For the second time in less than three years, an ethics panel is being convened to hear a complaint filed against a Gwinnett County commissioner because of comments they have made in a public forum.
Gwinnett County commissioners appointed Dan King on Tuesday to sit on the board that will hear an ethics complaint filed by Dustin Inman Society founder D.A. King against Commissioner Marlene Fosque. King filed the complaint in August after Fosque criticized Sheriff Butch Conway for inviting King to speak at a 287(g) forum she hosted in late July. Dan King and D.A. King are not related, Gwinnett Commission Chairwoman Charlotte Nash said.
King has accused Fosque of making disparaging remarks about him, including citing statements the Southern Poverty Law Center has made about the Dustin Inman Society, as she criticized Conway for the invitation during a commission meeting.
“Fosque read a hate-speech,” King said in a statement to the Daily Post on Tuesday. “(That) is (a) clear violation of the Gwinnett ethics rules.”
The board that will hear the complaint is nearly complete. With Dan King’s appointment, four of the five members of the board have now been appointed and the entire panel is expected to be in place by the end of the week, according to county officials.
The State Bar of Georgia’s Local Government Section president appointed Shaun Adams while the Gwinnett County Bar Association’s president appointed David Will and Fosque — who is allowed under Gwinnett’s ethics ordinance to appoint a panel member — picked Scott Drake to sit on the board.
The last member of the ethics panel is expected to be appointed by members of the sitting Gwinnett County grand jury Wednesday, District Attorney Danny Porter told the Daily Post.
Fosque said she is not going to comment on the ethics complaint until after the hearing process is finished.
Fosque and Commissioner Tommy Hunter abstained from Tuesday’s vote on the commission’s appointment to the board.
Under the county’s ethics ordinance, a new ethics board must be assembled every time an ethics complaint is filed against a commissioner or county employee.
The formation of an ethics board to hear the complaint is the latest in an ongoing series of back-and-forth sparring between King, Fosque and Duluth City councilman and Commission District 1 candidate Kirkland Carden over King’s participation in a 287(g) forum.
While Fosque’s remarks led to King’s ethics complaint, Carden circulated a petition calling on county leaders to condemn Conway for inviting the Dustin Inman Society founder to the forum — which prompted King to circulate his own petition targeting Carden and another man.
But what is at stake now is whether Fosque’s public comments about King will be deemed unethical behavior by the ethics board.
“I rebuke, denounce, deplore and condemn the participation of Donald A. King, better known as D.A. King, of Cobb County, from being a panelist at my Gwinnett County community engagement discussion,” Fosque said during the Aug. 6 commission meeting.
“This individual, as noted by an anti-defamation league director, has ties to the extreme elements of the anti-immigrant movement, spewing hatred and ... (intimidating) advocacy groups. This man from Cobb County, he should have never been invited by Sheriff Butch Conway to participate in our local Gwinnett discussion.”
That statement drew King’s ire.
“Defendant has violated the Georgia law regarding defamation ... by making charges against plaintiff’s work with his nonprofit organization the Dustin Inman Society and by uttering disparaging words causing special damages to plaintiff,” he said in his complaint. “(The) actions of the Defendant clearly demonstrate an occasion where she did not uphold the laws of the State of Georgia as required by the relevant portion of the Gwinnett Code of Ordinances.”
This is the second time the county’s ethics process, which was established in 2011, has been used against a county commissioner. In 2017, a panel was convened to hear a complaint filed against Hunter after news broke about controversial Facebook posts he had made, including calling U.S. Rep. John Lewis a “racist pig” and referring to Democrats as “Demonrats” and “Libtards.”
In that case, the ethics board impaneled to hear the complaint recommended a written reprimand be issued against Hunter, which was the most severe sanction it could recommend. A final decision on any sanction recommended by an ethics panel has to be made by the Board of Commissioners.
Hunter has filed a federal lawsuit against the commission challenging the constitutionality of the county’s ethics complaint review process and seeking $5 million in damages.
“We will soon see if the morals and politics in Gwinnett County have deteriorated to the point at which an ethics board finds that Fosque is more equal than Hunter and that a Facebook post aimed at John Lewis is somehow more worthy of punishment than Fosque’s hate-filled attack on me from the taxpayer-funded microphone in public,” King said on Tuesday.