Thursday, April 26, 2012

Ethics chair opposes law director plan

Knox County's Ethics Board Chairwoman Elaine Davis yesterday sent an email to a bunch of local big wigs that was addressed to the charter review committee.

She's against a possible proposal to let change the county law director's seat from that of an elected position to an appointed one.

Here's the email:
Dear Charter Review Committee Members,

Unfortunately due to prior commitments, I am unable to speak before the committee tonight during Public Forum. I appreciate the Chair allowing for me to speak to you at your last committee meeting on April 11, 2012. Due to time constraints, I was unable to fully express my concerns.

I am writing in reference to the April 25, 2012 Agenda item no. 9. (8.) under the Discussion heading with reference to Section 3.08-Appointment of Law Director. "Appointment of Law Director by the Mayor effective September 1, 2016. Other branches of government will be allowed to hire on a contract basis an attorney to represent their interests."

I am writing concerning a potential conflict of interest with the appointment of the Law Director and the Ethics Committee. As you may or may not be aware, the process in which ethics complaints are initially received originate with the Law Director's office. Either a sworn complaint is received by the Law Director or a complainant may call the office and speak with the Law Director who then discerns the validity of the concern as to whether it may rise to an ethics violation. The committee as a whole is made aware of sworn complaints that are received however any calls that are made to the Law Director's office and those conversations with complainants are not. This is an appropriate process. I believe, that any verbal complaints received, the Law Director deftly handles and gives appropriate instructions to that citizen based on their complaint and situation.

However, if the Law Director is appointed by the Mayor and can be fired by the Mayor at the Mayor's discretion, my concern is that this allows for any complaints received about the Mayor or any of the Mayor's staff to be manipulated to never rise to a violation or be determined to be a credible complaint, be used to warn any wrongdoers and cover up any malfeasance, or conversely retaliate against any political enemies. In my opinion, the Law Director's loyalties would lie with the Mayor instead of remaining independent.

Additionally, there is a conflict with the language of "other branches of government contracting counsel". The Ethics Committee at one point did have a budget in order to pay for the noticing of its meetings. However, at present, the committee does not have a budget and would be unable to contract outside counsel. As a quasi-governmental body that can make recommendations of violations of T.C.A. to the District Attorney's Office that could result in a criminal charge, it is imperative that the legal advice that the Ethics Committee, a citizen's committee, receives is to be trusted.

To date, I can state that the Law Director has aided in creating Whistleblower Protection and the Process and Rules by which a formal hearing is conducted. Having served on the Ethics Committee during the hearings in which the prior Mayor's administration was found guilty of retaliating against a County employee, I can firmly say that having the Law Director independent of the administration allowed for me to make an informed decision based upon my trust of the Law Director's counsel not political machinations.

I am currently Chair of the Knox County Ethics Committee. Please know that I write this letter to you as a citizen who serves not as a spokesperson for the committee as we have not met nor discussed this matter as a body.

Thank you for your time and attention to these serious matters. If you have any questions or comments, please do not hesitate to contact me. Again, thank you for your willingness to serve.

Elaine Davis

1 comment:

Ray H Jenkins said...

I have not seen any reporting on the results of lat night's meeting - did I miss a KNS article on it?