For the second time this year, Forsyth County commissioners have modified the local ethics ordinance.
They voted 3-2 on Thursday to add a provision to reimburse attorney’s fees up to $10,000 for county officials or employees subjected to ethic complaints that are dismissed or deemed wrongful use.
County Attorney Ken Jarrard explained the county government will provide reimbursement once two components are met.
"A complaint had to have been brought against a county employee or official for activity within the scope of their duties and the complaint has to either be dismissed or a wrongful use of the code," Jarrard said.
Commissioners Todd Levent and Jim Boff opposed the measure, which adds to the "wrongful use of this ordinance" section approved in April.
That section states that the filer of a frivolous complaint is responsible for repaying costs and fees associated with it.
"Frivolous" complaints must meet a range of criteria, such as timing, publicity, motives and the relationship between the filer and the official.
Either a frivolous complaint or a dismissal, which finds in favor of the official, would trigger the newly added provisions.
The board’s Thursday night changes differ from the April ones in two ways.
The attorney’s fees are the focus, rather than county costs associated with processing the complaint, and the county will reimburse the attorney’s fees, not the filer of the complaint.
Commissioner Patrick Bell said the level of activism in the nation and locally is at "an all-time high." These added provisions seek to prevent unwarranted complaints.
"They’re abusing taxpayer money. They’re abusing the process," he said.