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Ethics complaints tossed
Criteria unmet, review board decides
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Forsyth County News

Citing a lack of evidence, the Forsyth County Board of Ethics on Tuesday dismissed complaints against three county commissioners.

The 4-0 vote came after an investigatory review held to determine if the matter warranted a hearing.

The ethics complaints were filed by former political candidate Terry Sweeney against Commissioners Pete Amos, Patrick Bell and Brian Tam.

Bob Charles, the board’s acting chairman, noted that the purpose of the review was for members to discuss the matter, not hear arguments from Sweeney or the commissioners.

Sweeney filed the complaints in April, contending that the commissioners’ presence on the same day and time in February at Cumming City Hall constituted a quorum.

He maintained they violated the Georgia Open Meetings Act because the five-member commission didn’t provide public notice or an agenda regarding the gathering.

According to the act, the assembling of a quorum without due public notice is a violation.

Attorney George Weaver, legal counsel for the board, advised the group that to constitute a possible violation, the gathering had to meet four criteria.

Those include that there had to be a quorum or committee officially appointed by the commission; it had to be a noticed, called or scheduled meeting; it had to occur at a designated time and place; government business had to have been discussed.

Bell has said he was entering the building as Amos and Tam were leaving and that Commissioner Todd Levent arrived about 20 minutes later.

The commissioners were at the facility that day for separate and informal discussions with Cumming Mayor H. Ford Gravitt about a possible referendum on further extending the 1-cent sales tax, Bell has said.
No official action was reportedly taken during any of the talks.

Ethics board member David Van Sant, who is also an attorney, pointed out Tuesday that Sweeney did not provide admissible evidence that government business was discussed.

Charles said he didn’t think there was enough evidence to warrant a hearing on the complaints.

He added, however, that a recommendation should be sent to the commission to avoid meetings that may violate the open meetings act.

Sweeney said he wasn’t sure of his next step.

"I’m going to look over my paperwork," he said. "The thing I was concerned about is that nobody ever asked the commissioners if there was a meeting, they just assumed there wasn’t."

In 2008, Sweeney ran for the District 5 post on the commission, but fell short in the Republican primary.

He also filed a complaint over the same matter with the Georgia Attorney General’s Office.

In its response to the attorney general, the county has denied any violation of the open meetings act occurred, characterizing the incident at city hall as a chance encounter.