According to the Kennesaw city code, the city clerk must give the complaint to the Kennesaw Ethics Board within three days. After receiving the complaint, the board will determine its merit. If it is found to be frivolous or unfounded, the board members have the power to dismiss it. If the complaint is found to have merit, however, the board will call a hearing.
According to ciry code, the hearing must be conducted within 60 days of receiving the complaint. If a hearing is not conducted in that time frame, the complaint is automatically dismissed and cannot be refiled for six months.
Tuesday’s ethics complaint is the latest in a long saga of conflict between Bill Harris, a retired retail operations investigator who filed the complaint, and the mayor. The issue at hand involves a website with the address mayormathews.blogspot.com, which Harris writes on.
At the Aug. 4 meeting of the Kennesaw City Council, Mathews described the issue he had with the website.
“There were a couple of different sources that had put out information, one that actually was impersonating me, that was brought to my attention by a citizen, who also pointed out that some of the residents believed that I had made those statements directly,” he said. “And that was inaccurate. And so that had to be addressed.”
After finding out about the blog post, Mathews said he brought it to the attention of the city attorney, Randall Bentley.
“It was brought to my attention and I forwarded it to the city attorney. The city attorney reviewed it, and we discussed it with the city council,” he said.
The discussion resulted in a cease and desist letter being drafted against Harris, which Mathews said was done based on Brantley’s advice.
“It was done at his request, and the council authorized it. I would hope he’s giving proper legal advice and he’s operating within his legal bounds, which I’m confident that he is. And it was done with full authorization with the council,” he said.
The cease and desist letter states the website “appears to impersonate Mayor Mathews by using his name as the title of the blog and stating ‘Current Mayor of Kennesaw, Ga.,’ yet making no claim that is conspicuous and public in manner of the author/ownership by Bill Harris.”
In his ethics complaint, Harris, a Kennesaw resident for more than 13 years, alleges the mayor used “his official position to fraudulently secure personal representation by the Kennesaw City Attorney” to draft a cease and desist letter against Harris.
Harris’ complaint goes on to say the mayor made “false claims of libel and slander” to induce the city council and city attorney to draft the letter.
The complaint also states the issue “was and remains one that the mayor should have taken up with a private attorney paid for out of his own funds and not by using the city attorney to take up the matter.”
Harris claims Mathews used more than $1,000 in city resources to draft the letter.
When made aware of the complaint, council member Cris Eaton-Welsh said she could see both sides of the issue and she would prefer the two parties sat “around a table together and figured it out.”
In the ethics complaint, Harris requests the city council “censure” the mayor, which is defined as an official reprimand. Eaton-Welsh described it differently.
“It means nothing. It’s a slap on the wrist. That’s all it is. A censure is useless. And that’s one of the reasons the ethics commission needs to be autonomous and be able to have some teeth (regarding) what they do,” she said.
Still, she said she believes in the ethics commission, which will now decide the matter.
“I completely have faith that our ethics commission will take a thorough look and make the decision that’s best for our community,” Welsh said.