FORSYTH COUNTY — The Forsyth County Ethics Board has decided to hold off for a while before ruling on a complaint filed against Commissioner Cindy J. Mills.
During a meeting Thursday afternoon, the three out-of-county attorneys chosen to decide whether there’s enough evidence to move forward with an ethics hearing said they didn’t feel it was fair to do so without further input from the person who filed it.
Robert Rorke, the complainant, was unable to attend due to his work schedule. Kathy Echols, who serves as clerk for the ethics panel, said Rorke had requested Tuesday’s meeting be postponed to a later date.
But since the county’s ethics code calls for the first meeting to be held within 60 days of the time a complaint is filed, the county attorney recommended going forward Thursday, Echols said.
Mills and her attorney, Joey Homans, attended the hearing.
The three attorneys chosen for the panel — Arthur Leach, Michael O’Hagan and Samuel Pierce — spent nearly an hour and a half talking to Mills and Homans about the response to Rorke’s complaint, which centers around Mills’ job as a real estate agent.
In the complaint, filed June 19, Rorke contended that Mills was tied to a Bryan Properties’ parcel on Castleberry Road.
According to Rorke, Mills’ vote in favor of the Castleberry widening project Feb. 20 was a conflict of interest. In his complaint, he cites a YouTube video showing many parts of the road.
“Near the end of the video it shows that … 4160 Castleberry Road is for sale and is listed by Bryan Properties,” Rorke’s complaint stated. “There are two agents connected with the company; one being the owner of Bryan Properties and the other being a member of the BOCs [sic], Cindy Jones Mills.”
Rorke claims that a listing sign at the property was “mysteriously taken down four days before the vote in favor of the widening.”
On Thursday, Mills told members of the ethics panel — who are chosen at random from a pool of about a dozen out-of-county attorneys each time an ethics complaint is filed — that she has no ties as an agent to the land parcel in question.
Furthermore, she said, it does not even lie in the vicinity of the portion of Castleberry that will be widened as a result of the Feb. 20 vote.
“I don’t think I’ve ever even had a listing on [that] road,” she told the panel.
Later she said she didn’t view the situation as a conflict because she “didn’t even know [Bryan Properties] had a sign in the city.”
“It wasn’t on the section of the road that was [being widened by the commission’s vote] to begin with,” she said. “We weren’t voting on something taking place in the city. What we were voting on was to complete an action that the voters had approved long ago.”
The Castleberry project began with a 1-cent sales tax program in 2002, with land purchased for the road project by 2009.
In light of Rorke’s inability to attend the meeting, Leach made a motion to give him 10 business days to file a rebuttal to Mills’ response to his initial complaint.
The attorneys said he would have until Aug. 29 to make the additional filing with Echols. From that point, Mills would have another seven days to make any additional response.
Leach said he felt the extra step was in order.
“I do believe the whole purpose [of this process] is to give citizens an opportunity to be heard, and with his work schedule conflicting, it’s just the right thing to do,” he said.
An ethics complaint Rorke filed against a second county commissioner over the same Castleberry Road vote failed to move forward in the hearing process.
On Aug. 6, the board determined insufficient evidence had been presented in the matter involving District 1 Commissioner Pete Amos.
Rorke contended Amos had violated his oath of office, because about six weeks after that vote a zoning request was made regarding one of Amos’ properties within three miles from the affected stretch of Castleberry.
Last month, Rorke withdrew a complaint he had filed against Forsyth County Sheriff Duane Piper after doing additional research.
Rorke had initially contended that Piper acted in his official capacity and used county assets while endorsing candidates for state Senate and county commission.