in campaign donations made through the group’s PAC. The commission also fined two members of the Georgia Board of Regents a combined $77,750 – one for making “proxy” donations to campaigns through family and friends to get around contribution limits and another for failing to disclose his business interests, including one that got a lucrative contract with the university system. Smaller fines were levied against state and local public officials and candidates for less extreme abuses.

The commission’s executive secretary that year, Rick Thompson, said the agency had turned a corner.

The commission’s aging network of computer servers has become increasingly creaky, and officials who rely on it to file their required paperwork complain of outages during peak times. Brian Hess, a Marietta-based information technology consultant who built the system, blamed the computer system’s unpredictability on budget cuts.

“You know the Legislature on ethics,” he said. “In front of people, ‘We support it.’ And behind their backs they don’t fund it.”

Hess worked for the commission as its computer chief during Thompson’s administration. At the time, the system had built-in redundant servers and a full IT staff supporting it.

“Before I left it was just me and one other guy,” he said.

This summer, LaBerge signed contracts to spend up to $240,000 a year to acquire server space for the commission’s massive databases and to shore up the system’s operations.

That the ethics commission is perpetually underfunded is just part of the problem, Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, said. Where it gets its money is another, he said.

“It’s difficult for there to be an independent investigative agency if they are annually at the mercy of the legislators that they are supposed to regulating,” he said. “They are the only ones who are in a position to regulate members of the General Assembly… . Unfortunately they’ve been largely sidelined by the changes that have been made in the law over the last couple years.”

Tom Baxter writes that a good example set from the top may be more important than a gift ban on its own.

You’d be right to be cynical about whether all this [talk about banning gifts from lobbyists to legislators] is actually going to have an beneficial impact, although positive change isn’t entirely out of the question. John Maginnis, one of the great chroniclers of what has been called “the Louisiana way,” said there has been a real change in ethics standards in his state in recent years, particularly during the tenure of Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Maginnis said corruption is still evident at the local level – an FBI sting involving a bogus garbage can washing business snared several mayors recently, and former Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard is under indictment. But at the state level, at least, standards have been raised, he said. The $50 limit has “kind of cleared out Chris’,” – Ruth’s Chris, a famous hangout for Louisiana politicos. And lobbyists, he added, are “delighted” with the new constraints on their credit cards.

But Maginnis noted that the improvements in Baton Rouge have come “from the top down,” and there any potential usefulness as a model for the future in Georgia starts to slide. Deal began his term as governor on the defensive from a furious attack on his ethics during the governor’s race, and the cronyism which has marked his administration has dismayed even some of those who supported him in 2010. He seems an unlikely candidate to pick up the standard for truly comprehensive ethics reform.

As for the proposed changes to be taken up by the General Assembly, it might seem impossible for the legislators to twist an absolute gift ban into insignificance, but you watch ‘em. They’re good at this. There’s a certain amount of remorse among some Republicans that they haven’t behaved better than their predecessors during their first decade in power. But without a leader that comes to very little, and the Republican most likely to fill that role, state Sen. Josh McKoon of Columbus, is still young and relatively little-known.

But for our purposes it’s worth it just to look at the core charge leveled against the 66-year-old Democrat. He was convicted of a crime for reappointing HealthSouth founder Richard Scrushy to a state hospital board in exchange for $500,000 to retire the debt from an unsuccessful campaign to pass a lottery-for-education referendum. No money went directly to Siegelman. Scrushy had recently been acquitted of charges not unlike those which forced the resignation of Rick Scott, now the governor of Florida, back when he was the CEO of Columbia/HCA.

Raise your hands, everybody who thinks that wouldn’t get a pass, in a state where the Oaky Woods deal got by unprosecuted, where board appointments have become open political currency and nepotism is a commonplace on state boards and commissions. There’s a lot of buzz about ethics in Georgia, but that’s all there is.

