Wentzel, White nominated to be ethics panelists

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

With the resignation of a Marshall County commissioner and the county clerk from the County Ethics Committee, two county commissioners were nominated this week to be elected on Monday.

County Clerk Daphne Fagan resigned from the Ethics Committee shortly after the panel voted to drop an ethics complaint against former Commission Chairman Sam Smith and refer other questions to the district attorney.

Fagan resigned because, as county clerk, she maintains all the records of the Commission and its committees and those documents became a critical part of the ethics panel's deliberations when considering its first complaint.

And so while Commissioner Linda Williams-Lee announced her resignation because she's moving from her District, Commissioners Wilford "Spider" Wentzel was nominated to succeed her, and Commissioner Tony White was nominated to succeed Fagan.

Wentzel and White were selected as the nominees by acclamation during a Monday night meeting of the Nominating Committee.

Their nominations are to be considered when the County Commission meets on Monday.

Commissioner Don Ledford chaired the Nominating Committee meeting in the Courthouse Annex where members asked if Fagan had to be replaced with an official who was elected by voters from across the county, instead of just one district.

They do not, according to County Accounts and Budget Director Freda Terry who reported that to the committee after obtaining advice from County Attorney Ginger Shofner on a phone call during the committee meeting.

Among Fagan's reasons for withdrawing from the Ethics Committee was the long and detailed examination of records regarding Smith's situation.

The former Cornersville commissioner resigned when he announced he had a conflict of interests because he was selling an option to purchase farmland that was sought for a new landfill in the county. That development failed to materialize, but the sale of a purchase option was controversial.

Ledford reported to the Nominating Committee that he'd received a call from an individual who apparently thought the ethics allegations against Smith would go no further than the Ethics Committee.

"You've got to understand," Ledford said he explained to his caller, "there are some people in Cornersville who feel betrayed."

Nominating Committee members seemed to agree with another point made by Ledford: "As long as there's no ethics issue, it really doesn't matter" to members of the panel because there would be no work.

While Fagan's responsibility continues to maintain county records that might be researched for other complaints, she explained that position created discomfort among people when she was a member of the Ethics Committee and therefore someone who would be voting on matters regarding records she maintains.

She also served as the committee's secretary.

"I won't be the secretary," she said of her relationship to the committee. "I'll be the keeper of the records."

That previous duel relationship "makes it difficult for me - someone who has to keep the records - so I think it was in my best interests to get off.

"It is hard for the keeper of the records when the records are being questioned, and it made it hard for the people to come to me when I sit on that committee," she said. "We don't want to overstep a bound, but they had to come to me."

There was also a routine rotation for the Ethics Committee's membership.

"It was to be reset in September," Fagan said Tuesday. "They [county commissioners] reset all the committees in September. It was one of the committees that was to be reset, but they didn't because of the on-going complaint, and I understand that."

In April 2007 the county's ethics code was adopted and the committee was met for the first time on July 23, 2007 to elect officers.

Fagan agreed to serve until another panel was reappointed, but ended up serving until this summer because of the on-going assignment.

The complaint against Smith was filed on May 5, 2008. Fagan resigned as of 7 p.m. July 13, she said.