The DeKalb County Board of Ethics, admittedly in need of reorganization, held a meeting Aug. 7 without giving proper notice as required by state law.
An announcement about the meeting was emailed by the DeKalb County communications office at noon Aug. 7, just six hours before the 6 p.m. meeting.
The Champion lodged an official protest shortly before the meeting commenced, citing the Open Meetings Act.
“I recommend that you put it in writing and submit it to the Board of Commissioners—your protest and the fact that this meeting is in violation,” ethics board member Thelma Grier told The Champion during the protest. “That’s what I recommend. I’m totally fine with that.
“That’s not our intent,” she said about the violation. “We’re just trying to get organized.”
According to the state’s Open Meetings Act, government entities must “prescribe the time, place and dates of regular meetings of the agency.” Notice of regular meeting “shall be posted at least one week in advance and maintained in a conspicuous place available to the public…as well as on the agency’s website.”
The Open Meetings Act states that “for any meeting, other than a regularly scheduled meeting of the agency…, written or oral notice shall be given at least 24 hours in advance of the meeting to the legal organ.”
An agency is allowed to hold a meeting with less than 24 hours’ notice “when special circumstances occur and are so declared by an agency…in which event the reason for holding the meeting within 24 hours and the nature of the notice shall be recorded in the minutes.”
The county’s website states that “regular meetings of the Board of Ethics are held quarterly on the second Wednesday of the months of February, May, August, and November. These meetings usually take place in the conference room of the DeKalb County Commission, which is located on the sixth floor of the Manuel Maloof Building in Decatur. If the meeting is held elsewhere, the site will be posted. Meetings begin at 7 p.m., and are open to the public.”
The Aug. 7 meeting of the ethics board was held on a first Wednesday on the first floor of the Maloof building, contrary to the notice on the website. It also began at 6 p.m. instead of the 7 p.m. time posted on the county’s website.
The Board of Ethics webpage also states that “upcoming meeting dates” are: Feb. 10, May 12, Aug. 11 and Nov. 10, all in 2010.
Isaac Blythers, who acted as chairman of the ethics board during the meeting, said, “I don’t know whose responsibility it is to notify [the public]. It’s not the full ethics board.” I don’t know if it’s the clerk’s responsibility or the administrative person, which we haven’t had. If I knew who had that responsibility then I would, while I’m doing what I’m doing, make sure that is taken care of. I don’t know whose responsibility that is.
“I know it’s not me,” he said.
Blythers said the session’s purpose was to reorganize the board.
“We’re not conducting any business other than trying to reorganize ourselves,” Blythers said. “That’s what we’re planning to do. Until we get something in place, we don’t really know all of the things that’s should be done because we haven’t had the support and the people.
“Like the simple thing of posting a notice—we had nobody to even do that,” he said.
Blythers, who served for 12 years on the county’s zoning board of appeals, said he is familiar with the Open Meetings Act, but added that the meeting was not called by him. He said it was set by the administration.
County press secretary Burke Brennan confirmed that the meeting’s date and time originated with the administration.
The administration wanted to get the ethics board “back to a functioning capacity,” he said. “In so doing, a meeting time and date were established, but proper notice was not given. To that end, [the meeting notice] hit my desk the same day.”
Brennan said he was “troubled” by the lack of proper notice and asked for the ethics board attorney to review it.
“I found out they did not have an attorney to review it,” Brennan said. “So I made the call that a late meeting notice is better than no meeting notice, which in retrospect I should not have done. I should have probably alerted the board and insisted that they cancel their meeting.”
Blythers said the board’s regularly scheduled quarterly meeting is set for Aug. 20, but will have to be canceled.
“We are not going to be able to conduct that because of where we are,” Blythers said. “We’re not going to continue to embarrass ourselves by not being prepared. We look like a Chinese fire drill. That is not the way we want to conduct ourselves. We’re going to have this board set up like it should be.”
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