BY KRISTEN BUCKLES
Greene County Mayor Alan Broyles has called a meeting of the County Ethics Committee for next week to address "a potential conflict of interest violation" by County Commissioner Tim White.
The committee will meet at 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 10, in the conference room of the Courthouse Annex.
White, of Charlie Doty Road, is one of three county commissioners representing the 1st County Commission District. The other two 1st District commissioners are Fred Malone and Wade McAmis.
The district includes the Baileyton, Woodlawn, Hardins, Lost Mountain, Union Temple, West Pines and Cross Anchor voting precincts.
White is the co-owner of A&W Farms Hauling & Excavating, LLC, which installed the sewer system for the new Chuckey-Doak High School fieldhouse project in March after submitting the winning bid of $22,190.
White has denied having violated any county or state ethics codes or laws in performing this work.
WHITE IS COMMITTEE MEMBER
After calling the meeting, Mayor Broyles sent out a letter on Wednesday to Commissioner Hilton Seay, who serves as the chair of the Ethics Committee. Broyles also sent copies of the letter to all other members of the Ethics Committee.
Members include County Commissioners Robert Bird, David Crum, Rennie Hopson, Jan Kiker, Phil King, Wade McAmis and White himself.
"It is important to note on the outset that, as Commissioner White is a member of this body, he is required to recuse himself under Section 5 of the Greene County Ethics Policy," Broyles wrote.
Copies of Broyles' complete letter and other related documents are available at GreenevilleSun.com/docs.
When contacted by The Greeneville Sun on Thursday, Commissioner White had not yet received his copy of the information that was released when the committee meeting was called.
Despite repeated efforts, the Sun was unable to reach White for comment on Friday.
Mayor Broyles' letter begins: "It was brought to my attention on August 20 that a potential conflict of interest violation might have occurred in February and March of 2012.
"When allegations regarding violations of the County Code of Ethics or potential violations of state law governing ethical conduct are brought to our attention, I believe it is our duty as representatives of Greene County to refer the matter to the Chair of the Ethics Committee in writing and set forth in reasonable detail the facts upon which the complaint is based."
Broyles formally requests an investigation of White's actions, citing "potential violations to the Greene County Code of Ethics and, possibly, state law."
Early in 2012, the Greene County School System approved the requesting of bids for the Chuckey-Doak sewer installation project as part of the overall improvements to outdoor facilities at C-DHS.
When the bids were opened on Feb. 16, A&W Farms was noted as the low bidder for the sewer installation project. The company's bid came in nearly $10,000 below the next lowest bid.
The school system's Bid Committee then voted to recommend acceptance of the A&W Farms bid by the county Board of Education.
Director of Schools Dr. Vicki Kirk has stated that it was a proper bid, with W&W Engineering creating the specifications and overseeing the bidding process.
The Greene County Commission met on Feb. 21, with White in attendance.
During this meeting, White was among the majority of the commissioners who voted to approve the transfer of $62,000 from the school system's General Fund to the school system's Capital Projects Fund to cover the cost of site work and sewer installation work as part of the new fieldhouse project.
The commission met again on March 19, and the majority, with White included, voted to approve the transfer of another $523,652 from the school system's General Fund to the system's Capital Projects Fund for the cost of actually constructing the C-DHS facilities improvements.
In Broyles' letter, the mayor called attention to both votes, saying that White failed "to disclose his conflict of interest before voting to approve a funding resolution transferring funds to the Greene County School System."
"This was not a general funding vote but was specifically for the purpose of covering the cost of work related to site and sewer work for the Chuckey-Doak Fieldhouse project on February 21, 2012," the mayor continued.
"It appears Mr. White voted in favor of the specific funding despite the fact his own personal business had been notified it was the low bidder on the same Chuckey-Doak Fieldhouse project that he then voted to fund."
WHITE, BELL: NO CONFLICT
Both White and C. Berkeley Bell, 3rd Judicial District attorney general, have argued separately, however, that there was no conflict of interest violation, mainly because White has "no direct supervision over the expenditure of [county school] funds."
White has also said that he believes the matter is "politically motivated" related to the fact that he provided the "swing vote" in favor of the 20-cents-per-$100-of-assessed-value property tax increase at the Aug. 13 County Commission meeting.
