The decision of an ethics complaint against District 4 Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills regarding deleted text messages should be made in the next 30 days.
At an evidentiary hearing lasting about two hours on Tuesday, attorneys representing Mills and Jay Guidry, who filed the complaint, made arguments to ethics panel members on whether Mills deleting messages from a personal cell phone violated ethics rules. Charles Pollock, a member of the panel, said a decision would be made “sooner rather than later,” with an aim of being done within the next 30 days.
At the onset of the meeting, Pollock said the main object would be to determine if there was a violation of the Georgia Records Act.
The hearing was based on an open records requests submitted by Guidry to see previous texts by Mills to Chairman Todd Levent, five zoning attorneys and a land developer. The office of County Attorney Ken Jarrard responded saying there were no messages.
While both Logan Butler, who was representing Mills, and Donald Geary, who represented Guidry, agreed Mills had deleted messages, there was disagreement over whether the messages were substantive.
Butler said the messages could be deleted due to them being used to set up meetings and similar uses rather than to get into zoning issues and Guidry was speculating without proof that there were substantive messages.
“The medium is not such that you can develop policy and procedure via text,” he said. “You might say, ‘hey, I need to talk to you about X,’ but when you sit down and figure out what you want to do about X, it takes in depth communication … It makes since that there is nothing to provide, because there is nothing to keep.”
Geary said deleting the messages was against the retention policy of the Georgia Records Act and the probability of Mills not texting something substantive in her time in office was “zero.”
“It requires retention of communications that are anything but transitory,” he said. “It says less than 15 years, it has to have something to it which cannot mean instant, or auto-delete … It’s about transparency to the people of Forsyth County; there is none here.”
Mills and Guidry were questioned by both attorneys. Butler also questioned zoning attorney John Scoggins, who commonly represents developers during the zoning process. Scoggins said messages with Mills did not get into zoning issues, which he said were too complex to be sent by text message.
Mills said she did not delete messages due to their content but to free up storage on her personal phone. Since the personal phone was used for county business, it was subject to an open records request.
Though she was issued a county phone, Mills said issues with the phone gradually lead to her using her private cell phone more and planned to use her county cell in the future and planned to change her personal number.
Following the hearing, Guidry said Butler and Mills had confused two laws during the hearing.
“They keep mixing up the difference between the Open Records Act and the Georgia Records Act,” Guidry said. “One has to deal with response, you have to produce the records and the other one, you have to retain them and they were really trying to mix the two up for confusion.”
Guidry said they had asked for the panel to reprimand Mills and was confident that decision would be made.
Butler said after the hearing he could not comment.
Per a county ordinance, the ethics panel is made up of three randomly selected attorneys from a list maintained by the county who do not live or have an office in Forsyth or have any other conflicts of interest.
The committee was made up of Pollock, Heather Stevenson and Mike O’Hagan.