Guyton Councilman Tells Ethics Committee “If It Doesn’t Fit, You Must Acquit”

An ethics complaint filed against a Guyton city councilman ahead of the June 18th runoff election was heard before the city’s ethics committee Tuesday. The substance of the hearing was largely overshadowed by disorder, yelling, personal insults, and irrelevant information prompting the intervention of the Guyton Police Department.

The Complaint

At the center of the complaint was the political endorsement and receipt of funds for support of a candidate for Tax Commissioner by Guyton City Councilman Theodore Hamby. The complaint, which was filed by Nick Hitt, contended that Hamby, with the help of Huber “Tommy” Morgan, used his position to try to influence the outcome of the race between Kelly Hoffner and Daniel Rodewolt. While Hoffner ultimately lost to Rodewolt in the June primary runoff, the complaint having been filed in late May was still valid since the allegations pertained to Hamby in his official capacity.

Specifically, the complaint alleged that Hamby:

  • solicited both Kelly Hoffner and Daniel Rodewolt for money for his business in exchange for his endorsement as a Guyton city councilman. 
  • endorsed Kelly Hoffner in her campaign for Tax Commissioner, sought publication of the endorsement, and wanted to ensure that the endorsement was made in his official capacity as ‘Guyton City Councilman Theodore Hamby’ which he rescinded upon receiving additional funds from her opponent.
Tuesday’s 45 Minute Hearing

The three-person committee was a party of two for Tuesday’s hearing as the third member, LaToya Jefferson Jones, resigned ahead of the hearing. Present were members Reginald Stanmar and Robert Hunter. Deputy City Attorney Wes Rahn was also present to provide legal guidance and City Clerk Fabian Mann recorded the hearing. Also in attendance: Nick Hitt, Kelly Hoffner, Councilman Theodore Hamby, Councilman Michael Johnson, Mike Gerwig, and a representative from an area newspaper.

Stanmar opened the meeting by summarizing the complaint and outlining the alleged ordinance violations which would be the subject of the hearing. Specifically, Stanmar referenced subsections (h) and (m):

  • (h) No city official shall solicit or accept other employment to be performed, or compensation to be received, while still a city official, if the employment or compensation could reasonably be expected to impair such official’s judgment or performance of city duties. 
  • (m) A city official shall not use his or her position in any way to coerce or give the appearance of coercing, another person to provide any financial benefit to such official or person within the official’s immediately family, or those with whom the official has business or financial ties amounting to a substantial interest.
Opening Statements

Hitt asked committee members to refer to what was outlined in their statement filed with the city. Hitt then went on to add that he and Hamby recently had another interaction after the June city council meeting.

“We exchanged words out in the parking lot and then decided to meet at Pineora gas station. I met with him and his father and in that meeting, he basically summed up for me that if I didn’t let this issue go, or didn’t, wasn’t OK with everything, that him and his father had evidence against Kelly that she was a racist and they were going to put it out online. Then he basically also said that, excuse me, not you, your dad, said that they knew where Kelly’s ex-husband worked and that they had stuff on her…He has admitted several times that he doesn’t know what he’s doing and doesn’t want to be on Guyton City Council anymore. His behavior is reckless and he’s only here to serve himself. I’m sorry, I thought he was a different person but he’s not.”

“First of all, most of what he said was false,” Hamby said in the opening. “This is not about justice or even ethics, but about retaliation. The accusations are born out of a refusal to accept responsibility for their own failures. We’re here because Mr. Hitt and Ms. Hoffner are unwilling to acknowledge the shortcomings of their own campaign. So they seek to…”

An upset Hitt interrupted Hamby at that point to tell him ‘not to do that.’

“Let me make one thing clear: I was not operating in my official capacity as councilman in any of the events in question,” Hamby said. “This crucial fact underscores the deceitful attempt to link my private acts to my public responsibilities. Their accusations lack substance and even integrity. They’re slinging mud against me and many other good folks and organizations who simply don’t deserve it. They’re hoping that by tarnishing my reputation will divert attention from their own missteps. Furthermore, it is essential to recognize that the Georgia Bureau of Investigation has thoroughly investigated and found no evidence of criminal or unethical behavior on my part. Despite this definitive conclusion, Mr. Hitt and Ms. Hoffner persist in their campaign of character assassination.”

