Scott Bonder, a DeKalb County commercial litigation attorney serving on the newly-constituted board of ethics, resigned yesterday in protest of legislative changes proposed this year.
House members advanced a bill to change the appointment process for the board, in anticipation of a court ruling in a lawsuit by former county commissioner Sharon Barnes-Sutton that may invalidate the board’s appointment process. Appointments to the board overseeing ethical conduct for the county board of commissioners would be made by the county’s legislators and no longer by groups like the chamber of commerce or the bar association.
Legislators — principally State Rep. Vernon Jones — have taken issue with public comments by the county’s ethics officer, Stacey Kalberman, about this pending legislation. Bonder’s resignation short-circuits those criticisms.
Bonder, a former Marine and instructor at Emory Law School’s Trial Advocacy Program, made his objections clear in an open letter, below.
March 28, 2017
To Whom It May Concern:
I write to you in my official capacity as a member of the DeKalb County Board of Ethics. I hereby resign.
With that formality out of the way, I am free to speak my mind without fear of violating any rule prohibiting members of the Ethics Board from engaging in partisan politics. To be clear, I am only partisan in the sense that I, as a DeKalb resident, seek to preserve an impartial and effective ethics board in DeKalb County rather than see it die.
I write this now and take this action now because certain DeKalb legislators seek to destroy any semblance of an objective and functioning Board of Ethics. This is of particular importance now for two reasons. First, the Board has been functioning and rooting out DeKalb’s worst offenders. That those offenders stand on a precipice is the cause of their urgency to destroy the Board through lawsuits and legislation. Second, if these legislators manage to alter the Board, their legislation may well end up on a ballot for DeKalb’s approval with a deceptive summary line on the ballot like “Do you support ethics.” Please know that such a new referendum will be pure nonsense. The Board and the law that exist today support ethics. The proposed legislation is the devil working its fingers back into the county.
Beginning in 2016, DeKalb’s Ethics Board, newly created after an astounding referendum which 92% of voters approved, quietly began work to improve the ethics environment in DeKalb County. The lack of noise itself was notable because unlike prior Boards, there were no fights, no screaming, or partisan politics. Instead, a rational group of volunteers began an objective and effective program to educate DeKalb employees and politicians, and to work through the already existing backlog of ethics complaints.
The Board worked politely, professionally, and efficiently. Members of the public attended the meetings and voiced their gratitude for finally having a rational outlet for their ethics complaints.
Unfortunately, the Board worked too well. A former commissioner with multiple ethics complaints against her sued to forestall any rulings against her. Then came portions of the DeKalb legislative delegation and their newly proposed legislation that would destroy the Board of Ethics and return it to being a political lapdog of the sort DeKalb voters wanted to replace.
DeKalb Citizens voted overwhelmingly in favor of an objective and functional Board of Ethics. The Board worked and some of DeKalb’s worst offenders are scared. Now, their political friends and those who want to continue DeKalb’s history of questionable ethics compliance seek to destroy the Board.
If DeKalb Citizens want to keep their functional Board of Ethics, then they need to speak out and participate. A battle is being waged in your name and most of you do not even know it is being fought. Call your legislators and demand that the Board of Ethics be allowed to continue to clean house. The battle for DeKalb County’s Board of Ethics is being fought and DeKalb County’s soul is at stake.
Sincerely, Scott L. Bonder
Former member of DeKalb Board of Ethics and concerned DeKalb citizen.