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DA's clears schools in ethics complaint

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School board also sends 'offer' to Mt. Juliet related to resolve back liquor taxes owed suit

Results of the investigation by the District Attorney General into an ethics complaint filed against the Wilson County Board of Education alleging mishandling of government property and the renovation of the former Lebanon High School has been released and deemed, as a whole, to "appear to be legally sound" and "no illegal acts occurred."

Dr. Donna Wright made the announcement at Monday's monthly school board meeting. The Wilson Post obtained a copy of the report.

School board sends 'offer' to City of Mt. Juliet

At the same meeting, the school board unanimously voted to make an offer to the City of Mt. Juliet to resolve Wilson County Schools' lawsuit against the city that seeks recovery of unpaid liquor-by-the-drink revenues, which were supposed to be shared with the schools.

Board Attorney Mike Jennings would not reveal the details of the offer noting the "press" was in attendance and first the offer should be delivered to City of Mt. Juliet Attorney Gino Marchetti. Deputy Director of Schools Mickey Hall said, "We need to let the City of Mt. Juliet look at it [offer of settlement] first and give us feedback before we can comment publicly."

Mt. Juliet City Commissioner Ray Justice, who has been closely involved in the resolution negotiations, was on hand at the meeting to hear the offer will be delivered.

Ethics investigation details

On June 6, 2016, the Wilson County Board of Education unanimously passed a subsidiary motion to request the Office of the Fifteenth Judicial District Attorney General to investigate 14 questions presented to them within an amended ethics complaint filed by Dr. Cris G. Corley. Corley filed an original complaint by letter on April 27, 2016, and an amended complaint on May 11, 2016.

At Monday's meeting Wright said it was important to get an impartial investigation.

"For us to conduct our own would be questioned," she said. "The report validates we did nothing wrong, and even commended us in some areas."

According the report released by DA Tommy Thompson Jr. and Asst. DA James M. Lea Jr., both letters with the ethics complaints were sent to Wilson County Ethics Committee Chairman Terry Ashe.

"Essentially, Dr. Corley was requesting an ethics committee investigation into the alleged mishandling of government property and the renovation of Old Lebanon High School," the report says.

The report also says Corley asked the matter be referred to the Tennessee Comptroller's Office for investigation and accounting of all properties. The comptroller's office did go to the Wilson County Schools Central Office the week of May 26 to investigate the concerns over renovation/contractions project. The DA's office reviewed and "heavily relies on the Comptrollers report and findings in conjunction with the questions posed by Corley," according to the lengthy report.

The report says the DA's office studied Corley's complaints, along with records and minutes of the School Board, the Wilson County Commission, Wilson County Ethics Committee and county and state records. They also conducted interviews.

The report says the purpose of their investigation was "to determine whether they as a governing body or any of the individuals employed by the school system have committed any prosecutable state criminal offenses."

Questions and complaints

In general, the complaints filed by Corley revolve around concerns about the disposition of building materials during the recent demolition of the old Lebanon High School to renovate it into usable space.

Some of the questions asked for:

  • a full inventory of the contents of the former LHS prior to renovation and demolition;

  • a current inventory;

  • a full accounting with receipts of all items sold for scrap salvage revenue;

  • review of the contract between the system and Aegis Environments;

  • authorization to remove and sell the surplus flag pole and other properties of the system;

  • review of state law allowing a private contractor to sell surplus government property, as well as other questions.

The report goes into detail for every question.

General summary of findings

The report says in order to complete the investigation, the DA's office spent countless hours gathering information, identifying and locating witnesses, site visits and multiple in-person and telephone interviews.

"Since each issue is being addressed separately herein our overall general conclusion is that no state criminal statutes have been violated," the report says. "While we have certainly noted many differing opinions on the issue(s) of what is best, or what is right, regarding the handling of the plans, renovation and personal property that remained within Old Lebanon High School, the school system as a whole and the measures taken by them appear to be legally sound."

It goes on to say the system's actions "appear to have met the general standards within the industry as far as what is considered customary and reasonable practice throughout the State of Tennessee."

The conclusive finding was "no illegal acts occurred at the hand of the Wilson County Schools as a governing body or its agents/employees."

About that flag pole

Corley witnessed a boom truck pulling the flagpole the second week in April. His complaint said he contacted his county commissioner about what happened to it on April 18.

"In hindsight, if the symbolic and sentimental attachment to the flag pole that many people shared had been expressed to the Board its fate could have been handled differently," says the report.

The report says it was good Corley saw the flag pole being removed.

"Thankfully the flag pole was discovered at Lebanon Scrap Metals and was recovered," the report says.

It goes on to say Wright had no idea about the flagpole or its removal until April 18. The report says Wright tracked it down and it was recovered.

Writer Laurie Everett can be reached at laurieeverett1@gmail.com.

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complaint, Donna Wright, education, ethics, lawsuit, legal, liquor-by-the-drink, Mt. Juliet, schools, taxes, Wilson County School Board, Wilson County Schools
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