By Ralph Ellis
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Former Milton City Council member Tina D’Aversa won’t be punished harshly by the city -- if at all -- for an ethics code violation that was wrapped up in politics.
The city ethics board Tuesday night found D’Aversa broke the code but didn’t recommend any discipline to be dispensed by the city council. The council could decide to send D’Aversa a written reprimand at most -- or do nothing at all.
“She has suffered already from losing the election,” ethics board member Kristin White said near the end of a five-and-a-half hour hearing. “Using the ethics board as a tool during the campaign concerns me. I feel a lot of damage has already come from this complaint.”
D ’Aversa was accused of sending a Sept. 3 e-mail to Joe Longoria, her election opponent, and offering an appointment to the city's Highway 9 Design Guideline Committee if he would withdraw from the November race. He did not withdraw and easily beat D’Aversa.
The complaint was filed two weeks before the election by one of D’Aversa’s political rivals, former council member Neil O’Brien.
D’Aversa, a public school teacher, has been one of the most vocal members of the slow-growth movement in Milton, a 3-year-old city in the northernmost tip of Fulton County. She has said O’Brien filed the complaint as political payback because she supported the candidate who beat him in 2007, a claim O’Brien denies.
D'Aversa’s e-mail to Longoria said: "My intention is for you to join a board or committee and to withdraw your application to seek my council position serving from District 5. …”
D’Aversa testified Longoria told her he was running for council only because the city government didn’t seem interested in his offer to serve on committees. She said she just wanted to help Longoria and copied the e-mail to the mayor and city manager, which she said showed nothing improper was going on.
“I had no intention to bribe Mr. Longoria or anybody else to leave the race,” she said.
Longoria testified he never considered filing a complaint himself, hardly knew O’Brien and didn’t collaborate on the complaint. Longoria said he made it clear to D’Aversa he wanted only to run for city council.
“I felt like there was something not quite right [about the e-mail] but not exactly a bribe,” he said.
Mayor Joe Lockwood and City Manager Chris Lagerbloom testified they read copies of the e-mail and didn’t see anything unusual. If they had, they said, they would have notified the city attorney.
“It didn’t strike me as anything out of the norm,” Lockwood said, noting that Milton candidates often tried to talk their opponents out of running.
O’Brien, who didn’t testify, said he was glad the issue was settled, but was “a little disheartened that there’s a sentiment this is business as usual.”
This was Milton’s fifth ethics hearing and the first to find a violation.
D’Aversa said Wednesday that she didn't know if she would appeal the decision to Fulton County Superior Court. O’Brien also filed a state ethics complaint, which is pending.