published Saturday, August 6th, 2011

Georgia ethics chairman says he won’t resign

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ATLANTA — The chairman of Georgia’s ethics commission said Friday he won’t resign despite a complaint that he is serving illegally.

Instead, Patrick Millsaps is using a procedural maneuver to get around the question of whether he served more than one complete term.

“The rumors of my resignation have been greatly exaggerated.” Millsaps, a Camilla lawyer, said at a meeting Friday. “I’m not going to let this issue sidetrack the exciting things we’re going to talk about today.”

It is the latest tumult at the Georgia panel, which investigates campaign finance complaints and registers lobbyists. The commission has been rocked by deep funding cuts even as it has taken on new duties and is seeking a new executive secretary after slashing the salary of its top staffer and eliminating the No. 2 position.

At issue Friday was a complaint filed by George Anderson, director of the Rome, Ga.-based Ethics in Government Group, which argued Millsaps was violating a state law barring commission members from serving more than one complete term.

Millsaps was appointed in February 2009 by then-Gov. Sonny Perdue and reappointed by Gov. Nathan Deal this year.

Millsaps and Deal have maintained he was appointed properly because he didn’t serve a full first term after being named to the panel by Perdue.

But on Friday Millsaps acknowledged valid legal questions about the matter. He said he essentially would rescind his appointment by Deal and remain on the panel as a Perdue appointee. Georgia law allows members whose terms have expired to remain on the commission until they are replaced. He outlined his plans in a letter to Deal, in which he acknowledged that his term had expired but volunteered to stay on.

William Perry, head of government watchdog group Common Cause Georgia, said the issue was a legal toss-up and praised Millsaps for trying to clear up the matter

But the move did not satisfy Anderson, who said Friday the commission has been starved by funding cuts that have compromised its ability to perform its duties. Anderson said Millsaps’ continued service would undermine public confidence and urged him to “walk away today.”

Deal spokesman Brian Robinson said that at Millsaps’ request the governor would begin a search for his successor.

But he added “the chairman will continue to serve until the governor has decided upon the proper person to fill this important post.”

Also Friday, the commission weighed an overhaul designed to cut costs for the cash-strapped agency. Recently renamed the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission, it has seen its budget shrink by 42 percent since 2008, when it peaked at $1.8 million.

The plan, outlined by commission Vice Chairman Josh Belinfante, would outsource some work — such as writing advisory opinions and answering questions from the public — to an outside lawyer. It would rely on the state attorney general’s office to investigate complaints, testing the plan during a 90-day trial period, and hire a second auditor.

Perry, the Common Cause chief, said ultimately the commission must see its budget restored as the state’s budget picture improves. But he called the reorganization plan “the best they can do under the circumstances.”

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