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Granite Shoals needs new ethics commissioner with deadline looming

Granite Shoals Ethics Review Commission

Granite Shoals Ethics Review Commissioner Seth Smith (right) resigned from his position on April 29. The city is currently seeking his replacement with a fast approaching deadline of May 12 for a final hearing on the investigation into an ethics complaint against Mayor Aaron Garcia. Staff photo by Dakota Morrissiey

Granite Shoals is seeking applications for a new ethics commissioner after Seth Smith resigned from his position on the Ethics Review Commission on Friday, April 28. The commission is currently investigating an ethics complaint against Mayor Aaron Garcia, and the vacancy could cause trouble as the deadline for a final hearing on the matter approaches.

The city has set a May 9 deadline for receiving applications to fill Smith’s seat on the commission with the intent that the City Council will appoint someone during its regular meeting at 6 p.m. that same day. 

To apply for the commission vacancy, send a filled-out application to the city secretary by May 9 at or turn it in at Granite Shoals City Hall, 2221 N. Phillips Ranch Road, from 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday.

Smith sat on the commission alongside Jeff Kahl and Mark Morren. The three members were appointed to their positions in September 2022 when the commission was created to look into complaints against Councilor Phil Ort.

Smith resigned amid the commission’s investigation of a complaint filed against Mayor Garcia that alleges he failed to fulfill a public information request submitted by City Secretary Dawn Wright. The complaint came from Suzanne Ort, wife of Councilor Ort, on March 16.

According to the city’s ethics ordinance, the commission has 30 days to conduct a final hearing on an ethics complaint after it holds its preliminary hearing on a matter. The commission held its preliminary hearing for the complaint against Garcia on April 12, during which it determined there was enough reason to move forward with a final hearing. This means a final hearing must take place by May 12 to be in alignment with the city’s code.

Article 6 Section 2-172 (b) (1) of the city’s code of ordinances states:

“A final hearing shall be held as expeditiously as possible following the determination by the commission that there are reasonable grounds to believe that a violation of this article has occurred, but in no event shall it be held more than 30 days after said determination. The commission may grant two postponements, not to exceed 15 days each, upon the request of the city official or city employee named in the complaint.”

Further complicating matters is the requirement of at least a 72-hour public notice prior to the commission’s final hearing. This means that if the council were to appoint a third person to the commission during its 6 p.m. May 9 meeting, the final hearing would have to be held at or after 6 p.m. on the deadline of Friday, May 12.

The commission was scheduled to hold its final hearing on April 24, but this meeting was canceled due to the lack of a quorum.

The complaint against Garcia from Suzanne Ort alleges he failed to include two attachments in an email he sent to Wright in response to a public information request she made regarding his communications with Strategic Government Resources during the city’s search for a city manager

During the preliminary ethics hearing on April 12, Garcia produced documentation of his email, which was sent to City Attorney Joshua Katz for review and then to Wright to fulfill her request. Garcia’s email showed that both of the allegedly missing attachments were included. 

The email was not admitted as evidence during the hearing because it was included after the seven-day timeframe required for the commission to consider it.

Resident Robin Deberard spoke during the commission’s preliminary hearing and asked that Smith recuse himself from the deliberation on Garcia due to a potential conflict of interest. Smith is the brother-in-law of current City Manager Peggy Smith, who was recently hired by the council after spending roughly eight months as the city’s interim city manager. Garcia has opposed the hiring of Smith in recent months and made accusations against her regarding her alleged involvement in unlicensed plumbing inspections.

Seth Smith and other members of the Ethics Review Commission were not available for comment by the time of this article’s publication.