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Ethics complaints filed against 2 Hall commissioners

Oliver, Powell accused of conflict of interest

POSTED: April 6, 2009 11:53 p.m.

Hall County resident Douglas Aiken has filed an ethics complaint against Hall County Commissioners Tom Oliver and Billy Powell.

Aiken wrote in a letter to the State Ethics Commission that Powell and Oliver did not disclose their personal business interests and relationship with county bond attorney Tread Syfan during a March 26 vote.

At that board meeting, Commissioner Ashley Bell proposed requiring the county’s attorneys detail any potential conflicts of interest following the disclosure that Syfan was involved in a personal business arrangement with Oliver and Powell. The motion failed 3-2, with Oliver, Powell and Commissioner Bobby Banks voting against it. Bell and Commissioner Steve Gailey voted in favor.

Syfan and County Attorney Bill Blalock are both members of law firm Stewart, Melvin and Frost. Oliver, Powell and Syfan are investors in City View Investments LLC, a group that is purchasing the Regions Bank building in downtown Gainesville.

In his letter, Aiken wrote Powell and Oliver voted “in intentional disregard to legal counsel” and should have abstained.

He said this violates the Hall County’s Code of Ethics, which states, “In any event any member of the County Board of Commissioners intentionally fails to follow this code of ethics policy the matter shall be referred to the State Ethics Commission.”

Oliver said he doesn’t feel the allegations are relevant because an attorney from Atlanta advised the commission during an executive session that there are no legal or ethical conflicts with the relationship.

But though he feels his vote was not a conflict of interest, he is not opposed to the complaint.

“I welcome his complaint. I think if Doug Aiken wants to file an ethics complaint I have no problem. I think that’s part of our system,” Oliver said.

Powell said there is no ground for the complaint and believes it is political.

“Obviously Doug Aiken doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” Powell said. “I think he was directed to do it by one or more commissioners.”

Aiken said he filed the complaint because he wants more transparency in county government.

“As a citizen, we have a right to know when the commissioners are in a business relationship with a person or individual that’s representing a matter that they have a vested interest in. You should disclose that and recuse yourself,” Aiken said.

Aiken said he would like to see two things happen as a result of his complaint.

“Quit doing it. And second thing, revote the issue on March the 26 after disclosing your relationship and then it’d be legal.”



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