FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — The Forsyth County Board of Commissioners formally censured Commissioner Todd Levent Aug. 20 following an independent investigation that showed he bypassed Open Records laws to obtain information from the county and about another commissioner.
The resolution, read at the board’s regular business meeting by Chairwoman Laura Semanson, acknowledges the findings of the investigation and its 200-page report. It also suggested that Levent’s actions outlined in the investigation “may also” violate the Georgia Open Records Act and the Georgia Computer Systems Protection act, “which makes it a felony for a public officer to steal public records,” the resolution said. The document also stated that his actions undermined the trust of the board, county employees and the public.
The censure is the first of three actions the board could take in response to the report. They also approved a potential review by an ethics panel and to seek a referral from an “outside agency” to pursue the investigation further.
The investigation charged Levent with obtaining emails from commissioner Cindy Jones Mills’ county email account without her knowledge or consent in March.
The report said that, in another instance, Levent made a telephone request to a Board of Commissioners assistant to obtain additional emails between Mills and one of her constituents. When the assistant suggested the emails could be obtained through an Open Records Request, Levent replied that he had access to the emails because he was a commissioner. Those emails were later sent to Levent’s personal campaign email account.
“The formal inquiry found further evidence that Commissioner Levent had used the Open Records Act in the past to obtain emails and other documents from other commissioners and was therefore aware the procedure required by the county,” the censure resolution states.
The investigation showed Levent later requested a list of contact information for attendees at a 2018 town hall for a proposed wastewater facility. A man at that meeting, who was also included in one of the emails obtained from Mills’ account, received a call from Levent ahead of the primary election urging he not vote for Mills.
The report said Levent did not need to file a formal records request for the list. However, his sending the list to his personal email account less than 20 minutes after receiving the spreadsheet “raised questions about what he did with it.”
“The above described actions of Commissioner Levent are believed to be in violation of the code of ethics of government service…which requires a public employee to put loyalty to the highest moral principles and to the county above loyalty to persons, party or government department,” the censure resolution states.
The investigation report advised that Levent was possibly using the information to back the campaign of Brandy Bevis, who ran against Mills in the June 9 primary. However, the investigation could not reach a “definite conclusion” because neither Levent nor Bevis were interviewed for the investigation. Levent cited scheduling conflicts, and Bevis refused to be interviewed without a subpoena.
The report’s lack of testimony from the two main subjects spurred District 2 Commissioner Dennis Brown to suggest the board possibly look into acquiring “all the information” before taking action.
But, commissioners Semanson and Molly Cooper said Levent had ample opportunity to speak with investigators.
“I appreciate that sentiment, but I will say, you can bring a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink,” Semanson said. “And there were numerous occasions over the course of the last several months where there was opportunity and where contact was made specifically to schedule an interview. And they were either not responded to, cancelled or postponed.”
Cooper said Levent was given an extra two weeks during the investigatory period to give a statement, but he did not do so.
Earlier this month, commissioners approved additional spending to cover the costs for the investigation over its original budget of up to $20,000. The exact dollar amount was not discussed, and commissioners did not ask for an estimate.