On Tuesday evening, we heard from Council Member Longoria via email as well as City Manager Lagerbloom by phone.
Below you will find Mr. Longoria's response to our questions regarding the change to the ethics committee. Mr. Lagerbloom will have a response to us by mid day Wednesday.
While opinions on both responses will be varied, respect should be given due to the willingness to reach out to the Milton constituency and answer questions that impact their city. After all, communication tends to spawn understanding.
We would like to thank both of these gentlemen for the quick attention given to Accessmilton.com readers after the initial email was sent.
FROM COUNCIL MEMBER JOE LONGORIA
As always, I welcome the questions raised by you regarding decisions and actions taken by the City Council. As a council member, I can speak to my role in these decisions. However, please understand that these comments are mine, and mine alone. I do not speak for the rest of the council.
The questions that you asked are important. However, I would like to point out that the specific subject related to these questions – the City’s code of Ethics and management of the Board of Ethics – has been discussed at length for the past 60 days. This issue was discussed by the city council at 2 work sessions, and was discussed again in detail at the September 8th board meeting. I know that you follow the council and the matters discussed by the council very closely. The topics of your questions were discussed, as well as many others, multiple times at each of these meetings.
All of this notwithstanding, here are my answers to your questions:
1. Why did council do away with the board?
a. The city council chose to redefine the makeup of the board, and provide additional clarification on the process of both filing complaints, and the ongoing handling of these complaints.
b. Continual improvement is an important part of any process. The steps taken by the council are just that, improvements to an existing process.
2. In consideration of the city budget, how can our government justify hiring attorneys for ethics tasks?
a. As we have recently witnessed, the processing and management of any ethics charge costs the city money. In the case of the most recent ethics charges, this cost was over $17,000. (And there may still be additional costs.) A good deal of this was related to legal fees.
b. Of course, there is no cost incurred unless an ethics charge is filed and processed by the city. This was and still is the case.
c. By using attorneys familiar with evidence, due process, and other laws germane to an ethics complaint, these complaints should be processed with greater speed and in less time than previous complaints.
d. The panel of attorneys will be paid a per diem amount, not an hourly amount. This amount has not been defined, but will commensurate with similar boards of this nature, examples of which will be researched by our City Clerk, and approved by the City Council.
e. With our previous system, the role of the city attorney was to provide support and guidance to the ethics board during the process. The change to a board comprised of knowledgeable attorneys will essentially eliminate involvement by the city attorney.
f. Based on the above factors, I believe that this new method will save the city money.
3. Was there a problem with the citizen ethics board and / or it's members? If so, what?
a. Every member of the previous Board of Ethics did an outstanding job. Each of the most recent members of the Ethics Board has my thanks for a job well done.
b. The council’s decision had nothing to do with the previous members of this board. I spoke with Ethics board chairperson Clint Johnson and my appointee, Gerry Stevens, prior to the vote to change the existing process. Both of these members agreed that this was a good step, an improvement that was welcome by both members.
I would also add that the City of Milton is not unlike other cities in Georgia who seek to provide a simple and transparent mechanism for dealing with ethics complaints. You posted an article written by Patrick Fox of the AJC that did an excellent job of discussing alternatives to the Citizen’s Panel. I believe that the changes enacted today by the City Council are good ones; changes that will serve the city if required.
Of course my hope is that the Ethics Board is something that the city will not need in the foreseeable future.
Thanks again for your questions. If you or any of the readers of AccessMilton.com would like to discuss this matter with me, I can be reached at the contact numbers below.
City of Milton