Local
6:36 pm
Thu December 19, 2013

State Ethics Commission Approves Hiring of 'Internal Mediator'

The state ethics commission unanimously voted to hire a third party contractor who can serve as a mediator. The move comes after several former and current members of the commission have received federal grand jury subpoenas. It also follows two lawsuits filed by former employees who allege retaliation in connection with the handling of an ethics investigation involving Governor Nathan Deal and his 2010 campaign.

During a phone meeting, commissioners approved hiring attorney Robert Constantine as a third party contractor that will report directly to the commission.

Several board members said they were not familiar with Constantine, but they voted for his hiring at the urging of commission chair Kevin Abernathy. Abernathy says Constantine is a former judge who is knowledgeable about commission business and has served in and out government for more than three decades.

“He is presently completely independent from any of the agency business that we have.”

Prior to the vote, Abernathy did not go into detail about the grand jury probe or the lawsuits by former commission employees, but he did speak about them generally.

Holly LaBerge, the commission's executive director, takes notes as commission members meet on the phone Thursday.
Holly LaBerge, the commission's executive director, takes notes as commission members meet on the phone Thursday.
Credit Michelle Wirth/WABE News

“I think it’s plain to everyone that the agency has had a number of challenges over the past 6 to 9 months.

And Abernathy said given those challenges and the upcoming legislative session, a third party contractor is needed.

He says commission employees will continue to report to commission executive director Holly LaBerge. LaBerge is one of several who have received a subpoena.

But Abernathy says the contractor or what he referred to as a receiver will serve as an intermediary between the commission and its staff members and will have the ability to help resolve any disputes among commission employees.

“Certainly part of the receivers responsibility would be to ensure that the employees are acting in a professional manner, able to communicate effectively with each other, with the public and perform their jobs.”

William Perry with ethics watch dog group Common Cause says the fact that not all commission members were familiar with Constantine prior to the meeting raises an eyebrow. But in general,  Perry is hopeful about the move.

“I think overall this is a great opportunity, because this is a place that has needed an adult monitoring the playground. This agency has been functioning improperly and not at its best ability.”

Constantine will start on January 6 and is supposed to remain in place through early May. He will be paid $10,000 dollars per month.

In July, Georgia’s ethics commission cleared Deal of any major wrongdoing. Instead, Deal had to pay $3,350 related to "technical defects" in campaign finance disclosure reports.