Saturday, March 06, 2010

Milton Ethics Committee To D'Aversa: Guilty As Charged - State Charges Loom.

By Maggie West / Beacon Media

Milton's Tina D'Arversa had a rough political 2009.

She got thumped in her re-election bid in November by newcomer Joe Longoria as a shroud of ethics charges and alleged threats to prominent local businessmen hung over her head throughout her campaign like a nefarious black rain cloud.

Now, 2010 looks even more ominous for the former city councilwoman.

On Wednesday night, Milton's Board of Ethics convicted D'Aversa of violating two Articles -- sections 3.8 and 4.8 -- of the city's ethics code. In the aftermath of a hearing characterized by semantic smoke and mirrors, even the word "conviction" raised eyebrows.

But as Milton City Council Member Bill Lusk observed, "If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and talks like a duck, it's a duck. It's a conviction."


The verdict came after six hours of concerted deliberation -- sometimes heated, sometimes sluggishly hesitant. Amid a pervasive atmosphere of ambiguity, the board often seemed unable to agree even on a concise definition of ethical conduct.

Milton's Board of Ethics Chairman Clint Johnson proved a notable exception. Referring to D'Aversa's now infamous city email, Johnson asserted to a room packed full of residents, city officials, and reporters that a "ninth grade English student can read that sentence and know what it means."

The sentence in question was an excerpt from a 2009 e-mail exchange between D'Aversa and her opponent, then city council candidate Joe Longoria, sent from her city email account, and obtained by this newspaper via an Open Records Request. "My intention is for you to join a board or committee and to withdraw your application to seek my council position serving District 5," D'Aversa wrote, ultimately opening her to charges of "quid pro quo" influence peddling.

Other incriminating lines in her email presented as evidence against D'Aversa included: "Lets...move forward without a costly campaign for the council position" and "Presently, I have appointees serving on the Hwy. 9 Board, but believe I can place you on this board without a challenge."

The "costly campaign" email statement proved problematic for D'Aversa because of the potential for "personal financial gain." Candidates for elective office bear the full cost of their own campaign, either through fundraising, using their own money, or both. If running unopposed, the candidate's costs are minimal: a $390 filing fee and a few incidentals. Fulton County's Board of Election charges a fee of ten percent of the total cost for supervising an election in any city. The total includes general expenses: poll boxes, employees, etc. As Johnson stated at the hearing, the number of candidates on the ballot in any given election has no effect on the total money spent. Milton Mayor Joe Lockwood later disagreed with Johnson's statement, but according to Stacey English, Finance Director for the City of Milton, the city's fees in the last election amounted to $68,897, with or without D'Aversa running unopposed.


Drawing attention to another of D'Aversa's email statements, where she offered Longoria a board appointment if he withdrew from the council race, Matt E. Scott, attorney for the complainant, Milton resident Neal O'Brien, noted that city council has never rejected anyone touted by a council member for appointment to a board or committee.

The incendiary documents precipitated a seven-page, nineteen-item sworn complaint, filed against D'Aversa by O'Brien. Although O'Brien's complaint cites "several email messages," Milton's Board of Ethics ruled that only the initial message was admissible as evidence.

Beyond alleging that D'Aversa "engag[ed] in conduct unbecoming to a member which constitutes a breach of the public trust" and that she made "unauthorized use of public property for personal benefit, convenience or profit" (the only two offenses of which the board actually convicted her), O'Brien's complaint contained numerous allegations, ranging from bribery to the use of government property to aid a political candidate. As the full text of the complaint was also excluded, the board considered only D'Aversa's initial email to Longoria, and the city's ethics code that applied to it (section 3.8).

Lucian Gillis, D'Aversa's attorney, and three members of the board emphasized the haziness of the offense -- of the wording in the e-mail. The defense made two additional points: D'Aversa was unaware of any wrongdoing; unaware of the exact wording of the city's ethic codes. The complainant's attorney, however, refuted the claim by reiterating the famous quote, "Ignorance of the law is no excuse."

A cloud of cronyism and questionable competence overhung the proceedings from the beginning -- Board of Ethics members are unelected, and appointed by the City Council. Milton members and their appointees are as follows: Chairman Clint Johnson appointed by Lusk; Kristen White appointed by Councilwoman Karen Thurman; Howard Drobes appointed by Councilman Alan Tart; Lisa Cauley appointed by Mayor Joe Lockwood; Carl Haase appointed by Councilman Burt Hewitt; and Jerry Stevens appointed by newcomer Longoria


During deliberation, three board members considered D'Aversa's offer to Longoria innocuous, opining that "nothing happened." And on 3.8's first go-around, three voted that a violation occurred -- Johnson, White, and Drobes; one abstained -- Stevens; and two voted against the allegation -- Cauley and Haase. Public records show that Cauley's contributions to D'Aversa's re-election campaign amounted to half of the total money she raised, and that D'Aversa's main fundraiser was held at Cauley's Doris Road residence. Additionally, the D'Aversa hearing was Cauley and Haase's first. Neither underwent the ethics training required of the others, nor held any previous experience.

