Mayor Johnson reacts to ethics complaint filed against Savannah alderwoman

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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – In the wake of concerns over how Savannah CARES Act funding was distributed, disputes broke out between city council members, leading to an ethics complaint being issued against Alderwoman Kesha Gibson-Carter.

“In my 16 years there’s only probably been one time that this has occurred,” said Savannah Mayor Van Johnson.

For only the second time in the city’s history, a Savannah council member is facing an ethics complaint. Johnson says it’s no surprise 2020 is throwing him another curveball.

“This is an extraordinary circumstance in what’s been an extraordinary year,” said Johnson.

In a complaint filed Friday, District 6 Alderman Kurtis Purtee alleges Gibson-Carter, in the Post 1 At-Large seat, has intentionally misled the public and even physically threatened other council members.

“I can tell you there was an incident involving Alderwoman Gibson-Carter and Alderwoman Wilder-Bryan a while back and there was some words exchanged,” said Purtee.

Allegations Gibson-Carter made at a child trafficking protest are also in question.

“There’s pedophiles under this gold dome and there are suspected pedophiles under the gold dome of Georgia and that’s why it’s going to make it that much harder for us to really effectuate change in this community,” the Post 1 At-Large Alderwoman Kesha Gibson-Carter said at a recent anti-human trafficking rally.

The Savannah Police Department says they’ve looked into those claims and found Gibson-Carter did not have any information or evidence of pedophilia by anyone at City Hall.

“It’s unfortunate that it was said it was even more unfortunate that when asked about it, there was no explanation,” said Johnson.

Purtee echoed Johnson’s statements.

“I mean that’s a criminal complaint. Each employee in City Hall, they undergo a background check. The only people that don’t go through a background check are elected officials, such as myself and the other eight members,” Purtee said.

His formal complaint against Gibson-Carter lists concerns over what he said were defamatory statements, vulgar language and unethical conduct.

“I felt that there were some issues that needed to be addressed, and the way to address those issues is to address it as a group with looking at it with outside eyes,” Purtee said. “We look at issues of conduct when it comes to how elected officials portray themselves, how they act. We look at issues of bullying other people.”

Johnson says a three-person ethics panel will review the claims and hear out evidence from both sides.

The last time the panel met was in 2016 when complaints were filed against former Alderman Tony Thomas.

“It’s difficult to build relationships when you are blasting your fellow council members and those types of things,” said Johnson, “so in the end I hope it gets worked out.”

WSAV News 3 briefly spoke with Gibson-Carter on the phone on Saturday. She didn’t address the complaint against her but did say she would call back.

She has since announced plans to address the claims in a media conference Tuesday.

“I’m hoping that’s a wake-up call not just for her, but for everybody on Council, that hey, we have to be held accountable to the people that put us in office,” Purtee said. “We can’t just say or do whatever we want to do. We are elected officials and have to be held to a higher standard.”

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