Hamby did not provide any official documentation from the GBI regarding their investigation or lack thereof into the allegations. He cited an article published by a local newspaper. Additionally, the GBI does not investigate matters of ‘ethics,’ only alleged violations of Georgia law. The actual quote published by the newspaper stated that the GBI office said ‘there is no investigation’ and that ‘[t]he situation didn’t equate to an investigation.’

Hamby then asked the committee to ‘see through their vindictive tactics’ and ‘deliver a verdict that stands for truth and integrity.’

Evidence & Witness Testimony

Hitt was given an opportunity to present evidence and witness testimony, but deferred to Hoffner because he needed to step outside to avoid losing his temper, he said. “The lies and the insidious behavior…I literally can’t control myself and I don’t want to put my hands on him. I’m going to step outside for a minute,” Hitt said, stating that Hamby ‘lies constantly.’

“That’s false,” Hamby said from the audience. 

At that point, City Attorney Rahn tried to guide the hearing back to order and offer guard rails for the committee members as they proceeded on. 

Hoffner shared with the committee that Hamby’s claims that this is about her loss cannot be true because the complaint was filed three weeks before the outcome of the election was determined. She presented the previously submitted Facebook posts and referred to the recorded phone calls as evidence of Hamby acting in his official capacity, contradicting his claims he did not act as a councilman. 

Hoffner presents to the ethics committee

Hoffner specifically referred to Hamby’s social media account titled ‘Councilman Theodore Hamby,’ to which Hamby replied that it includes his title but he is not authorized to speak on behalf of the city. At issue, however, is not whether Hamby spoke on behalf of the city, but whether he acted as a city councilman. 

“He went as far as to threaten his mother against me to harass my ex-husband at work, that was in reference to me, because his mommy works there, too,” Hoffner said, explaining that the complaint is about holding people accountable for their actions. “When you make a mistake and you’re confronted about it, you’re supposed to stop and say ‘I’m sorry.’  Instead you’re digging deeper with the lies and go further and then you start harassing…so what’s retaliation?”

Hamby returned to the podium and began saying “As a mother of three children, I don’t appreciate…,” a statement which provoked Hitt and committee member Hunter. Hitt told Hamby from the audience to “watch your mouth or we are going to have an issue. Don’t go there with her. Do not talk about her being a mother.” Hoffner could be heard saying “That’s very inappropriate, that’s very rude,” while Hamby asked the city attorney to have Hitt escorted out of the building. 

Committee member Hunter pointed at Hamby and directed him not to bring Hoffner’s children into the hearing discussion. 

Hamby and Hunter exchange words over the interjection of Hoffner’s children in the ethics hearing discussion.

“No, she attacked my mother,” Hamby said. “She attacked my mother. My mother is a saint. My mother is a saint. I’m sure your mother is a saint, too.”

Committee member Stanmar then told Hamby, ‘It’s irrelevant. It’s irrelevant.’ 

“I was operating as a businessman, not as a city councilman,” Hamby told them. “On my personal time. The GBI even said ‘nothing criminal or ethically was wrong. I still don’t understand why we are here. If I did nothing wrong to the GBI, and they’re a lot higher than you guys, no offense, but they’re…why are we here? We’re here to tarnish my reputation because they’re down on an election.”

The point of the ethics hearing, however, is to determine ethical matters not criminal matters. 

By the fifteen minute mark of the hearing, dialogue had become so heated that an officer with Guyton PD arrived to help restore order. 

Questions from Committee Members

Hunter asked Hamby about his use of his official title, citing concerns of his actions conflicting with the ordinance on ethics. Hamby replied, “You may feel that way but the many people I’ve talked to in Guyton think I’ve done nothing wrong, so you’re pretty much on the minority side of things.”

Hoffner again referenced the screenshots and recorded phone calls, to which Hamby replied, “Yeah I said that but I don’t have the capacity to speak for the city.” Hoffner also said Hamby denied saying what he did until he knew there were recordings.

“They were constantly begging me for an endorsement. I could have asked the campaign manager to drop to his knees…” Hamby continued.

