DA rejects criminal allegations in regard to Sullivan County officials' trip to Honduras

J. H. Osborne • Aug 2, 2007 at 12:00 AM

Committee tweaking ethics policy so Sullivan County officials, employees can accept free BMS tickets


District Attorney General H. Greeley Wells Jr. has rejected a Kingsport man’s call for an investigation of several Sullivan County officials who traveled to Honduras last month, according to documents obtained by the Kingsport Times-News.

In a letter dated July 18, Wells wrote to Sullivan County Ethics Committee Chairman Tommy R. Kerns to say he’d ruled out an investigation into whether those officials violated four specific sections of Tennessee law by going on the trip.

“The complaint provided to me contains no factual allegations that would remotely sustain a criminal charge or justify using the valuable resources of any law enforcement agency to conduct an investigation,” Wells’ letter concluded.

It began by noting Kerns had sent him a letter a day earlier requesting Wells “determine if certain persons violated Tennessee criminal statutes by visiting the country of Honduras as alleged by Mr. Howard Tennyson.”

Wells went on to note Tennyson had filed a “sworn written complaint” with the Ethics Committee on a form provided to Tennyson by the Ethics Committee.

That form, which requires validation by a notary public, was designed and approved by the Ethics Committee, the group’s secretary said We d n e s d a y.

In a memorandum also dated July 18, County Attorney Dan Street said Kerns had told him the committee will not consider any complaints that aren’t written and signed.

“I told him that was probably a good rule of thumb,” Street wrote, “but that I didn’t think they should just summarily disregard every anonymous complaint that comes in.”

Anonymous complaints, Street noted later in the memo, are clearly oftentimes of value.

According to Wells’ letter to Kerns, Tennyson’s sworn complaint alleged that certain county officials violated four sections of state law by visiting “a country which has the highest murder rate of any country in the world as (sic) is politically torn even at this time.”

“Insofar as I am aware,” Wells wrote in his response, “it is not illegal for American citizens to travel to Honduras regardless of the murder rate of that country or its political stability.”

Wells detailed each allegation and responded as follows:

- “Tennessee Code Annotated (TCA) 5-21-116 is a part of the County Financial Management System Act of 1981. A vote by the County Commission or by the electorate at large is required before any county falls within the purview of this system. I was advised today by Sullivan County Budget Director Larry Bailey that Sullivan County has never adopted this system and consequently is not governed by its provisions. If any of the persons involved failed to comply with TCA 5-21-116 they could not be held criminally responsible.”

- “The next allegation is a violation of TCA 39-16-402, Official Misconduct. This statute requires an act be done ‘with intent to obtain a benefit or to harm another, intentionally or knowingly.’ There is no allegation in the affidavit that anyone did anything with this intent.”

-“A violation of TCA 39-16-403 is next alleged. That section makes it a crime for a public servant to violate citizens’ rights. Again the affidavit of Mr. Tennyson does not allege any violation of the rights of any citizen by any of the persons against whom he complains.”

- “Finally, it is alleged that TCA 39-16-404 was violated. This statute makes it illegal for a public servant to misuse nonpublic information to attain or aid another to attain a benefit. As with the other statutes there is no factual allegation that anyone did this.”

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