The complaint was filed by Bill Harris, a Kennesaw resident and longtime critic of Mathews, on Aug. 12. Harris alleged the mayor improperly used public funds on a personal matter when the city’s attorney drafted a cease and desist letter directing Harris to stop publishing on his website: mayormathews.blogspot.com.
Mathews said he was made aware of the website by Kennesaw citizens, who also told him some residents believed he made the statements written on the site.
Harris claims Mathews used more than $1,000 in public funds for the city’s attorney, Randall Bentley, to draft the letter.
In an email to the MDJ, Mathews would not comment on the complaint itself, but said he appreciated the work done by the ethics board.
“Our Ethics Board is made up of a great mix of our community and serve voluntarily. I appreciate the time and work done by our Ethics Board, and I look forward to their continued commitment to our city. I look forward to working with our council, staff and many wonderful volunteers to continue the growth and help work towards a bright future for Kennesaw,” the mayor wrote.
Kennesaw Council member Cris Eaton-Welsh said she understood Harris’ position, but the issue should have been handled by the City Council.
“The way that the complaint was written, our regulations don’t allow for (Mathews) to be reprimanded for anything that was done there,” she said. “That was really something that we, as a council, should have done with the mayor in private and address the situation. And we weren’t given the time or opportunity because the complaint was filed.”
Eaton-Welsh said she was not present at the ethics meeting, but she believed the complaint was dismissed because the City Council gave Bentley its approval to draft the letter.
“We did approve the expenditure for the cease and desist letter. However, I, as a council member, feel like I was misled when (Mathews) said that he did not say anything that was posted on this website when actually there is video that has him speaking it verbatim,” she said.
Eaton-Welsh is referring to a post on Harris’ website written April 4 containing quotes the mayor made before a Kennesaw State University journalism class March 19, a video of which was posted online.
Eaton-Welsh said she was not aware of the video when the council voted to approve Bentley’s expenses and took Mathews’ word on the matter.
“Then it gets further and worse when we see the rest of the video and the majority of the video is bashing the new council. That’s just no way to create a tone in our community,” she said.
Harris, a retired retail operations investigator, said he was not surprised by the complaint being dismissed, and he rated the chance of a ruling in his favor at 33 percent.
“I would not argue with anyone who might opine that since the Kennesaw Ethics Board was appointed by the mayor and old council that he controlled, any complaints against the mayor might be expected to fail,” he said.
Harris said a correspondent of his suggested he bring his complaint to the state level “now that the State Ethics Board seems to have finally gotten their ducks in a row.”
While he said he is considering this option, he has not made a decision whether to do so.
“If I go forward at state level, I may this time spend a few bucks on an attorney. It is an important and interesting issue and deserves a better response than it was given by our local ethics board,” Harris said.
The Kennesaw Ethics Board is composed of Chairman James Walth, Terri Copeland, Eric Dec, Glenn Dawkins and Robert Quigley, communications director for Cobb County. Members serve two-year terms, according to the Kennesaw city government’s website.
Walth said he had no comment on the complaint or its dismissal, but provided an accounting of the ethics board’s actions at its meeting.
“I do not have any comments to offer at this time. The Board of Ethics met (Thursday) and came to conclusion on each of the charges detailed in Mr. Harris’ ethics complaint. In accordance with the Code aof Ethics on record, Sec: 2-99 (9), we have provided our findings to Kennesaw’s Governing Authority for such action as the governing authority deems appropriate,” he wrote in an email to the MDJ.
The complaint consisted of four parts. The first accused the mayor of using the city attorney for a personal matter. Copeland motioned to dismiss the allegation “as patently unfounded,” according to a draft version of the minutes of the meeting, which state the motion was approved 4-0 with Dawkins absent.
The second portion of the complaint stated the mayor engaged in improper activity by receiving unwarranted, free legal representation. Copeland again motioned to dismiss the allegation as unfounded, and it passed 4-0, the draft version of the minutes state.
The third allegation stated the mayor engaged in malfeasance by requiring the city attorney to perform a harmful act in violation of a public trust. Quigley motioned to dismiss this complaint because “the facts stated were insufficient to invoke the disciplinary jurisdiction of the board,” according to the minutes of the meeting.
The motion passed 3-1, with Dec opposed.
Finally, the complaint alleged the mayor used his position to require Bentley to perform work beyond the city attorney’s normal scope of employment.” Dec motioned to dismiss the allegation as unfounded, which passed 4-0.