Tuesday, February 13, 2007

February 13, 2007 Cawoods, Nepotism, and Conflicts of Interest

More on nepotism and family ties in an interesting News-Sentinel article yesterday.

It looks like the husband and wife tag team of Mark and Sharon Cawood will collect over $90,000 from Knox County for their three county jobs (and more if you include Mark's Knox County pension).

Mark Cawood was a term-limited county commissioner. On January 31, Mark's fellow commissioners quickly appointed his wife Sharon to replace him.

Sharon already had a full-time Knox county job as deputy supervising clerk in Knox Juvenile Court ($42,000 salary + $3,900 allowance) when she was appointed to the Commission. (Her husband had helped her get the deputy clerk job just two months ago).

After the family tag team switch in the county commissioner job, Sharon now gets the $19,000+ commissioner's salary along with her deputy clerk salary of $42,000 and the $3,900 allowance.

Worried about Mark? Don't be. Mark was quickly hired by the Sheriff's Department in a court security officer's position ($25,000).

Does Sharon (or did Mark before her) see a conflict in voting on funding and budgets for departments where they work? Sharon: "I don't see a conflict."

Do people who are not in the "government club" see a conflict? A lot of experts and "non-government club" taxpayers see the conflict. Sharon, though, thinks she can forget the family ties and the family paychecks when she votes for the budget of her boss (Cathy Quist) and her husband's boss (Sheriff J. J. Jones).

And Sharon may be a terrific worker, a "godsend" according to her boss Cathy Quist. But how will it look a few months from now when her "other" job as a county commissioner puts Sharon in the position of voting for the budget that her boss Cathy Quist recommends to the Knox County Commission?

How will it look a few months from now when her job as a county commissioner puts Sharon in the position of voting for the budget that her husband's boss Sheriff J. J. Jones recommends to the Knox County Commission?

Are people really supposed to believe that there won't be any effect and that there is no pressure at all on Sharon when her boss's budget or the budget of her husband's boss is up for a vote? Somebody bring the coffee! Sharon needs to take a whiff!

Nepotism? Good old boys and girls taking care of one another and their family? The article quotes Dr. Michael Gant, U-T political science professor, who says, "The reason we have anti-nepotism regulations is so people won't have to be put in those positions."

Unfortunately, most anti-nepotism regulations in Knox County and many other counties only say that commissioners have to declare publicly that they have a real or apparent conflict of interest, but then they can go ahead and vote anyway.

Making a declaration of a conflict before voting doesn't get rid of the voting conflict.

Too many government ethics policies have anti-nepotism suggestions but no anti-nepotism rules or regs or enforcement.

And Hamblen County is just maybe one degree removed from Knox on the nepotism scale.

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