Ethics question is valid, but not a top priority

There are serious problems with Georgia’s ethics commission -- or rather (excuse us), the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission. The eligibility of its chairman is not among them.

The Rome-based Ethics in Government Group filed a complaint last week alleging that the commission’s chairman, Camilla attorney Patrick Millsaps, is ineligible to continue holding that post because of a state law that prohibits any commission member from serving more than one full term.

It’s not a frivolous question. If there’s any realm of public service where the rationale for term limits is self-evident, it’s an unelected panel charged with the responsibility of registering lobbyists and investigating complaints of campaign finance impropriety and other government ethics issues.

But the issue of whether Millsaps has served a complete term is not a simple matter. He was appointed in 2009 by then-Gov. Sonny Perdue and reappointed this year by Gov. Nathan Deal. In between, the General Assembly passed, and Perdue signed into law, 2010 legislation that reorganized the ethics commission and set terms of service at two, three and four years for its various members.

Millsaps concedes that the legal question is not moot, and said Friday he would in effect decline his reappointment and continue serving as a Perdue appointee until Deal names a replacement. That sounds like a reasonable compromise: State law allows a commission member whose term has expired to remain on the board until he or she is replaced, and it’s by no means settled that Millsaps’ term has expired.

Georgia’s radically downsized (except for its name) ethics oversight panel is grossly underfunded; its investigative capacity is all but nonexistent; and if the political connections and activities of some of its members aren’t flagrant conflicts of interest, they are remarkably convincing imitations.

Under the circumstances, the legitimate question about its chairmanship seems to have been handled appropriately for now.

Historic site lost

Area residents were saddened to learn of the fire early Tuesday that destroyed the historic McCarthy and E.T. Curtis cottages in Warm Springs.

The McCarthy Cottage, built in 1927, was the residence of future president Franklin D. Roosevelt when he came to west Georgia to get treatment for polio. When the Little White House was completed in 1932 he leased his former Warm Springs home to Canadian businessman Leighton McCarthy, whose son also suffered from polio. McCarthy would go on to become Canadian ambassador to the U.S., and his family used the cottage into the 1970s.

As thankful we all are that there was no human cost, we have lost irreplaceable landmarks of local and national history.