The County Commission has formally asked for an ethics investigation into County Mayor Stephen Chambers.

At Monday’s Commission meeting, Chairman Dwight Jewell read into the minutes a letter signed by 11 of the 20 members asking County Attorney Branden Bellar to “investigate these actions for any ethical or legal infractions and pursue any legal recourse necessary” against the mayor.

“I had hoped this would somewhat die down and it didn’t,” Jewell said in speaking with The Vidette. “I talked with Mr. Bellar about what we needed to do if we wanted to pursue it… I also talked with CTAS (County Technical Assistance Service)… Based on their recommendation is why it went the direction it did.”

The letter was signed by Gary Claridy, Rick Davis, Coy Dickey, Bill Fergusson, Jerry Ford, Richard Harsh, Jewell, Rachel Jones, David Nollner, Lonnie Taylor and Steve Whittaker.

Jewell said he received the letter by email but declined to say who had sent it to him.

“It came from everyone who signed onto it,” he said. “It came from 11 commissioners and I feel that’s the way it needs to be looked at.”

The letter alleges that at a special called Commission meeting on July 18, the mayor threatened legal action against the Commission for an alleged violation of the Open Meetings Act with regards to the Water Department’s request to build a new facility on county property. The letter also states that some commissioners voted for the project “because they were intimidated and coerced to do so, to avoid the county being involved in litigation.”

At that July meeting, Mayor Chambers pointed out that five commissioners had discussed the building project prior to a meeting of the Education Committee and that the discussion was on video. The mayor also stated that any potential Open Meetings Act violation could be cured by discussing the same topics at a public meeting and those discussions were held prior to the Commission’s vote to approve the $1.2 million building. The approval came by a 10-9 margin.

Chambers denied any wrongdoing on his part, saying, “I was not aware of the letter. My initial reaction is I’m going to consult an attorney, because there are allegations made in there. They are baseless allegations. I’m going to speak to an attorney and if there’s a statement to be made, I’ll make it later.”

Bellar declined comment when asked how a formal investigation would proceed, saying he wanted to examine the statute first.

In addition, Dickey read a statement calling on the mayor to apologize for publicly calling commissioners “idiots” after the group’s August meeting. Those remarks came after a failed vote on funding a Trey Park grant.

“We’re not idiots; we’re not dumb… The mayor should apologize to the Commission,” Dickey said in part.

Reach Chris Gregory at 615-450-5756 or cgregory@hartsvillevidette.com.

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