A Forsyth County ethics panel has found that District 4 Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills violated the Georgia Records Act and recommended a written reprimand.
The decision was made on Thursday morning following an evidentiary hearing in June based on a complaint from county resident Jay Guidry that Mills had improperly deleted text messages from a personal cellphone she used for county business.
Mills previously admitted to deleting the messages to free up space on her personal phone, which she said she used due to issues with a phone provided by the county.
“I can agree that a blanket policy deleting all messages without regard to content violates the retention act,” said Heather Stevenson, a panel member. “I also think that my understanding of Ms. Mills’ testimony is she could not say for sure that she had never deleted anything substantive, so I think all of that combined, to me, given the choices that we have, I agree with a written reprimand.”
The panel unanimously approved the decision and a written decision will be published at a later time.
Following the hearing, Guidry said he felt “vindication” from the decision.
“Ever since this started, there have been tons of rumors flying around that I’m doing this at the behest of someone else, I didn’t pay for my lawyer, I didn’t pay for my open record requests,” Guidry said. “It’s all purely necessary, and I was vindicated with the verdict that I figured we would get.”
Guidry said there were also issues with the process as a citizen and determined what would have been easier.
“Realistically, anybody considering this in the future should hire an attorney from day one instead of attempting to do it for yourself,” Guidry said. “Three or four weeks in, I listened to a previous one and determined I was never going to be able to be victorious on my own.”
Mills could not be reached for comment.
An evidentiary hearing and investigatory review were held previously.
The hearing originated with 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 represented 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 that Guidry was speculating without proof that there were substantive messages.
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.”
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 Stevenson, Mike O’Hagan and Charles Pollock.