Examining some officials’ ethics

Steve Brown's picture

We have been led to believe that ethics laws can tame and civilize the sometimes brutal and inattentive power of government. However, I would charge that ethics laws are nothing but black ink on white paper unless we have public officials who actually commit themselves to ethical decision-making.

Political ethics is a hotly debated and very public topic. Both our congressional Democrats and Republicans have done a magnificent job of proving to the American people it is not enough to know what is good, but to be ethical you must act for the good.

Indeed, it is nauseating to witness the dilution of personal responsibility within the hearts of our elected officials and, in many ways, their disregard of the notion of the government official having a moral duty to consider the citizenry he represents prior to taking action.

I have received many complaints about Mayor Harold Logsdon’s promises to roll back taxes and his actual practice of continuously raising taxes and fees as being unethical.

However much you dislike the 180-degree ambush from the mayor, it is not unethical to change your mind and proceed in a contradictory course once elected. Please keep in mind Mayor Logsdon suffers from his record high taxes and fees just as much as we do.

The area where Mayor Logsdon does shatter the glass wall of ethical consistency was his recent trip to China.

In this instance, we have an elected official who recently gave substantial tax breaks to the Chinese Sany Corp and then received an expensive week-long stay in China, courtesy of the same corporation, which included lodging, meals, entertainment and tours of the Chinese countryside such as Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, a tour of the Olympic Stadiums, the Great Wall, the Forbidden City and the Shanghai Pearl Tower.

After that, the mayor arrived home just in time for a crucial vote on three zoning variances for, you guessed it, the very same Sany Corp. In fact, according to Citizen reporter John Munford’s article, “[The mayor] didn’t feel compelled to recuse himself from voting on the buffer variance or any future request from Sany.” Wonder how he will vote?

Yes, indeed, the mayor hit an ethical abuse grand slam. (City Code, Sec. 62-76, “Gifts and favors. (a) No official or employee shall accept any gift, loan, reward, favor or services that may reasonably tend to improperly influence him or her in the discharge of their official duties. This limitation is not intended to prohibit the acceptance of articles of negligible value, which are distributed generally, nor to prohibit officials or employees from accepting loans from regular lending institutions. It is particularly important that employees and officials guard against relationships, which might be construed as, or give the appearance of favoritism, coercion, unfair advantage or collusion. (O.C.G.A. § 16-10-2). Also see Sec. 62-75. Impartiality)).

Nevertheless, had the city paid all of the mayor’s expenses, I would not be complaining about an unsightly ethical violation, but citing instead his continued poor judgment on use of taxpayer funds.

I was disappointed to see County Commission Chairman Jack Smith wrapped up in the Sany gift-away controversy too.

And interestingly enough, it was Chairman Smith who, this past July, stated in a brash open letter, “Mr. [Commissioner] Maxwell is an attorney, and I am a certified public accountant; we find it laughable that this part-time public service position could remotely tempt us to jeopardize the very oaths and stringent requirements of office we took when we joined our respective professions ... like Commissioner Maxwell and myself, neither would jeopardize their core beliefs, especially when dealing with their home, the place they have families, the place they intend to live for many years to come. Any comments to the contrary made by power-hungry individuals are not only false, misleading and contemptible ...”

It was Commissioner Maxwell who, as a sitting judge for the Municipal Court of Peachtree City, represented a client before his own court in order to obtain a sweet plea deal for his friend. This is another whopping ethics predicament (City Code Sec. 62-80. Representation, etc.). Luckily, for the integrity of the judicial system, the city solicitor refused to cooperate with the deed and ruined Commissioner Maxwell’s indiscretion.

Both Chairman Smith and Commissioner Maxwell were also implicated in the infamous official act of entering into a closed meeting under false pretenses. Instead of offering a public apology on the matter, they altered the official record of the event (the cover-up was later exposed on www.YouTube.com).

Fayette’s own state superintendent of schools, Kathy Cox, breeched ethical boundaries by publicly endorsing the passage of the upcoming school SPLOST referendum on an official visit to one of our public schools.

