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Local ethics board draws complaints
Both allege violation of open meetings act
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Forsyth County News

The Georgia Attorney General’s Office received two complaints about the Forsyth County Ethics Board on Tuesday.

Nydia Tisdale, a Roswell resident who attends many Forsyth government meetings, filed the complaints about possible violations of the open meetings act during May 4 and Dec. 28 ethics board sessions.

The letter about the May 4 meeting states that a quorum, or three of the five members, was present in a room while the public waited in the lobby.

Tisdale called the “pre-meeting” a violation of the act’s requirement to allow open access to the public.

“It begs the question, ‘Were they having a secret meeting?’” she said in a phone interview Tuesday.

The practice of having the public wait in the lobby until a meeting’s start time is typical for a county commission meeting, but Tisdale said she doesn’t see a violation during its work sessions.

“I don’t usually see all five commissioners sitting there at the conference table when I walk in,” she said. “Typically, there’s not a quorum in the room.”

Seeing the ethics board members at the table with their counsel when she entered the meeting room she’d waited to be allowed into prompted her to file the complaint, she said.

Along with the May 4 matter, Tisdale filed a complaint on the Dec. 28 meeting in which an alternate member remained in the closed room during the board’s executive session.

Ernest Turner had filled in for Tim Perry in July when Perry recused himself on an issue of complaints filed against three county commissioners.

In December, Turner was present due to ethics complaints filed against the five regular members and himself based on alleged violations of the county ethics ordinance.

During the regular meeting, Turner also voted on motions, which the ethics board later ratified without him.

Tisdale said Turner was not eligible for the attorney-client privilege in the open meetings act that warrants executive session, since he was not serving on the board at the time.

She also said it would have been “cleaner” for the board to nullify the votes Turner took rather than ratify them.

“I’m not trying to reverse their actions,” she said. “I’m just trying to point out that this was improper procedure.”

Tisdale is no stranger to filing complaints with the attorney general’s office when she sees potential violations in government proceedings.

She’s also sent one regarding the Cumming City Council denying her access to film a recent meeting, among other issues, which received a prompt response.

Tisdale doesn’t always get a response from the office, but she said her goal is always the same.

“My mission is education and compliance,” she said, “so I see this as a teachable moment to teach the members of the board of ethics, as well as the public, what the rules are and hopefully how to follow them.”

The attorney general’s office confirmed Tuesday that it had received the complaints, but spokeswoman Lauren Kane was not sure what the next step, if any, would be.

Tisdale said she sends complaints to the office if she sees “a pattern of behavior.”

“When I see repeated violations, I feel that it’s very important to correct their path and educate the board on the proper procedure,” she said. “Believe me, I see a lot more violations than I file complaints for.”