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Friday, January 18, 2013 - 10:08am

Deal Adds 'Local' Wrinkle To Ethics

Gov. Nathan Deal added a new wrinkle to the state’s ethics conversation in his State of the State address Thursday.

It was just one line almost at the end of the governor’s annual speech:

“If there is to be an expansion of the code of ethical conduct for members of the General Assembly, it should equally apply to all elected officials at the state and local levels,” Deal said.

Putting a $100 cap on gifts from lobbyists to legislators has been much talked about since a nonbinding voter referendum this summer. Some Republican leaders have even suggested a complete ban on gifts.

Macon Mayor Robert Reichert said he doesn’t have any problem with including local officials in new ethics rules, though he thinks a strong system of reporting gifts is better than caps or bans.

“Casual conversation in a relaxed atmosphere can do more for understanding and reaching compromise than you do in a formal meeting across a table,” Reichert said. “If you restrict the interaction only to the point of formal meetings, you’re going to cause it to be even more difficult to have true understanding and true conversation between organizations and legislators.”

The governor hasn’t yet offered any specific ideas about how new ethics rules might apply to local officials. Athens-Clarke Mayor Nancy Denson would prefer he keep his hands off.

“People on the local level -- cities and counties -- are big girls and boys and we can decide what’s in the best interests of our communities,” Denson said. “All too often at the state level, the legislature and governor try to micromanage our positions as well.”

Reichert said ethics at the city and county level is less about gifts from lobbyists and and more about conflicts of interest between elected officials’ private business and their city positions.

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