CONYERS -- The Rockdale County Board of Commissioners is slated to vote on a contract today for a company that appears to have contributed to two of the commissioners' campaigns for reelection.
The BOC is scheduled to vote on a contract with Resurgens Risk Management during today's public meeting. The county would hire the consulting firm for $60,000 a year to provide employee insurance and benefits. Previously, Conyers-based NuVision Financial Corporation provided this service for the county.
However, according to information provided to the Citizen by BOC Post 1 Republican candidate Sam Smiley, Resurgens hosted a fundraiser for Post 1 Commissioner Oz Nesbitt in June. Suggested contributions ranged from $300 to $2,500 for the June 7 fundraiser held at the Resurgens offices on Peachtree Street in Atlanta.
According to campaign disclosure reports, Resurgens Risk Management also donated $250 on May 31 to Chairman Richard Oden's campaign. On June 4, Oden refunded that donation.
Attempts to reach Nesbitt were unsuccessful by presstime. A call to Resurgens CEO Willie Burks was also not returned by presstime.
Oden said when contacted by the Citizen on Monday that he did not think it was a conflict for him to vote on the contract.
"My campaign handles that kind of thing," he said. "There again, that should not happen any time any company enters into the process with the county. We caught that and sent that back."
When asked if he would accept any future contribution from Resurgens, Oden said, "I don't know. They haven't asked."
Despite the refunded contribution, the commissioners' political opponents say these actions represent a clear ethics violation.
Smiley, who also runs the political watchdog group, BOCWatch.org, said he routinely pulls campaign disclosures for both Oden and Nesbitt and was aware of the $250 contribution by Resurgens to Oden.
"When I saw the item on the agenda for Tuesday's meeting, it threw up a flare, so I started doing Internet searches and came across Oz's invitation to the fundraiser," Smiley said Monday.
He said he believes both Oden and Nesbitt should recuse themselves from the vote on the contract because it represents a "very clear conflict" and could be a violation of the state ethics code since Rockdale County does not currently have an ethics ordinance.
"Oden did take a contribution from Resurgens," Smiley said. "Five days later he returned it, but it does not mean they won't contribute to his campaign again."
Tom Harrison, who will be facing Smiley in the July 31 Republican primary race for Post 1 commissioner, agreed that the actions represent a clear violation of ethics.
"The bottom line is it is very inappropriate," he said. "It is inappropriate for anyone who is doing direct business with the county to make donations during campaign season. I don't care how you look at it."
Brian Jenkins, who is challenging Oden in the Democratic primary, is not persuaded by the fact that Oden returned the contribution.
"Just because he returned it does not negate the fact that this expenditure won't be sent back to Richard after this vote," he said. "I would suggest Oz and Richard recuse themselves from this vote. If they do that, the vote would not take place. This is not only unethical, but it also sends the message that vendors can buy off elected officials in Rockdale County."
For Republican Jason Hill, who is also running for BOC chairman, the ethical problem is clear.
Beyond that, however, is the county's preference to do business with a company based outside Rockdale County instead of a local one.
"What disturbs me more is that a company based in Rockdale County that's done a great job for years and it is being replaced," Hill said. "Unless they can come up with a reason why this company has not done a good job, I can't see any reason to change that."