The Newnan Times-Herald


Attorney: State ethics law ‘ineffective as it exists’

  • By Rebecca Leftwich
  • |
  • May. 28, 2019 - 9:26 PM

(Editor’s Note: This story is part of an investigation into allegations of wrongdoing against the Coweta County Board of Education and Coweta County School System staff. The Newnan Times-Herald will continue to keep readers up to date as the story unfolds.)

An independent investigation has exonerated Coweta school officials from charges of corruption, but ethics charges against the reported ringleader may not bring the satisfaction some hope.

In a report released last week by Wilson, Morton & Downs, LLC, investigators say District 4 representative Linda Menk provided information leading to false allegations of malfeasance against the school board and school system staff.

Menk claimed the investigation was actually focused on her, not the allegations leveled against the board and school system staff, and repeatedly requested immunity from any possible ethics charges, according to the report.

However, not many local boards have ever bothered invoking the murky 2010 Georgia law that established the current protocol for ethics complaints.

“Frankly, I’m not sure anyone’s ever done it. It’s not a very good law,” said Tommy Coleman of Albany, a former mayor, city councilman and attorney who specializes in municipal law, education and election law, and public finance.

Among other provisions, the law required the Georgia Department of Education to establish governance standards and a code of ethics for local school boards. But under the law, even if ethics violations were successfully proved, the “sanctions” to be imposed by a board against the errant member are undefined.

“What do you do?” Coleman said. “Does that mean you can remove them from office, or do you just give them a Boy Scout Handbook and tell them to be a better person?

There are other statutes pertaining to the removal of a public officer in Georgia law, some dealing with the violation of the oath of office or abandonment of office.

“Say there’s an ethical violation, or perhaps some other violation,” Coleman said. “But that’s a really hard thing. That’s a matter of perspective, actually, and I doubt that expressing her opinion is going to be sufficient. There’s a statute about abandonment of office, but my experience is as soon as you have a hearing to remove them, if they’re living and breathing, they’ll show up at the hearing and then you really don’t have a case for abandonment.”

An ethics complaint under the current law might not only fall short of the desired result, but in fact may have the opposite of the intended effect, according to Coleman.

“The problem with people like that is, let’s just say she violated these ethical provisions,” he said of Menk. “You set up a hearing and she comes. What have you really accomplished? You’ve just created a larger forum for her. I don’t think the law will allow you to remove her from office, and you’ve created another spectacle for the school system.”

Coleman said the best thing to do with a situation like Coweta’s might be to leave it up to the public to deal with at the polls.

“The law is very ineffective as it exists,” Coleman added. “It’s just not suitable for the type of conclusion the community would like.”