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Commission wants to review ethics process
Appointments trigger caution
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Forsyth County News

Other action

Also during their work session Tuesday, Forsyth County commissioners:
• Approved stop-loss coverage for the inmate medical plan to be provided by Lloyd’s of London for one year starting June 1. Staff estimated the change in provider could save about $7,600 for the same coverage.*
• Set public hearings on the proposed solid waste management ordinance, which would charge infrastructure fees to waste haulers, among other measures.*
• Agreed to the operating hours and fees proposed by the parks and recreation board for the Old Atlanta Park spray park, which is scheduled to debut in June.**
• Postponed a vote on selecting a provider of water membranes for the Fowler Reclamation Facility and its expansion. The commission again requested more information.*
• Reduced soil and erosion fines for the developer of the Castille subdivision, which is in receivership, to $15,625, or 25 percent of the full amount. The relaxation of fines follows a county policy for developments in financial distress that have brought the violations into compliance.**
• Offered no objection to the requested annexation of about 40 acres into the Cumming city limits. The property owned by Sawnee EMC includes several parcels on Hwy. 9 and Veterans Memorial Boulevard.*

* Commissioner Todd Levent was absent for these 4-0 votes.
* All other votes were 5-0.

-- Alyssa LaRenzie

The local ethics ordinance is drawing scrutiny again, as Forsyth County commissioners postponed filling two vacancies on the ethics board to review the process.

The commission voted 3-1 on Tuesday to delay approval of the employees’ and elected officials’ representatives since just one person had been nominated and accepted for each post.

Chairman Jim Boff was the dissenting vote and Commissioner Todd Levent was absent.

Typically, elections are held following nominations. But with just one option, Pat Carson, director of personnel services, brought the lone candidate to commissioners for approval Tuesday.

Charles Laughinghouse, a former county commissioner, was selected for the employees, and Phill Bettis, a local attorney, was the nominee for elected officials other than commissioners.

Commissioner Patrick Bell pointed to the ethics ordinance’s 30-day requirement, initially interpreting the duration to apply to nominations.

Bell said staff had confirmed that the window had been open for about seven days.

The commission then voted 4-0, with Levent absent, to start the process over.

Shortly after, County Attorney Ken Jarrard said he’d reviewed the ordinance again and that the 30 days referred to the entire appointment process, not just nominations.

Carson said all past elections have followed the same process, with a nominating period of about a week.

“Not that it says that the previous ones were right,” she said. “But it does follow the same exact methodology and interpretation of the ethics ordinance.”

Jarrard recommended the commission revisit the appointments based on the review of the ordinance and the fact the process had always been conducted in this manner.

“I’m uncomfortable that we’re not going to ratify what the process has produced,” he said.

The three commissioners voting to delay the appointments agreed the ordinance wasn’t clear.

“This is a time to define that,” Commissioner Brian Tam said. “Because you can’t have a one-day nominating period and then close it and then 29 days [of elections] or somebody’s going to have a fit.”

Bell agreed:  “I think we had it wrong before, and I think we need to get it right.”

He requested that a discussion on the ordinance be scheduled for the commission’s next work session on June 12.

The terms for the current members expire June 30.

Rusty Ricketson, the current employees’ representative, and Tim Perry, for the elected officials, have opted not to serve again.

Bell also stated that he had concern with the sole person nominated to represent the employees.

After the meeting, Bell explained that Laughinghouse is involved in pending litigation over the commission’s firing of a former planning director.

Jeff Chance appealed the decision of the civil service board to uphold his termination to the Forsyth County Superior Court, and the case is ongoing.

Bell voted against the termination of Chance, and Laughinghouse voted in favor in 2010, when the two served on the commission together.

In possibly revising the ordinance, Bell said he would also consider adding a section that former elected officials or employees can’t be nominated to serve on the ethics panel.

“The ethics board needs to have somebody that is pristine, if you will, that will have no prior issues or unresolved differences,” he said. “I don’t think Charlie’s a bad guy, and I don’t want anybody to think that. I just don’t think he’s the right guy to be on the ethics board.”

Bell added that he’d heard confusion from the employees on the nomination process and he’d like to get the ordinance “squared away.”

Any changes to the ordinance require two public hearings before commissioners can vote.