Jace Brooks will be sworn today in as Gwinnett County Commissioner to serve out the remainder of the term of former Commissioner Shirley Fanning-Lasseter, who pled guilty to federal bribery charges and has been sentenced to 33 months in prison. Brooks will serve a full four-year term on the Commission beginning in January.

Plains, Georgia shopowner Philip Kurland predicts that President Obama will be reelected based on the sale of political buttons to tourists. Given that tourism in Plains revolves around Jimmy Carter historical sites, perhaps the sample is non-random and composed primarily of Carter fans.
Property taxes may rise this year for some homeowners as a 2008 tax hike moratorium is expiring and some home values may be creeping upwards.

For the first time since 2008, state law allowed assessors to raise tax values if they believed rising sales prices justified it. An Atlanta Journal-Constitution analysis found that while assessors cut far more home values than they raised this year, they took advantage of the change in state law to raise values in some neighborhoods, especially in affluent areas. That likely will mean higher property taxes this year for those residents.

Assessors say they cut far more values than they raised and say homeowners can appeal if they believe their value is incorrect. They say the expiration of the moratorium on raising values has allowed them to accurately appraise properties that have gained in value but have not changed on the tax rolls for years.

Next Wednesday, September 26, 2012 from 4:30 PM to 6:30 PM, former member of the Federal Election Commission Hans von Spakovsky will sign copies of his new book, Who’s Counting? How Fraudsters and Bureaucrats Put Your Vote at Risk, at Capital Grille in Buckhead, located at 255 E. Paces Ferry Road, Atlanta, GA 30305.

Who’s Counting? will focus attention on many problems of our election system, ranging from voter fraud to a slipshod system of vote counting that noted political scientist Walter Dean Burnham calls “the most careless of the developed world.” In an effort to clean up our election laws, reduce fraud and increase public confidence in the integrity of the voting system, many states ranging from Georgia to Wisconsin have passed laws requiring a photo ID be shown at the polls and curbing the rampant use of absentee ballots, a tool of choice by fraudsters. The response from Obama allies has been to belittle the need for such laws and attack them as akin to the second coming of a racist tide in American life. In the summer of 2011, both Bill Clinton and DNC chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz preposterously claimed that such laws suppressed minority voters and represented a return to the era of Jim Crow.

But voter fraud is a well-documented reality in American elections. Just this year, a sheriff and county clerk in West Virginia pleaded guilty to stuffing ballot boxes with fraudulent absentee ballots that changed the outcome of an election. In 2005, a state senate election in Tennessee was overturned because of voter fraud. The margin of victory? 13 votes. In 2008, the Minnesota senate race that provided the 60th vote needed to pass Obamacare was decided by a little over 300 votes.

Hans von Spakovsky is a former Chairman of the Fulton County Republican Party and served on the Fulton County Elections Board. He is a graduate of the Coverdell Leadership Institute and currently serves at the Heritage Foundation as Senior Legal Fellow, where he manages the Civil Justice Reform Initiative. Please R.s.v.p. to Kathryn Gartland.

20
Aug

The loneliness of being right – Senator Josh McKoon’s Minority Report

Here it is in .pdf format.

As close as I can do quickly, here’s the text of Senator McKoon’s Minority Report, which dissents from the negotiated settlement between Senator Don Balfour and the Georgia Senate Committee on Ethics. All mistakes are mine, I’m certain:

IN THE MATTER OF THE GEORGIA SENATE ETHICS COMMITTEE COMPLAINT AGAINST SENATOR DON K. BALFOUR

REPORT OF THE MINORITY

Pursuant to Senate Rule 2-1.6(a), this report succinctly sets forth the reasons for the dissent of the Minority to the Report of the Senate Ethics Committee filed with the Secretary of the Senate regarding this matter on August 16, 2012.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On April 2, 2012, Stephen Michael Christian (hereinafter “Christian”) filed a complaint against Senator Don K. Balfour (hereinafter “Respondent”) pursuant to O.C.G.A. Section 45-10-91 alleging violations of Georgia law relating to improper per diem and mileage expense requests.

