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Changes considered for ethics panel
Nonlocal attorneys may make up board
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Forsyth County News

Other business

Also during their work session Tuesday, Forsyth County commissioners:

• Heard the 2013 preliminary budget presentation. The county expects about $90 million in revenue for the general fund, though the tax digest numbers have not been finalized. A 1 percent drop is likely.

It’s anticipated that about $1.5 million will need to be cut from expenditures to balance the proposed budget. Commissioners do not plan to raise property taxes.

• Accepted Benning Construction’s bid to build the Post Road library for about $4.2 million. The funding will come from a $2 million state grant and revenue from the 1-cent sales tax.

If money to operate it is available in the budget, the library’s fourth branch will open in summer 2013.

• Amended the county employee retirement 401k plan to allow those 59 ½ and older to withdraw all vested contributions without penalty, including the employer match, which was previously not included.

• Denied a request to get construction documents and design work for changes and additions to the Matt Community Park plan from AMEC Design Company for $22,900.

Commissioners Patrick Bell and Todd Levent were in favor of the plan update in the 2-3 vote.

• Set a second public hearing for a variance request made in 2007. Larry Pierce applied for a 10-foot easement variance, but a court challenge arose before the commission could make a decision.

With that case resolved, the commission plans to revisit the request. Commissioner Brian Tam was absent for the 4-0 vote.

• Updated the soil and sedimentation fine reduction policy to apply to only a pre-approved list of developments affected by the economic downturn.

• Suggested changes to the county alcohol ordinance to allow for tasting rooms at package stores. The measure will be subject to two public hearings before a vote.

• Agreed to terminate the county’s option to purchase a .03-acre parcel with a communication tower on it in return for $25,000 from the property owner.

Chairman Jim Boff opposed the measure in a 3-1 vote, with Tam absent. Boff said he didn’t know if $25,000 was a good deal and suggested an auction.

Note: All votes were 5-0 unless otherwise noted.

— Alyssa LaRenzie

The Forsyth County Board of Ethics could undergo a makeover.

County commissioners voted 4-0, with Brian Tam absent, to revamp the membership from five county residents to a pool of out-of-county attorneys who can serve when needed.

Commissioner Patrick Bell suggested the change in the board’s model during a work session Tuesday.

Bell said other counties use this procedure in which several lawyers learn the local ethics ordinance and three are chosen to hear a complaint if one is filed.

“It seems to me that that process removes any friendships, political ties, business ties, supporter ties, any ties to an employee or an elected official,” Bell said. “It seems like that might be a great way to address some of these concerns that we have.”

He said the decision is not a reflection on the current ethics board members.

Commissioner Pete Amos added that the service required of the ethics appointees is “a lot to put on a volunteer citizen board.”

The changes were suggested in lieu of amending the ordinance to clarify the time frame for nominations and elections of representatives.

At a work session in May, the commission expressed concern with ratifying the employees’ and elected officials’ representatives since just one person had been nominated and accepted for each post.

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.

On Tuesday, the commission also voted 3-1, with Chairman Jim Boff opposed, to reject Laughinghouse as the employee nominee and ask if the current representative will continue as the proposed changes to the ordinance move forward.

Approval of Bettis’ appointment was not on the agenda.

The “overhaul” of the ethics ordinance will require two public hearings before the commission can vote to approve it, County Attorney Ken Jarrard said.

Jarrard will draft the changes suggested, which also include removing the “wrongful use” provision and the requirement for regular meetings.