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Dunwoody council hashes out issues on ethics ordinance
by Noreen Cochran
ncochran@neighbornewspapers.com
March 20, 2013 10:53 AM | 1074 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Dunwoody City Council received an earful from both sides of the bench as City Councilwoman Adrian Bonser and residents Bob Lundsten, Robert Green and Joe Hirsch hammered away at alleged injustices.

Updating Dunwoody’s 30-page ethics ordinance touched off a debate, which Bonser said could go “till 3 in the morning” last week at city hall, claiming there were unethical practices surrounding the handling of ethics complaints.

“You will stay as long as I have everything addressed that I would like to address,” she said. “I still have the right to make all the changes that I want to change in the ordinance. You can’t stop me.”

But when Mayor Mike Davis asked to hear “one or two” changes, Bonser refused.

“No,” she said. “That is a violation of my freedom of speech.”

Bonser accused Davis of threatening to blackball her last year if she did not resign during an ethics battle between Bonser and City Councilman John Heneghan over a breach of confidentiality.

“He was going to destroy me and make sure every newspaper and every TV station had this story,” she said. “So what happened? The people of Dunwoody should know this. John was told to withdraw his ethics complaint so that the city could release the Wilson report and two hours later they refiled a new ethics complaint. That cannot happen. That’s completely unethical.”

Former DeKalb County District Attorney Bob Wilson headed up the inquiry last year that identified Bonser and then-city attorney Brian Anderson as the individuals who leaked real estate transaction details to blogger and Dunwoody Planning Commission member Lundsten.

Heneghan said he did not withdraw the complaint but was told by Anderson it was “irrelevant.”

At Bonser’s request, he read from an agreement the mayor and city council signed in November.

“‘The parties agree to conduct a review of the city’s ethics ordinance and work with staff to assess the existing ordinance and make recommendations for improvement in the city of Dunwoody processes and procedures,’” Heneghan read. “That’s exactly what we’ve been doing in our work sessions and on this first read. We are reviewing. I’m adhering to this.”

Bonser said the agreement made further discussion of the ethics ordinance illegal — unless it was by a committee formed for that purpose.

“I am so angry right now,” she said. “We have a legal and binding document. Continuing this further, I’m telling you, is breaking the law. It’s breaking the law of our agreement.”

City Councilman Denis Shortal argued for restraint.

“Let’s address it here and not go back and rehash things that are behind us,” he said.

According to City Manager Warren Hutmacher, the revised ordinance will strengthen the appeals process, extend its reach to the appointed officials like himself and give the hearing officer the power to decide if a case should move forward.

“We think that will help eliminate the frivolous and politically charged ethics complaints,” he said.

City Attorney Cecil McClendon said there will be room for everyone’s input.

“We have an agenda item that, obviously, there’s going to be controversy,” he said.

The revised ordinance may be discussed at the April 1 meeting, after which council has until June 1 to vote on it.

The council declined to vote on Bonser’s motion to form a committee first.

Prior to the ethics item, the city council was reprimanded by several residents.

Lundsten said he wanted the ethics board to be able to question witnesses.

“The concern I have is I would hope, after the debacle of the last attempt and attorneys took advantage of situations and delayed all this, that we don’t overreact and eliminate citizen participation in the ethics review process,” he said. “You can have the [hearing officer] rule on whether it’s a proper question.”

Green, who conducts a poll at savedunwoody.com, warned of election opposition.

“We will be working with great diligence to unseat you in the days and weeks and months ahead,” he said. “Our efforts thus far have been minimal, yet look at the results. Your own words and actions have proven to be your own worst enemies, and any reasonably intelligent elected official would be concerned. Your lack of concern, I think, speaks volumes.”

Hirsch said there will be fallout from the handling of issues like the Vermack roundabout, the Dunwoody Village Parkway plan and the Brook Run trail, in which he said residents’ opinions were disregarded.

“How insulting,” he said. “Almost everything you do up here is backed by your beliefs that you know so much more than the residents and that we are ignorant fools in the way of your plans.”
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