Mableton city council hears first reading of proposed ethics ordinance, makes amendments

a screenshot of the six districts in Mableon, with 1,2,3 to the south, 4, 5, 6 to the north

At the second transitional meeting of the Mableton City Council, the “first reading” of a proposed ethics ordinance took place, along with a motion for the composition of the city’s Board of Ethics.

Interim City Attorney Emilia Walker-Ashby said that the process for adopting the ordinance required a minimum of two readings before the city council can formally adopt the ordinance. During the readings, input will be gathered from the mayor and council members, adjustments will be made to the ordinance, and a vote on official adoption could take place after the second reading, or the vote could be postponed for further reading and discussion.

“So this ordinance would require two readings,” she said. “That would mean that you would look at it tonight, you would give me any comments and feedback to incorporate.”

She said that during the second reading, the modified ordinance would be anticipated to be in a form the council would feel more comfortable adopting.


Having an ethics ordinance in place is a requirement for certification by the Georgia Municipal Association (GMA) as a City of Ethics. The GMA provides a sample code of ethics that includes three options for the structure of a city Board of Ethics (a,b, and c).

“And what they ask is they ask that you adopt a resolution adhering to their five ethical principles,” Walker-Ashby said. “After you adopt that resolution … we would then give notice to GMA that you are applying for that certification.”

“After the resolution has been approved, we give them a copy of the resolution, and then they would give feedback and they would assist in any capacity that’s requested to help you model the ordinance if needed,” she said. “And then upon adoption, you would become a certified CIty of Ethics, and you will be listed on their website as having that designation and you would also be recognized at their annual conventions.”

You can read the sample ethics ordinance by following this link.

At the most general level, an ethics ordinance as defined by the GMA sets the following standards for public officials covered by the ordinance:

Serve others and not themselves;
Be independent, impartial and responsible;
Use resources with efficiency and economy;
Treat all people fairly;
Use the power of their position for the well-being of their constituents
Create an environment of honesty, openness and integrity.

The ordinance also has specific prohibitions on conflicts of interest, using the official’s position for monetary gain, personal use of city property unless the public has the same use available, using the position for the benefit of family members, and other violations of the public trust.

Walker-Ashby said that the structure of the ethics committee in the city’s existing charter is different from the options outlined by the GMA.

Mayor Michael Owens asked for her to explain the purpose of the ethics board.

“Essentially, just making sure the officials are held accountable,” she said.

She gave as an example the use of city facilities. She said that under the sample ethics code it would be okay for a city official to use city facilities for a personal event, as long as those facilities were available to the general public for the same use and under the same terms.

“So there’s a whole list of activities that the GMA has put together, and the (Ethics) board essentially just enforces these,” she said.

Walker-Ashby said that a citizen could bring an ethics complaint against an official before the Ethics Board, that the board would meet and the official would have a chance to answer the charges.

The board would then make a recommendation to the city council.

A discussion arose about the composition of the board. Unlike the GMA recommendations, and unlike most other cities, the Mableton city charter states that the Board of Ethics will have seven members.

All options in the GMA sample ordinance define a three-member board.

District 3 Councilwoman Keisha Jeffcoat asked if decisions about the board can be modified at a later date if the ethics ordinance is found to be unworkable.

Walker-Ashby said yes, the ordinance can be changed.

District 4 Councilwoman Patricia Auch asked that if one of the GMA models from the ethics board were chosen, it would require a charter amendment.

Walker-Ashby said no, that it would only require a change to the ordinance.

District 2 Councilwoman Dami Oladapo asked if the positions on the ethics board are volunteer positions.

Walker-Ashby said yes, and that payment would not be allowed beyond reimbursement for things like training.

District 6 Councilwoman Herndon asked whether the positions on the ethics board are term-limited.

Walker-Ashby stated that the term limits in the GMA options are two years.

Herndon made a motion that the council adopt Option C. from the proposed GMA ordinance and Auch seconded the proposal. Alternative C reads as follows:

Alternative C
(a) The Board of Ethics of the City shall be composed of three (3) residents of
the City to be appointed as follows: the mayor and councilmembers shall
each designate one (1) qualified citizen to provide a pool of _ number of
individuals who have consented to serve as a member of such Board of
Ethics and who will be available for a period of two (2) years to be called
upon to serve in the event a Board of Ethics is appointed. The City Clerk
shall maintain a listing of these qualified citizens. Upon receipt of a
properly verified complaint and timely forwarding of that complaint to the
city official charged in the complaint, the Mayor and Council, at the next
regularly scheduled public meeting or at a specially called public meeting,
shall draw names randomly from the listing of qualified citizens until three
(3) members of the Board of Ethics have been appointed. Such Board will
elect one of its members to serve as chair.

District 5 Councilman and Mayor Pro Tem T.J. Ferguson asked whether the full council would vote on whether the list of seven appointees to the pool of ethics board members are qualified.

“And do we have to agree that this person is qualified to handle any kind of ethics conversations that we might need to have? I could call (I’m gonna be funny here),” Ferguson said. “I could call my dog and say Mr. Puggles is going to be on this commission. But is Mr. Puggles qualified to be on this commission is the question?”

Auch said that the ordinance specifies that the council members choose qualified members and that Mr. Puggles would not qualify.

Owens said that one of the options other than option C called for one member of the ethics board to be an attorney who is a member of the Georgia Bar, and he would like it specified that at each meeting of the ethics board, one of those three members be an attorney appointed by the mayor.

Walker-Ashby said that since Herndon had made the motion on the floor, she would have to agree to amend the motion. Herndon agreed to the amendment.

The motion passed by a voice vote, and paraphrased, has the following effect:

Each council member chooses a potential member for the pool. The mayor chooses a member of the bar (an attorney). This gives a pool of seven people.

When an ethics issue needs to be acted on, two ethics board members are drawn at random from the pool of six appointed by the council members. The attorney appointed by the mayor is added to those two randomly chosen council members to create a board of three members to hear the ethics complaint at hand.

This vote did not result in the adoption of the ordinance. Walker-Ashby will write the specific wording of the ordinance based on the motion that was passed, and it will be brought back to the council for a second reading, where it can be passed as is, amended, or postponed until a third reading, depending on what the council decides.

A vote was also taken on the ethics ordinance as a whole, and passed with a voice vote. That, too, is not final, but will require a second reading.