Ethics a big deal for county clerk’s office

Rants and Raves of Mac McIntyre
Rants and Raves of Mac McIntyre

The business of election ethics is an important part of the duties of the DeKalb County Clerk & Recorder (and our municipal clerks). Candidates seeking elected office often depend on the Clerk as a liaison between them and compliance with the State Board of Elections and their own local laws. They are expected to know and practice campaign ethics law.

If they don’t and it’s campaign season and they’re running for the office they should be embarrassed. They should expect their opponent to embarrass them for breaking the rules.

Johnson violationFriends (relatives) of Trent Taylor-D who is challenging Doug Johnson-R for DeKalb County Clerk & Recorder in the November 2014 elections sent us a press release that alleged Johnson engaged in prohibited campaign activities while participating as vendors at the Senior Health Fair held July 17, 2014, at DeKalb Senior High School. An accompanying photo shows Johnson and an employee manning a booth branded as the DeKalb County Clerk & Recorder’s with campaign material for his retention to the office readily available as handout material.

The county clerk position sets its own schedule so the argument of whether Johnson was on personal time is a matter of perspective. Payroll records should indicate whether the employee, Lynn Simons Kunde, was on taxpayer or personal time. A paper trail will settle whether taxpayers or Johnson’s campaign committee paid the booth fees, if any.

The question of the ethics of handing out campaign literature at a booth branded as the DeKalb County Clerk & Recorder has a debatable answer. Was Johnson’s the only campaign material at the booth? If other campaign literature was there was it exclusively Republican? Were all other county candidates notified of the opportunity?

DeKalb County Online publishes press releases verbatim for all candidates for local elected office. Some send them through our Contact Us form, others through RSS feeds. We allow comments and share posts with the social media. That provides the opportunity for rebuttal and clarification.

There are some who think we ought not do that — publish press releases by candidates verbatim. We should use the press release to interview both sides and a neutral source, says them, to give our readers both sides of the story.

They did that over at the Daily Chronicle but even they have trouble finding a neutral source when it comes to politics in DeKalb County. They had a hard time getting a quote from any of the alleged neutral sources.

When the Chronicle reached Johnson for comment Thursday he said he would issue a written statement within a few hours, but he hasn’t so far issued a statement and has yet to respond to a follow-up to a reporter’s phone call.

But today is one more day closer to a transparent paradise. People share information with their friends and because it’s their friend sharing it people pay more attention.

Kunde responded to a friend that shared the press release published on DeKalb County Online.

“Seeing this article earlier today was quite surprising. I was there to answer any questions the public might have, which was and is a part of my job. We had information out about the office, just like every other vendor who attended. I have absolutely no clue about the investigation, no one has contacted me or interviewed me.”

But according to the Chronicle report DeKalb County State’s Attorney Richard Schmack-D referred the matter to the State’s Appellate Prosecutor’s Office because he represents Johnson as an ethics adviser. According to the press release that prosecutor is Chuck Colburn. Yet for an incident that was reported in July the DeKalb County Clerk & Recorder’s office was not notified until we posted the press release. Hmmm.

It seems like the lack of knowledge about election ethics law is a bipartisan problem in DeKalb County.

I wonder if the county clerk or the state’s attorney has ever heard a judge state that ignorance of the law is not an excuse.

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