Speaking of the SPLOST, I am being told the Fayette County Board of Education (FCBOE) is pressuring school principals to request that their PTO leaders sell the official FCBOE SPLOST presentation to parents. According to the ethics statues, they are all treading on thin legal ice.

A lot of local voters, especially senior citizens, are concerned about the deceptive practice used by FCBOE members of not saying a single public word about the SPLOST referendum until after they had won their primary election races in July.

In fact, a lot of people who know very little about what they are talking about in regards to the SPLOST are passing along talking points provided by FCBOE Member Janet Smola.

It was board member Smola who orchestrated the secretive movement for candidates not to answer reasonable questions offered by The Citizen prior to the July primary so as to keep the public in the dark on the issue of significant tax increases. Their aim was no promises and no accountability. (Where was the outrage from the faint-hearted local Republican and Democratic parties about these tactics?)

The unfortunate souls doing the bidding of board member Smola are in for a rude awakening. After all, when the FCBOE hauls out their lawyer who imposes a threatening $2,000 fee on a local mom to view “public” documents related to the proposed SPLOST, you had better believe there is some serious scheming going on behind the scenes.

We do not need a Board of Education with dirty hands coming to the people asking for a significant tax increase for vague purposes.

Beware of the confluence of personal interest and public power as it could ruin your community and cost you millions upon millions of tax dollars. There is more to come on this one.

[Steve Brown is the former mayor of Peachtree City. He can be reached at stevebrownptc@ureach.com.]

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birdman's picture
Submitted by birdman on Thu, 09/11/2008 - 4:44am.

Come on Steve, I'm sure that Mayor Logsden was simply going to China "citizen Logsden," just like you when you negotiated the Wieland annexation as "Citizen Brown." Or maybe he was "knowingly violating" the Ethics Laws but new it was "in the best interest of the city," like your minion Steve Rapson did (with your whole hearted support) when he knowingly violated the Ethics laws and voted on the Special Prosecutor you hired. Remember how he tried to lie his way out under oath at the hearing? Remember YOUR testimony? I do! Boy, those were the "good ol' days."

And you know, Kathy Cox was SURELY acting as "Citizen Cox" when talking about the SPLOST Steve. Just like YOU when you went on Comcast as "Citizen Brown" to oppose the Road SPLOST. Remember Steve? Funny how they "mistakenly" identified you as "Mayor Brown."

Say Steve, I guess the Ethics Board exonerated you right? Don't think I ever heard how that one came out.

Well Steve, you sure were the right "editor" to write about Ethics Laws, since you and your Council were the champions at violating them.

Steve Brown's picture
Submitted by Steve Brown on Thu, 09/11/2008 - 9:39pm.

Hi there B-Man.

It is good that you are back up and around.

Like usual, you like playing the part of the devil’s advocate. You know good and well there was no Wieland annexation under my tenure. The land was planned and approved under the Logsdon council. All I did was lead a dialog with any and all who wanted to attend (including the news media who reported on it).

You are forgetting the city paid the mayor’s airfare and that places him in his official capacity. And like I said in the column, if the city paid his whole way, there is no ethics abuse.

As far as Kathy Cox, our public school visit was one stop on an official list of schools she made. There was little doubt when she brought members of her office staff with her.

I cannot believe you could not guess how the State Ethics charges that Direct PAC filed against me ended. Of course, the State Ethics Board threw the thing out (two of the board members apologized for the fact I even had to show up for the hearing). As you will believe, none of the Direct PACers dared to show up for the hearing. They did send their attorney who sat there and took a beating from the chairman for wasting their time. Here is a link - www.ethics.ga.gov/EthicsWeb/references/press/PR_04092007.pdf

I will give you credit B-Man, you have been a loyal friend to Mayor Logsdon. Thick or thin, you always stick up for him. I hope he appreciates your devotion.

Y oh Y (below) did an exhaustive search and could only find a 2006 news article which mentioned the term "SPLOST" and that is considered proof? Now we all know that due diligence on behalf of the taxpayers is not a two year old discussion on maybe "bonds" or "SPLOST" in the future, but who knows.

