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Ga. agency rejects ethics complaint

State says it does not have jurisdiction

POSTED: April 8, 2009 11:20 p.m.

The State Ethics Commission rejected an ethics complaint filed against two Hall County commissioners early this week, citing the fact that the complaint did not fall within the commission’s jurisdiction.

The commission deals with campaign finance, personal finance, lobbyist and election issues and rejected a resident’s complaint that two commissioners violated the county’s Code of Ethics last month, said the commission’s executive director Rick Thompson.

"We do not have jurisdiction in the matter," Thompson said. "A state agency would not have jurisdiction over a county ethics (violation)."

Hall County resident Doug Aiken filed a complaint Monday against Hall County Commission Chairman Tom Oliver and Commissioner Billy Powell. In a letter to the state commission, Aiken wrote 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 Operations Center in downtown Gainesville.

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

Oliver and Powell claim Dana Maine, an attorney from Atlanta, advised the commission during an executive session that there were no legal or ethical conflicts with their relationship with Syfan and they would not need to disclose it to vote on Bell’s motion.

But Bell said after he stated his motion in the executive session, Maine said Oliver and Powell would need to disclose their relationship to Syfan before voting in accordance with Hall County’s code of ethics.

Maine declined to comment.

"I cannot discuss what happened in an executive session," she said.



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