As the six-hour marathon wore on, other questions arose from the committee members, such as: is it unethical to offer an opponent in an election a position on any board or committee in return for withdrawing from a political race, and whether or not the offer, in and of itself, was unethical.


Johnson apparently thought so. Citing his youth in Michigan's notorious Cook County, he warned against the danger of progressive, small-scale corruption, and underscored the necessity of uprooting it before it took hold. "Whether it's favors, five cents, or thousands makes no difference," he stressed, while clarifying ethical conduct to the board.

What the city ethics committee chairman considered as a clear-cut matter of right or wrong, though, soon degenerated into Milton's version of the O.J. Simpson trial as the board deconstructed D'Aversa's email phrase by phrase; analyzing the text for every conceivable shade of meaning and intent.

After prolonged deliberation, the second vote on article 3.8 resulted in four of the six board members -- Johnson, White, Drobes, and Stevens -- agreeing that D'Aversa's conduct was indeed in violation of the code. Consequently, D'aversa became the first person convicted by the Milton Board of Ethics since its inception.

It may have been a hollow victory for those in favor of conviction, though. The board's disciplinary options included a letter of warning or reprimand, removal from office, demanding reimbursement for misused or misappropriated funds, and referring the matter to the state. The board voted the first down 5-1. As D'Aversa lost the election and hadn't used city funds, the second and third were inapplicable. Moreover, O'Brien had already referred the matter to the state.


Following Tuesday night's conviction, Lusk, Thurman, and Lockwood agreed that their board of ethics needs improvement. "We need to overhaul the whole ordinance. We should eliminate the board and hire an outside source," Lusk declared. "I believe that the ordinance as it's written needs updating. An ethics board made up of Milton residents cannot be totally unbiased," Thurman noted. Lockwood also agreed, saying, "We need to change the whole process and not have an ethics board made up of residents."

Lusk, however, went further. "The [key] points in this ethics charge were not addressed or considered properly. They were off-handedly discounted. As far as the discussions went, they were too touchy-feely. New members were more interested in feelings rather than facts. They were off target by trying to justify the charges rather than critique them."


"It was an embarrassment even with Chairman Johnson there," stated a Johns Creek resident, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "Without him it would have been a travesty." Ironically, three years ago, the Georgia Municipal Association recognized Milton as a "Certified City of Ethics:" an honor -- and fond memory -- to some in attendance.

Milton's apparent "zero tolerance" attitude towards its elected officials' ethical shortcomings is perhaps a sign of the times. In a political atmosphere in which names like Deal, Richardson, Patterson and Rangel are both household words and synonyms for "scandal," a small town ethics hearing may seem a relatively minor issue. In a broader political context -- characterized by the rise of grass roots "tea party" movements -- it may be symptomatic of an increasingly frustrated electorate opposing "business as usual" at the most basic level. Whether the phenomenon foreshadows a long-term trend or is merely a matter of reflexive "backlash," however, remains to be seen.


Perhaps caught in a time bubble, D'Aversa's ethics charges with the state of Georgia, currently under investigation, are not likely to be dismissed. The cloud of bad conduct that now hangs over the Gold Dome may indeed seep into D'Aversa case. The most troublesome aspect of D'Aversa's conduct -- at the state level -- may be a probe into whether or not her email constituted bribery. One official in North Fulton, familiar with the situation, surmised that the Milton conviction does not bode well for D'Aversa at the state level. "The fact that she got convicted as a private citizen shows you how blatant her offenses were," the official proffered. "It's not a good sign for things to come."


Anonymous said...

Hold on!!!

Cauley's contributions to D'Aversa's re-election campaign amounted to half of the total money D'Aversa raised, and D'Aversa's main fundraiser was held at Cauley's residence, and that doesn't show a conflict of intrest?

How in good faith can Lisa sit and judge someone with those facts? I don't know how she can, in good faith, keep her new role or how her appointee can let her. She needs to resign.

This certainly does not show us to be a City of Ethics that is for sure.

Anonymous said...

Ms. White, when did Lisa Cauley move to Dorris Road? Even with a different reporter, The Beacon still makes little mistakes on very simple issues that show what poor quality reporting really is.

Anonymous said...

just like your little mistake since the article was written by Ms. West, not Ms. White

Anonymous said...

Ms. Thurman:
During the election you posted on AccessMilton (October) "based on my business knowledge and experience, I was chosen by the bankruptcy trustee (California) as one of 7 people to serve on the outside creditors committee."

That's not true, is it?

The reality is that you are on that committee because you are one of the top 20 largest creditors of Rome Finance Company, Inc. You were not interviewed and your background was never part of any consideration for the creditors committee.

Is lying a breach of public trust?

Anonymous said...

Clint Johnson's ties with the big gray slob far outweigh any between Cauley and Daversa. Funny how people dont seem to be aware of that? It was also very obvious in his actions.

Anonymous said...

Beacon = Enquirer

Hold on!!

Cauley did not have a fundraiser at all let alone at her home for D'Aversa, and she does not live on Dorris road, and she did not contribute half of D'Aversa's campaign contributions, you IDIOT newspaper. Go Fact check it.

