Lucas files appeal in ethics issue

Macon City Councilwoman Elaine Lucas is appealing a judge’s decision in an ethics complaint filed against her, even though no punishment was recommended by the judge.

In February, Municipal Court Judge Robert Faulkner ruled that Lucas had violated Macon’s ethics code when she instructed Dorothy Tuggle, a city employee, to e-mail members of the media about a local campaign event for former Gov. Roy Barnes, which Lucas organized. Faulkner reasoned that the e-mail was, according to the ethics code, a personal use of city resources. However, he did not recommend punishment because he said sending personal e-mails via city e-mail accounts may be a widespread practice by other city employees.

In his decision, Faulkner wrote, “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 also recommended the city attorney conduct workshops with the mayor and City Council to educate them on what is and isn’t acceptable for elected officials.

Council President Miriam Paris said she and City Attorney Pope Langstaff are organizing a council session to address problems with the city’s current ethics code.

“We’re trying to do as the judge requested and get some clarity on the code,” Paris said.

Faulkner said he has reviewed the ethics codes in other cities and, by comparison, Macon’s is sparse.

“Most other cities have four or five pages. We have a few paragraphs,” he said, noting most cities accommodate for the personal use of city e-mail.

Lucas’ lawyer, Stephanie Miller, filed the “motion to reconsider” with Municipal Court earlier this week. She said, in light of the Macon code’s ambiguity, Lucas shouldn’t have been found guilty of an ethics violation.

Miller stressed that neither Lucas nor her consulting firm have been employed by the Barnes campaign, nor was she paid for the campaign event.

“It’s no different, really, than letting people know about any other event in your ward,” Miller said.

Further, she said Lucas likely isn’t alone in her use of city e-mail.

“Go back through the e-mails of any city employee, and you could probably make the same complaint,” she said.

For Faulkner, the problem was compounded by Tuggle’s involvement.

“Had Mrs. Lucas forwarded the e-mail herself, we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation,” Faulkner said.

The ethics code was passed in 2008 at the behest of Mayor Robert Reichert so Macon could be certified as a City of Ethics by the Georgia Municipal Association, which started the program in 1999.

Spokeswoman Amy Henderson said the GMA reviews the ethics ordinances before bestowing the City of Ethics title.

City Council passed its ethics code after wrangling for months with the language, which it based on a sample written by the GMA. Then, as now, Lucas was concerned it could be used against the council.

“The worst thing we could do is nothing,” Lucas said. “We need to keep the spirit of the legislation but tighten up certain areas so they aren’t left open to just any interpretation.”

Every four years, the GMA reviews each city, mostly as an introduction to the ethics code for new legislators. Despite possible changes, Henderson said Macon wouldn’t be reviewed until the GMA came to recertify.

“The program was set up to be a mechanism for giving residents a voice,” she said. “If someone has filed a complaint and been heard, then I’d say it’s doing its job.”

Information from The Telegraph’s archives was included in this report.

To contact writer Chris Horne, call 744-4494.