Have you noticed any shady goings-on by a candidate running for office on Tybee Island? City council members demand you keep that to yourself.
According to the Savannah Morning News, Tybee’s city council has adopted a moratorium on filing ethics complaints against candidates for the council beginning 90 days before the qualifying period and extending until the election results have been certified. The motion is meant to prohibit opponents from using ethics complaints to “mar a campaign.” In case you’re thinking this is a silly thing that has to be a rare occurrence, apparently it’s been all the rage in Tybee elections for at least the past three years. Council members Wanda Doyle and Paul Wolff have had complaints filed against them only to have them dismissed after the election.
Doyle, however, was one of the dissenting members in the 4-2 vote. For her, the moratorium didn’t go far enough in that it didn’t disallow members of political action committees from serving on the city’s ethics board and also capped the repayment from the city for successfully defending against an ethics complaint at $5,000.
City council members stated other localities have similar policies, which is true. In some cases, it’s entire states. Alaska was the first state to pass a similar law in 1998.
Proponents of these bans, like the National Council of State Legislatures, claim they’re necessary to prevent the politicization of the ethics process. The state of Georgia bans complaints 30 days prior to an election through its outcome. Not only can ethics complaints not be filed during that period, they also cannot be investigated.
Opponents, like the American Civil Liberties Union, agree that ethics complaints can be abused during campaigns, but argue that politically-motivated complaints aren’t always unwarranted complaints. From a letter written regarding a different, but similar circumstance:
[While] a moratorium eliminates the filing of frivolous complaints, it bars the filing of any meritorious complaints as well. It strikes us as strange, to say the least, to have a state agency designed to investigate ethics complaints put up a “Closed for Business” sign during what should be the busiest time of the year. To do so because some of the complaints it receives may not be valid is the quintessential example of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
The Morning News didn’t quote anyone opposed to the ban, and indeed, it seems as though it’s uncontroversial around Tybee. The only unusual aspect is the provision setting the start of the ban 90 days before an election. Three months prior to filing through the end of an election is a long time if a real problem surfaces because everyone’s hands are tied until the election ends.