New legislation filed in the state legislature would create a Henry County Board of Ethics if approved. The bill also proposes a code of ethics for county commissioners and employees, and proposes changes to the board of commissionersâ€™ powers.
Senate Bill 22 is sponsored by Senator Emanuel Jones. Senator Jones (D) represents portions of central and north Henry County in the state senate. Jones filed the bill on January 26 and the senate referred it to the committee on state and local governmental operations.
The twenty-two page bill has two sections: first, the proposed board of ethics and code of ethics, followed by changes to the board of commissionersâ€™ authorities. Moving Henry Forward has selected to break the bill into two articles because of its length. This article focuses on the board of ethics.
Henry County Board of Ethics
The proposed legislation will create a seven-member Board of Ethics. If the bill passes, then the new board will have investigation powers into alleged violations of ethics by county officials or employees.
The seven-member board will be selected through the following:
- five members appointed by the Grand Jury, with one each from the respective commission districts.
- two members appointed by the tax commissioner.
Furthermore, the clerk of Superior Court will appoint two alternates. The alternate(s) shall serve in the event of absence, a conflict of interest or vacancy of a board member(s).
Board members must be a resident of Henry County for at least one year before taking office. They must remain a resident of the county during their term. Additionally, the following individuals cannot serve:
- No person shall serve on the board of ethics if the person has, or had within the previous two years, any interest in any contract, transaction or official act of Henry County.
- A person shall not serve on the board of ethics if he or she is currently, or was within the previous two years, a member of a county agency, county employee or county official.
- No person shall serve on the board of ethics if the person has been a candidate for public office, or elected to public office, within the past three years.
Appointees to the board shall have professional knowledge or expertise in matters of ethics, finance, governance or the law. All proposed appointees shall be subject to an education and employment background check in addition to a criminal history check.
Board members shall serve a three-year term, except for the inaugural members. Initial board members will have staggered end of terms. The legislation calls for the board to take office beginning January 1, 2022.
Ethics Officer and Ethics Administrator
The bill creates two full-time positions: an ethics officer and ethics administrator. Henry County Government would fund the positions.
The ethics officer must be an active member of the state bar with at least five years of experience practicing law. He or she must agree to move to Henry County within six months of selection, and remain a resident. The ethics officer shall be appointed by a majority of the board of ethics, subject to confirmation by a majority of the board of commissioners. Their period of service shall not exceed six years. Additionally, the ethics officer must have no involvement in political activities within the county.
Responsibilities of the ethics officer include educating all county officials and employees on the county code of ethics, and advising the county on disclosure statements. He or she also reports suspected ethical violations to the board of ethics.
The second full-time employee is an ethics administrator. The ethics administrator shall be selected by the board of ethics. Like the ethics officer, they shall have no political involvement in the county.
Duties of the ethics administrator include maintaining records of the board of ethics, accepting complaints on alleged violations and notifying the board of ethics of a complaint. They also notify the subject of a complaint.
Upon receipt of a complaint, the ethics administrator shall bring the complaint to the board of ethics. This shall cause the ethics officer to conduct a preliminary investigation. If the ethics officer finds the complaint has probable cause, then the board of ethics can select to proceed forward with a formal hearing.
The board of ethics shall have the power to issue subpoenas for hearings. All testimony during hearings will be under oath. If the board of ethics finds that a violation of the code of ethics was committed, then the board can sanction the individual up to $1,000 and / or provide a public reprimand. The board can also refer the case to the Henry County Solicitorâ€™s Office for possible prosecution in Magistrate Court.
Credit for the featured image to J.R. Bowman Construction.