Panel decides Birrell did not violate code of ethics in chicken dispute
by Jon Gillooly
December 06, 2012 12:23 AM | 2460 views | 5 5 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Joseph Pond of east Cobb claimed that Cobb Commissioner JoAnn Birrell collaborated with his neighbor to prevent him from obtaining a variance to keep his chickens.<br>Staff/Laura Moon
Joseph Pond of east Cobb claimed that Cobb Commissioner JoAnn Birrell collaborated with his neighbor to prevent him from obtaining a variance to keep his chickens.
Staff/Laura Moon
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Commissioner JoAnn Birrell (MDJ/File)
Commissioner JoAnn Birrell (MDJ/File)
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Joseph Pond of east Cobb claimed that Cobb Commissioner JoAnn Birrell collaborated with his neighbor to prevent him from obtaining a variance to keep his chickens.

Staff/Laura Moon

Commissioner JoAnn Birrell (MDJ/File)

MARIETTA — In a unanimous vote on Tuesday, the county’s seven-member ethics board cleared Commissioner JoAnn Birrell of charges she violated the county’s ethics code by failing to show impartiality on a variance case about backyard chickens.

The county’s code enforcement department cited Joseph Pond of east Cobb last year for keeping a dozen hens on his half-acre property. The county requires two acres to keep chickens.

Pond maintains that Birrell collaborated with his neighbor, Carole Kell, mother of Cobb Superior Court Judge Tain Kell, to prevent him from obtaining a variance.

Pond, who has been lobbying commissioners to change the code governing poultry since he was cited, alleged in the complaint that Birrell invited residents who opposed backyard chickens to speak at commission meetings, but didn’t extend that invitation to those who supported them.

Birrell was represented in the case by Marietta attorney Fred Bentley Jr.

“It was so frivolous that they just disposed of it,” Bentley said. “It should have been a nonissue.”

Bentley said it was fine to be an advocate, but filing a frivolous action against a commissioner is wrong.

“What he did was simply not right,” Bentley said.

Birrell said it felt good to have her name cleared.

“Fred is right, it was a frivolous lawsuit,” Birrell said. “I knew I had done nothing improper or unethical, but once a complaint is filed and it’s out there, it’s an attack on my character, and … you have to go through the process.”

Birrell wants to reassure the public that she has done nothing wrong.

“I was doing what I have a responsibility to do, and that is enforce the code of Cobb County,” she said. “There was nothing improper or unethical, and I think the evidence of that … was confirmed last night.”

Even if she had been found guilty, Birrell was never in danger of being removed from office. Lynn Rainey, attorney for the ethics board, said the maximum penalty for an ethics violation is reprimand or censure.

Pond said he was disappointed by the ruling.

“I was hoping that the truth would prevail,” Pond said. “I’m not surprised that it didn’t. I’m disappointed that it didn’t. I had stated facts, every one of my facts had documentation behind it. Her attorney made wild accusations. He blew a lot of smoke and they preferred to take the smoke over the facts. I have documentation that JoAnn Birrell lied to me, that she lied repeatedly in the documentation presented to the ethics board, and they ignored all the documented facts and went with Fred’s smoke, so I’m disappointed, but I’m not surprised.”

“If you’ve got the money, you got the power, you get (expletive) done. If you don’t, you get run over,” he said.

Pond said he would continue to lobby commissioners to adopt a new code change to the ordinance. Commissioners are scheduled to examine the topic next month.

 

Comments
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Joseph Pond
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December 06, 2012
The Ethics Code allows complaints to be brought up within six months on the incident. After that, no complaint can be considered, as was the case here. Apparently, commissioners have no duty to inform you know that they are sharing your e-mails and information with local civic groups or anyone else for that matter. It is your responsibility to find out that they are doing such. The records are available via open records request- unless you have a open violation against you, in which case the county will tell you they do not have share that information as it is involved in an open investigation.

The county is free to lie to you as well, as there is nothing in Code against lying, unless you can prove they are doing it for 'personal gain'. If you do catch them lying, the Chairman of the Ethics Board will probably just blow it of as an 'error in the paperwork'. Commissioners are also free to delete their own emails without back-ups, as I was told by one county official.

I am sorry that the Commissioner and her Attorney feel that standing up for one's rights is frivolous. I am certain that they would not feel that way if the shoe was on the other foot. I followed procedure as laid out in the Code, as is my right. I am also glad that I have Attorney Bentley's blessing for being an advocate- however, regardless of how hard he has worked to make this about me, it is about our elected officials fulfilling their oath of office, and not betraying the trust of the people- all of them, not just the members of the civic groups and garden clubs.

Wake up people- the foxes are guarding the henhouse- and our apathy and ignorance are not only allowing it, but encouraging it.
Just Wait
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December 06, 2012
There is something foul about this whole matter.
JoEllen Smith
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December 06, 2012
To the MDJ, I'm impressed that you published this on the front page. It was the right thing to do. Whenever someone is accused of something it appears on the front page because it makes a great headline. However, whenever someone's name is cleared, the article is usually buried. Good for you!
Craig Kootsillas
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December 06, 2012
This isn't a "name" is cleared situation. It's simply the ethic's board opinion.

There are those of us that have a more conservative view of the role of government.

We feel it's the role of government to decide, not advocate.
chicken lover
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December 06, 2012
I feel that this man should be able to keep chickens! What is the big deal? He has a 1/2 acre lot so that should be enough room. We, the taxpaying public, are at the mercy of government, from Washington to our own Marietta. And we seldom win.
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