MWA asks legislature to allow removal of authority member for malfeasance

Macon Water Authority approved charter amendment to go to General Assembly with District 2’s Desmond Brown objecting


Liz Fabian

Macon Water Authority members could be removed for ethics violations under proposed changes to its charter.

If a Macon Water Authority member runs afoul of governing bylaws, the authority wants the power to discipline and remove that person for malfeasance in office. 

The current charter only allows censure of a member and barring them from serving on committees – a punishment meted out last year against District 2’s Desmond Brown when an internal investigation determined he had a “blatant conflict of interest” in billing the authority for work on behalf of a client of his disaster mitigation company. 

When MWA Chairman Gary Bechtel introduced the charter amendment at Thursday’s meeting, Brown motioned to have it set aside, but Bechtel went forward with the policy committee referral that was approved 6-1 with Brown voting against it. 

“We’re trying to get in line with what the Bibb County Commission has,” Bechtel said Friday. “I think it’s literally just housekeeping so that we can make sure that voters and customers know that the authority is going to police itself as it relates to the authority members and their behavior.” 

The charter change was submitted to the Bibb County delegation of the Georgia General Assembly for approval during its legislative session. 

The amendment states that elected and appointed board members, officers and employees “shall demonstrate by their example the highest standards of ethical conduct” so the “public may justifiably have trust and confidence in the integrity of the authority.”

The revision specifically prohibits: engaging in business that is incompatible with proper discharge of official duties, disclosing confidential information to advance the financial or private interest of the member or others, accepting gifts from entities doing business with the authority, representing private interests in any action or proceeding against the authority, and participating in MWA contracts with entities the member has a substantial financial interest in.

The charter change also requires elected and appointed officers to publicly disclose any financial interest that could reasonably create a conflict of interest, prohibits members and their immediate family from doing business with the authority, and outlaws using authority property for convenience or financial benefit.

Knowingly violating these charter provisions could void contracts or sales involving the authority.

The amendment also prohibits authority members from using their official capacity to interfere or affect an election or nomination for office, and also bans coercing or commanding a state or local officer or employee to make political contributions. 

The new amendment would make such behavior a misdemeanor. That’s a crime less serious than a felony but still potentially prosecuted in court by the local solicitor general. Conviction would result in forfeiture of office.  

“The board of the authority may reprimand, put on probation, demote, suspend, or discharge an employee or appointed officer found to have violated the standards of conduct established by this section,” the amendment stated. 

Sen. John Kennedy, chair of the local legislative delegation, received the amendment Friday and it will go through the legislative process in the coming weeks, Bechtel said.

– Civic Journalism Senior Fellow Liz Fabian covers Macon-Bibb County government entities and can be reached at [email protected] or 478-301-2976.