A visiting judge agreed Friday that Forsyth County ethics board members cannot rule on complaints against themselves.
Senior Judge Robert Struble will instead hold the evidentiary hearing, set for April 27, on the complaints a resident has filed with the ethics board.
Terence Sweeney lodged the complaints against the board’s five members and one alternate on Dec. 16.
He contends the members violated the rules of the ethics board ordinance by holding meetings at unauthorized days, times and places.
In early January, the board directed its attorney, Logan Butler, to file for declaratory judgment on the matter in Forsyth County Superior Court.
Both Judges Jeffrey Bagley and David Dickinson recused themselves from the matter.
During Friday’s hearing, Butler suggested the court either hear the matter or appoint people who can.
The ethics board members cannot appoint alternates to hear complaints against themselves, nor can the commissioners who selected them, Butler said.
“Any decision they make would be a conflict of interest,” he said. “So we brought it to your honor to get guidance on how to handle it.”
He agreed that Struble as the hearing officer would be an acceptable solution and said the board’s clerk would send the judge the documents associated with the complaints.
Sweeney suggested the judge issue a letter of reprimand to the board for not following the rules and order Butler to give the members of the ethics board “legal advice.”
“[Butler’s] possibly an accomplice to the board not following the rules,” Sweeney said.
His complaints contend the alleged violations involve the July 8 and 12 and Nov. 30 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 those dates, and then again on March 15 to provide flexibility within the months set forth.
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.
On Friday, Sweeney closed by stating the importance of adhering to the correct procedures.
“If our government does not follow the rules, our citizens are never going to be informed,” he said. “If the ethics board does not follow the rules, then we can never correct anything in the system.”