Saturday, March 10, 2007

March 10, 2007 Conflicts of Interest: The Beat Goes On

Greg Johnson, Knoxville News-Sentinel columnist, shines the light on another conflict of interest in county government. The entire column is worth a read.

The story of conflicts, this time, starts in nearby Sevier County.

Due to the recent death of the longtime Sevier County Sheriff, the Sevier County Commission had to pick a replacement. They went through all the right motions. They set up a committee, held a public hearing, allowed public comment.

Sounds good, but actually there were three problems. Three commissioners work for the sheriff's department and get a sheriff's department paycheck each month along with, of course, their county commission paycheck. These three commissioners, one of whom chaired the committee that recommended the new Sheriff, all got to cast a vote for their new "boss."

Johnson says, tongue firmly planted in cheek, "Wonder how those three will come out the next time raises are awarded?" He could have added that job security for these three is also mighty high now unless they go out and murder somebody.

Sevier is just one of the most extreme examples of double paychecks and conflicts of interest in county and city governments across the state.

Eliminating conflicts of interest is extremely important---to me, it ranks right up there with accountability, fiscal responsibility, and open government. That's why I'm particularly glad to see that the light is now shining on these issues statewide.

Hamblen County has conflicts, but nothing will really change here until state action is taken to apply to all counties. The conflicted will never fix the problem.

According to Johnson, "While it seems to make perfect sense that the inmates shouldn't run the asylum, we're talking about county government here."

It took the Tennessee Waltz to force ethics reform and legislation. Widespread exposure of conflicts of interest may be the catalyst that gets something done in this area.

Commissioners across the state know about the problem. A Maury County Commissioner, Glen Hasse, has stepped up to push this issue at the state legislature. Commissioner Hasse, according to Maury County Mayor James Bailey, Jr., wants to get rid of the two-paycheck "conflicted" commissioners.

Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, and Rep. Tom DuBois, R-Columbia, are sponsoring the bills (HB 0433 and SB 0880) in the state legislature to bar county employees from serving on county commissions beginning in 2010.

Johnson's article is very timely and follows by just a couple of days my March 7 post "One County Paycheck is Enough" on this legislation.

As Johnson says, watch the conflicted do some fancy posturing in opposition to this bill and expect to hear them do a lot of "caterwauling."

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