Hitt then asked Hamby how he would have dropped to his knees and suggested Lt. Coppola come sit by him.

“We’re not going to tolerate any threats of violence,” attorney Rahn said.
“I’m not threatening, I’m promising,” Hitt replied.
“Well, we’re going to leave if that’s the case,” Coppola told Hitt.

“That sounded very threatening,” Hamby said. 

Rahn then asked everyone to ‘calm down’ and asked if there was any evidence Hamby wanted to present.

“All you have to do is look at the GBI,” Hamby said. 

Hamby then returned to the chairs in the audience. Hitt was sitting on the corner chair with his arm around the back of the chair adjacent to him. Though there were more than twenty available chairs, Hamby sat in the chair immediately adjoining Hitt’s and within the nook of his arm.

“Get away from me. Get away from me.” Hitt said. “Before I move you away from me. Now you’re just trying to be an antagonistic little prick. Get the f*** away from me.”

Committee member Stanmar then asked Hamby about the business status of his political consulting firm, the fees he quoted the candidates, and the endorsements he offered.

“I worked for the governor in 2018, I worked for the state party in 2019, I worked for Americans for Prosperity…I know a thing or two because I’ve seen a thing or two. I can win elections. As a campaign manager, I did that…my resume speaks for itself. I don’t have to come to someone and say, ‘Hey, I’m a councilman.’ I say “This is my record and results.”

Stanmar then asked Hoffner if she interpreted what Hamby was offering to be in his official capacity. “That’s 100% how he’s only operated. He has branded himself as Guyton City Councilman Theodore Hamby. He introduces himself in that way everywhere he goes,” she said.”

Hamby said that’s not true and he’s never referred to himself as councilman. “I’m a pretty humble guy,” he said.

Closing Statements

“They like to say that my dad and me threatened them with information. Well we got that information from Ms. Hoffner’s ex-husband. Because his name is also Nick and Hoffner and he felt like Kelly was misrepresenting his name with all these vindictive attacks…they’re out there saying they’re setting a new standard but I’d personally like to know how that new standard is going for them. Because whenever they leaked those calls, I got a lot of support from people saying ‘you know they shouldn’t have done that.’ Had they won, there’s no telling who else they would have recorded…I did nothing wrong, so why would I lie about something I didn’t do.

Hitt said that initially Hamby said Hitt was lying about the accusations that Hamby and his dad threatened Hitt. But in his comments in closing, Hitt said, Hamby admitted that he did have the information. “He literally just told everyone ‘Oh that’s the information we got from Kelly’s ex-husband.’  “So they did do it, he just admitted that they threatened the night after the city council meeting. He tells so many lies, he can’t keep up with them all. You can’t reason with the unreasonable.”

Hamby returned to his comments to say that the narrative was driven ‘not by truth but retaliation.’

“Their accusations lack substance and are rooted solely in their desire to mislead…Like I said before, even the Georgia Bureau of Investigation had the thorough scrutiny to conclude that no criminal or unethical conduct transpired. This affirmation underscores the baselessness of their claims…”

“As you deliberate. I want you to remember ‘If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit,” Hamby said, citing the infamous line from the OJ Simpson trial – an American criminal case in which an acquittal was garnered while a large portion of the general public believed, for decades, was the wrong verdict.

An emotional Hoffner responded that Hamby was making a mockery out of the process and that isn’t what is needed in local government.

Decision by Committee

After approximately forty minutes in executive session, committee members returned to open session to announce that they would take no action on the complaint, but would turn their recommendations over to council by July 16. The meeting then adjourned.

Read the full story with screenshots, recorded phone calls, and the text of the complaint as previously reported here.

Ethics Complaint Filed Against Guyton City Councilman for Soliciting Money for Endorsement

Jessica Szilagyi

Jessica Szilagyi is Publisher of TGV News. She focuses primarily on state and local politics as well as issues in law enforcement and corrections. She has a background in Political Science with a focus in local government and has a Master of Public Administration from the University of Georgia.

Jessica is a "Like It Or Not" contributor for Fox5 in Atlanta and co-creator of of the Peabody Award-nominated podcast 'Prison Town.'

Sign up for her weekly newsletter: http://eepurl.com/gzYAZT

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