Thursday, Apr. 13, 2023–7:51 a.m.
-John Bailey, Rome News-Tribune-
This story is possible because of a news-sharing agreement with the Rome News-Tribune. More information can be found at northwestgeorgianews.com.
An ethics complaint filed against a Rome city commissioner is the beginning of a review process to determine whether an issue brought up by a city employee will hold sway.
While Rome is a Georgia Municipal Association certified city of ethics, and has been for some time, the quasi-judicial process to determine fault has not yet been used, City Clerk Joe Smith said.
As of Wednesday, the complaint against City Commissioner Mark Cochran was not available publicly. Since it is the first time the city has adjudicated an ethics hearing, Smith is consulting the city attorney to determine if it is a public document. Georgia Press Association attorney David Hudson stated that, absent anything contrary in the city codes or ordinances, an ethics complaint against an elected official is a public document.
The Rome News-Tribune filed an Open Records Act request Wednesday afternoon to obtain a copy of the complaint.
A person familiar with the matter stated that the filed complaint does not involve the issue investigated earlier by a third-party attorney hired by the city.
That independent investigation, conducted by David Archer at Archer and Lovell P.C., concerned comments made by Cochran during a Jan. 23 City Commission meeting.
During that meeting, Cochran challenged the procedures used by the Rome engineering department, stating that he felt those procedures had led to the delay and eventual change in development plans for a project off North Broad Street Extension. He also alluded to other past issues, regarding the planning department, during that public exchange.
Shortly thereafter at least two members of the department filed complaints regarding Cochran’s accusations and stated his assertion that the department had not done its job was not factual.
The current ethics complaint stems from a meeting in March 2021 concerning whether or not city commissioners should recuse themselves in a discussion about a healthcare clinic.
The process going forward
The recent ethics complaint filing kicks off a series of hearings to determine what, if anything, will be done regarding the allegations.
At this point, Mayor Sundai Stevenson will randomly choose three other GMA cities of ethics in District One — which encompasses much of Northwest Georgia — and contact the chief elected officer of that municipality to serve on a three-person panel.
The process of seeking participants in that panel has not yet begun.
“No timeline has been established,” Smith said. “But it will be soon.”
That panel would then oversee two hearings. The first hearing would determine if there is enough evidence to hold a full hearing. The panel would then notify the commissioner and complainant who could then attend the second hearing.
If the panel rules that there is enough evidence to move forward, they would then hear evidence and arguments concerning the matter and make a determination in the case.
The panel would submit a written report concerning their findings which may include potential penalties. The panel could request a written or verbal apology for the actions taken or even request the resignation of the commissioner but does not have the power to enforce those penalties.