Thursday, May 18, 2023–9:06 a.m.
-John Bailey, Rome News-Tribune-
The following story is made possible by a partnership with the Rome News-Tribune. More information is available at northwestgeorgianews.com.
Floyd County Superior Court Chief Judge John “Jack” Niedrach scheduled a hearing for June 19 to hear Cochran’s concerns regarding perceived flaws in the City of Rome’s ethics investigation process.
In a hearing on May 12, Cochran’s attorney Jeremy Berry argued several points concerning the process of investigating an ethics complaint filed by the Rome Human Resources Director Kristy Shepard.
The complaint itself centers around the treatment of city employees, which Shepard described as uncalled for and unprofessional. The complaint also points toward two discussions where she implies that Cochran could have potentially financially benefited from his role as a city commissioner. To be clear, city records show that Cochran did not participate in a vote on either topic.
In his argument, Berry stated allowing the process to go forward risked allowing harm to Cochran’s reputation in what was a flawed and arbitrary process.
After hearing arguments, Judge Niedrach temporarily stopped the Ethics Investigation Panel’s proceedings which were scheduled for May 16. The purpose of that meeting was to determine the guilt or innocence of the city commissioner after hearing scheduled testimony.
One issue Berry raised in court is that two of the three appointees to the Ethics Investigation Panel stated in an earlier meeting on May 2 they already had enough evidence to make a determination regarding the complaint.
In that meeting, the members of the panel, Adairsville Mayor Kenneth Carson and Summerville Mayor Harry Harvey, specifically weighed in on the allegations.
Carson said that Cochran’s behavior when he openly criticized a city department during a Jan. 23 City Commission meeting was a clear ethics violation and Harvey signaled that the evidence they had been presented was enough to make a decision.
“I don’t need to have a lot more information as far as a decision is concerned,” he said.
A motion heard by Judge Niedrach last week states that the process by which the Ethics Investigation Panel is proceeding is arbitrary and does not comply with the procedures required by the City of Rome.
That panel is considering evidence outside the scope of the complaint and their investigation, he argued.
“As such, the investigating committee should have dismissed the ethics complaint,” Berry wrote in a motion seeking the court intervene. “Instead, the committee has added their own facts to the complaint.”