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Ethics panel to consider Sorey complaint

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By TOMI L. WILEYSpecial to The Wilson Post

MT. JULIET -- Wilson County Commission’s Ethics Committee members will meet next Monday to discuss an ethics complaint filed by Mt. Juliet city leaders and employees in the wake of their personal information being accessed by a Mt. Juliet resident and representative.

Mt. Juliet officials including Mayor Linda Elam, Vice Mayor Will Sellers, the City Commissioners and City Manager Randy Robertson, as well as six city employees, formally filed a complaint against District 2 Wilson County Commissioner Chris Sorey on Dec. 10, 2008. In November, Sorey admitted to using a criminal justice portal while working as a Smyrna Airport Authority police officer to conduct background checks on local officials.

District 8 Wilson County Commissioner Frank Bush is the chairman of the county commission’s Ethics Committee, which was established pursuant to a recent state law to assemble a board to discuss ethics complaints against elected officials. Bush said Tuesday that the complaint will be discussed at the 4 p.m. meeting on Monday, Jan. 26, in Conference Room 2 in the Wilson County Courthouse in Lebanon.

“This is not a trial, we are not an investigative body,” Bush said. “We will discuss the complaint, and anyone who wants to be there can be there.” Bush said the Ethics Committee doesn’t “have the power to remove” Sorey from his post on the county commission. Bush said the committee will discuss the complaint and “from there can do absolutely nothing, decide there is not enough there to warrant action, or recommend to the county commission some appropriate action.” Such action, he said, could range from a reprimand of some kind to removal from the commission.

Bush added that since the committee has been formed this is the first county commissioner to have a complaint filed against him.

The ethics complaint stems from Sorey’s admission that he had accessed the personal records and information of Mt. Juliet officials and employees, as well as those of other county commissioners. Sorey’s actions were discovered during a TBI audit of the Smyrna airport’s criminal justice portal, through which law enforcement officials may access an individual’s private information, including Social Security numbers. The audit stemmed from a request made by Mt. Juliet Police Chief Andy Garrett, who received an email from Mt. Juliet storm water employee Gary Gaskin voicing concern that his private records had been compromised.

Sorey initially told local media the situation was a political move against him by Mt. Juliet officials because he “blew the whistle” on what he believed to be fire codes violations on new home construction in Mt. Juliet. He later told media that he ran the background checks to find out what City employees were driving past his house, and that he was concerned for the safety of his family.

Elam addressed the issue at the Dec. 8 City Commission meeting, stating that Sorey had also conducted background checks on county officials and Mt. Juliet commissioners, and that she was sure none of them had used City vehicles to drive past Sorey’s house. Sellers voiced concern that his private and financial records have been compromised, and Elam called for a “very public” apology and Sorey’s resignation from the Wilson County commission.

Sorey and Mt. Juliet officials contacted for comment on this article did not return calls by press time Tuesday.

Editor’s Note: Tomi L. Wiley is the editor of The Chronicle of Mt. Juliet.

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