GENERAL ASSEMBLY; Ethics Plan Asks More of Politicians Perdue Urges Stricter Rules

Article excerpt

Byline: Walter C. Jones, Times-Union staff writer

DOUGLASVILLE -- Donnie Henriques had little idea when friends asked the active civic volunteer and business manager to run for the Woodstock city council that he would be grilled for an hour by a government prosecutor over a $500 campaign contribution he forgot to report.

Henriques' experience Friday before the State Ethics Commission is common for state and local politicians facing complaints filed by political opponents and do-gooders over mostly technical violations.

The volume and magnitude of complaints could increase dramatically with the passage of stricter ethics rules proposed by Gov. Sonny Perdue and others.

Some members of the public believe tougher ethics rules are needed for politicians, but others say they're unrealistic and wouldn't be followed by any other segment of society. Overly restrictive rules, they argue, could discourage well-meaning people from running for office even though they might have much to contribute to society.

Many politicians enter public service for altruistic purposes.

"That's why I'm here today: My neighbors convinced me that I was the best one to run," Henriques said. "I had some commitments and some things I wanted to get done."

Often, officeholders apply the ethical rules they operated by in their professional and volunteer activities with the assumption that doing the right thing in one endeavor is proper in another. Many are surprised to learn the requirements on candidates and elected officials are more stringent and dependent on frequent, detailed reports.

"I was never handed a copy of any code book until Mr. Lee visited my office in June of last year," Henriques said, referring to Theodore Lee, executive secretary of the Ethics Commission.

Perdue is recommending the General Assembly pass rules for politicians that require greater disclosure of personal finances, limit what jobs they can take after public service, and reduce their ability to get campaign contributions. Perdue's floor leader has already introduced part of the legislation.

The governor said: "Many times I've stated that trust must be earned, that trust is a two-way street. I want all Georgians to trust in their government."

But do people in business already follow a similar code of behavior?

One Douglasville home builder said it was unrealistic to expect anyone in business to follow such precepts.

"That's more like a make-believe world," said Jody Willis, after reading Perdue's proposals. "It would not work in the business world today."

But Tracy Stumon, a Douglasville warehouse supervisor, says honest government should be fairly simple to achieve. …