It is appropriate somehow that the last case heard by the Forsyth County Board of Ethics, as it had been constituted for the past several years, was dismissed for a lack of jurisdiction.
In rejecting that final complaint, members of the ethics panel rightly concluded that they did not have the authority to decide if an assistant district attorney had improperly handled a prosecution that was resolved with a negotiated guilty plea.
That such a complaint ended up before the panel was indicative of the fact that the ethics panel’s purpose and intent were either never clearly defined or understood.
Rather than seeing the panel as a safeguard against violations of county ethics policies, some in the community sought to make it an entity empowered to pass judgment on a broad assortment of allegations of political shenanigans, rumors, conspiracies and misdeeds.
When it failed to take action on petty and baseless charges, panel members were sometimes incorrectly portrayed as failing to be objective or of not taking their jobs seriously.
As a result, the panel underwent changes of scope and membership, with more than one appointee choosing to step down from the thankless job.
Now it has been disbanded, and replaced with a new form of ethical clearing board.
Rather than having five permanent members appointed by the commission from among county residents, the new panel will incorporate the use of a pool of willing attorneys from outside the county. Three attorneys from the pool will be chosen to hear each complaint that is filed.
The new system has the appeal of bringing into the process not only those who presumably are knowledgeable about the law, but who also, by virtue of not having connections to the county, should provide an objective sounding board for the cases to be heard.
On paper, the newly constituted ethics panel has a lot of promise, but only time will tell whether the new format will serve the county better than the old.