DAWSON COUNTY, Ga. – A decision in the ethics complaint filed against City Councilman Mark French will have to wait until Feb. 19 at the earliest.
Steven Leibel, French’s attorney, raised several objections at Tuesday’s Ethics Board hearing that Abbott (Abb) Hayes, the attorney representing the City of Dawsonville, was not prepared to answer. Hayes said it was the first time he had heard the objections and he asked for time to prepare a response.
Hayes agreed to provide a written response by Feb 3, Leibel agreed to file a written rebuttal by Feb. 7 and the Board agreed to reconvene on Feb 19 at 9 a.m. at City Hall.
The City initially charged French with nine violations of the City’s Ethics Code which was sparked by a request French made of City Manager Bob Bolz to consult with the City Attorney regarding a question posed by a private citizen, who also happened to be French’s employer. Three of the nine were dismissed during a preliminary hearing last month.
During that hearing, French argued the complaint should be dismissed because the City failed to follow its own rules that require the city to serve notice of a complaint within seven calendar days. French said he was not served for nine days.
Subsequently, the City refiled the complaint but this time the complainant was listed as City Councilman Stephen Tolson.
Leibel quickly attacked the second filing. “The question is this a complaint through the City or is this an individual complaint. If it’s a City complaint then it’s illegal because the new complaint was not voted on by the City Council. If it is not a complaint by the City, and is an individual complaint by Dawsonville City Council member Stephen Tolson, then I would ask that Mr. Hayes needs to recuse himself because he is being paid for by the City and my client is not. That is a conflict of interest I see as a problem.”
In a written statement issued in January, French said the complaint was politically motivated. “It is based solely upon on political motives and not on any alleged improper action on my part,” he wrote. “The Council is well aware of my support for another candidate in the recent Mayoral election. In my opinion, the complaint is both frivolous and patently unfounded.”
Leibel asserted, “This body has an inherent conflict of interest in any case where there is an internal governmental dispute between members of the body.”
He also raised Constitutional questions about the legitimacy of Ethics Board. “Before you can even hold a hearing, there have been no policies or procedures assuring procedural due process under the 5th and 14th Amendments of the United States Constitution and the State of Georgia. You need to adopt procedures and rules that are available to participants so they know what the purview of the Ethics Board is with regard to process.”
Shelley, the attorney on the Board, questioned whether this was a City complaint or an individual complaint. Hayes did not answer directly, but said, “I do think the City has an interest in seeing the Ethics Code is properly administered when an ethics complaint is brought.”
Hayes said City Attorney Dana Miles recused himself from the hearing “because the allegations at issue here relate to him.”
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