“I fully expect the ethics board — and I don’t even know who’s on it — but I fully expect them to come back and say that it’s baseless and not even worth going forward on it,” Lee said.
Retired east Cobb businessman Larry Savage’s complaint, filed with the county clerk March 7, accuses Lee and commissioners Helen Goreham, Bob Ott and JoAnn Birrell of violating their oath of office, the county’s ethics code and the state Constitution by voting in favor of building a $672 million stadium near the Cumberland Mall.
“It is the most immediate and most direct mechanism that I have to try to bring attention to it and get some remedial action,” Savage said.
Savage said he didn’t name Commissioner Lisa Cupid in the complaint because she voted against the deal.
The maximum penalty for an ethics violation is reprimand or censure. The board has no power to remove an official from office or fine them, said Lynn Rainey, ethics board attorney.
Commissioners have 30 days from the complaint’s filing to reply. Lee said county attorney Deborah Dance is preparing the response.
A month after commissioners answer the complaint, the ethics board will review the evidence, deciding whether the claim meets the legal threshold to move forward with a hearing. If the board determines the allegation doesn’t warrant a hearing, the complaint is dismissed, which is what occurred last year in the complaint Joseph Pond filed against Birrell pertaining to backyard chickens. If the board believes there is sufficient evidence to move forward, a hearing is scheduled where both parties are invited to present sworn testimony.
“At that hearing, the question is whether or not there’s clear and convincing evidence that there’s been a violation of the code,” Rainey said.
If either side disagrees with the board’s ruling, they have 30 days to appeal to Cobb Superior Court.
Ethics board attorney to recuse himself
Rainey, who also represents the Cumberland Community Improvement District, a group that committed $10 million for transportation improvements to the area around the proposed stadium, said he will be recusing himself from the case.
“I think based upon the nature of the complaint that I need to avoid any appearance that anybody might feel like I shouldn’t be there. I just think that’s the right thing to do,” Rainey said.
Rainey expects the board to appoint attorney Robert Grayson with Edwards, Friedewald & Grayson to fill in for him.
The seven-member ethics board is chaired by retired Lt. Col. Mike Patellis of east Cobb, who owns a property management company. The Cobb Civil Service Board appointed Patellis to the ethics board.
Other board members include Darrell Sutton, Richard Ziober, Doug Shaddix, Walter Moon, Robert Johnson and Deborah King.