Latest ethics complaints to be considered separately

Friday, September 11, 2009

Like service clubs and church committees, the new chairman of Marshall County's Ethics Committee was elected during a meeting when he wasn't there.

"I was out of town on vacation," Commissioner Jimmy Stitt said Wednesday, having told his fellow commissioners on Aug. 31 of his plans while they were scheduling their committee's organizational meeting.

Nevertheless, Stitt is addressing the most recent ethics complaints by answering some basic questions with court procedures. He suggests that the two cases be heard separately.

While the complaints include much of the same information, former bus driver Larry Barlar's complaint "is on his personnel file being released with medical records and other kinds of information," Stitt said.

"Then Barlar goes on to state other information," the Ethics Committee chairman said. "That's why I would look at them as separate claims."

Former school bus mechanic Randy Lowe's claim is "asking all about the bus garage and activities" there, Stitt said. "And Lowe has listed Barlar as one of his witnesses."

Another witness named by Lowe is school board member Curt Denton, a former school bus driver who resigned to avoid the conflict of interests and abide by state law that says school board members can't be employees of the school system. Denton is on the school board's Transportation Committee.

The complaints by Lowe and Barlar paint a picture of being set up for dismissal. There are allegations that indicate the school bus garage had, for some period of time, what would appear to include a fencing operation for stolen goods. Maintenance of private vehicles at the bus garage is also alleged.

Stitt reached his conclusion about separating the Barlar and Lowe complaints based on discussion during the committee's meeting on Aug. 31, he said.

"It's best to listen to the complaints individually," Stitt said. "They are two separate complaints from two separate individuals."

As of Wednesday morning, Stitt had not selected another meeting date for the committee.

"A meeting with Barlar will be set and we'll set up a different meeting with Randy Lowe to listen to his complaints," he said.

Both complaints have been sent to school headquarters since they name Schools Director Stan Curtis and Human Resources Director Mitchell Byrd who work there, as well as former Transportation Supervisor Glenn Ezell, who continues to work at the garage as the system's lead mechanic.

"I want to know if they've done some kind of internal investigation, or not," Stitt said. "I plan to be in contact with Dr. Curtis, Mitchell Byrd and try to see if they have any information."

Some of the information may be closer since school board member Craig Michael is a member of the Ethics Committee who continues his service after having heard the two previous cases.

One of the new members, County Commissioner Tony White, was elected as the Ethics Committee's secretary. Stitt had said if he was elected secretary, he'd want a county employee to take notes and keep minutes because doing that and keeping up with discussion and participating in it can result in poor records.

Stitt asked if County Mayor Joe Boyd Liggett's secretary, Linda Mulliniks, could keep the minutes.

County Commission Chairwoman Mary Ann Neill, Stitt's predecessor on the Ethics Committee was asked about Mulliniks and Neill replied that the task "is outside the realm of her responsibility. There's no money for compensation. Those are just some thoughts" about the situation.

"If the complaint would merit more specific minutes then a court reporter could be used," said Neill who endorses audio recordings of all county meetings.

"Then what you said can't be misconstrued," Neill said.

"Of course," she concluded in a reference to Ethics Committee meetings on complaints regarding a land deal that was not consummated, "we tape recorded all of ours."