Board: Mayor Didn't Violate Ethics Code
Kennesaw's Board of Ethics voted to dismiss a complaint filed against Mayor Mark Mathews.
The Kennesaw Board of Ethics voted on Tuesday night to dismiss a complaint against Mayor Mark Mathews, determining that the allegations in the complaint don’t violate the city’s Code of Ethics.
In the complaint, which was filed by resident David Ermutlu, one allegation was that Mathews used his city-issued cell phone for personal business. Scott Cochran, an attorney advising the board, said that, while the city’s personnel policy prohibits employees from using city property for personal business, elected officials aren’t considered employees.
“A city supervisor can’t terminate an elected official,” Cochran said. “They can’t lose that position through a disciplinary procedure.”
Cochran said that he’s always seen incidental use of property belonging to an employer for personal business to be OK as long as it is primarily used for work.
“Some of us here got emails to our work email accounts about this meeting,” Cochran said. “Clearly, this has nothing to do with your work. I don’t know what happens if an employee gets a personal email or call. Sure, if they get (enough) personal calls that it turns into a personal phone, that’s one thing, but incidental use is another.”
In his complaint, Ermutlu also alleged that a conflict of interest occurred when City Manager Steve Kennedy told the city’s 911 Center that it now will dispatch all medical calls to MetroAtlanta Ambulances, rather than those run by Georgia EMS. Mathews works for MetroAtlanta Ambulance while Ermutlu works for Georgia EMS.
Terri Copeland, who chairs the Board of Ethics, said that the state of Georgia dictates what ambulance services municipalities use and that the local governments have no say.
“It’s my understanding that the city doesn’t have any control over it,” Copeland said. “It’s mandated by the state.”
The city’s conflict of interest section in its Code of Ethics deals with disclosure before official action is taken by the city council. If the council had voted to change ambulance services, Mathews would have had to disclose before a vote that he works for a local ambulance service.
“My understanding is that there isn’t a contract,” Cochran said. “These code sections don’t apply. There wasn’t any violation because there wasn’t any action taken.”
In an amendment to his complaint, Ermutlu cited two text messages sent to him from Mathews after the complaint was filed with the city clerk. Ermutlu said the messages, in which Mathews asked to meet to discuss the complaint, were inappropriate and violated the city’s Code of Ethics by making contact.
However, Cochran said that part of dispute resolution includes a meeting between both sides.
“I’ve never gone into court without talking to the other side,” he said. “I don’t see any hard and fast rule in the ethics code prohibiting this, and I’d venture to say it’s encouraged. We haven’t gone that far in this country to say you can’t talk about your differences.”
During the hearing, which lasted slightly more than an hour, Mathews’ attorney, Lance LoRusso, asked to speak and told the board he had drafted a document that likely would clear up any questions they had. When LoRusso spoke, one man said, “Madame Chairman, you said no one would be allowed to speak.” Another stood and demanded LoRusso’s Georgia Bar Association number.
Cochran said the meeting’s minutes would reflect that LoRusso asked to address the board and that his request was denied.
“I think if we open up public comment what would be fair is that both sides get to speak, and we’re not here to do that,” Cochran said. “I hate to cut anybody off, but I think this is the proper decision.”
After the hearing, LoRusso said that the board fulfilled their obligation to meet.
“Really, to comment any further than that is to kind of usurp the power of the board and (its) authority,” he said.
Ermutlu said he thought misdeeds had been done.
“I took the course that a citizen is afforded to file a complaint,” he said. “It was up to the board to decide, and they decided.”
While the board ruled that Mathews didn’t violate any city laws, it didn’t have the jurisdiction to review state law. Ermutlu said he hasn’t determined if he will take his complaint to another entity.