State auditor will conduct ethics commission review

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State auditor Greg Griffin and his office will conduct an internal investigation of the state ethics commission, which has been wracked by turmoil over a controversy involving an attempted investigation of the 2010 campaign of Gov. Nathan Deal.

Ethics commission members three weeks ago requested the outside review from state Attorney General Sam Olens, but shifted the request to the state auditor’s office.

The announcement that Griffin’s department will handle the review of the commission’s operations was made late Tuesday in an email from attorney Kevin Abernethy, the chairman of the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission, as it is officially known.

“Georgia law provides that indications of mismanagement or misconduct by an employee of a state agency warrant investigation by the state auditor, see O.C.G.A. 50-6-28, and accordingly the auditor was requested to do so,” the email said.

“This request was made in lieu of the earlier announced intention to request the Attorney General appoint an investigator,” the commission said. “Because the Department of Audits and Accounts is state-funded, this internal investigation and performance audit will not incur additional taxpayer expense.”

The ethics commission has traditionally been a lightly funded state agency, so switching the investigation to the auditor’s office means the commission would not have to pay the expense of Olens hiring a special assistant attorney general to oversee an investigation.

On the other hand, Griffin was appointed auditor by Deal, while Olens is an independent elected official.

The ethics commission has been caught up in controversy since 2011, when two staffers attempted to subpoena records from Deal’s 2010 gubernatorial campaign as part of an ethics complaint investigation.

The commission members declined to authorize the subpoenas and the staffers were forced from their jobs. Deal eventually settled the complaints by paying a $3,350 fine.

They former commission staffers later filed wrongful termination lawsuits against the state. According to depositions from those lawsuits, the commission’s current executive secretary, Holly LaBerge, allegedly has stated that Deal “owes her” for taking care of his ethics complaints.

Deal has denied that he had anything to do with LaBerge’s appointment or actions.

There have also been reported allegations that documents related to the attempted investigation of Deal’s campaign were removed from his ethics commission case file.

Griffin, a former corporate accountant with BellSouth, was named state auditor in 2012 when Russell Hinton retired. His office regularly conducts audits and management reviews of state government agencies.

© 2013 by The Georgia Report

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Tags: Greg Griffin , investigation , Kevin Abernethy , Nathan Deal , Sam Olens , state auditor , State Ethics Commission