County Mayor Randall Hutto is beginning the process of addressing a question posed during a recent County Commission meeting.
Hutto was approached by Commissioner Wendell Marlowe regarding possible changes on the county’s Ethics Committee.
“Mr. Marlowe had asked me, he felt like in his opinion I should make some changes on the Ethics Committee. I asked the question, ‘Change all five?’ and he said no. The commission voted on it and there were 15 in favor of it – seven said no, two abstained and one was vacant – that I should make some changes,” Hutto said.
He said his first thought upon leaving that meeting was, “Can I do that?”
The committee was started in 2007 after the state came in and said the county had to have an ethics policy. Hutto said the county adopted the model of the County Technical Association Services, which calls for an ethics committee.
“This commission formed a five-member committee,” said Hutto. “Right now I still have three of the original members on there: Frank Bush, Clint Thomas and Earl Ray Jr. The committee added Eugene Murray in 2009 because somebody left and [they] added Nathan Clariday in 2010.”
Hutto said he appoints committee members yearly and the appointments are confirmed by the full commission. The commission confirmed the current committee on Sept. 16, 2013.
Hutto said he sought advice from County Attorney Mike Jennings.
“I said ‘Mike, you need to give me some direction here, can I change members?’” said Hutto.
He said Jennings told him he could remove individual members, but the majority of the county commission would have to approve the removal and also approve the person selected to replace the member being removed.
“The second thing I had an issue [with] was who. I felt like I was going to be shooting in the dark,” said Hutto. “Am I going to change the ones these 15 members felt like I should change?”
Hutto said he asked himself if the situation may have gotten started because maybe there were some who didn’t like the way vacancies on the commission were being filled. Hutto asked Jennings, and Jennings told him that the rules were being followed.
However, Hutto added “there’s some gray areas in there that the law doesn’t speak to. For example, when a commissioner resigns, what I have always done is say okay, I didn’t think I could accept the resignation, that the resignation had to be accepted by the full commission, so I would tell them, ‘At the next commission meeting, you present your letter of resignation.
“Upon which time the commission would accept that letter and then give me direction. They would say, ‘OK mayor, you can post this position and we’ll put somebody in place next month.’ Or, if it falls within 120 days of the next election, the commission could say, ‘We’re not going to replace them, we’re going to let the election replace them.’”
Hutto said his next step will be to go before the Rules Committee.
“I’m going to go to the rules committee and say, ‘So do you want me to say that as soon as that person resigns, they no longer serve their constituents, they’re done that particular day?’
“What serving means to me is somebody picks up the phone and calls and says ‘I got an issue with my road out here’….the people that pick the phone up, I want to get somebody in here when I’m supposed to get somebody in here but I want my citizens covered for as long as they can be covered,” said Hutto.
A second issue that was brought up was how ethics complaints are dealt with.
“Someone could come in and put a bogus ethics complaint on the table, we could read that complaint aloud in the committee, newspapers pick up on it and report on it, and by the time we got it cleared up, we may have damaged somebody’s reputation.
“Do we want to have kind of a clearing house, take the chairman of the ethics committee, the county attorney and the mayor to look at the ethics complaint and decide one of three things - does it need to go to the DA right off the bat, does it need to go to the ethics committee to be heard, or is it not valid right now and needs to go back to the person that sent it for more facts.
Hutto said he is going to go to the Rules Committee at a separate time to address that issue.
Hutto said he has given some thought to the request for changes on the Ethics Committee and will be formulating a proposal to take to the Rules Committee later this year.
“On almost all of my other committees, I take a map of the county and people that are serving on the committee, I try to spread it out across the county.
“[The Ethics Committee] is not done like that, so what I thought I might do on this one is to go to the Rules Committee to see if they’d like me to spread the committee members out to have equal representation across the county.”
He said his proposal would include taking one commissioner from each road zone and then one at-large member.
“That’s my intent at this point, to go to the Rules Committee and say ‘lets nail down if you want to make the rules a little bit tougher here on these vacancies, when does the vacancy start.’
“I’m gonna go with that first, then I’ll go to the part on how we receive complaints and then I’ll go to the part about do we want to pull from different road zones, and I won’t do that until next September,” said Hutto.