Valdosta mayor faces ethics complaint, calls for ouster

Valdosta Mayor Scott James Matheson

VALDOSTA, Georgia – An ethics complaint has been filed against a Georgia mayor for comments he made on his conservative radio talk show.

The ethics complaint filed against Valdosta, Georgia, Mayor Scott James Matheson also calls for his ouster. 

The complaint alleges the mayor has violated six provisions in the city’s Code of Ethics for remarks he has made on his talk show that airs weekday mornings on a conservative radio station he owns. Matheson hosted the radio show and owned the station prior to becoming mayor.

Matheson told The Valdosta Daily Times Thursday the complaint hasn’t been officially filed because the representatives of the four groups must sign the complaint under oath, according to the city’s ethics rules. He said he will comment further on the complaint once it has been properly filed. 

The complaint was submitted to city officials Feb. 9 and is supported by a coalition of four organizations – The Mary Turner Project, Concerned Clergies of Valdosta, NAACP Lowndes Chapter and Valdosta/Lowndes Community Alliance.

According to the complaint, the coalition claims Matheson “demonstrated that he is incapable of, and/or uninterested in, representing all citizens of Valdosta equally.”

The complaint stems from his radio commentary that "combines and conflates his roles as the Mayor of Valdosta and conservative political pundit.”

The complaint claims the mayor's show “regularly disseminates inaccurate, divisive, and inflammatory claims that often demonize local citizens and political viewpoints that differ from his own.”

A prime example, the complaint states, is a Jan. 12 show, when Matheson said, “One day, it’s illegal to pay somebody to vote, but on the next day, being election day, it’s legal to pay someone to canvass even though they don’t canvass – even though they don’t go to a house. They hop on a bus, they go down, they vote, they come back and they cash a $75 check.”

Jack Morris, Matheson's radio cohost, then said, “A lot of what that is is they pay $75 to find five friends to take to the polls.” Matheson refers to these checks as being cashed at the same liquor store.

The complaint states the broadcasts specifically violate city ethics codes that include failing to give an appearance of impartial independence; failing to uphold the authority of a governing body; shaking confidence in public confidence in the integrity of the government, etc.

Mark Patrick George, Mary Turner Project coordinator, said he has tried talking to Matheson for two months.

“We’ve reached out to the mayor a total of, I think, five times trying to have a conversation with him about claims he had made about local canvassers,” George said. “He simply wouldn’t talk with us, so we were forced to go down a different road with the ethics complaint.”

George hosts a podcast and his show posted clips from the radio show online for community comment. The podcast attracted the attention of the other organizations.

If the ethics complaint is brought before mayor and council, they will appoint a three-member committee to study the complaint and evidence.

Committee members consist of two members chosen by the mayor and City Council respectively, both citizen appointments. The final member is chosen for a legal background by the two other appointees.

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