Proposed Warner Robins council ethics code aimed at leaks

WARNER ROBINS -- A month after the recording of a closed council meeting made headlines, proposed ethical standards for Warner Robins public officials includes two provisions that would have disallowed that tape’s release.

City Attorney Jim Elliott said he drafted the City of Ethics ordinance and provided it as a starting point for the councilmen and mayor to review. While he mostly followed a template from the certifying state organization, Mayor Chuck Shaheen asked specifically for one addition.

“No city official shall disclose the substance of any matter discussed or reviewed in a closed session duly authorized by state law,” reads a line in the ordinance.

The council will discuss the ordinance at Tuesday’s meeting, as councilmen said Thursday they had not had a chance to read through the document.

The proposed ordinance that was discussed Thursday at pre-council comes after the mayor and council decided they want to become a certified City of Ethics, recognized by the Georgia Municipal Association. The statewide association publishes a recommended ordinance on its website that lists 16 prohibitions, but the Warner Robins draft includes 18.

Of the two provisions that reference the release of private meeting information, Shaheen’s suggestion was not in the recommended GMA document.

“I think that what needs to be in a closed meeting, ethically should stay in a closed meeting,” Shaheen said after the meeting. “The state gives us reasons to have closed sessions and executive sessions and we need to abide.”

The decision to become certified first surfaced about a month ago following a contentious year among the city’s elected officials.

Along with disagreements during public meetings, some of those tensions were revealed last month when a recording of a Dec. 6 closed session was released by Councilman Bob Wilbanks.

“I’m not aware of any councilman that has revealed any unauthorized material from a closed session,” Wilbanks said Thursday evening, adding that he checked with city and state attorneys before releasing the recording. He has said he released the tape because he felt the public needed to know Shaheen had agendas.

Councilman Tom Simms said Thursday that he supported Shaheen’s provision, and agreed with the mayor’s reasoning.

“I think what (Wilbanks) did was unethical,” he said, adding that he felt Wilbanks should have taken the recording to law enforcement if he had an issue with the mayor’s behavior.

RDA to take charge of LEC project

City Council will vote on an ordinance next week that would assign the law enforcement center project to the Redevelopment Agency. Wilbanks said the transfer of responsibility from council to the agency would allow business transactions for the project to be made.

The LEC is planned for a stretch of Watson Boulevard between First and Third streets.

Shaheen and Wilbanks disagreed Thursday evening about whether developers should be included as members of the RDA. Shaheen believed they should, while Wilbanks thought it would be counterintuitive. 

Other news

The mayor and council discussed increasing their car allowances. City Attorney Jim Elliott said the car allowance has not been adjusted since 1997. The original proposed increase was for the mayor, but the council said it would also like an increase. Currently, the mayor is allotted $3,000 a year, and the councilmen are each allotted $400, Elliott said.

A resolution regulating the tuition assistance program for city employees was proposed. Wilbanks said he would like to ensure employees also seek funds from alternative avenues. He proposed adding a checklist the school would need to fill out.

To contact writer Christina M. Wright, call 256-9685.