Monday, October 9, 2023–8:15 p.m.
-David Crowder, WRGA News-
A full resolution has been reached in an ethics complaint filed against Rome City Commissioner Mark Cochran. Meanwhile, a proposed new ethics ordinance has been presented for consideration.
Attorney David Mecklin along with attorney Avery Jackson of the Carrollton firm of Tisinger Vance and Jackson, were hired by the City of Rome for the ethics complaint. During Monday’s city commission caucus, Mecklin presented three proposed documents. They include a new code of ethics, a grievance procedure, and a code of conduct for elected officials. Mecklin also recommended a moratorium on new ethics complaints until the new ordinance can be enacted.
“The ordinance as it exists right now is probably unenforceable and is procedurally flawed,” he said. “It needs to be corrected.”
The proposed ordinance also stipulates that in the future no ethics complaints can be filed during an election campaign, adding that it’s not a good idea to allow people to use the ethics complaint system for political purposes.
City Attorney Andy Davis told commissioners that he has looked through the proposed ordinance.
“For 20 years you had an ethics ordinance that had never been used. When it got used there were some flaws discovered. To try to avoid those flaws they have come up with a resolution and a solution as a way to make the city better.”
Proving less popular was a recommendation to have a moratorium on ethics complaints that have already been filed.
“It will essentially freeze in place any complaints that have already been filed,” Mecklin told the commission. “Nothing more would happen to them until a final resolution of the new proposed ordinance.”
Commissioner Bill Collins, who is at the center of an ethics complaint, asserted that freezing current complaints would be unfair.
Commissioner Bonny Askew agreed with Collins.
“I think the moratorium is a day late and a dollar short,” he said. “How fair is that to people who already have ethics violations charged against them right now, hanging over their heads during this election?”
A third option would be to have City Attorney Andy Davis vet complaints to decide if they should go to a three-person panel or not. That is the option, the city commission voted to go with. Since one of the current complaints is against Mayor Sundai Stevenson, Commissioner Mark Cochran, who is mayor pro tem, served as mayor for the vote. Commissioner Collins abstained.
“I will consult with Mr. Mecklin and Mr. Jackson on those two [complaints] to vet them as a matter of law,” Davis said.
You can read the proposed ordinances below.
The settlement in the Cochran case comes as a result of mediation and sees the complaint being withdrawn while a lawsuit filed by Cochran against the city is also withdrawn with both sides paying for their own legal fees.
“As part of the process, we engaged Carlos Gonzalez, who is originally from Rome and is a professional mediator,” Jackson said. “He sat down with all the parties in this case – city staff, the commissioner, and Commissioner Cochran. Through all those discussions, we were able to reach a full resolution of all the matters involved.”
The ethics complaint was filed by Rome Human Resources Director Kristy Shepard and centers around the treatment of city employees, which Shepard described as uncalled for and unprofessional. A Jan. 23 City Commission meeting where Cochran asked detailed questions about delayed project reviews of construction plans was the catalyst for the complaints.
Commissioner Craig McDaniel expressed some concerns about the resolution and that the city employees have not been adequately heard.
“I feel like our city employees got thrown under the bus,” he said.
“And I’m the one with the tracks,” Commissioner Cochran replied.
The discussions that occurred during the mediation process will remain confidential.