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Sullivan County Commissioners still tweaking ethics policy

J. H. Osborne • Aug 28, 2007 at 12:00 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — It will be at least October before the Sullivan County Commission votes on revisions to the county’s ethics policy.

On Tuesday, the county’s Ethics Committee reviewed draft revisions it will eventually recommend to the full commission.

The group started the “tweaking” process earlier this month and voted Tuesday to send their proposed changes thus far to County Attorney Dan Street for review.

If Street has concerns with any of the proposed revisions — based largely on the city of Kingsport’s ethics policy — the committee wants him to come and talk to them, members said during Tuesday’s meeting.

The group also voted to officially designate 8 a.m., the fourth Tuesday of each month, as the committee’s standing meeting time.

Earlier this year, to comply with a state mandate, the Sullivan County Commission adopted an ethics policy. Like a majority of counties statewide, Sullivan County adopted a model ethics policy written by the County Technical Assistance Service (CTAS).

On Aug. 1 the Ethics Committee began drafting revisions to the policy, describing the action as “housekeeping.”

They used the city of Kingsport’s ethics policy as a sort of guide but amended many of the sections to be used in the county’s version. And the process is ongoing.

Committee Chairman Tommy Kerns said Kingsport’s policy was picked to be the model from nine reviewed by the committee. He and several other members of the committee cited the Kingsport policy’s “down to earth” wording for why they liked it best.

A key debate since an ethics policy first became an issue in February has been gifts.

A couple of months ago, Street said he had talked with the author of the CTAS model policy to try and gain some insight into what, if any, gifts are acceptable.

Street said the gist of the author’s response included: The CTAS model policy prohibits gifts to county officials or county employees if the gift is given to influence the recipient in how he performs his duties — or if a reasonable person would think the gift was intended to influence the vote, action or judgment of a county official or employee.

A portion of what the committee has talked about adapting from Kingsport’s ethics policy, however, spells out what are acceptable gifts — and the “reasonable person” might not be mentioned in final changes to the county’s policy.

The seven-member Ethics Committee, named by County Mayor Steve Godsey and approved by the County Commission, consists of: Circuit Court Clerk Tommy Kerns (chairman); County Commissioner Cathy Armstrong; County Commissioner Joe Herron (vice chairman); County Commissioner Bill Kilgore; Gayvern Moore, payroll and personnel manager for the county (secretary); County Clerk Jeanie Gammon; and County Commissioner Linda Brittenham.

Sullivan County’s Ethics Committee is next scheduled to meet at 8 a.m. Sept. 25.

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