The facts in the column are straight.

Thank you for your input.

birdman's picture
Submitted by birdman on Tue, 09/16/2008 - 9:11am.

Sorry, went out of town (grandson's first birthday).
First I want to comment on your statement "...you have been a loyal friend to Mayor Logsdon...." I don't particularly care for Logsden. In fact the only reason many of us voted for him was because in our opinion you were an abysmal mayor and needed to be replaced. Logsden was the only choice. But I suspect he will not be re-elected. Many of your posts, claims, comments, lead me to sound like I am defending Logsden when I am really calling you on what I see as your hypocrisy. The "pot calling the kettle black" sort of thing.
Case in point... your comment "...there was no Wieland annexation under my tenure." Do you not remember the Council meeting where DirectPAC proposed that the Annexation Moratorium be lifted so that our City Council and officials could participate in the Annexation proposal that YOU were working with Wieland? It was, I believe, at that meeting that you stated that you were working with Wieland NOT in capacity as "Mayor" Brown, but "Citizen" Brown. None of us wanted YOU negotiating an annexation without our representatives and city officials having input, so DirectPAC brought it to light. Don't you remember? I do.
As for your Ethics violation, true it was thrown out, but in fact you knowingly violated the ethics laws. Come on Steve, we aren't the idiots you take us to be. You appeared on Comcast to oppose the road SPLOST then denied that you did so as "mayor." Come on Steve, that was just transparently stupid. Your ego and arrogance divided this city. You were bounced in a Runoff where 11,000 voters showed up! When was the last time 11,000 voters showed up for a runoff?
Your poor leadership is what got Logsden elected. The problem is that you have always attacked EVERY Mayor and too many Councilmembers as being "corrupt," "unethical," etc. Yet YOU have NEVER filed a single violation or charge. Your wasted $50,000 investigation of Lenox and PCDC showed how absurd your constant allegations were. It turned up NOTHING. Only wasted $50,000 of our taxpayer money. You have flip-flopped on too many issues. So when you, yet again, go on the attack, it makes people like me respond in what seems to be a "defense" of Logsden. It isn't anything of the sort. It is simply a reminder of all the things YOU did, particularly those things that you seem to accuse others of doing. I don't want the city to forget because I don't want you to ever hold public office again. You attack too many of our citizens, divide the community, insult our neighbors. So if you would stop that, I would stop "defending" Logsden.

Submitted by Spyglass on Tue, 09/16/2008 - 10:18am.

You and I and the rest of PTC fully well knows that Steve Brown has NEVER done anything wrong.

His first article sounds like sour grapes to me in the fact that he wasn't Mayor when Sany came into play, and he got left out of the trip to China.

Robert W. Morgan's picture
Submitted by Robert W. Morgan on Thu, 09/11/2008 - 4:56am.

I forgot about all that stuff. Didn't you guys take Brown to the State on ethics charges? What did happen? Would Cal report it if he got off - or even if he got his wrist slapped?

Guess it doesn't matter because here is that liberal mug with the Sarah Palin glasses staring out at us from the editorial page.

Yes birdman, you are correct. The "ethics" editor does know all about violating them and the double-talk needed to cover his butt.

Now watch how the brownies and liberals respond - "What about Logsdon?" Might as well be "What about George Bush?"

Submitted by Doug on Wed, 09/10/2008 - 10:07pm.

I know you're talking about the e-mail from Carol Jensen-Linton. But Carol was talked into it by Janet Smola. And that came straight from Janet's husband.

The newspaper article you have doesn't say they decided to go with an E-SPLOST, get real. And wouldn't it have been nice if Smola and crew open things up for public comment before they dropped it on us.

Who is Tami Morris?

Submitted by Y oh Y on Thu, 09/11/2008 - 7:45am.


No the letter was written and organized by someone other than Janet Smola. It may be true that Janet encouraged Carol to support, and it is true Carol had some edit comments. But call the candidates and ask, don't trust me find out for yourself.

