Summary of Advisory Opinion 16; Request of DeKalb County Chief Executive Officer Burrell Ellis, Jr. > February 19, 2013
Burrell Ellis, Jr. is the Chief Executive Officer of DeKalb County. Chief Executive Officer Ellis wishes to establish a “legal defense fund” through actions of private citizens and on behalf of or in retirement of legal expenses of Mr. Ellis. Mr. Ellis would place “voluntary” restrictions on the proposed establishment of the legal defense fund, including a prohibition that contributions from DeKalb County employees would not be accepted and that the custodian of the account would make “reasonable efforts” to keep the amounts by contributors “anonymous to the member of the governing authority.” (See full Opinion and attached letter).
Chief Executive Officer Ellis requests an Advisory Opinion as to whether his proposed legal defense fund is not inconsistent with the DeKalb County Code of Ethics.
The Board of Ethics determined that as proposed the fund would violate the object and purpose of §22A(a)(1) of the Code of Ethics. The establishment of a legal defense fund for the CEO would lead to the appearance of impropriety by the CEO with respect to anyone who contributed to the fund and later had business with the County.
The DeKalb County Code of Ethics prohibits any member of the governing authority from conduct which gives reasonable basis for the impression that any person can improperly influence him or unduly enjoy his favor in the performance of his official acts or actions. §22A(c)(1). The Code, moreover, prohibits any member of the governing authority from directly requesting, receiving, or agreeing to receive a gift for himself or another person if it tends to influence him in the discharge of his official duties or if he is now or may be in the near future involved in any official act or action directly affecting the donor or lender. §22A(c)(2)(A)(i)(ii).
The Board noted the Opinion applies narrowly to the hypothetical given by Mr. Ellis. (See full Opinion and attached letter). It does not intend to completely foreclose any such funds coming from individuals some of whom may have business with the governing authority where such can be traced to the donor and/or if traced to the donor will result in full unfettered and complete disclosure and disqualification as per the latter code sections for cure of conflict of interest.