Augusta Commission adopts revised conflict-of-interest policy

A Georgia private investigator selected by the president of the Augusta Bar Association will conduct a formal investigation if any member of the Augusta Commission, a city employee or the mayor is suspected of an ethical violation, according to a revised conflict-of-interest policy formally adopted by the commission Tuesday.

The new policy, developed by a city subcommittee after allegations surfaced last year that three commissioners had provided services to the government under city contracts, passed its second reading Tuesday by a 6-1 vote. The three commissioners – Grady Smith, Joe Jackson and Wayne Guilfoyle – abstained, and Commissioner Bill Lockett was opposed.

Commissioner Donnie Smith, the chairman of the subcommittee, said it was incumbent on the commission to develop a procedure for investigating a complaint because none existed in the city’s policy, leaving members of government to investigate their own.

The policy bars any employee or public official from “transacting any business” or participating in a procurement contract at any level – whether as a prime contractor, subcontractor, supplier, consultant or vendor – if the official or an immediate family member has a substantial or financial interest in the contract. Among a handful of other revisions, the policy prohibits the commission from granting case-by-case exceptions.

Lockett said he feared placing a request for an investigation on a meeting agenda would subject the suspected party to the type of public discourse the commission has recently committed to avoid.

“We are putting ourselves in a precarious position,” Lockett said.

If six commissioners vote to seek a formal investigation, the investigator is asked to provide within 45 days a written report and an opinion about the suspected violation. The commission, with six votes, will make a final determination.

The revised policy includes the same sanctions of a public censure or reprimand, but adds suspension from participating in the procurement process for five years if the official or employee is deemed in violation.

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New Conflict of Interest Ordinance (.pdf)

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