Atlanta City Councilmember H. Lamar Willis achieved his goal even those his proposed ordinance, deemed “an astonishingly bad idea”, to change the selection process of the Ethics Officer for the Atlanta Board of Ethics was defeated.
In my opinion (and opinion is what blogs are all about, right?), the intent of Councilmember Willis’ proposal was to prevent the board’s recommended appointee, Stacey Kalberman, from getting the job. Kalberman withdrew her name from consideration after accepting another job due to continued delays in approval of her selection and the resistance she felt from certain councilmembers.
In anticipation of a few voices at City Hall howling the words “prove it”, let me say this – I can’t. It is not my intention to make a provable accusation, however, I do want to lay out the circumstances that led to the formation of my opinion and let reasonable people form their own opinions.
So let’s start with a brief summary of the actions that led me to my conclusion:
- Councilmember Willis did not make his proposal in the seven months since it was first announced that the former Ethics Officer was resigning and a search for a new officer would begin.
- Councilmember Willis began talking about the changing the process only after Kalberman was announced as the board’s selection.
- Councilmember Willis withdrew his proposed ordinance the same day it was announced that Kalberman was withdrawing from consideration for the post.
Former Ethics Officer Ginny Looney announced her resignation in July of 2011. The Board of Ethics shortly thereafter announced the formation of a search committee and began the process of selecting a new ethics officer. It would seem that this would have been the appropriate time for someone concerned about the selection process to propose a change. But, there was no such proposal from Councilmember Willis, or anyone else at this time.
And while I am still on the subject of the proposed change to the selection process, let me echo what others have said – Councilmember Willis’ proposal to allow the Council to choose the ethics officer was “an astonishingly bad idea”. The whole point of an independent board is to be truly independent. Allowing those who are regulated by the independent body to choose the person who calls the shots would not allow for such independence and would inject bad politics into the process.
On to point number two, Councilmember Willis did not begin talking about his recommendation (see video from 2/20, part 2, at 48 minutes) to change the process until after it was announced that Ms. Kalberman was the board’s choice. This was a point when it was completely inappropriate to make a recommendation to change the process. Why not just oppose the selection openly, which is what the current city ethics ordinance deems an appropriate option for members of council? And if he simply had not thought of such a proposal until this point, would it not have been appropriate to wait until after the current process came to a conclusion? That way, the issue would not be clouded and the conclusion that I have reached, that this was an attempt to influence the current process, would not be so clear, again, in my opinion.
Finally, Councilmember Willis withdrew his proposed ordinance the same day it was announced that Ms. Kalberman was withdrawing from the process. Again with an assumption, but it seems to me that if the proposal stood on its own merit and was important enough to introduce at a highly inappropriate time, there would be no reason to withdraw it if it had not already served its purpose.
In closing, I think it is interesting to note that all of the current councilmembers who have been fined by the ethics board, with the exception of Council President Ceasar Mitchell, supported and/or voted for delaying the appointment of Ms. Kalberman and/or Councilmember Willis’ proposed ordinance. That includes Councilmembers Kwanza Hall, C.T. Martin, H. Lamar Willis and Cleta Winslow.