- Family Features
- Business Directory
- Gallery Of Homes
- Subscribe Now!
- Place A Classified Ad
- New! Digital e-Edition
Councilors react to AG's ethics request
Dec 13, 2006 12:00 am
On the heels of receiving correspondence from the district attorney's office, some Lebanon city councilors say they're ready to move on his request to strengthen Lebanon's ethics laws.
One councilor even went a step further, suggesting the Council should have more input on Planning Commission appointees. Currently these members are selected solely by the mayor.
And it's something Ward 2's Kevin Huddleston thinks needs to change.
"Maybe we should give the Council more input on how those appointments are, so you alleviate the problem of having one person select a panel," Huddleston said. "You take away the power out of one person's hand by doing that."
This would require amending the city's charter. City Attorney Andy Wright noted the General Assembly has to approve all changes to a city's charter after councilors voted to send something to a legislator.
It would also require amending state law regarding selection of planning commissions – what could be a tricky proposition, according to Ward 3 Councilor William Farmer, who said he explored the possibility himself when he was first elected in 2002.
"I thought out of the 10 appointments, that six of them should come from nominations by the council," Farmer said. "Each councilor would nominate somebody, and four would be the mayor's appointments. I'd be very receptive to looking into that, but it'd be a difficult thing to do."
15th Judicial District Attorney General Tommy Thompson penned a letter to councilors Dec. 6 seeking their help in trying to have a clause in the city's ethics ordinance which addresses the appearance of impropriety. Mayor Don Fox has said he plans on implementing such a policy, but said the district attorney did not give him and city staff adequate time to make those changes.
The request for the addition in the city's newly adopted ethics policy came as a result of an ongoing investigation by the Thompson and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation regarding Assistant to the Mayor Debbie Jessen's role as the agent for Chestnut Ridge. Some city councilors had raised objections concerning Jessen's role in the development, which cleared the Lebanon Planning Commission in less than 30 days.
Making such a change would require that the city's ethics policy be approved by the state legislature next year.
But some councilors question how much good the changes will do, noting the fact that the city was hiring felons despite a provision in the city's Rules and Regulations.
"The administration just doesn't follow up on it," Ward 1 Councilor Alex Buhler said. "As a council member or part of that body, what are we supposed to do?"
Reached while out of town on city business, Ward 5 Councilor Haywood Barry declined comment on the letter, saying he hadn't seen it. But he said the mayor should have been given the courtesy of a phone call or some kind of follow-up before sending such a letter to councilors.
"I would have thought they'd call the mayor and say, 'This is a follow-up'… before you pin him to the wall," Barry said. "That's how I generally operate with people. I don't know anything about the letter [but] my personal philosophy is to not do anything to hurt anybody until I at least give them a chance to have at least one last chance, so to speak."
Ward 6 Councilor Kathy Warmath said the issue of appearances should be addressed.
"Appearance is reality from the outside, and it's what starts an investigation," Warmath said. "… I don't think it'll make a bit of difference [in behavior]. If it had made a difference we wouldn't be where we are."
Attempts to reach Ward 4 Councilor Joe Hayes were unsuccessful.
Staff Writer Jason Cox can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 45 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.