Disclosure statements address appearance, real conflict of interest

Friday, April 30, 2010
Commissioner Seth Warf reads a standard conflict of interest statement before voting.

A couple of conflict of interest disclosure statements were read during the Marshall County Commission meeting Monday when the appearance was revealed on a simple vote concerning notary publics.

The two declarations were different because they were about notaries. More frequently, they're about commissioners' employment with the county, or because they have a relative who's a county schoolteacher. The vote might be on the budget and schools are the largest part of the budget.

Commissioners are supposed to announce a conflict of interest when voting on county matters, especially when it involves spending taxpayers' money. A statement is provided to commissioners so there's an expeditious adherence to state law.

It says the elected official reading the statement has a conflict of interest that's being declared, but that it's not influencing their vote, that their decision is based on their conscience, and what's right for their constituents. By reading the statement, the appearance of a conflict is disclosed and the declaration of doing what's right for the public welfare is to cure the conflict.

Commissioner Seth Warf, an employee of the Duck River Electric Membership Corp., raised the first question while County Clerk Daphne Fagan was conducting the roll call vote on nine notary applications.

"Two are co-workers," Warf said. "Do I need to say anything about that?"

County Attorney Ginger Shofner asked if they were in a supervisory position over Warf who, shortly thereafter, read the disclosure statement.

Later, Warf explained that Jeff McClendon is the DREMC engineer and that Timothy Leon Terry is his supervisor. Both applied to have their notary public status be renewed. Warf also noted that his supervisor is also married to Freda Terry, the county budget director. It's a fact that has been known at county meetings, especially when Timmy Terry arrived to speak with his wife, drive her home or deal with another task.

During Monday night's meeting, when Fagan finished calling the roll and all nine applicants had been approved by a unanimous vote, Commissioner Dean Delk spoke up.

"I have a relative I just voted on," Delk said. "Do I need to read this?"

The county attorney asked, "Is he in your household?"

"No," said Delk, adding with droll humor, "thank goodness."

Just to be safe, Delk read the statement, given Shofner's counsel.

"My son needed his (notary status) renewed," the commissioner said the next day.

He then took the opportunity to announce that David Douglas Delk celebrated his 35th birthday that Wednesday and his third wedding anniversary and that he is a graduate of The Citadel in Charleston, S.C., and manager of the First Commerce Bank branch office in Chapel Hill.

Questions have been raised during this election year -- leading up to Aug. 5 balloting in the county general election - about the number of people on the county commission who are employed by the county, or who have relatives employed by the county.

"For almost four years, I've sat there thinking I shouldn't have a conflict with anybody," Warf volunteered during a telephone interview while reflecting on what happened during the vote on notaries.

"Then the lawyer said, 'Yes if it's a supervisor,'" Warf recalled.

"It's been a learning experience," he said of serving on the commission.

"I hadn't even thought of the supervisor," he said of how that might be a conflict.

Warf had first asked about friends.

"With Freda being finance director, I thought, 'Well, I better ask,'" he said. "I thought that it was the proper thing to do, and she (the lawyer) said 'Yes.'"

Knowing that it's an election year, and that county commissioners are public figures, Warf concluded, "People will look for anything to use to throw rocks."