By John Fredericks / Beacon Media
The pressures of what has now spiraled into a horrific re-election campaign for Milton Councilwoman Tina D’Aversa may be taking its toll on the candidate herself.
Two well-respected Milton businessmen have made public allegations of D’Aversa personally issuing threats and reprisals as consequences for their non-political support, along with charges she has attempted to suppress their free speech.
This is on top of serious ethics charges filed against her this week at both the state and municipal level.
As a result, the campaign, as well as the candidate, appear to be unraveling at an alarming rate. It’s a sad and disturbing chronology of a desperate candidate pulling out every conceivable stop imaginable to maintain power in the face of political calamity. Naturally, the City of Milton poses as the unfortunate backdrop. Again.
ETHICS CHARGES FILED AT THE STATE AND CITY LEVEL
Earlier this week, Neal O’Brien, a former Milton Councilman defeated for re-election in 2007, filed a series of ethics charges with the Georgia State Ethics Commission and the City of Milton.
The municipal filing is not particularly problematic for D’Aversa. Milton’s city ethics ordinances are toothless, and their oversight committee, chaired by North Fulton D.A. Todd Ashley, a D’Aversa appointee, is a judicial body. They have no authority to investigate the validity of ethics charges. The burden of proof is on the complainant, in this case O’Brien, who is likely to be discounted as a defeated former candidate who filed the complaint due to sour grapes, political pay-back, or both. The timing of the filing will also be vilified as purely politically motivated.
Ashley said his Milton Ethics Commission sits like a court, not a lawyer. “We are an adjudicative body, not an investigative body,” Ashley explained.
For the charges to stick, the official has to be found guilty “one step short of beyond a reasonable doubt,” Ashley said.
Nothing is likely to come of the municipal filing, save a slap on the wrist. One veteran North Fulton County elected official mocked Milton’s Ethics Commission, calling it a “Kangaroo Court of the silliest kind.”
Ashley maintained that he would not make any preliminary judgments until “I hear what everybody has to say.”
On the contrary, the timing of the charges may backfire on O’Brien, and actually catalyze D’Aversa’s supporters to further dig in for their candidate, giving her re-election hope in its wake where there previously was none.
Their preliminary hearing is on Monday, where Ashley will get a briefing of the charges and set the agenda for the hearings.
But D’Aversa’s real troubles with this filing will likely stem from the state level. The Georgia State Ethics Commission enforces the laws under its jurisdiction through discreet investigative proceedings and open hearings. This is a deadly serious body: they have a staff of 13 investigators and they are not bound by municipal ethics codes. They have their own rules to hold elected officials accountable.
Atlanta Lawyer Thomas Plank currently chairs the Commission. He has gained a reputation as a hardball ethics lawyer with a no-nonsense and “takes no prisoners” approach. His committee refused to drop a PAC donation investigation against Insurance Commissioner and GOP gubernatorial candidate John Oxendine earlier this year, even after Oxendine returned the money in question.
The charges levied against D’Aversa at the Commission potentially violated three sections of the state ethics code: bribery, abuse of power and using government property for political or personal purposes.
One veteran high-ranking state legislator, familiar with Georgia ethics law and aware of the charges filed against D’Aversa, said the evidence looked damning at first blush. “These are very straightforward charges,” the Georgia General Assembly elected official said. “Here are the questions – did she use her city email account for political or personal purposes? Did she make an offer - bribe – to an opposing candidate? Did she have anything to gain personally or politically from the alleged offer or bribe? Answer, personally, her city salary, politically, her council position and the maintaining of her power. Unless she can prove someone hacked into her email this is straightforward.”
The official predicted the State Commission would likely choose to investigate D’Aversa.
If found guilty by the State Ethics Commission, D’Aversa could be fined, assessed penalties or turned over to the Fulton County D.A. for criminal prosecution.
But the Commission cannot remove her from office. They can only recommend such action. Only the presiding City Council can remove a fellow council member from office.
A former state official who served on the Commission for the last five years doubted how D’Aversa could remain in office, re-elected or not, if she is found to be in violation of the Georgia’s ethic codes. “To prevent this type of action is why the Commission was created in the first place,” the official commented.
D’AVERSA THREATENS TO FIRE ADAM ORKIN - AGAIN.
Respected Milton businessman Adam Orkin, a D’Aversa appointee and the Chair of Miton’s Highway 9 Board, a volunteer group, says he was threatened by D’Aversa earlier in the week when he informed her he had chosen to remove her campaign signs from his commercial properties in Milton.
Orkin was the subject of D’Aversa’s email where she offered her council opponent, Joe Longoria, a deal to get out of the race by getting a board appointment. The appointment turned out to be Orkin’s position.
“I told Tina that my partners and I no longer shared her value system, and as a result we chose to support another candidate,” Orkin said. “This had nothing to do with her policy positions; we just don’t think we share the same core values. So I asked her to please remove her yard signs from our commercial properties in Milton,” Orkin relayed.
“Tina then told me, ‘Well, if you do that, then I will remove you from the Highway 9 Board!’ I said, ‘OK, Tina, that’s fine, do what you have to do,’ and we left it at that. I am her appointee, she can do that if she must,” Orkin said.
BUCK BELL NEXT ON D’AVERSA’S HIT LIST
Another noted Milton businessman, Buck Bell, who owns the property on the corner of Crabapple Road and Birmingham Highway, including Milton’s Cuisine Restaurant, relayed a similar experience with D’Aversa that occurred this week as well.
“I asked Tina very politely to remove her yard signs from my properties as well,” said Bell. “This represents my free will and my free speech.”
Bell claimed that D’Aversa’s response essentially amounted to a threatened organized boycott of his tenant’s commercial establishments by her supporters.
“I feel personally threatened by Tina,” Bell admitted. “And my Crabapple commercial community feels threatened by Tina’s power if she gets re-elected. Threats of organized boycotts of area businesses by a local elected official –whose responsibility is to help local merchants – is downright [scary],” lamented Bell. “What have we come to when I can’t choose whether or not to put up a campaign yard sign without fear of reprisals?”
Bell shared one email thread with D’Aversa that confirmed his experience.
D’Aversa: “Please let Mr. Carter [General Manager of Milton’s Cuisine] know that you have made this decision. We would not want to patronize an establishment that changes its mind in this fashion especially after I have been so supportive…Do you represent all Crabapple establishments and business owners with their permission towards my campaign signs? Please do not regret your hurtful words and your support of those who have defamed me and hurt my family. You must take responsibility for your choices… I know this is all politically motivated… Thanks for confirming.”