The Cobb County Board of Ethics dismissed a complaint filed against north Cobb Commissioner JoAnn Birrell on Wednesday.
The board’s vote was unanimous.
In January, amid a heated debate over a proposed county ordinance that would have banned the sale of dogs and cats at county pet stores — of which there is only one, a Petland in Kennesaw — Denise White, a professor of English at Kennesaw State University, asked Birrell in an email to defend her opposition to the ordinance.
In her reply, Birrell cited an opinion from the state attorney general.
In a Jan. 28 hearing regarding the proposed ordinance, attorney James Balli of Taylor English Decisions cited the opinion during a presentation he gave on behalf of Petland.
The opinion, issued by state Attorney General Chris Carr, said a similar ban in Canton was illegal, Balli said at the hearing.
Birrell, an outspoken supporter of adoption drives, said at the same hearing that she could not support the amendment to ban stores like Petland from selling dogs and cats in light of the opinion.
Birrell said in her email to White that she had attached the attorney general’s opinion. In fact, she had attached a document prepared by Taylor English, one that Balli had shared at the hearing.
White said sharing information compiled by a party with a vested interest in the commission’s decision was not proof of impropriety, but gave the appearance of such — a violation of the county’s ethics code, she pointed out.
Birrell’s attorney, former county attorney Deborah Dance, said the complaint was “ironic” given Birrell’s reputation as an animal lover.
Dance said there was nothing untoward about receiving and sharing information from parties who care about the matter at hand.
Doug Shaddix, who the Board of Commissioners appointed to the ethics board in 2019, made a motion to dismiss the complaint. Neither he nor his colleagues had been convinced there was any wrongdoing.
“I don’t see a conflict of interest,” said Carlos Rodriguez, the board’s chair. “I don’t see any sort of improper relationship with Petland or Mr. Balli. (Birrell) was simply explaining to you why she voted a certain way. “