Clint Johnson "supported 3 council person's for election and campaigned with Neil O'Brien, the complainant".
Who is and has been intertwined deeply with council since 2006, that would be Johnson. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck Mr. Lusk. Oh and didn't you appoint Clint Johnson Mr. Lusk?

Johnson needs to resign, not anyone else.

Which board members told D'Aversa during questioning that the elections didn't cost the city any money? and it did cost the city money! A lot of money! Oh that would be Johnson, and the other girl, don't know her name, the blonde woman. Oh who has mud on their faces now.

Go wash up Johnson, your face and hands are dirty. It wont come off will it?

Does the Beacon actually have a reporter that knows how to report facts, or are they only required to be slimebags to work at the paper?

Anonymous said...


Johnson didn't have a financial stake in any candidates. He also didn't ask to be chairman, but Cauley did beg to get on the Board. Anyone trying to get on that hard does have an agenda. She tried so hard to undo the proceedings the reporters even caught on, normally a detached liberal bunch.

Any connection between Clint and anyone else is crap. Just because a little of his background is similar to OBriens, nothing else here is true.

The big question, what has "come between" Lockwood & Tina that she could get him to tamper with the case so shamelessly? It is hilarious to see him quoted with concerns about Ethics, after he trampled on the process, not to mention his previous conviction for campaign misconduct!
So far, he is keeping up his end of the bargain, that is for sure!

Anonymous said...

ummm... the Beacon doesn't have reporters, just gossip mongers who can't get the facts straight.

Anonymous said...

So where does that leave a media outlet that stakes out a mailbox with a camera phone?

The Beacon mispells the first name of the attorney....obvious conspiracy to trash poor, innocent Tina.....why didn't we all realize that! Cauley co-hosts events for Tina, including the one at the Mayor's and they fumble that a what.
Facts are facts, Cauley is as crooked as her friend Tina and her appointer.
Too bad people like that are running Milton.

Anonymous said...

Yes sir re bob, that Michigan county of Cook is notorious as well as anonymous.

Was Clint confused?

Anonymous said...

Johnson had major stake in losing his election. Johnson had a stake in his good buddies Lusk and O'Brien being cleared from eithics charges. Oh and he let them off because they just didn't mean to or "intend" to use city email, and the city staff to make a pretty little invitation on the city computer, and send it to 5000 people in the city using the city email list the day before their campaign fundraiser. Clint let them go on their excuse, "we just didn't mean to, we had no intentions of misusing city property to aid our campaign". The city has archives on their website for all to see the exact minutes. Clint's stake was way more important than any thing financial.

Anonymous said...

Lusk and O'Brien were cleared of all ethics charges at the state level. Only time will tell how the state will proceed with Tina's charges.

Anonymous said...

From another thread:

Nice try.

City informed a couple of media outlets of a possible quorum as the law requires.
Julie wasn't invited, so her longtime gopher files a complaint that is so ridiculous that even a slanted Board dismisses it unanimously.
Six not 6,000.

Go back to posting the made up stuff about Thurman and Katie Reeves.

If they had anything on the two constant targets of this blog, they would have been found guilty. As another poster says, it was dismissed by everybody. The description of the background is totally wrong, by the way. The city didn't publicize anything, certainly not 5 or 6000- some of us pay attention to the truth.

Anonymous said...

Problem is when you have O'Brien, Thurman, Lusk, Clint Johnson and Mark Scott all tied together and it just reeks of corruption. If it walks like a duck, sounds like a duck and smells like a duck, it usually is.

Anonymous said...

As someone very involved since the City's incorporation, I can assure you that there is bad blood on both sides. Look for yourself. Ask around. I've witnessed some things and have heard the rumors firsthand from city employees. It's pathetic. The City of Milton is VERY screwed up by way of council Politics and every single committee they have appointed members. This place has become the biggest joke in Fulton County.

The reporters are having a field day. Problem is, they are inexperienced or unwilling to get both sides of the story, or they get the facts wrrong. Un--intentionally? Maybe not.

Please Tim, keep writing. Keep the fire lit. The time has come for every single one of them to be held accoountable. Let's roll back time and start from the beginning and tell the truth. No other journalist whether web or print seems to have the cajones to do it.

Anonymous said...

I just have to jump in here and say I'm still reeling from the Mayor's decision to appoint Lisa Cauley to the Ethics Board. I was the one who said what are you freaking thinking Joe? He is either in so deep he can't see out or some of his closest advisors at City Hall told him it was a good idea. How blatant an error was that?? No wonder Milton has such bad karma. The games continue at City Hall while the citizens lose before the cards are dealt.

Anonymous said...

One individual is credited with the founding of Milton and that same one could cause the ruination of Milton.

Anonymous said...

Jan would never do that.

Anonymous said...

Karen sorry you are reeling. Must be troublesome to be reeling all the time. Maybe if you weren't so deep in collusion and corruption, you'd be able to relaxz.

Anonymous said...

Go check the minutes of the meeting in '07, for the number, City Archives.