The Forsyth County Ethics Board gathered Wednesday to discuss how to handle complaints lodged against its five members and one alternate.
Resident Terence Sweeney filed the six complaints on Dec. 16. He contends the members violated the rules of the ethics board ordinance by holding meetings at unauthorized days, times and places.
After more than an hour in private discussion, the board voted publicly to authorize its attorney, Logan Butler, to file an answer with its clerk and file for declaratory judgment with the Forsyth County Superior Court.
The board entered into executive session shortly after opening the special called meeting Wednesday.
Butler cited state ordinance 50-14-2, which he said “allows the board to talk to their attorney about privileged matters, which would be any pending or potentially pending judicial actions, administrative proceedings or litigations, anything of that nature.”
Chairman Robert Charles said the complaints put the board in “an unusual situation.”
“We have an ethics complaint that’s been filed that involves every currently sitting member, as well as an alternate of the board of ethics, therefore pretty much precluding any of us from hearing the complaint,” Charles said.
Nothing in the ordinance addresses how to handle such a case, he said, which led the board to turn to the court “for guidance on who to send the complaint to.”
The ethics board set a follow-up meeting for 9:30 a.m. Jan. 4 to revisit the matter.
The four members of the board present, as well as alternate Ernest Turner, also formally recused themselves from the matter on Wednesday. Member Lorne Twiner was absent.
Sweeney attended the meeting Wednesday, but did not address the panel.
His complaints contend the violations occurred regarding the July 8, July 12 and Nov. 30 ethics board meetings.
According to a complaint, the board did not vote in its July 8 session to establish a time for the special called meeting July 12, as required in the ethics ordinance.
The Nov. 30 meeting occurred on the fifth Wednesday of the month, rather than the required date for regular meetings “on the second Tuesday in the months of May and November.”
County commissioners amended the ordinance on Sept. 1 to set forth those dates for regular meetings and remove a convoluted schedule.
The commission also removed the requirement that ethics board meetings must be held in the commissioners’ public hearing room.
Instead, it ruled, meetings “shall be conducted in a room supplied by the board of commissioners.”
The July 8 and 12 meetings were not held in the public hearing room, which is also addressed in the complaint.
The board met on July 8 to appoint Turner as an alternate to hear a complaint launched by Sweeney against three commissioners. That hearing was held July 12.
At a work session Tuesday, the county commission discussed changing the ethics ordinance again to remove the specific meeting dates and the requirement that the full board vote on a time for a special called meeting.
County Attorney Ken Jarrard said the ethics board asked that the commission review those issues.
“To the extent that hitting these marks may be a problem, we may need to modify the code to give them more latitude,” Jarrard said.