VALDOSTA – Senior Southern Circuit Judge H. Arthur McLane is the final member of a three-person panel to evaluate an ethics complaint claiming Mayor Scott James Matheson mixes his role as mayor with his career as a conservative radio commentator.
Valdosta City Council approved McLane in a 6-1 vote Thursday evening based on a recommendation from the two other ethics panel members, Jim Tunison, a former Southern Circuit judge, and Robert Jefferson. Tunison and Jefferson were selected by the mayor and council respectively two weeks ago.
Councilman Eric Howard opposed the selection of McLane, saying he would have preferred a more objective or neutral nomination.
Howard said having two panel members, Tunison and McLane, who are friendly with Matheson does not seem to create an impartial board. He doesn’t want the community to think the board review will finish quickly without any merit.
City Manager Mark Barber said Tunison and Jefferson tried finding other members but to no avail. Barber said he supplied council members with an email detailing the search process.
“We went through a lot of folks,” the email read. “A lot of folks aren’t interested, some weren’t qualified.”
With this approval, the ethics board can set its own meeting times and discuss how it will evaluate the ethics complaint.
“The ordinance allows them to interview people, review video – anything they want to do, they can do their due diligence to make sure they’re making the right decision on this situation,” Barber said.
No city staff, council or the mayor will be involved. City involvement is scaled to providing any documentation needed and a meeting place. The latter is set to be a city hall conference room.
After making a decision on the complaint, the board has seven days to deliver it to City Council. The chairman of the board will present it to council.
A coalition of four organizations — the Mary Turner Project, NAACP Lowndes Chapter, Concerned Clergies of Valdosta and the Valdosta-Lowndes Community Alliance — filed the ethics complaint Feb. 15, saying the mayor would not listen to their concerns.
The complaint, signed by Dr. Mark Patrick George, the Rev. Darren Neal, Dr. Bruce Francis and Jimmy Boyd representing the respective organizations, claims Matheson “demonstrated that he is incapable of, and/or uninterested in, representing all citizens of Valdosta equally” in presenting himself as the Valdosta mayor on his weekday radio show Talk 92.1.
The complaint alleges the on-air rhetoric “regularly disseminates inaccurate, divisive, and inflammatory claims that often demonize local citizens and political viewpoints that differ from his own.”
The coalition has called for Matheson’s ouster, saying he violated ethics codes including:
— Failing to give the public “the appearance of being independent, impartial, and responsible to the people,” and failing to address “divisive” comments that reflect against the former.
— Failing to conduct himself “so as to not create any question or concern as to the appropriateness, legality or sincerity of any actions or conduct as a member of the governing authority.”
— Creating doubt in the ability to “provide the public with confidence in the integrity of its government.”
— Failing to use the “power of (his) position” for the “wellbeing of constituents.”
— Using rhetoric that fails to “create an environment of honesty, openness, and integrity.”