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Ethics Committee Meeting Minutes – March 4, 2024 (Unapproved)

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Ethics Committee Meeting Minutes

The Giles County Ethics committee met on Monday, March 4 at 1:00PM in the Courthouse Annex Boardroom. Members of the Ethics Committee are Matt Rubelsky, Dr. James Lathrop, Rose Brown, Annelle Guthrie and Tony Risner. Mr. Rubelsky led in the prayer and the pledge.

CE Stowe was given the floor to give the background of the current Ethics policy. He explained the role of a strong ethics policy in building public trust in county government and how the existing document was very mediocre and needed to be updated. He had spoken with CTAS and they had revised their recommended ethics policy template in 2022. Our current policy is based on the 2007 CTAS template. He said that he had canvassed a few counties and found that Knox County had one of the best ethics policies in the state. He got some advice from them and welded it together w/ CTAS guidance to develop the revised Code of Ethics and Ethics Rules of Procedure, each of which have been vetted by our County Attorney.  He further spoke with the state’s General Counsel of the Bureau of Ethics, dispelling some commissioner concerns that had been raised when the draft was first considered on 20 Feb. The two documents require Commission approval before going into effect. 

CE Stowe explained that the current Ethics committee consists of 5 members comprised of elected officials and that he recommended we add two more members from the public, one citizen member to be appointed by the sheriff and one citizen member to be appointed by the County Commission. After giving the background and recommendation to update our ethics policy, CE Stowe asked if there were any questions and with none, asked for nominations for a chairman of the Ethic Committee. Mr. Rubelsky was nominated by Mr. Risner with a second by Dr. James Lathrop. Mr. Rubelsky was elected by acclamation. (With the chairman in place, CE Stowe left the committee to conduct its business.) Mr. Rubelsky then asked for nominations for Vice Chairman and Dr.James Lathrop was nominated by Mrs. Brown and seconded by Mrs. Guthrie. Passed by acclamation. Mrs. Brown then nominated Mrs. Guthrie for Secretary with a second by Dr. James Lathrop. Passed by acclamation. We then discussed the updated ethics policy and answered questions. If the Ethics Committee approved the policy and rules of procedure, it will go to the full commission for approval.

Mr. Rubelsky then asked if there were any comments from the public. Mrs. Judy Angus Locke stood and read a letter of complaint concerning Tax Accessor Tony Risner. Mrs. Locke and her husband own joint properties and properties owned solely by her and solely by her husband. When Mrs. Locke had asked Mr. Risner to separate her property from her husbands on the summary sheet, Mr. Risner said that it can’t be done. Mrs. Locke read a letter to the Ethics Committee stressing that she wants her taxes separated from her husband’s and that she wished to file an ethics complaint with our committee.  The letter was accepted by the committee and will be reviewed by CE Stowe and the county attorney. (Mrs. Locke’s letter available at request.)

In discussing the Rules of Procedure, Mr. Hopkins expressed concerns about Rule 5 and said it seems to make the Ethics Committee judge, jury and executioner. Mr. Baddour said it provides a framework on how to proceed and offers protection to those accused of an ethics violation. Mrs. Goolsby spoke of an ethics complaint by the late Allen Barrett and she said that the ethics committee decided that outcome. Mr. Rubelsky pointed out that Rule 6, C states that the burden of proof is upon the Complainant who must prove by “clear and convincing evidence.”

Tony Risner said that several people he spoke with expressed concerns on Section 5 in the Code of Ethics concerning nepotism. Mr. Wamble said that everyone in Giles County is kin to everybody at some level and suggested striking Section 5.

Dr.James Lathrop made a motion to accept the Ethics Policy and Rules of Procedure as written and to send them to the full commission to tweak details as needed. Mrs. Brown seconded it. It passed unanimously.

Mrs. Brown made a motion to adjourn. Dr. James Lathrop seconded it. It passed unanimously.