WARNER ROBINS, Ga. — Three citizens are filing a formal ethics complaint against Warner Robins officials after they violated their own city ordinance for passing a city budget.
Former city Public Works Director Joe Musselwhite, former Development Authority Board chairman Sam Evans, and community Facebook page operator David Reid allege city council members "failed to hold budget hearings within their districts as required by city code."
13WMAZ's Zach Merchant reported on the violation this month.
Section 2-113 of the Warner Robins city code calls for one public budget hearing in each of the city’s four council districts "no later than 90 days prior to the start of the fiscal year."
Recently retired city attorney Jim Elliott said those hearings never happened.
"It didn’t happen this year, and I don’t believe it happened last year either," said Elliott.
Unlike many ordinances, he said this one gives city officials no wiggle room.
"That’s very simply mandatory," said Elliott.
One public budget hearing was held at city hall, but several council members and Mayor Randy Toms all acknowledged the four other hearings did not.
Evans, Musselwhite, and Reid allege that violated the city’s newly passed 'City of Ethics' ordinance.
The ordinance was designed to formalize how public officials in Warner Robins are held accountable.
The complaint hopes to use the ordinance to "reprimand" all six city council members for not holding those hearings.
"It's time for the elected officials to follow the rules, the laws, and the ordinances that are set forth before them," said Joe Musselwhite.
Sam Evans and David Reid echoed those same thoughts after filing the complaint.
Under the ethics ordinance, an outside attorney will have about 60 business days to hear the complaint, investigate it, and present findings (plus any recommendations for potential discipline) to mayor and council. Those elected officials will have the final say--and vote--on what comes of the complaint.
The ordinance only lists two potential penalties: a public reprimand or a request for the resignation of the offending city official.
Zach Merchant asked all six council members for reaction.
Larry Curtis said he thinks the complaint is fair.
“Let me make it clear that I wasn’t aware of the ordinance, but ignorance is not an excuse,” Curtis said. “I deep down in my heart believe that this was an honest mistake by the city officials, with no ill intent.”
Councilman Daron Lee said he thinks the complaint does not apply to him because it calls for hearings in specific council posts and he is in a city-wide seat. However, he said "transparency" is essential for the city and the complaint should be taken seriously.
Lee said he does not think any council members should be disciplined, but they should make sure this does not happen again.
Curtis said he is "disappointed" that those who filed the complaint did not speak at other public meetings.
“I feel that is one of the three had spoken up at any of the meetings, we could have addressed it and corrected the issue,” he said.
Councilman Tim Thomas said he thinks next year the hearings will and should happen like the ordinance requires.
Councilman Keith Lauritsen said, by text, "I don't have any comment at this time. This needs to be addressed in the future, but I don't see how we can go back and correct it."
Clifford Holmes and Carolyn Robbins have not responded to our request for a comment at the time this article was published.