The Gwinnett County commissioner who's faced months of outrage after calling John Lewis a "racist pig" will not participate in the county's ethics board process.
Commissioner Tommy Hunter has refused to pick an appointment to represent him. That's supposed to be part of the process after an ethics complaint was filed against him in February.
Now, Hunter's spokesperson Seth Weathers said they're not going to play ball at all.
"We do live in the United States of America, and you can't have someone removed from office based on a small group of individuals deciding that they're not happy with them. That's just not how it works," Weathers said.
He said Hunter doesn’t believe the board has any constitutional authority.
Atlanta resident Nancie Turner, who does not live in Hunter’s district, filed the formal ethics complaint against him after seeing posts on his personal Facebook page. That’s where Hunter called civil rights leader and U.S. Congressman John Lewis “a racist pig” and referred to democrats as “Demonrats” and “a bunch of idiots.”
The complaint highlights parts of the Gwinnett County Code of Ethics it alleges Hunter violated with his comments, including “Never engage in conduct which is unbecoming to a member or which constitutes a breach of public trust.”
Protesters, sometimes showing up in groups of more than a hundred, have interrupted commission board meetings since January. Many have lined up to give hours of public comment demanding Hunter’s resignation or removal and vowed to keep returning until that happens.
Hunter has skipped some of those public comment periods and sat through others. He apologized initially for his “choice of words,” but has refused to resign.
“He’s thumbing his nose at his agreed-upon duties and responsibilities in his role as an elected official,” said Helen Kim Ho, one of the attorneys who filed the ethics complaint on behalf of Turner.
Ho said she’s not surprised to hear Hunter won’t participate.
“I will be very interested how Gwinnett County itself, in the face of a direct refusal to submit to the very policies they’ve established for themselves, will actually do,” she said.
This is a first test for Gwinnett’s ethics ordinance, finalized in 2011 after a corruption scandal there led to a commissioner resigning and another serving time in federal prison. Four out of five people have been appointed to the board, which is supposed to include one picked by Hunter. The commissioner is then supposed to be given time to formally respond to the complaint.
After an investigation, board members are meant to take a vote on whether or not to sustain the complaint and issue a penalty that could range from a reprimand to recommended removal. However, Georgia law makes it difficult to remove someone from elected office if there’s no crime involved.
“I don’t think from a legal standpoint it’s particularly good strategy to simply not participate in these proceedings,” WABE legal analyst Page Pate said. “Your failure to participate is actually a major disadvantage if you’re raising a challenge to the process. Because how can you show you didn’t get due process when you didn’t even bother to show up?”
The ethics board is set for a first administrative meeting Friday. Gwinnett County's Commission Chair Charlotte Nash could not be reached for comment, but the county’s attorney said he expects the process to move forward with or without Hunter's appointee.