by Jason Wright / Appen Newspapers
MILTON — A former Milton Councilman filed state and city ethics complaints Oct. 21 against Councilwoman Tina D'Aversa over a series of e-mails she sent from her city-paid e-mail account to her opponent in the Nov. 4 election.
In the complaint, former Milton Councilman Neal O'Brien alleges D'Aversa's e-mails to opponent Joe Longoria in early September — in which she urged him to drop out of the election and offered him a position on the Ga. 9 Design Guidelines Committee — violated Milton's Code of Ethics.
Throughout the 17-page city complaint, O'Brien argues D'Aversa violated ethics guidelines pertaining to: bribery; using government equipment for political gain; using influence for monetary gain; using confidential information for personal gain; general conduct in office; and duties related to her elected position.
O'Brien said in his written statement that D'Aversa's e-mails featured "troubling" aspects, including "the cavalier offer [of] a post with no regard for the best interests of the city."
In a statement released Oct. 22, D'Aversa said she had heard about the complaint but hadn't read it. However she said the filing was "politically motivated and conveniently timed less than two weeks before the election to discredit me."
D'Aversa said the motive was partisan politics in that she was a "staunch supporter" of O'Brien's challenger in the 2007 election, Councilman Burt Hewitt, who defeated him.
She also said O'Brien supports Longoria, as well as incumbent council members Karen Thurman and Bill Lusk.
"I am on record supporting their respective challengers, Bernard Wolff and Al Trevillyan," she said.
O'Brien discounted D'Aversa's claim that the ethics charges were filed strategically to come at the critical point of the campaign, but declined to elaborate. He also wouldn't comment on claims he supports Longoria.
"This is simply about ethics, the rule of law and about constituents' rights to confidence in government free of corruption from the top down," O'Brien said. "Other than that, the complaint speaks for itself."
Longoria previously had steered clear of making a comment pertaining to the ethical implications of D'Aversa's e-mails. However, shortly before 2 p.m. Oct. 22, he launched a salvo against his opponent in the wake of the filing.
In it, he called D'Aversa's offer of an appointed city board position if he agreed not to challenge her seat "improper, unethical and possibly illegal" and a "corrupt bargain." His language was verbatim of that used in O'Brien's complaint.
Longoria said he'd been in New York during the filing and had been keeping up with the complaint via e-mails from his campaign manager, Bob Meyers. He said they pored over the document the night of Oct. 21 and prepared statements to be ready for various media inquiries about the situation, which accounted for the similar wording.
"This isn't our story," Longoria said. "We've been keeping quiet because you don't want to accidentally respond. Voters may read between the lines."
He denied any collusion between himself and O'Brien.
"I've never met Neal O'Brien," he said. "I don't know if I even voted for the guy."
D'Aversa maintains she did nothing unethical and wrote that O'Brien should be subject to a provision in the Code of Ethics that "makes it illegal to lodge a frivolous or politically motivated ethics complaint against a council member or other city official."
"I am confident that this complaint will ultimately be dismissed following an investigation and that Mr. O'Brien will be held accountable for what is obviously an effort to cast a shadow over my outstanding record of accomplishments and service to our city during this election," she said.
City Clerk Jeanette Marchiafava said Oct. 22 the complaint had been forwarded to Ethics Board Chairman Todd Ashley, who approved to send it to D'Aversa by certified mail. Ashley declined comment on the case, citing the Code of Ethics' prohibition against discussion of the complaint.
The councilwoman has 30 days to respond to the complaint. The Ethics Board has 60 days to decide whether a violation actually took place. They met for their regularly scheduled quarterly meeting Oct. 26 after press deadlines. Check www.northfulton.com for updates from that meeting.
Acting Executive Secretary of the State Ethics Commission Tom Plank said his office could confirm receipt of the complaint from O'Brien. However, Plank could not give any details about it, citing a 48-hour window for D'Aversa to be notified. She has 30 days to respond to the complaint.
There have been four previous ethics complaints in Milton's three-year history. The first came against O'Brien and fellow council member Bill Lusk. Mayor Joe Lockwood and councilwoman Julie Zahner Bailey each were accused of violations, as was Ethics Board member Carol Lane. All complaints to date were dismissed.