In a called meeting Wednesday morning, the other four county commissioners voted unanimously that a prima facie violation of the county’s ethics ordinance has occurred. The decision means a three-person independent review board will be convened to conduct a public hearing to determine whether or not a violation occurred and then submit their written findings to the county clerk.
Once the report is turned in, and if an ethics violation has been determined, the commissioners will meet to set a penalty, which by the county ordinance range from a written reprimand or public censure to a fine not to exceed $1,000.
Flowers-Taylor was accused by Connie Pound of two ethics violations, one for the Facebook post and one for campaign disclosure reporting fines totaling $250. Flowers-Taylor said she was not aware of the campaign disclosure fines and once made aware, paid them.
Fellow commissioners had also had similar violations and found fault with the state’s system for reporting, also noting there is no notification of the fines. They did not find this to be violation of code of ethics, item 10, which states each covered official of Spalding County shall promptly file any disclosure required by the State of Georgia for public officials as well as pay any fees or penalties which may be assessed by the state.
The review board will consider the other alleged violation of the county ethic code, item 8, which states county officials shall “never engage in other conduct which is unbecoming to an official or which constitutes a breach of public trust.”
In her complaint dated Nov. 8, Pound accused Flowers-Taylor of “written slanderous accusations” against her and asked “for an investigation and that she be held libel.” Pound said Flowers-Taylor called her “a stupid biatch” and “a conservative racist queen.”
At the hearing Wednesday, Pound said, “I feel like elected officials should be held to a higher standard.” Pound said she didn’t realize Flowers-Taylor was her friend on Facebook and “was shocked by what she said. Elected officials should not call people names.”
Flowers-Taylor said, “In enjoying my First Amendment rights on election night, made in my home, on my personnel device, on my personnel account,” she made the comments in response to a post by Pound. “Is there a line of demarcation where rights as a personal citizen end?”
Flowers-Taylor said, “I have since learned to filter,” but explained, “as a supporter of our President, I was very much offended by that comment. She had the right to make that statement.”
She summed up Pound’s comment as being about “Democrats being whiners, welfare recipients, getting EBT cards.”
The final line of Pound’s Facebook post was: “all of you who are proud to have ‘your’ first black president....how’s than ‘MIXED’ president working for you!” Pound responded to Flowers-Taylor’s post: “hahaha Gwen Flowers-Taylor are you kidding me! I’ll tell you what..I’ll be by your office tommorrow and you can call me that to my face!!!!!!!”
There were additional posts encouraging Pound to send the comment to the paper or to file a complaint. Pound posted she would be contacting Fortune the next day and wrote (spelling in original) “I will have to put me in her faace now!!!! Raymond Ray...do you see how your chairperson acts in public!”
Flowers-Taylor said, “I am sorry we are spending county time and money on this, but not of my right as an American citizen to respond.”
Commissioner Bob Gilreath asked Flowers-Taylor for a definition of “biatch.” She said “it was a euphemism, it doesn’t really mean anything. I use it so as not to use profanity.”
Commissioner Raymond Ray asked Flowers-Taylor, “Do you feel your conduct was unbecoming a public official, do you feel it was a violation of public trust?”
Flowers-Taylor said, “What I said was on my private account. I may have let some individuals down.”
When asked if she was sorry, Flowers-Taylor said, “Yes, I could be at work, you could be at work, county staff could be doing their regular job. What I feel like this is an emotional intercourse to reconcile hurt feelings.”
She explained her feelings were hurt by Pound’s post. “There’s lots of regret,” Flowers-Taylor said. “I definitely won’t be making comments on Facebook anymore.”
Ray said, “Two wrongs don’t make a right. The bottom line is two private citizens spoke their minds and both statements were provocative.”
Commission Vice-Chairman Chipper Gardner, who led the meeting, said this was the first time the county has had this hearing. The ethics ordinance was adopted in 2010.
“We’re kind of serving as a grand jury to determine if something occurred,” he explained.
After the vote, Flowers-Taylor said, “I feel like your saying I did something wrong. The grand jury decides if something was done incorrectly. You feel I did something wrong that damaged the county.”
Following the vote, the names of the eligible possible appointees were read. Each commissioner was supposed to nominate three people to serve, Commissioners Eddie Freeman, Ray and Gardner each had three appointees, Flowers-Taylor only had appointed two and Gilreath had not appointed any.
As the complaint was against Flowers-Taylor, her two appointees were excluded. The names of the three-member review board, per the ordinance, were randomly selected, along with three alternates should any of the first three not be able to serve.
The three named to the review board are Jesse Bradley, Johnnie McDaniel and Kathy Noble. The three alternates are Tootsie Powers, Jackie Perkins and Fred Edwards.
Bradley and Powers were appointed by Ray; McDaniel and Noble by Gardner; and Perkins and Edwards by Freeman. The appointments, per the ordinance, were made at the beginning of each commissioner’s term. There had been repeated requests made at previous meetings made for Gilreath to make his appointments.
After the review board was selected, Cynthia Reid Ward, Flowers-Taylor’s sister and City of Griffin Board of Commissioners chairperson, spoke out, questioning the process. “I have not heard one African-American name, one Democrat’s name. This thing is gonna snowball into something big, this is gonna take on something else.”
Ward said, “What I heard was a bias set of people. Bias against anything Commissioner Flowers-Taylor has done. I cannot understand why there is not one black person, one Democrat.”
Gardner and County Attorney Jim Fortune re-explained the process. “We have a procedure we have to follow. We have no control,” Gardner said. “Some to chose to make appointments, some chose not to.”
Fortune said the county clerk will notify those selected and they will have to meet for the public hearing. Fortune suggested each member of the review board be asked if they have made a determination on this matter or feel they can or cannot be impartial.
“If they can’t,” he said, “then we go to the alternates, in the order selected. If we can’t get three, then new members may have to be appointed.”