Ethics Board Member Resigns
Eileen Alberstadt said her resignation was driven by a meeting held on Tuesday to review a complaint filed against Mayor Mark Mathews.
One member of Kennesaw's Board of Ethics said she has resigned effective immediately after being "blindsided" at a meeting on Tuesday to review a complaint filed against Mayor Mark Mathews.
Eileen Alberstadt said she sent the a letter this morning to members of the city council. City Manager Steve Kennedy confirmed that Alberstadt had sent an email regarding her resignation to the city clerk.
Mathews said it was unfortunate that Alberstadt resigned.
"I feel like she is a great representative of our community and was put into a position that she indicated that she wanted to serve," he said.
However, members of an ethics board have to be aware that at some point they likely will hear cases against elected officials, the mayor said.
"Having to consider ethical complaints is not an easy position to be in," Mathews said. "Unfortunately in this case, the accusations were made public as if they were valid claims. The first step of the board of ethics was to determine if the complaints are warranted. Unfortunately, thanks to social media and print media, the case had already been tried, and in the minds of the majority of the 'concerned' people in attendance at the meeting had been convicted, and thought they were going to witness a confirmation of conviction and penalty."
Alberstadt said that during the hour-long meeting, the board was told by an attorney sent to advise them that the city's ethics code doesn't apply to elected officials. For example, elected officials aren't included in the city's personnel policy, which includes the use of city property for personal reasons. That was one of the complaints filed by Kennesaw resident David Ermutlu.
"Well, what the hell are we having a meeting for?" Alberstadt said. "What the hell do we have a room full of people for? What the hell is Mark Mathews sitting right behind my back for?"
Kennedy said that the city's personnel policy does not apply to elected officials, members of boards, himself, the city clerk and the municipal court judge.
"(The city council is) held to their own standard of right and wrong and what they as a body agree is acceptable," Kennedy said. "If something is wrong and they feel it’s wrong, they can react as they see fit. There’s no written policy adopted by the city that would directly apply to them."
The ethics code was written to address the conduct of elected officials, Mathews said. However, he said that the complaint filed against him addressed violations of employee policies, which are not applicable to elected officials.
"Unfortunately, this is a great example of someone taking a piece of policy completely out of context," he said.
That's something Alberstadt said needs to change.
"Does that mean all of our elected officials can go out there and do whatever they want?" she said. "Maybe the ethics rules need to be rewritten."
Another issue addressed in Ermutlu's complaint was a memo sent recently by Kennedy informing city employees that the municipality's ambulance service was being changed from Georgia EMS to MetroAtlanta Ambulance Service. Ermutlu works for Georgia EMS while Mathews is the government liaison for MetroAtlanta.
At the Board of Ethics meeting, chairwoman Terri Copeland said that state of Georgia had made the decision to change Kennesaw's ambulance provider.
"I know what it’s all about – somebody had to have pressured the state," Alberstadt said. "When Mark's the government liason, who do you think would have done that? It blows my mind. It really does. You have people’s lives at stake."
Mathews said in an email to Kennesaw Patch that the allegation that he used his position to pressure the state to change the city's ambulance provider is "completely inappropriate and does not warrant a response."
"The issue regarding the service used by the Kennesaw 911 center for EMS calls is clearly regulated by the state," the mayor said. "The directive came from the state and had to be adhered to immediately."
Alberstadt, who served on the board for seven years, said she's been in tears ever since Tuesday's meeting.
"I’ve been upset since I left there," she said. "I heard people saying, 'We’re the public, and we should have a say about things.' You want to say something to them, but you can’t. It’s very sad. And, for them to blindside us the other night and make it as though every little thing that came up, well, this doesn’t pertain to Mark. This doesn’t pertain to Mark. He’s not an employee. Well, the meeting should have been stopped right there."
Alberstadt said she also felt intimidated by Scott Cochran, the attorney who was hired to advise the board. The city's attorney recused himself because of a conflict of interest, and Kennedy said that the city council voted last week to authorize outside legal service for the Ethics Board to address and ethics complaint.
Cochran ran the meeting rather than Copeland, Alberstadt said.
"He was leading us like little puppies," she said. "We didn’t know. We had no clue."
For example, she said board members didn't know they couldn't use state ethics codes to review the complaint until advised of that by Cochran.
And, the board should have been able to meet with Cochran before the Tuesday meeting.
"I had no clue who he was," Alberstadt said. "We knew there would be an outside attorney appointed. I felt like the attorney should have been from outside Cobb County. Let’s face it – Cobb County is Cobb County. You know one mayor, you know them all."
This was the first hearing the board had come before them in at least seven years, Alberstadt said.