FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — The Forsyth County Board of Commissioners voted July 14 to draft a resolution reprimanding a commissioner or commissioners following an investigation that a board member allegedly secured information from another commissioner without their knowledge.
Commissioners also voted to levy ethics complaints based on the investigation and send its findings to an independent agency for further review.
Commissioners Todd Levent and Cindy Jones Mills recused themselves from the discussion at the July 14 meeting.
From the time the alleged violation was first announced in early May, county commissioners have refused to disclose the names of the persons involved in the investigation, despite inquiries from the Forsyth Herald. Commissioners voted to launch the probe at a May 7 work session.
The Herald filed an open records request with the county May 21 for emails and correspondence between commissioners and senior staff related to the alleged misconduct. That request was denied by County Attorney Ken Jarrard, who stated the materials were part of an ongoing investigation.
The newspaper subsequently appealed that decision to the Georgia Attorney General’s Office on June 1, arguing that Jarrard, who had recused himself from the investigation before it was originally launched, had no authority to deny the paper’s request.
“The county attorney cannot act or advise on our request because he has publicly recused himself from the case,” the newspaper stated in its filing. “He did so before the ‘investigation’ was approved by the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners on May 7. His argument that the documents contain material that is part of an investigation presupposes that he is aware of details about the probe that he claims he has nothing to do with.”
The newspaper also stressed that conversations carried through emails between county commissioners on a case of ethics were in the public interest and should be disclosed before the June 9 primary election, where three commission seats were listed on the ballot.
The Attorney General’s Office notified the Herald on Wednesday that they have been in talks with Jarrard to mediate the issue with the newspaper.
In a letter dated July 1 addressed to Herald Managing Editor Patrick Fox, Jarrard stated his open records request was for communications “between and among commissioners and the county manager” related to the alleged violations. Jarrard stated that his office interpreted the request as requiring the county manager to have been a party to the communications.
Fox called Jarrard’s reply non-responsive.
“To imply that I insisted that the county manager was required to have been part of the correspondence is disingenuous, and Mr. Jarrard knows that,” he told the Attorney General’s Office. Fox asked that they press the issue.