Ethics Violation in Government or Missed Opportunity
What is right and wrong in government continues to be an issue as two Cobb County lawmakers – one in the Georgia State House and the other in County government – one a Republican and the other a Democrat – are at odds over ethics with one accusing the other of violations.
At the end of February, State Rep. Ginny Ehrhart accused Board Chair Lisa Cupid of ethics violations for failing to disclose her conflict of interest and failing to recuse herself from a vote on a matter that would allegedly benefit Cupid’s husband Craig Cupid, an attorney with a local nonprofit organization. The organization in question, along with others, were selected to receive millions in stimulus funds – $4.1 million to be exact – which was to be directed to each “selected” nonprofit for rental assistance. In addition to administering the funds, the organizations selected are slated to receive a substantial fee for managing the process.
Ehrhart says Cupid, an attorney, should have known that she had to recuse herself from the vote. The Marietta Daily Journal initially alerted the community to the story in its February 26 edition of Around Town. Read the full story here. The article, entitled “Lawmaker accuses Cupid of violation” contained accusations from Ehrhart but did not contain a response from Cupid. The MDJ reporter explained that he phoned the Chair for a response on Wednesday and did not hear back from her or the Communications Director by their deadline on Friday. After the story ran, Cupid reportedly contacted the MDJ saying she never received the message, and her Communications Director was out of town. MDJ did a subsequent article on March 2 that included a response from the Communications Director on Cupid’s behalf. Read the full story here. Cupid’s statement reportedly labeled her actions in not disclosing, not recusing herself, and voting on the matter a missed opportunity, however it did not refute or respond directly to the allegations of ethics violations raised in the complaint by her fellow lawmaker, Ehrhart.
For those who follow government, Cupid served on the Cobb Commission for 8 years and sparred with then chair Tim Lee on an issue eerily similar that involved a family member, his wife. The MDJ said Ehrhart expressed concerns and cited how Lee disclosed his conflict and recused himself from voting on a matter that involved his wife and the organization she worked with, while Cupid stood in opposition, chastised him on the matter, and ultimately voted against it. Fast-forward to this case involving her own husband, and Cupid neither disclosed the conflict nor recused herself and instead cast a yes vote on the matter. With the County Attorney sitting just a few feet away on the dais, was clarity ever sought by the Chair or provided by the Attorney on this matter before a vote was taken? Who knew what and when?
Ehrhart expressed concerns about the hypocrisy surrounding these similar issue and reportedly said the following to the MDJ: “Lee’s acknowledgment and recusal from the vote in 2016 demonstrate how a leader can and should do the right thing. Cupid did none of the right things Tuesday night. She neither admitted the connection to her husband’s organization nor recused herself from the vote.”
Many may try to make this an issue based on other factors such as race, politics, etc., but in the end it comes down to what we were all taught as children, doing what is right the first time and every time – whether someone is watching us or not. Whatever this is, a missed opportunity or an ethics violation, it is now a matter for the appropriate review board to access. Our community has high expectations and we will continue to hold elected officials to these standards – with no exceptions. We expect them to exercise good judgement and hold themselves accountable to the people and the law – which starts with disclosing conflicts of interest to the public and recusing themselves accordingly.
We want to continue to see Cobb County thrive and we can do this together with open, honest discussions on topics that impact us all. Go to SPOTLIGHT’s Facebook page to continue the discussion.