State Rep. Vernon Jones has filed an ethics complaint against DeKalb County’s Ethics Officer Stacey Kalberman for violating state laws that prohibit the ethics officer from involvement in the county’s political affairs.
Jones filed the report on March 15, citing his own personal observations and media reports of Kalberman actively working to get legislation passed to make changes to the DeKalb County Board of Ethics.
The state ethics law, passed in 2015, states in Section 22Å(i)(2): “The ethics officer shall not be involved in partisan or nonpartisan political activities or the political affairs of DeKalb County.” Additionally, the Board of Ethics’ own website states the ethics officer must have “no involvement in DeKalb County politics.”
Jones said Kalberman was down at the Georgia Capitol on March 6, 13 and 14 lobbying members of the DeKalb legislative delegation, also in violation of state laws prohibiting anyone who is not registered and approved as a lobbyist.
Reached about the complaint, Kalberman said she could not comment on it because she had not seen it. Asked whether she had been lobbying at the Capitol, she said “No, I have not.”
In Jones’ complaint, however, minutes from the Board of Ethics’ state the board voted 6-0 last October to direct the Ethics Officer to ask the DeKalb Delegation for changes to the Code of Ethics.
Jones’ complaint against Kalberman comes amidst a battle between the House of Representatives’ DeKalb Policy Committee members who are trying to change the way the Board of Ethics members are appointed. The legislators deadlocked 3-3 on State Rep. Scott Holcomb’s local bill on March 13. Also introduced on the Senate side was SB273 mirroring Holcomb’s local bill.
Jones said the bill should be halted until a judge decides on a legal challenge by former DeKalb Commissioner Sharon Barnes Sutton.
“We need to wait for that decision before we start changing the laws,” said Jones. “The Ethics Board needs a comprehensive overhaul to protect the innocent and hold the guilty accountable, including the ethics board’s members and their employees.”
The new board, which started work in January, is responsible for reviewing allegations of improper behavior of county employees and elected officials and hiring a full-time ethics officer to oversee the operations, according to House Bill 597. Voters approved a referendum to establish the new board last November, replacing the former board previously chosen by the CEO and county commissioners.
Sutton’s attorney, Dwight Thomas, said there are too many holes in the current law.
“In her (Kalberman) zeal to pursue Ms. Sutton, she has broken the law herself,” said Thomas. “Who investigates her?”
Thomas said he is challenging the legality of the ethics board appointments by four organizations, which constitute the quorum of the board: Leadership DeKalb, the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce, the DeKalb Bar Association and a group comprising six local universities and colleges. He said he didn’t have a problem with the other three appointments to the board, which are made by the probate judge, Superior Court Judge and the DeKalb Legislative Delegation because those are elected officials.
“Appointments by the four organizations is unconstitutional. It is illegal. Private citizens can’t run government,” Thomas said. “The Board of Ethics is a governmental entity and it’s a regulatory entity. The Georgia Supreme Court has said over and over again that private organizations can make recommendations, but they’re not mandatory recommendations.”
Thomas said the ethics board should be comprised of members who are elected by the voters so that they can be held accountable.
John Evans, who heads the civil rights Operation LEAD organization, questions why none of the four groups who make the appointments, are from predominately black organizations such as the NAACP.
“The NAACP ought to have an appointment on the board. It’s the same old mess—not enough diversity,” Evans said. “We need to scrub the whole list.”