Macon Councilwoman Elaine Lucas violated the city’s code of ethics when she directed a city employee to send an e-mail about a fundraiser for a gubernatorial candidate, a judge ruled Friday.
Lucas, whose consulting firm is backing former Gov. Roy Barnes’ re-election campaign, told the city employee in January to send an e-mail to the media announcing a Barnes fundraiser.
WMAC talk radio host Chris Krok filed a complaint against Lucas under the city’s ethics code.
The city’s code of ethics says a city official cannot use city property or “direct a city employee to use such property for other than official purposes,” Municipal Court Judge Robert Faulkner said in his ruling. Also, a city official cannot use a city employee “for personal or private business during regular business hours or during the employee’s scheduled shift.”
“There is no question that (Lucas) asked (city employee) Dorothy Tuggle to send out the e-mail to the people on the ‘media list’ and that was done during Ms. Tuggle’s scheduled shift,” according to the ruling.
Faulkner said the e-mail was “plainly of a personal nature on behalf of a candidate” that Lucas supports.
Also, he said Lucas’ statement to The Telegraph that the e-mail was a mistake and inappropriate supported evidence of an ethics violation.
At a news conference Friday afternoon, Lucas said she will have her lawyer prepare a response to the ruling and that she intends to clear her name.
“The only thing I requested the clerk do was to inform the media so the media could cover it if they wanted to,” Lucas said. “The e-mail was not of a personal nature. It was in my line of work as a City Council member in informing the media that there was an event going on in Ward I — that the former governor would be in Macon. ... I think (the ruling) was fair, but I plan to clear my name. I have not violated the code of ethics.”
She said she “underwrote the entire cost of the (fundraising) event” and sent invitations to other people from her personal e-mail account.
The complaint, she said, was filed by Krok because of a “personal vendetta” against her. Krok and Lucas have sparred for months on a variety of issues.
Krok said Friday afternoon the judge’s ruling is appropriate.
“I think it’s a good day for the city of Macon because people are being held accountable,” Krok said. “This was an intentional act to misuse city resources to enrich herself — her consulting company. ... I’m saddened that a talk show host has to file this complaint. I’m saddened that it takes me, a monkey on the radio, to file a complaint to hold this woman accountable.”
Krok said he also has filed a complaint about the incident with the State Ethics Commission. The commission has not ruled on the matter.
Faulkner’s ruling did not recommend any punishment for Lucas, and he did not make a recommendation to Macon City Council.
Faulkner said he had no guidelines when considering this case. He also said Lucas’ actions may not be different from what other council members do with city resources.
“I also want to state I feel strongly that the ethics ordinance needs to be redrafted to clearly delineate guidelines as to what is and what is not personal use,” he said. “The line between what is a ‘news release’ and what is a personal announcement is not easy to determine.”
Lucas agreed that changes need to be made to the ethics code and that she would work with the council to make that happen.
Faulkner recommended the city attorney may want to conduct a class outlining what can and can’t be done by elected officials.
Efforts to reach City Attorney Pope Langstaff and City Council President Miriam Paris were unsuccessful Friday.
Krok said he wasn’t surprised that Faulkner didn’t make a recommendation to City Council.
“She will be judged by her peers,” Krok said. “It will be interesting to see how her peers will treat this.”
Macon City Council, according to its ordinance, could reprimand, censure or request that Lucas resign from office, Faulkner said. But Lucas said she doesn’t think that will happen.
“I have not done anything wrong, so I would not think my colleagues on council would do anything,” she said.