On Wednesday night, members of the Kennesaw Board of Ethics met during a rare special called work session meeting at the Ben Robertson Community Center to address the need for a newly written code of ethics that would apply to all city personnel, including elected officials.
Board chairwoman Terri Copeland said the present code of ethics is filled with ambiguity and needs to be revised. The need for a new code aroused from a recent conflict of interest complaint against Mayor Mark Mathews, she said.
“The process we went through made us all realize the code is in dire need of being rewritten,” Copeland said.
In July, the ethics board ultimately dismissed Georgia EMS employee David Ermutlu’s complaints that Mathews had performed personal business over government email and did not recuse himself from city business regarding his employer, MetroAtlanta Ambulances.
City Manager Steve Kennedy had decided on July 6 that all emergency calls within city limits are required to be dispatched to MetroAtlanta Ambulances rather than Georgia EMS.
Days after the decision, board member Eileen Alberstadt resigned from her position, citing discomfort with meeting about a complaint against the mayor. She also stated that Mathews’ presence at the meeting was intimidating.
On Wednesday, the five-member ethics board decided that it will revise the code and add more “bite” to it. Copeland said she would like to see members address board procedure and various ethics-related issues, including complaints, gift restrictions, protocol during meetings and penalties.
“We want to clean all of it up, from start to finish, and make it clear and precise,” said Copeland, who co-owns a computer service business.
Wednesday’s hour-and-a-half board meeting was the first attended by Alberstadt’s replacement, Eric Dec, a lawyer with Atlanta-based J.P. Turner & Company, who came prepared with a list of ideas and ways to approach tackling the code revision.
Taking a page from other codes in major cities, Dec said that all of Kennesaw’s employees and officials should be required to adhere to the ethics code.
“Everybody who has anything to do with the city, the code of ethics should apply,” he said.
The issue of exactly who falls under the city’s ethics code was a source of confusion during the board’s consideration of the complaint against the mayor. Members said they had been informed that the code did not apply to elected officials.
Retiree Ed Moses, whose two-year term ends in December, expressed reservations about how involved the board should get in investigating personnel. He said that job might be best handled by individual departments.
The mayor’s hearing was only the second that Copeland said she had been a part of that resulted from a complaint since being appointed as an original board member in 1995. The group holds just two regular meetings annually and gathers anytime there is a complaint filed. Its present duties include issuing advisories, conducting hearings and making determinations regarding ethics code compliance.
Copeland said she hopes to have a revised ethics code completed by early December. The mayor and City Council members would then have to approve it, she said.
The other board members are Robert Quigley, spokesman for Cobb County, and Kenneth Westmoreland, who is retired. Past members Dianne Holden and Patricia Powers are serving as consultants for the ethics revision. Quigley and Powers did not attend Wednesday’s meeting.
Board members are appointed by the Council and serve two-year terms. Members must be a city resident for 12 months before serving and cannot be a member of any other city board or commission.
The board’s next ethics code meeting is scheduled at 7 p.m. Sept. 12 at the Ben Robertson Community Center.