BOC approves new ethics ordinance



LAWRENCEVILLE -- Gwinnett's Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a tougher ethics ordinance Tuesday night, one they hope will help steer the county's government away from last year's scandal that led to the resignation of two board members.

District 3 Commissioner Mike Beaudreau called the revised ordinance -- which will primarily require disclosures of financial ties and gifts to commissioners and set up a new ethics panel -- "a good way to wipe the slate clean from the past and move the county forward."

"I think all the commissioners had good input into it," Beaudreau said. "I think it's very comprehensive and addresses the main concerns of the grand jury reports."

Those reports were released last October by a Gwinnett County special grand jury, and detailled a number of questionable land deals.

The subsequent investigation ultimately led to the resignation of then-Chairman Charles Bannister (who stepped down to avoid a bribery charge) and the indictment of then-Commissioner Kevin Kenerly (who was arrested and accused of taking a $1 million bribe).

Action on the issue of revising the ethics law was delayed last month after current Chairwoman Charlotte Nash said some board members wanted more time to look over the wording and talk to the county attorney. She said Tuesday that the county's law department researched "between 30 and 40" different ordinances from other jurisdictions while putting together Gwinnett's new legislation.

"We've tried to look at what was out there, tried to pull the best of all of those ordinances and mold it into something that would apply to Gwinnett County's situation," Nash said.

The chairwoman said that changes adopted during the last month were mostly clarification and "housekeeping," though a few notable tweaks were included.

The ethics panel -- which will review any complaints brought against county officials -- will be made up of five members rather than three, giving it a "broader perspective."

A "safe harbor" period was also included, basically saying any complaints lodged against a commissioner in an active election campaign will be deferred until that period is over. The thought is to avoid any frivolous complaints that may be filed merely as a negative campaign tactic.

"We really want this to be a serious undertaking," Nash said. "We want it to be there for those times when it may actually be needed. It would be wonderful if there was never a reason for it to be utilized, but if it is needed we want it to be reserved for those situations where it really is the appropriate thing to do."