Monday, September 18, 2023–8:23 p.m.
-John Druckenmiller, Rome News-Tribune-
This story is possible because of a news-sharing agreement with the Rome News-Tribune. More information can be found at northwestgeorgianews.com.
The mediation process continues this week in the ethics complaint facing Rome City Commissioner Mark Cochran even as the overall case faces new resignations.
A three-member tribunal of regional mayors, charged with reviewing complaints against Cochran, now has no active members. All three have resigned following the exit of the Rome-appointed special counsel in the case, Chris Balch, whose issues with the city were outlined in an inflammatory resignation letter.
Following the requirements of Rome’s ethics ordinance, three area mayors were chosen to further review the case: Bremen Mayor Sharon Sewell, Adairsville Mayor Kenneth Carson and Summerville Mayor Harry Harvey. The panel last met on May 2 before Cochran’s attorney filed a challenge in Floyd County Superior Court, citing several errors in the process that were potentially damaging to Cochran’s reputation.
In that initial court hearing on May 12, Superior Court Chief Judge John “Jack” Niedrach paused the ethics panel process pending a court review.
Since that hearing, nothing has moved forward but many things have changed. Carson resigned on July 21. That was followed by the resignation of Harvey and Balch as the attorney on the case, both on July 27, and finally Sewell on Aug. 3.
The review and attempt at a settlement has also resulted in two very contentious caucus sessions for the city commission, which revealed divisions in the body.
City Clerk Joe Smith said that Sewell has agreed to serve on a new panel if one is needed. This week’s meetings might help determine that next step.
Rome has since hired Avery S. Jackson of the Tisinger Vance firm in Carrollton to take over the investigation. Jackson is expected to be at two specially called city commission meetings this week.
The first commission meeting convenes at 1 p.m. Wednesday and the board plans to go behind closed doors to continue discussion of the complaints against Cochran, a Ward 1 incumbent up for re-election in November. The second meeting is set for 1:30 p.m. Thursday.
Both will be held in the Sam King Room of City Hall. State law allows, but doesn’t require, governments from meeting outside the public eye to discuss pending litigation, real estate or personnel issues.
The ethics complaint, filed by Rome Human Resources Director Kristy Shepard, centers around treatment of city employees, which Shepard described as uncalled for and unprofessional.
The complaint also points toward two discussions where she implies that Cochran could have potentially benefited financially from his role as a city commissioner. City records show that Cochran did not participate in a vote on either topic.
Through May, the ongoing ethics investigation had cost the city close to $50,000 — and that was before Balch’s final invoice for work in June and early July as well as whatever fees Jackson has incurred. Cochran is paying for his own representation and his compensation is expected to be part of the mediation discussion.