The increase was allocated to assist the county schools, give county employees a 2 percent pay raise, and assist the County Highway Department.
The highly controversial increase passed by a bare majority of county commissioners eligible to vote on it, and over the strong opposition of numerous commissioners and Mayor Broyles.
The Greene County Board of Education approved White's bid on the sewer installtaion project during the board's meeting on Feb. 23.
That vote came two days after White voted at the County Commission meeting in favor of allowing the school system to move the funds from the system's General Fund balance (or savings) into its Capital Projects Fund.
The vote to approve the $523,652 for construction of the building came on March 19.
White's company was not involved, however, in the general construction portion of the Chuckey-Doak fieldhouse project.
"Both votes occurred after Commissioner White's business was advised it was the low bidder and would therefore receive proceeds from the same funding he voted to approve," according to Mayor Broyles' letter.
COUNTY CODE CITED
"Commissioner White did not disclose any conflict before the votes, nor did he recuse himself from the votes," Broyles noted in the letter.
The mayor then cites Section 2 of the county's ethics code, which states the following:
"An official or employee with the responsibility to vote on a measure shall disclose during the meeting at which the vote takes place, before the vote, any personal interest that affects, or that would lead a reasonable person to infer that it affects, the official's or employee's vote on the measure.
"In addition, the official or employee may, to the extent allowed by law, recuse himself or herself from voting on the measure."
Broyles also cites Section 7 of the county's Code of Ethics, stating that this section "specifically references relevant provisions of the Tennessee Code that prohibit conflicts of interest by elected officials."
Of the provisions of state law listed in Section 7, the mayor highlighted two statutes:
* T.C.A. 12-4-101, the general conflict of interest statute that prohibits "anyone who votes for, lets out, or in any manner supervises any work or contract from having a direct financial interest in that contract, purchase or work, and it requires disclosure of indirect financial interests by public acknowledgment";
* T.C.A. 5-14-114, for counties under the County Purchasing Law of 1957, which prohibits "the purchasing agent, members of the purchasing commission, and all county officials from having any financial or other personal beneficial interest in any contract or purchase of goods or services for any department or agency of the county."
Attorney General Bell said in an interview with the Sun in September that, at Mayor Broyles' request, he had researched both of these statutes in relation to White's actions.
Bell said that his research lead him to the conclusion that, in his opinion, White did not violate any conflict of interest law.
"[The mayor] did contact me," Bell said in that September interiew, "and we looked into the matter and determined that the County Purchasing Law of 1957 did not apply because the county school funds are exempt.
"The county board of education is exempt from the conflict of interest portion of the 1957 law.
"There's another general conflict of interest statute that -- it's not very clear," he added. "It's been interpreted in exactly opposite ways.
"The [Tennessee] Attorney General gave his opinion several years ago that it would apply in this type of situation.
"However, the Tennessee Court of Appeals in 2000 held that it would not apply in this type of situation because Commissioner White has no direct supervision over the expenditure of [county school] funds.
"The funds are expended by the board of education, over which he has no supervisory authority," Bell concluded.
"That's our posture right now," Bell said. "The '57 act had not been violated and the general conflict of interest statute, according to the 2000 Court of Appeals case, also didn't apply. I informed the county mayor of our findings."
"I told the county mayor that it was up to the county to proceed -- if they felt like they could proceed," Bell said.
"But," he stated in the September interview, "we didn't feel like we [the office of the district attorney general] could."
Mayor Broyles concluded his letter by noting Section 5 of the county Ethics Code, which states that the Ethics Committee is to investigate any "credible complaint" against an official.
If the committee believes there has been a violation of the county ethics code, the following actions are listed as options under Section 5:
* "refer the matter to the county attorney for a legal opinion and/or recommendations for action";
* "in the case of an official, refer the matter to the county legislative body for possible public censure, if the [body] finds such action warranted";
* "in a case involving possible violation of state statutes, refer the matter to the district attorney for possible ouster or criminal prosecution"; and/or
* "find the ethical complaint is without merit and take no further action."
(Greene County Attorney Roger Woolsey has recused himself from the White matter entirely, citing a conflict of interest that he would have since White is his neighbor and is therefore also one of his representatives on the County Commission.)