Several months ago, I solicited the advice and counsel of some of the smartest bloggers in Georgia when I asked “Should I file an ethics complaint against my county commissioner so that answers can be provided to my questions regarding the apparent use of public funds to influence the outcome of a pending referendum?“. Today, the State Ethics Commission held a preliminary hearing on the complaint that I filed against Fulton County Commission Vice-Chair William “Bill” Edwards, and while the Commission dismissed the complaint, it was not due to base-less allegations.
In fact, two members of the State Ethics Commission stated that they believed a violation did indeed occur, but they weren’t sure who the violator was – Commissioner Edwards or Fulton County as a whole. To sum up today’s proceedings, it was revealed that at the direction of Edwards, the County Manager, Tax Commissioner, and Finance Director collaborated on producing the actual content of the “You Have Three Options” flyer; and also, it was revealed that the flyer was printed in-house by the Fulton County print shop. Once again, it was agreed that the flyer crossed that line into “advocacy” (which violates the Ethics in Government Act) but the question was on who was in violation; Commissioner Edwards, who ordered the county to make the flyers; or the County itself, who actually expended public funds towards the production of the flyers.
That’s where we are, and I’m not entirely sure what to do next. One option is to file a complaint against the Fulton County Manager, Finance Director, Tax Commissioner, and the County Commission as a whole. Another option is to ask the Ethics Commission Executive Secretary to look into whether the Commission can, on its own authority, find probable cause that a violation occurred and was committed by Fulton County. And the third option is just to leave it alone.
I’m probably going to spend the next few days thinking this over, and since I respect the opinion of everyone here, I’d love to hear (or read in this case) your thoughts on the matter. In the end, it is now on the record that Fulton County, under the direction of Commissioner William “Bill” Edwards (don’t think I’m going to let him off the hook), used the tax dollars of every single Fulton County taxpayer to engage in issue advocacy; and that was, and still is, wrong.