AJC Watchdog: First Alert

Keeping watch on those who hold the public trust and money

At ethics commission, all present and accounted for

All five members of the state ethics commission are in town for Tuesday's busy meeting.

That's newsworthy for the beleaguered commission, which has eschewed attending meetings personally for teleconferences. This week's meeting marks the first time since Jan. 16 that the entire commission has been in Atlanta.

The commission held teleconferences in a meeting split between Sept. 5 and Sept. 8 to fire former executive secretary Holly LaBerge and has had three other remote meetings this year. On March 6, the commission held a meeting where three members were physically present and two were on speakerphone.

Like most state commissions, the unpaid, volunteer appointees are scattered across the state, making it difficult for all of them to come together in one place, especially for meetings called on short notice. But the ethics commission has had more trouble than many and the problem is acute.

From 2011-2012, the commission met 14 times, but only twice by teleconference. In the past two years, commissioners have 11 times, seven by phone.

State law allows for statewide commissions to meet by teleconference, but the reliance on distance meetings in recent years by the governing body has only underscored the commission's disarray. Most of the commission's meetings during that period have dealt with internal problems including numerous lawsuits filed by former employees and a progressive disciplinary approach to LaBerge, leading to her dismissal.

Tuesday's meeting is the first since July 2012 to deal extensively with the things the ethics commission was created to do: issue opinions and rule on complaints.

Read more of our coverage of the commission here.

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Joyner’s column, AJC Watchdog, investigates topics in your community and Georgia.