Friday, Aug. 5, 2005
Yeager fined $200 for ethics violations
By LEE WILLIAMS
Coweta County Sheriff Mike Yeager learned last Friday that using a Sheriffs Department e-mail address and posting a campaign poster on a door at a county-owned building could cost you.
How much did it cost Yeager exactly? Just $200.
After a hearing held at the Legislative Office building across from the State Capitol, the five-member State Ethics Commission made their ruling.
Spokesman Teddy Lee confirmed the commission found Yeager guilty of violating the Ethics in Government Act on two out of the five violations he was accused of.
Each violation could have carried up to a $1,000 penalty, but Yeager was assessed only a $100 fine per violation.
An official e-mail address of a government agency was used on a campaign brochure or some type of campaign literature and it was sent to potential voters asking them to contact the Coweta County Sheriffs Office if they want to join the sheriff re-elect campaign and the commission found that to be a violation by accepting a contribution from a government agency, Lee said.
The commission also found Yeager violated the Ethics in Government Act on the basis of where one of his re-election signs was displayed.
One of the re-election campaign signs was displayed above the entrance of the East Coweta precinct of the Coweta County Sheriffs Office and they found that sign stayed in that location for at least a week and they found that to be a violation by accepting a contribution from a government agency, Lee said.
Lee said Yeager will not be allowed to use taxpayer dollars to pay the $200 fine. He has to pay that from his personal fund, Lee said.
Yeager will have 30 days to tender the money.
The hearing was held in response to a complaint filed in June 2004 by former sheriff challenger Scott Smith and Smiths supporters Lynn Bradley and Scott Ruppert.
In the complaint, the men alleged Yeager used the sheriffs departments assets for political campaign purposes during the 2004 election in violation of the Ethics in Government Act and they produced photographs and sworn affidavits to support their claim.
At the time of the hearing, seven violations were lodged against Yeager. Two of the violations were stricken by the commission. The commission including Chairman Steve Farrow, David Moskowitz, Emmett W. Bowers, Jack Williams Jr. and Sonny Watson weighed in on the remaining five violations and found Yeager guilty of two.
Among the accusations, Yeager was accused of placing campaign bumper stickers on county vehicles, placing campaign balloons on county government equipment and using a county government Web site to campaign.
Assistant Attorney General DeBrae Kennedy prosecuted the case. Attorney Michael Kam of Newnan represented Yeager.
Bradley had mixed feelings about the outcome of the case.
I told Ms. DeBrae Kennedy that I would content myself with whatever the outcome, he said. Its not to say that I agree with the outcome, but I dont have any other recourse, so I am content with the outcome.
He said he was content, but he also was a bit disappointed with how the commission ruled in the case.
I think the Ethics Commission sent a wrong message in discouraging others from committing other violations, Bradley said. They ignored the fact that there was a pattern of behavior there. They ignored the fact that he had re-election stickers on his own county vehicle.
Yeager contended during the hearing other employees committed the violations he was accused of without his knowledge. Therefore, he should not be held accountable.
Yeager also contended that each time he learned of a violation, he immediately addressed the situation. The employees at fault often were chastised.
But Bradley indicated that argument was suspect, especially since one of those campaign bumper stickers was on a county-owned SUV that the sheriff drove.
They could have snuck it on the other two vehicles, but how could they have snuck it on his? Bradley said.
Bradley believes he did the right thing by coming forward with the allegations.
I did it and Ill do it again, he said.
Based on the commissions decision, Bradley suspects it could deter other citizens from coming forward with information about wrongdoing in the future.
The commission sent a message that the incumbent can use his office to advance his campaign unless when somebody complains he takes steps to undo the problem, Bradley said.
Yeager said he is happy with the outcome, although he is weighing whether he should appeal the decision.
Two out of the five commissioners found no violations and the two technical violations were decided on a 3-2 vote, Yeager said. Weve contended all along, we did nothing. I think this was nothing but nonsense. I think its a shame state money was spent on such nonsense.
Yeager said he believes there should be ethics legislation.
But there also needs to be a point when the people can see the difference between violations and nonsense, Yeager said. In 2008, I fully intend to run and in 2008, I can control issues like e-mail. I cant control balloon signs and bumper stickers, but when it comes to my attention, I will take care of it.
Although, he was found guilty of two of the five violations, Yeager does not believe it will tarnish his reputation in the eyes of voters.
I think the people saw through this and saw what it was, Yeager said. It was about balloons and stickers.
Yeager said he believes someone set him up by posting a re-elect Mike Yeager campaign sign at the East Coweta County precinct. A number of employees, some of them who supported Smith, had access to the precinct, Yeager contended.
Yeager maintains Smith suffers from a bad case of sour grapes after losing the election. Yeager beat Smith during the July 20 primary nearly 3-to-1. The sheriff received 12,039 votes, while Smith garnered 4,526 votes.
Yeager indicated he is thankful Smith did not accomplish what he set out to do.
In the end, I dont feel like they were successful in what they set out to do and that was to discredit my name, integrity and character, Yeager said. Weve moved forward. Weve moved forward since last years election.
Copyright 2004-Fayette Publishing, Inc.