The article says they were considering one to fund future projects. Reading these minutes it seems they have been saying at various PUBLIC meetings that they may need a eSplost at some point. Just like some of us if things don't change I will need to get a second job. Given that in most companies there is always a plan of last resort, it seems that the Splost is FCBOE's.

That was my other point, I go to very few of these meetings and there are very few of us that go, and this is what happens. The good news is that we have had almost 100 days to educate ourselves on the splost and budget issues to decide for ourselves as voters what to do.

Again remember Sonny and the gang pulled over 6 million in state funds after the budget was approved. Read about the reactions in the AJC, small school systems are suing the state. The eSplost must be voted on by US before the FCBOE can budget for it. What better election to have this decision than one where we are all going to vote?

Tami Morris can be searched on the Citizen.

Trust but verify

Submitted by Y oh Y on Wed, 09/10/2008 - 5:21pm.

"It was board member Smola who orchestrated the secretive movement for candidates not to answer reasonable questions offered by The Citizen prior to the July primary so as to keep the public in the dark on the issue of significant tax increases. Their aim was no promises and no accountability. (Where was the outrage from the faint-hearted local Republican and Democratic parties about these tactics?)"

Mayor Brown:

Please check with the school board candidates. During the school board campaign, I came into possession of the email thread regarding the school board candidates boycotting the Citizen's questions. I know exactly who wrote it and who edited it. Mrs. Smola did not write it. Ask Marion Key she can tell you and no she didn't either.

"lot of local voters, especially senior citizens, are concerned about the deceptive practice used by FCBOE members of not saying a single public word about the SPLOST referendum until after they had won their primary election races in July."

During this whole issue, I asked a school board member if there were any documents a citizen could review for themselves. They loaned me their copy of the Tami Morris request. Here are some items that Jump out. Check with any school board member or Tami Morris.

Planning Institute March 29, 2008
Budget Work Session April 30, 2007
Agenda dated 6/23/2008

Oh and there is this from the Citizen Check the date on this puppy!

SPLOST or school bond eyed for 2008
Tue, 11/28/2006 - 5:39pmBy: John Thompson
In less than two years, the Fayette County Board of Education could be asking the taxpayers for more money to help deal with the county’s growth.

During the recent discussions over the building of two new elementary schools, school leaders discussed possible funding options for new schools and projects that will be needed in the future.

One of the possible projects is a new high school, but officials are still mulling over options, as construction costs continue to skyrocket.

“We don’t have any money in the current bond for any additions to existing high schools or a new high school,” said Comptroller Lee Davis.

The board is expected to sell its second issue of bonds next June to pay for the construction of two new elementary schools. More than $28 million of the $30 million bond issue will fund the two new schools, while the rest will pay for renovations at existing schools, including Burch Elementary, Hood Avenue Elementary and Braelinn Elementary.

In 2004, voters approved the $65 million bond referendum to pay for the elementary schools, build Bennett’s Mill Middle School, add classrooms and renovate several schools.

Prior to the 2008 election, Davis said the school board would have to determine the type of funding and which projects to build and then let the voters decide.

One of the funding options could be a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax. If the board chooses that mechanism, it would be strictly bound to the list of projects it sends to the voters.

During discussions over the two new schools, the board discovered that a bond issue was a little bit more flexible. If growth doesn’t continue to occur, the board could change some of the projects and shift funds to other areas without having to go back to the voters.

Whatever decision the board makes, it’s likely to face a fired-up voting public. During the last two month, some Fayette parents became energized by the attendance boundary disputes and what they perceived as a lack of respect during the hearings. There are already rumblings about some parents running for the Post 1, 2 and 3 positions that are up for election in 2008.

During its retreat in January, the board is expected to discuss future growth issues, along with a possible way of getting more parents involved in future boundary discussions.

Fact is far far too few of us go to these meetings and shame shame on all of us. But like when you were mayor, bless the very few with the guts to put themselves out there.


Voice of Fayette Future's picture
Submitted by Voice of Fayett... on Wed, 09/10/2008 - 1:38pm.

