Originally created 11/18/99

Return suspect money



There's unanimity on one front regarding two recent Richmond County grand jury reports scathingly critical of Augusta government operations: That it's time to impanel a special grand jury to carry the investigation through to completion, regard-less of where it might lead.

City commissioners, unanimously passing a resolution urging formation of the jury, clearly want to put the ugly matter behind them quickly. Chief Superior Court Judge William Fleming Jr., moving to appoint the jurors, apparently agrees.

That's good, because the public is impatient to know the extent of the ethics scandal. Is it inefficiency, incompetence, immorality -- or worse? And what must be done to cleanse what even Mayor Bob Young describes as a "cesspool"?

The statewide media are also picking up on Augusta's problems which can't be good for economic development. The city's bond rating could even be affected if confidence in the government's operations isn't soon restored.

As pointed out in this space yesterday, there are actions the Commission can take to improve the city's image, without waiting on the grand jury. One was done Tuesday when commissioners approved a resolution to qualify Augusta to be certified a "City of Ethics" by the Georgia Municipal Association.

But there's a lot more still to be done. The Commission must make good on its promise to pass an ethics code, evenif it's not what's being proposed by Mayor Young. A good ethics ordinance would require criminal background checks on all nominees to government boards and also cover them with a strict code of conduct -- to apply to commissioners as well.

Indeed, some bright lines need to be drawn to delineate between what's ethically acceptable and what isn't. For instance, whether officially dishonest or not, it's a disgrace that some commissioners accepted campaign contributions or engaged in other suspicious dealings with vendors that the city does millions of dollars of business with.

This classic example of "conflict of interest" is one of the key findings in two grand jury reports that gave rise to suspicions of corruption. Commissioners who accepted any such money would do much to restore their moral credibility by returning it. They don't need to wait for another grand jury report to do it, either.

Commissioners who accepted any such money would do much to restore their moral credibility by returning it.