The heart of a 24-page ethics complaint sent to the District Attorney General by the Wilson County Commission Ethics Committee on April 3 is the question of residency of individual commissioners when they move.
The issue has been a topic of contention for some commissioners since December, when former County Commissioner Adam Bannach of District 18, resigned his seat due to moving out of his district.
At the December county commission meeting, the question arose whether Bannach, who had submitted his notice to resign to Mayor Randall Hutto in an email on Nov. 21, should be allowed to vote on any county business.
A great deal of discussion among the commissioners ensued, with some commissioners feeling that he should not be allowed to vote, while others felt he should.
District 8 Commissioner and Ethics Committee Chair Frank Bush directly asked Bannach where he intended to reside.
“The legal definition of residence is well established in law, and I'm not the right one to quote that,” Bush said. “Part of it goes to intention, so I guess I will put it to Adam himself, rather than to a judge to decide, and ask him on the open floor, Adam, where is your intent to reside from this day forward?
“I'm not going to answer that. I don't understand,” Bannach replied.
“If you're not residing in the district you're suppose to represent, then as our colleague has indicated, you probably shouldn't be voting on their behalf,” Bush said. “If your intention is to reside in your new home, in your new district, then it's a matter of fact and you can clarify that for us on the floor, if you so wish.”
Bannach did not reply.
Since that Dec. 16 meeting, the issue has been at the heart of three Ethics Committee meetings and at least one Rules Committee meeting, when a resolution that would have outlined the definition of residency and a set of specific steps to take to fill any vacancy proposed by the Ethics Committee failed to receive a second.
It also became an issue at the Jan. 27 County Commission meeting, when District 22 Commissioner Wendell Marlowe asked County Mayor Randall Hutto to consider changing some members of the Ethics Committee.
That change has not occurred, as Hutto told The Wilson Post he is working on proposals to present to the Rules Committee concerning not only specific steps regarding the residency issue, but also the appointment of committee members.
The Ethics Complaint
The issue has now led to the submission of the Ethics Complaint filed by Harold Huber of Mt. Juliet at the April 3 meeting. The complaint names Hutto, County Attorney Mike Jennings, former county commissioners Stephanie McDonald and Bannach, 17 current county commissioners and Jan Jewell, who works in Jennings’ law office.
The 17 commissioners listed are: Becky Siever, District 1; Terry Duncan, District 2; Jerry McFarland, District 5; Kenny Reich, District 6; Terry Scruggs, District 7; Billy Rowland, District 12; Jeff Joines, District 14; Mike Justice, District 15; Gary Keith, District 17; William Glover, District 19; Annette Stafford, District 20; Eugene Murray, District 21; Marlowe, Bernie Ash, District 23; Paul Abercrombie, District 24; and Randy Hall, District 25.
The vote to send the complaint to District Attorney General Tommy Thompson for review was 3-2. Murray and committee member at large Earl Ray each voted no, while Bush, District 10’s Nathan Clariday and District 13’s Clint Thomas each voted yes.
The complaint, which had originally been brought by Huber at the Dec. 30 Ethics Committee meeting and rescinded to provide more factual evidence, alleges that “one or more persons are likely guilty of crimes against the administration of government, as well as other possible crimes, including, but not limited to, Official Misconduct, TCA 39-16-402, Official Oppression, TCA 39-16-403, and/or Misuse of Official Information 39-16-404.” (See sidebar.)
The complaint also states that Huber believes “that one or more public officials, and possibly county employees, have been guilty of dereliction of duty and are therefore subject to ouster from office or dismissal from employment pursuant to TCA 8-47-101.”
This section of Tennessee Code Annotated covers the grounds for dismissal of public officers and employees. It reads that “every person holding any office of trust or profit … who shall knowingly or willfully commit misconduct in office, or who shall knowingly or willfully neglect to perform any duty enjoined upon such officer by any of the laws of the state, or who shall in any public place be in a state of intoxication produced by strong drink voluntarily taken, or who shall engage in any form of illegal gambling, or who shall commit any act constituting a violation of any penal statute involving moral turpitude, shall forfeit such office and shall be ousted from such office in the manner hereinafter provided.”
Although Huber states several times that the complaint has nothing to do with the vote for a private act regarding a request to increase the hotel/motel tax to fund the proposed Expo Center at the James E. Ward Agricultural Center, he notes that each of the current county commissioners listed in the complaint voted in favor of the resolution, which failed at the General Assembly.
He states also in the complaint that Jennings “characterized my previous complaint as being a witch-hunt, this complaint is not a witch-hunt. This complaint is an attempt on my part to hold accountable those people who I sincerely believe are truly responsible for what I believe to be the commission of grievous wrongs.”
To read the full account of the complaint and supporting documents, go to The Wilson Post’s website at http://wilsonpost.
Amelia Morrison Hipps is a correspondent with The Wilson Post. She may be contacted at www.downhomepolitics.com.