Brown correct again on Sany, etc. Once again, Steve Brown is factually accurate and insightful in his conclusions. But, as the voters have shown, they want someone who is politically correct and not someone who is honest. Dopey sometimes but honest.

Much of Brown's observations are old hat. Very true but let's face it--- Logsdon, Smola and Maxwell are established as very predictable self serving politicians. New facts, yes, but it proves the point as to all of them for about the hundredth time. No one cares.

Jack Smith,however, is just starting to distinguish himself. His justification for the Sany giveaway junket was "I did not want to offend them." What nonsense...Did you return their calls? Did you share with them any copies of the zoning codes they requested? Did you timely process their applications? Nothing further was necessary in order to be responsive and polite. This was a very thin excuse. Secondly, Smith's comment that "Eric Maxwell and I live here and would not do anything to hurt the community" is ridiculous. It is exactly the same spin you hear from the developers and builders who would willingly ravage Fayette for a buck, and take their ill-gotten gain to their Florida home. I guess the Chamber of Commerce crowd thinks that voters buy that and perhaps they do.

Submitted by Spyglass on Wed, 09/10/2008 - 11:31am.

I guess your Honey Do list is up to date.

He's right, they are ALL out to get us. Smiling

Submitted by Bonkers on Wed, 09/10/2008 - 12:25pm.

I don't know what a "your done" painting is, but I saw it too.ddddd

Submitted by Spyglass on Wed, 09/10/2008 - 12:29pm.

I'm not perfect. Correct, it should have been "you're". Smiling

Now move along, nothing else to see here.

gelato's picture
Submitted by gelato on Wed, 09/10/2008 - 12:24pm.

Steve Brown speaks very wisely in this column. Good ole boy Hal is definitely out to get us ALL...get all the benefits of being a mayor without having the best interest of Peachtree City at heart. He is a drip; no personality, no backbone! Come back, Steve, we need your honesty, integrity and guts.

NUK_1's picture
Submitted by NUK_1 on Wed, 09/10/2008 - 11:07am.

That was some very good stuff. No one is innocent that was mentioned and Brown wasn't afraid to name them and shame them for their specific actions. Very timely article considering how Fayette's leaders have been veering towards highly unethical and just plain dumb behavior in the last few years after seemingly getting a clue before and ending some of the abuses of public trust of the past. Now, they are right back at it again, especially the BOE that has shown they have never learned a single lesson from history.

Submitted by skyspy on Wed, 09/10/2008 - 8:15am.

What can the average citizen do now that our mayor has violated city code on gifts and favors?

How do we make him accountable for his actions?

Steve Brown's picture
Submitted by Steve Brown on Wed, 09/10/2008 - 1:50pm.

The mayor told John Munford he did do anything wrong because the county guy did it too. It makes you recall your mother asking if you would jump off the Empire State Building if your buddy did?

The saddest part is the mayor also told Munford that he fully plans to continue voting on anything that Sany brings forward.

A few people have asked me whether the mayor's recent actions possibly open up any explanation as to why he would so adamently support the TDK extension? The truth is, like I said in the column, ethics ordinances are nothing but black ink on white paper if your heart is not geared toward doing the right thing.

ptctaxpayer's picture
Submitted by ptctaxpayer on Wed, 09/10/2008 - 7:54pm.

NOT !!! Compare our locals to the national crooks. The NY Times today reported a wide ranging scandal of corruption at the Department of Interior (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/11/washington/11royalty.html?_r=1&hp&oref=slogin):

“One of the reports says that the officials viewed themselves as exempt from those limits, indulging themselves in the expense-account-fueled world of oil and gas executives. In addition, the report alleges that eight royalty-program officials accepted gifts from energy companies whose value exceeded limits set by ethics rules — including golf, ski and paintball outings; meals and drinks; and tickets to a Toby Keith concert, a Houston Texans football game and a Colorado Rockies baseball game.” Texan tickets? I'd be embarrassed to admit I took 'em.

Jack, Harold and Bernie Mac make the Interior folk look like pikers ! Those jerks got tickets to the freaking Texans and Jack, Harold and Bernie Mac got flown halfway across the world.

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