Following the report of a subcommittee on May 2, 2012 to the full Senate Ethics Committee, a majority of the committee determined that it could not exercise jurisdiction under Title 45 of the Official Code of Georgia, Annotated. The minority dissented from that vote and for reasons that will be set forth in detail below agreed with Christian that. jurisdiction did lie under Title 45.

A subcommittee was then appointed which reviewed information relevant to the Christian complaint and determine whether Respondent had violated Senate Rules. The subcommittee gave its report to the full Senate Ethics Committee on June 1,2012 and on that same date the full Committee voted unanimously to initiate an Ethics Complaint against the Respondent which alleged that he had filed false expense reports. He was served with the complaint that day.

On May 17, 2012 Deborah Dooley (hereinafter “Dooley”) filed a complaint against Respondent pursuant to O.C.G.A. Section 45-10-91 alleging improper per diem and mileage expense requests, and later amended the complaint to also allege that Respondent had failed to establish an Audit Subcommittee of the Senate Rules Committee, of which Respondent has served as Chairman for approximately the last ten (10) years. The same subcommittee which had reviewed the Christian complaint was charged with reviewing the Dooley complaint so as to report to the full committee on how to proceed with respect to this new complaint.

On July 12,2012 the subcommittee issued its report on the Dooley complaint to the full Senate Ethics Committee. Following the report, a majority of the committee determined it could not exercise jurisdiction under Title 45 of the Official Code of Georgia, Annotated. The minority dissented from that vote and for reasons that will he set forth in detail below agreed with Dooley that jurisdiction did lie under Title 45.

The full committee voted unanimously to amend the existing complaint that had been initiated against Respondent to include the allegation regarding the failure of Respondent to comply with O.C.G.A. 28-1-8 requiring the Senate Rules Committee to establish an Audit Subcommittee to review expense reports filed by members of the Senate

On August 16, 2012 the Committee discussed and reviewed the evidence. The Respondent and his legal counsel were present and offered unsworn testimony regarding the allegations. Following this colloquy, the Senate Ethics Committee concluded that Senator Balfour failed to maintain accurate records of his travel and consequently submitted inaccurate vouchers to the Legislative Fiscal Office.

The Committee then voted to issue its report and, following negotiation with Respondent and his attorney, agreed to the sanctions, a $5,000.00 fine, restitution of $366.96 and that an audit subcommittee be established and perform as required by O.C.G.A. 28-1-8(e).

The Minority agreed that Respondent had violated Senate Rules by failing to maintain accurate records and submitting false expense reports; however, dissented from the negotiated sanction.

RATIONALE FOR AREAS OF DISSENT

Jurisdiction

There are two bases under which the Senate Ethics Committee may exercise jurisdiction over an ethics complaint. The first is when a citizen files a complaint which meets the requirements of O.C.G.A. 45-10-90 el sou. The second is when the Committee on its own authority or other authorized party under Senate Rule 14.10 initiates a complaint. As noted above, the Senate Ethics Committee chose to dismiss both the Christian and Dooley complaints due to lack of jurisdiction under Title 45.

Since neither Christian nor Dooley qualified as authorized persons under Senate Rule 1-4.10 the only way to further investigate whether the claims made were meritorious was for the Committee lo initiate its own complaint, which it did.

O.C.G.A. 45-10-91 provides that any citizen may file a complaint charging a member with “improper conduct”. The definition of “improper conduct” embraces conduct where “an individual has multiple interests and uses his or her official position to exploit, in some way, his or her position for his or her own direct, unique, pecuniary, and personal benefit.” O.C.G.A. 45-10-90(4).

