Joseph Pond of east Cobb claimed that Cobb Commissioner JoAnn Birrell collaborated with his neighbor to prevent him from obtaining a variance to keep his chickens.
Commissioner JoAnn Birrell (MDJ/File)
MARIETTA — In a unanimous vote on Tuesday, the county’s seven-member ethics board cleared Commissioner JoAnn Birrell of charges she violated the county’s ethics code by failing to show impartiality on a variance case about backyard chickens.
The county’s code enforcement department cited Joseph Pond of east Cobb last year for keeping a dozen hens on his half-acre property. The county requires two acres to keep chickens.
Pond maintains that Birrell collaborated with his neighbor, Carole Kell, mother of Cobb Superior Court Judge Tain Kell, to prevent him from obtaining a variance.
Pond, who has been lobbying commissioners to change the code governing poultry since he was cited, alleged in the complaint that Birrell invited residents who opposed backyard chickens to speak at commission meetings, but didn’t extend that invitation to those who supported them.
Birrell was represented in the case by Marietta attorney Fred Bentley Jr.
“It was so frivolous that they just disposed of it,” Bentley said. “It should have been a nonissue.”
Bentley said it was fine to be an advocate, but filing a frivolous action against a commissioner is wrong.
“What he did was simply not right,” Bentley said.
Birrell said it felt good to have her name cleared.
“Fred is right, it was a frivolous lawsuit,” Birrell said. “I knew I had done nothing improper or unethical, but once a complaint is filed and it’s out there, it’s an attack on my character, and … you have to go through the process.”
Birrell wants to reassure the public that she has done nothing wrong.
“I was doing what I have a responsibility to do, and that is enforce the code of Cobb County,” she said. “There was nothing improper or unethical, and I think the evidence of that … was confirmed last night.”
Even if she had been found guilty, Birrell was never in danger of being removed from office. Lynn Rainey, attorney for the ethics board, said the maximum penalty for an ethics violation is reprimand or censure.
Pond said he was disappointed by the ruling.
“I was hoping that the truth would prevail,” Pond said. “I’m not surprised that it didn’t. I’m disappointed that it didn’t. I had stated facts, every one of my facts had documentation behind it. Her attorney made wild accusations. He blew a lot of smoke and they preferred to take the smoke over the facts. I have documentation that JoAnn Birrell lied to me, that she lied repeatedly in the documentation presented to the ethics board, and they ignored all the documented facts and went with Fred’s smoke, so I’m disappointed, but I’m not surprised.”
“If you’ve got the money, you got the power, you get (expletive) done. If you don’t, you get run over,” he said.
Pond said he would continue to lobby commissioners to adopt a new code change to the ordinance. Commissioners are scheduled to examine the topic next month.