Of 5-3 By Panel
Means County Comm.
Will Decide Issue
BY KRISTEN BUCKLES
Whether County Commissioner Tim White violated ethics codes related to conflicts of interest and what action, if any, should be taken will now appear before the full County Commission.
A hotly divided 5-3 vote on Wednesday by the Greene County Ethics Committee sent the case to the commission for discussion and a vote.
White, a member of the committee, did not vote, but strongly maintained that he did not do anything unethical or immoral.
For several commissioners on the nine-member committee, the decision came down to whether it was necessary for the entire legislative body to hear the case -- or whether lack of intent on the part of White was enough to end the matter at the committee level.
At the heart of the situation was $22,190 of work that White's company, A&W Excavating & Hauling, LLC, performed in March for the Greene County School System, following a formal bid process, by installing the sewer system at the new Chuckey-Doak High School Fieldhouse.
Several committee members briefly discussed and agreed that the matter did not appear to be a situation of price-fixing.
The question before the committee on Wednesday was, according to the members, entirely a matter of ethics.
Chairing the Ethics Committee was Commissioner Hilton Seay, who ran the meeting with strict attention to who could speak and when, rather than in the open-forum manner of most county committee meetings.
Seay's rules included that only committee members could speak, and those only when he called on them.
Committee members include Seay, Commissioner Wade McAmis, who serves as secretary, and Commissioners Robert Bird, David Crum, Rennie Hopson, Jan Kiker, Phil King, and White, in addition to County Clerk David Thompson.
As it came time for the committee to vote on what action to take, Commissioner Bird made a motion, seconded by Commissioner Hopson, to allow the full County Commission to discuss and vote on the matter at an upcoming meeting.
Commissioners Bird, Hopson and King voted in favor of this action.
"I believe that Tim White, if he made a mistake, he did it not in an unreasonable manner but in a manner that people sometimes make mistakes. He did not do it for his own gain," Crum said, declaring that his vote was "no."
Kiker and McAmis also voted "no," leaving the vote 3-3.
It was then time for David Thompson to vote, prompting him to recall another committee rule Seay had announced at the beginning of the meeting.
"A majority vote will be five then, and the chair will vote when there's a tie," Seay had said.
In light of the fact that neither side would have five votes with White and Seay both not voting and the matter split 3-3, Thompson chose to abstain.
He said he believed White's actions were a violation of the code but that it had not been intentional.
For the next 15 minutes, confusion reigned over the meeting as Robert's Rules of Order were called into question.
Seay suggested that Thompson's abstaining changed the number needed for a majority to four, prompting Thompson to ask if he could then go back and change his vote since Seay had not declared if the motion had passed or failed.
Lengthy debate followed until Hopson commented, "This is not a deciding factor that would require somebody to pass sentence and judgment that would put him in the pen for 30 years. We're being ridiculous here."
This comment caused a momentary uproar in the meeting, resulting in a moment of tension and high emotion.
Seay called the members into order and allowed White to respond to Hopson.
"This vote ain't going to send me to the pen," he replied, "but here's my point. My name's getting kicked around like a football, number one.
"And number two, when this goes to the next stage, I'm going to have to go get me one of them," he said, pointing to the county's appointed attorney to address the matter, Benjamin Lauderback, of Knoxville. (Please see related articles on Page ???)
"So don't tell me how important this vote is, that it's nothing, it's just to send it on. It's money out of my pocket," White concluded.
Hopson clarified that he had not meant to imply it is not important, just that it is only moving the matter forward a step.
The committee then agreed to allow Thompson to change his vote.
Thompson then voted "yes," to move the matter forward to the County Commission, resulting in a 4-3 vote.
Although not a tie, Seay said as a voting member he had the right to change his mind, and he chose to vote, bringing the tally to 5-3 and sending the matter to the County Commission.
Lauderback said he will be available to appear at the December meeting of the County Commission, at which time the commission will discuss the matter and possibly take action.