Taking Any Action
BY KRISTEN BUCKLES
"A circus" was how several Greene County commissioners described the last period of Monday's County Commission meeting, when a motion to suspend the rules and consider the alleged conflict of interest by Commissioner Tim White became a lengthy debate.
The White matter was not a part of Monday's agenda for the Greene County Commission, but it was raised when Commissioner John Waddle moved to "suspend the rules" to consider the off-agenda item.
Earlier this month, County Mayor Alan Broyles submitted a formal, written complaint concerning White to Commissioner Hilton Seay, who chairs the County Commission's Ethics Committee.
In the complaint, Mayor Broyles noted that White's company, A&W Excavating & Hauling, LLC., had completed $22,000 worth of work during the spring for the Greene County School System, following a formal bidding process.
In addition, the complaint said, Commissioner White had voted in the commission meetings on resolutions having to do with the county budget, including the county school budget.
Broyles said the actions raised the issue of whether White had violated the County Commission's ethics code and possibly state conflict-of-interest laws as well.
The Ethics Committee debated the matter at length last week, then decided in a 5-3 vote to refer it to the full County Commission.
It is scheduled to be formally considered at the December meeting of the commission.
Many members of the commission and community became aware of the inquiry prior to Mayor Broyles' formal letter of complaint to Seay. But Broyles declined to comment until he sent it, which follows the county's Code of Ethics procedure for complaints.
On Monday, Commissioner David Crum, who was one of the Ethics Committee members who voted against sending the White-related issue to the full commission, continued to argue against the committee vote to do so.
Commissioners who had been present at the Ethics Committee meeting explained that Seay began the meeting saying he would only vote in a situation where there was a tie and that it would take five votes for a majority.
He did later vote, however, when the tally was 4-3; his vote produced the 5-3 majority.
Seay defended his actions Monday at the commission meeting, saying that County Clerk David Thompson originally abstained from the vote, leaving a 3-3 tie Seay said he intended to break.
When Thompson then changed his vote in favor of sending the matter to the commission, Seay still voted since the original vote was a tie, he explained.
Broyles, who presided at the County Commission meeting, encouraged the commissioners to move past further argument about the Ethics Committee action, saying, "We have to move forward."
On Monday, some commissioners said that the commission should delay considering the matter to wait for a legal opinion or further information from Knoxville attorney Benjamin Lauderback.
Lauderback was hired by Mayor Broyles to advise the county government on the possible conflict-of-interest issue after County Attorney Roger Woolsey recused himself from involvement in it because he is a neighbor of White.
Other commissioners said that the commission should go ahead and consider the matter rather than making White wait for another 60 days.
In the end, the commission voted 11-5 to suspend the rules, but Waddle ultimately chose to withdraw his motion and move for adjournment prior to any discussion or action by the commission.
SECOND BY MOSS
Waddle first raised the issue after the commission had finished conducting their regular business, saying, "We've put him through this for about 60 days now, and I'd just like to bring this to the floor and vote on this today.
"We've got a lot of pressing issues: the jail, we've got a couple of lawsuits that are more than a million dollars ... I think it's time to get down to more serious business.
"I'm not going to say that's [the White issue] not serious, but we need to get down to more serious business."
Broyles reminded the commission that Lauderback would be present at the December meeting to provide what Broyles called the facts of the case.
"If it would be just as good for you, for Dec. 17, after the entire commission hears all the facts, that'd be fine," he told Waddle.
Waddle, however, countered that the entire commission probably already knows all the facts, and he chose to maintain his motion.
Commissioner Bill Moss seconded the motion, and later insisted that White had been left "on the spit, frying" for too long.
From there, the discussion accelerated, moving from one topic to the next.
Woolsey, who repeatedly reminded the commission that he was trying to stay out of the matter since White is a neighbor, was asked to advise White on whether he should vote on Waddle's motion to suspend the rules.
Woolsey recommended that White not vote on the motion, based on the county's ethics code requiring the defendant to not be involved in the proceedings related to ethical issues.
White also asked about when he should have a lawyer present and actively defend himself, a question to which no one seemed to have an answer.
Commissioner Robin Quillen insisted that the commission should not consider the matter when county's attorney could be present if White's attorney is not also able to be present.
She called the inquiry a "witch hunt" and "a waste of tax payers' money."
She also raised the issue of the timing of the complaint against White, in relation to his having provided the "swing vote" for approval of the property tax increase at the Aug. 13 County Commission meeting.
Mayor Broyles responded to Commissioner Quillen's point.
He said that, during a recess in the Aug. 13 meeting of the County Commission, he overheard someone clearly make an accusation about White's work for the school system.
Broyles stated that he was not aware of the work before that time.
He said that at least two commissioners would also have had to have overheard the conversation at the Aug. 13 meeting.
Broyles added that he was not able to confirm the work -- and the possible conflict of interest -- until he returned to his office that evening.
The mayor also emphasized that he felt it is important for the full commission to hear from Lauderback and have the opportunity to ask for his legal opinion on matters before considering the White case.
"But you can do whatever you want to," he added. "You all are the governing body."
That, he said, includes handling the conflict in any way the commission so chooses, from dropping the matter entirely to carrying it forward with ouster charges against Commissioner White.
'ACCUSER' AS CHAIR
White objected to Broyles chairing the meeting, saying that it was not fair to have his "accuser" presiding over the proceedings.
Broyles agreed to step down as chair while the commission considers the matter if the chairman pro-tem, Commissioner Robert Bird, would be willing to take his place.
Bird, however, noted that it was his motion in the Ethics Committee meeting that brought the matter before the full commission.
"This almost feels like we're not following due process or almost not following due process," he said of the idea of considering the matter without the attorney present.
He discouraged the commission from anything that would appear to be an avoidance of or interference with the legal process.
Commissioner Ted Hensley strongly agreed, saying, "I, for one, need to have the facts -- and not the emotions, Ms. Quillen."
He insisted that to consider the matter on Monday would leave some commissioners unaware of the complete facts and would leave the commission operating like a circus, without order and running on emotions and divided party lines.
VOTE BUT NO ACTION
The commission voted 11-5 to suspend the rules, with Hensley, Bird, Anthony Sauceman, Seay and Nathan Holt voting against the measure.
Wade McAmis, Fred Malone, John Carter, Quillen, Lloyd "Hoot" Bowers, M.C. Rollins, Waddle, Moss, Crum, Jan Kiker, and Jimmy Sams voted in its favor, while White abstained.
Another passionate speech by Hensley followed, in which he insisted that the commission did not have the knowledge to form legal opinions without attorneys present.
"If you all really want to know what's going on, maybe you ought to get [John Waddle] to pull this thing," White responded.
He insisted that policy had not necessarily been followed the way the mayor presented and said, "There's going to be a lot of egg on a lot of faces."
Waddle withdrew his motion shortly after this statement, insisting that the matter should be ironed out in December.
With the motion withdrawn, debate ended, and the commission meeting adjourned.