Committee rules Savannah alderwoman violated Code of Ethics

Updated: Oct. 29, 2020 at 4:54 PM EDT
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - A fiery ethics complaint hearing in Savannah involving Alderwoman Kesha Gibson-Carter.

After an hours-long hearing Thursday, an independent ethics committee unanimously determined Alderwoman Gibson-Carter did violate the city’s Code of Ethics.

The four council members said during the hearing they hope they all can move past this, and put differences aside, and time will tell if all involved will be able to put the bad blood aside and continue to conduct City business.

About half of the witnesses who spent the day here didn’t even get called, as evidence and testimony by those bringing the complaints and evidence ran up against a strict time-keeping format meant to keep the hearing moving. Alderwoman Gibson-Carter repeatedly asked those filing complaints against her why they didn’t come to her first to resolve the issues, while those council members pointed to a history of abusive behavior on the part of Gibson-Carter, and that they felt they had no other choice.

After the committee shared their conclusion, Alderwoman Gibson Carter declined to comment. But several of the Council members filing the complaint shared their thoughts as they move forward.

"I’m just ready to just move on and do the will of the people and get as much as we can for the good of all of Savannah,' Alderwoman Linda Wilder-Bryan said.

“There’s really no winners at the end of the day with this. It’s just like a family that’s had some issues. And moving forward, we’re just trying to find a way to do the best, the greatest will of the City,” Alderman Detric Leggett said.

“I went on the record that I believe the most appropriate action here is a censure. Today we learned the truth, and it was unanimously affirmed about what we’ve been having to live through and work through since we entered office here,” Alderman Nick Palumbo said.

Palumbo says Council will have to discuss if censuring Alderwoman Gibson-Carter will be the route they take. A censure is basically a public reprimand of a council member for their conduct and ends with that.

Again, Alderwoman Gibson-Carter declined to comment to WTOC. She did post a video to Facebook to share her thoughts after the hearing:

Posted by Kesha Gibson-Carter on Thursday, October 29, 2020

PREVIOUS STORY: An ethics board met for the first time Thursday morning to read word for word two ethics violations complaints filed against Savannah Alderwoman Kesha Gibson-Carter earlier this month.

The complaints, brought by four of Gibson-Carter’s fellow Council members, allege she used vulgar language, threatened another Council member and the reputation of a city manager search firm during a closed-door session.

The ethics board, appointed by the last city council in 2018, consists of Dr. Jose de Arimateia da Cruz, Thomas Hersch and chaired by Savannah attorney Christian J. Steinmetz III.

Steinmetz said, “This is the very first ethics board matter that this ethics board and the members have dealt with.”

Today was all about reading aloud for the public the ethics violations complaints lodged against Alderwoman Kesha Gibson-Carter by Alderman Kurtis Purtee, and another by Alderman Detric Leggett, Alderman Nick Palumbo and Alderwoman Linda Wilder-Bryan.

“It was merely a reading of the charges, much like an indictment. It’s not evidence, it’s not substantive, in the sense that we’re not deliberating on it, we’re not considering it. Certainly, it’s substantive in that it outlines the complaint," said Steinmetz.

Steinmetz said the hearing, set to take place on October 29, could in some ways seem like a trial or administrative hearing, considering each of the council members involved could hire lawyers to represent them, and bring evidence and call on witnesses for the hearing.

The ethics board chairman said he and his fellow members just want everyone to be heard, and for the process to be as transparent as possible.

“I feel very confident that their goal is that, that is certainly the board’s, which is to be efficient, to be absolutely fair and to perform our duty to the best of our ability.”

Alderman Kurtis Purtee told WTOC at this point, he isn’t planning on seeking outside counsel to represent him during the hearing. Purtee said he’d likely call on other Council members to corroborate his allegations against Alderwoman Gibson-Carter.

Any Council member involved in the hearing has to report to the ethics board by October 15 if they are being represented by a lawyer at the hearing, and if they plan to present evidence or call on witnesses.

WTOC reached out to Gibson-Carter to see if she is planning on being represented by an attorney at the hearing, introducing evidence or calling on witnesses.

RELATED: Alderwoman Gibson-Carter addresses ethics complaint allegations

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