It is clear to the Minority that both the Christian and Dooley complaint meet the jurisdictional threshold of Title 45 and should have been handled under Title 45. Both complaints alleged that the Respondent used his position as State Senator to file false expense reports which provided for a direct, unique, pecuniary and personal benefit, namely the monies wrongfully disbursed to Respondent. The amended Dooley complaint went a step further, alleging that by failing to authorize the Audit Subcommittee as required by O.C.G.A. 28-1-8 that the Respondent was able to insure that the false expense reports would never be reviewed. In this case, O.C.G.A. 45-10-92(b) governs how proceedings are to be conducted:

The committee shall conduct a preliminary investigation of the merits of such complaint. If a complaint alleges a violation by one of the members of the committee, such member shall recuse himself or herself. If there are found no reasonable grounds to believe that improper conduct or sexual harassment has occurred, the complaint shall be dismissed, subject to being reopened upon discovery of additional evidence or relevant material. The committee shall not be required to conduct: a hearing if there are no reasonable grounds  to believe that improper conduct or sexual harassment has occurred. If the committee determines that there are such reasonable grounds to believe that improper conduct or sexual harassment has occurred, it shall give notice by hearing. The rules of the committee shall be invoked if a hearing occurs. The committee may report suspected violations of law to the appropriate law enforcement authority.

Instead of proceeding under Title 45 with the complaints presented which would have necessitated a public hearing of these matters, the Committee chose to proceed under the other route available which did not require a public hearing. The opinion of the Minority is that this decision was made in error and that the public, including the complainants, were entitled to be present for the proceedings held by the Committee.

Sanctions

Without getting into the question of intent on the part of the Respondent, the facts are that false reports were filed with the Legislative Fiscal Office by Respondent and that Respondent received monies he was not entitled to under the law. The Committee decided it was sufficient to fine the Respondent, ask for further restitution to be paid and that the Audit Subcommittee be appointed and begin meeting.

The Minority reviewed the case of State Senator Roscoe Dean, who was censured by the State Senate in 1976 for similar offenses, namely filing false expense reports, including claiming trips from his home in Jesup, Georgia to Atlanta on dates when in fact he was registered at a hotel in the Bahamas. Senator Dean was prosecuted on theft charges, and while those charges ended in a mistrial he was still censured by the Georgia State Senate on February 5, 1976.

In addition to the charges of filing false expense reports in this case, the Respondent also admitted to violation of O.C.G.A. 28-1-8 which provides for the Audit Subcommittee to review the expense reports of all Senators.

In the view of the Minority, this compounds the other offense as by the Respondent’s failure to appoint the Audit Subcommittee he removed the safeguard against false filings, not just in his case but in the case of any Senator that might have done so over the last decade he has been charged with the responsibility of chairing the Senate Rules Committee.

It is for these reasons therefore that it is the opinion of the Minority that a recommendation should issue for a Censure Resolution to be introduced with a do pass recommendation regarding the conduct of the Respondent, that the Committee recommend to the Committee on Assignments that Respondent be removed as Chairman of the Senate Rules Committee and that a fine equivalent to the cost of the proceedings of the Senate Ethics Committee be imposed on Respondent.

FURTHER CORRECTIVE ACTION RECOMMENDED

Referral for Investigation

The amended Dooley complaint lodged several allegations which were, without question, beyond the scope of the Committee’s jurisdiction. These allegations included that Respondent’s conduct constitutes a violation of his oath of office and is punishable under O.C.G.A. 16-10-1; that Respondent’s conduct constitutes false swearing and is punishable under O.C.G.A. 16-10-71 and that respondent’s conduct constitutes theft by deception and is punishable under O.C.G.A. 16-8-3.

The Minority is of the opinion that to fully conclude this matter, that an appropriate authority should investigate these matters and determine finally if any violation of these statutes has taken place. The Minority will transmit this report to the Attorney General with its recommendation that his office conduct such an investigation.

Changes to Senate Rules

It is the opinion of the Minority that Senate Rules should be changed so that regardless of the channel an ethics complaint travels that, upon a showing of probable cause, that subsequent proceedings be open to the public. The taxpayers have a right to know about these proceedings and going forward the Senate should ensure its rules allow for proceedings of the nature that occurred on August 16, 2012 to be made public.

RESPECTFULLY SUBMITTED, this 20th day of August, 2012.

Senator Joshua R. McKoon