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County mayor understands both sides' of quarry issue

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Marshall County Mayor Joe Boyd Liggett takes a neutral position with regard to controversy swirling around the pending rezoning of land for another rock quarry in the county, one that would be immediately next to a long-time quarry at Pottsville.

Liggett brought that and another matter to the attention of the Marshall County Tribune late last week as he'd been mentioned in a news commentary on WSMV TV Channel 4 in Nashville where one of his campaign contributors, Todd Warner of B&W Excavators, was also mentioned.

Warner's offices are generally between Unionville and Shelbyville, but he's a Marshall County native who's also quoted in an accompanying statement obtained by the Tribune, as was this one which is reproduced here.

"I understand both sides' feelings," Mayor Liggett said of the rezoning question over the quarry. "One wants it and one side doesn't. I just want both sides treated fair."

Marshall County commissioners are to vote on the rezoning next Monday night and while the TV commentator noted county mayors like Liggett can't vote on such matters, a county resident was quoted as saying Liggett can influence the commissioners' vote. It was also reported that Liggett received a political campaign contribution from Warner.

"I assure you that when Todd [Warner] gave me the contribution he didn't expect anything in return," Liggett said. "He'd be throwing his money away if he thought he was going to get special treatment.

"It all stems from relationships over the years. He thought I could do a fair and honest job with this office and that's all we're trying to do."

Liggett mentioned the televised commentary Thursday night during a public hearing on planned growth areas that are being set by the county. He'd been approached by county residents who'd seen the telecast.

"When they came in that night, some were asking me if I'd seen it," Liggett said.

He'd not seen the telecast.

"I represented a lot of people in the Farm Bureau," said Liggett, the immediate past president of the farmers organization. "And I wouldn't do anything to jeopardize that reputation."

As for the political campaign contribution, he said, "The key issue is that all the information they gave is public information."

Contributions listed in campaign disclosure statements are public records and it's not unusual for them to become the subject of news stories.

"Nothing was being hidden," Liggett said. "We filed everything that was given and by law we have to do that. When Todd came to me with his contribution, he said he wanted to give this,

"For a number of years we've been involved in a number of activities like showing livestock. When I was helping with the church camp, Todd was in the church camp, just like others who are in government now.

"There's no rock crusher connection" to the contribution, Liggett said. "He was just trying to help someone and he's given contributions to others in helping them get elected.

"Other people see that as bribes, but it's not connected to any vote," Liggett said. "I don't have a vote in the issue of the rock crusher anyway."

Some public figures, notably John Jay Hooker, and those in political groups with good government as their cause, have taken the position that campaign contributions are a form of political influence.

Some officials who chair government panels vote only if there's a tie. Liggett was nominated to be chairman of the Marshall County Commission, but Commissioner Sam Smith received more votes, so Liggett can't break any tie vote on the commission because he's not its chairman.

"I don't have a vote in it and I haven't used the power of this office to sway the votes of the commissioners to vote one way or another on this issue," Liggett said. "I think these 18 commissioners need to be independent thinkers. And that's where the issue lies with the 18 commissioners."

He received $2,500 from B&W "as a campaign contribution," Liggett said. "There were no wrong doings about it.

"Todd has never asked for my influence on this issue or anything else. The rock crusher issue hasn't been discussed by us.

"I just don't want the public to be misled that there's some wrong doing within their government, because that's the point. There's nothing wrong going on here.

I don't speak with the commissioners about this. Those 18 commissioners are going to decide on this.

"I think it's something the public needs to know about.

"I know this is part of politics and public life. Everything has been open."

"I know some of the people involved in this, who are bringing this out," he said, naming Martha Watt, who was also named during the televised commentary.

She "was the one who pulled my financials out," the county mayor said in a reference to the access to the public record of his campaign financial disclosure statement. "They had to notify me when that was done. I know her and her husband who's a roofer here."

"This has nothing to do with the rock crusher," Liggett said, repeating his point that there's no connection between the contribution, and his office and the pending rezoning for a quarry."

"If I was like that, I'd be dumb enough to do something else."

As for the nature of the televised commentary, Liggett said "overall," it was "fair," and that while "I never did hear it ... I heard what people told me and I want people to fully understand what's being said.

"I just think it's the heat of the battle," Liggett said. "A lot of people called and talked about it. Many of them said, 'Yeah, we know."

The public hearing on the rezoning is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Monday in the Marshall County Courthouse Annex, he said.