The legal flap over whether Macon City Councilmen Charles Jones and Larry Schlesinger violated the state Open Meetings Act has quieted down, except for one unsolicited blast from Council President James Timley.
On Dec. 15, Jones and Schlesinger -- two-thirds of the three-member ad hoc committee that assigned all council members to permanent committee slots -- showed up for a formal vote on those assignments. They brought with them nearly identical pre-made lists, and Timley, the third member, accused them of colluding. Since Jones and Schlesinger together made up a quorum of the assigning committee, any unpublicized meeting between the two could be construed as a violation of the state’s Open Meetings Act.
Jones and Schlesinger acknowledged talking to each other often, as they regularly do. They also said they met together with Macon Mayor Robert Reichert after the temporary Committee on Committee formed. But they denied discussing specific committee appointments, either between themselves or with the mayor.
A week later Stefan Ritter, the state’s senior assistant attorney general, sent a letter to Macon City Attorney Martha Welsh, asking for details on that meeting and any e-mails exchanged by council members regarding committee appointments. Welsh replied Dec. 30 that she didn’t think any violation occurred.
“In retrospect, Schlesinger and Jones now realize their being together after the committee was formed could raise suspicions,” Welsh wrote. “Nevertheless, at the time, they were unaware that their conduct could be misconstrued or that mentioning committee assignments, which they deny doing, would be unlawful.”
Since then Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens’ office has taken no action, according to office Counsel Daryl Robinson.
“The status is, it’s still just a pending matter right now,” he said.
At the Dec. 15 meeting, Jones and Schlesinger agreed to make some changes in their committee lists, and Timley joined them in making the final assignment votes unanimous. In the end, every council member except Councilman Rick Hutto got his or her first choice of committee assignments. Those final votes complied with the Open Meetings Act and were legal and binding, Welsh wrote.
Timley disagrees with decision
But on Jan. 5, Timley wrote to Ritter himself, disputing Welsh’s conclusions.
“As President of Macon City Council, I find the narrative absent of proper investigation, and absent of facts as it relates to law and violation of law,” wrote Timley, who is not an attorney.
He called it impossible that Jones and Schlesinger would come up with identical lists for 30 positions without colluding. Though Timley referred to the lists as “identical,” they actually differed by one name.
“Ms. Welsh has not done due diligence to her position as City Attorney nor has she represented her client, in this case, the City of Macon,” Timley wrote.
Welsh had written that in the days before the Committee on Committees formed, Jones and Schlesinger discussed a “shared desire” to keep committee assignments as similar as possible to their existing membership, so it wasn’t surprising that they came to nearly identical conclusions.
She included a table showing committee assignments, including Jones’ and Schlesinger’s lists. Their one difference: Schlesinger sought to keep Councilman Henry Ficklin on the council’s Community Resources and Development Committee, while Jones favored Councilman Frank Tompkins for that slot. In the end, the seat went to Councilwoman Elaine Lucas.
Timley urged investigation of the “complete violation.” He said Welsh didn’t indicate if she checked Reichert’s calendar to see if the meeting with Jones and Schlesinger was impromptu or scheduled.
“Again, a very pathetic example of investigative techniques and developing a conclusion not based on State law, but conjecture and hearsay,” Timley wrote.
So far, neither letter has drawn a state reaction. Robinson said Ritter told him Thursday that the office hasn’t heard from anyone but Welsh and Timley.
Schlesinger said he hasn’t seen Timley’s letter and has heard nothing further about any complaints or investigation.
Jones said he had heard about Timley’s letter to Ritter but would never write a similar letter if he headed council.
“I think it’s mighty nasty for the president to try to create confusion,” Jones said.
Jones said he plans to ignore Timley’s intervention and concentrate on city business.
“If you know you ain’t done wrong, who cares? I did what I knew was right,” Jones said.
Municipal Court Judge Robert Faulkner said several people asked him what they needed to do to file complaints under the city ethics ordinance about Jones and Schlesinger, but that was all.
“I never did get any actual complaints,” he said.
Faulkner said he sent them copies of the ethics ordinance, and that was apparently enough to convince his inquirers that it didn’t apply in this case.
“If you read that ordinance, you’ll see that it prohibits them from making money off that position, pretty much,” he said.
To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.