The first-ever city ethics committee met in Statham Thursday, Oct. 17, and a hearing on the first complaint will be held Wednesday, Nov. 6, at city hall.
The complaint is against city council member Betty Lyle and Mayor Robert Bridges for the city paying to replace a sewer line on Lyle’s property.
The ethics committee agreed to set a series of rules of procedure at its Oct. 17 meeting. The committee is three members — chairman Tammy Hitchcock, Lew Weems and Johnnie Ellington.
Bill Berryman, an attorney from Oconee County, is advising the committee.
Catherine Corkren, who filed the ethics complaint, objected to Berryman being the committee’s attorney because he is being paid by the city. He was recommended by city attorney Thomas Mitchell and a witness in the case.
Corkren said she was asked by community members to file the complaint. The complaint is that work was done at Lyle’s home during the summer and was paid for by the city.
Corkren contends that Bridges ordered city employee Sam Powell to do the work and that the mayor insisted city funds be used to pay for the work.
The complaint says “a sewer lateral line from Lyle’s house to the street” was replaced. It also says that Lyle “either demanded or requested the city to ‘do something’" about the sewer problems and that she got a financial benefit of “nearly $10,000” from the work, waived fees, sewer easement and supplies.
Lyle’s family bought the property in the 1970s and the sewer line had already been installed as part of the sewer system. New sewer lines were installed in 2005-2006 along the streets.
The complaint contends the lines are no longer a city problem or responsibility and any cost for working on them goes to the homeowner.
“These old sewer lines still exist throughout Statham, but they are no longer city-maintained collection lines,” the complaint says.
Corkren says in the complaint that city administrator Mai Chang and city clerk Kay Fortney told Lyle repairs were her responsibility.
Lyle and Bridges attended the meeting, but neither said much. Both said they would offer documents and witnesses at the Nov. 6 meeting.
All parties to the complaint have until the end of the day Friday, Nov. 1, to provide a list of witnesses they may call or documents they may introduce. Copies of those documents also will go to the other parties in the dispute.
Corkren told the committee she expects to get a copy of the city’s sewer map. She said she had requested it before and Mitchell refused to give it to her.
Mitchell said Fortney was concerned if the map were released, it would be generally available to the public and that might cause safety problems.
The complaint also contends the city council approved a sewer easement across Lyle’s property in August and that the lines were removed before council voted to give her the easement.
Corkren argues that it is “standard practice” throughout the U.S. that sewer problems are the responsibility of homeowners from the street to the house.
Corkren said Lyle “was well aware of the problem with the sewer lines for many years, but never requested an ‘easement’ until she became aware that I was investigating her wrongdoing.”