Mayor denies knowing he violated ethics law

AIKEN --- New Ellenton Mayor Vernon Dunbar said Tuesday he did not know he was violating ethics laws when he did not recuse himself from conversations about the city transferring its general fund to a bank where his wife is employed.

 

"I did not realize that because my spouse is an employee of Security Federal that I have an economic interest in the bank," he said in a statement.

Last week, the State Ethics Commission found that the mayor had violated state ethics laws "by knowingly using his official position to obtain an economic interest for a business with which he is associated when he transferred New Ellenton's general fund from the First Citizens Bank to the Security Federal bank, his spouse's employer and a business with which he is associated."

The commission issued a written warning to the mayor and ordered him to pay an administrative fee of $100 within 30 days.

The complaint to the ethics commission was filed May 28 by Richard Brancato, who was elected in March to the city's water commission.

The city funds were switched to a new bank in May 2006, soon after Mr. Dunbar took office, and the change was made public after the fact.

The ethics commission notes in its records that the minutes of the June 19, 2006, city council meeting reflect no formal vote or objection to the transfer.

Mr. Dunbar pointed out in his statement that the council was in full agreement and that the decision to switch banks was made during budget work sessions.

"The move from First Citizens to Security Federal was made for internal reasons," he said. "These reasons were not made public at that time because of the sensitive nature of the issues."

In his statement to the ethics commission, Mr. Dunbar said excessive bank charges, confidentiality issues and poor customer service were among the factors in the decision.

He said the move to Security Federal, a local bank, "was done for the betterment of the city, and in no way did I nor my spouse obtain an economic interest from this transaction."

On another issue, a judge has ruled that the city's August 2005 annexation of the Three Runs Plantation subdivision was improper, city Councilman Gene Smith said.

The judge has removed the subdivision, which is 3.5 miles east of the city, from the city's tax rolls, he said.

Mr. Smith said the city is waiting on the judge to make the ruling official by signing an agreement between the subdivisions's developer and the city.

Reach Michelle Guffey at (803) 648-1395, ext. 110, or michelle.guffey@augustachronicle.com.