By / DOUG NURSE / The Atlanta Journal-ConstitutionPublished on: 08/06/07
The Milton Ethics Board on Monday cleared Mayor Joe Lockwood on a complaint related to a letter he wrote the governor's office about changes to the city's charter.
Lockwood wrote Gov. Sonny Perdue on May 14 that the city was opposed to changes in the city's charter passed by the General Assembly that weakened the mayor's position. However, a majority of the City Council did approve of the changes, and overrode the mayor.
The complaint, filed by Planning Commissioner Bob Moheb, alleged that Lockwood violated a city ordinance that states: "No public official shall falsely represent his or her personal opinion to be the official position of the City...
The 5-1 vote for dismissal hinged on another sentence in the law that trumps the first sentence. It says, "This subsection shall not apply to statements of elected officials made in the course of fulfilling the responsibilities of their offices..."
The board followed a recommendation by Richard Carothers, a Buford-based attorney hired by the city to investigate the complaint, and ruled the complaint had no basis because Lockwood wrote the letter in his capacity as mayor.
"I think he got off on a technicality," said Bob Moheb, a planning commissioner who filed the complaint. "The first sentence proves my point. I'm afraid they've opened the floodgates. Now, anyone (on the council) can say whatever they please and say it on behalf of the council."
Lockwood said he was relieved that the issue was settled in his favor."I'm glad to move forward," he said. "I feel I acted in the best interest of the city based on the facts."
Carothers found that Lockwood knew that two city council members were opposed to the changes, and he misinterpreted comments from a third member to mean she was opposed as well.
As Perdue deliberated on whether to sign bills into law, his staff called Lockwood on May 14 to see if the city supported the charter changes passed by the Legislature. Lockwood said the City Council objected to the bill. The governor's staff said a letter to that effect was required immediately so Lockwood dashed off a written response without polling the council first.
Among the controversial charter changes was one that took away mayoral power in making appointments to boards and committees. Carothers' report to the ethics board acknowledged that Lockwood's actions could be interpreted to be a form of self-interest.
In a letter to the ethics board, Lockwood wrote he never intended to violate the ethics ordinance, saying "We are all new in these positions and we can learn better ways to handle these situations in the future."