ROGERSVILLE — The Hawkins County Commission is no stranger to conflicts of interest.
At least 10 of the current 21 Hawkins County Commissioners either have a direct or an indirect conflict of interest due to current employment with the county, or an association or employment with another group or agency that receives county funding. .
Of those 10, three are current full time county employees; three are aldermen in cities that receive county funding; and at least three more are employed or associated with other governmental entities that receive county funding.
And then there’s Commissioner Charlie Freeman, who was appointed part time interim solid waste director in January for $500 per month after the previous director retired.
It was revealed during the Aug. 26 County Commission meeting that Freeman has served as a purchasing agent for a recycling firm in the past.
Although Freeman has denied making any improper sales of county recycled materials, and no one has presented any evidence of wrongdoing on his part, apparently this is still too much of a conflict of interest for some county commissioners.
On Monday Commissioner Jeff Barrett introduced a resolution, “Recommending Commissioner Charlie Freeman be removed as interim director of Hawkins County Solid Waste and Recycling.”
The resolution then goes on to explain the definition of a conflict of interest in six paragraphs, followed by a statement that “County Commissioners and other public officials are held to a higher degree of accountability and are held to a higher standard in the eyes of the public, and are stewards of the public trust.”
That resolution will be considered for approval by the full county commission when it meets in regular session Sept. 23.
County Mayor Melville Bailey, who appointed Freeman to the position in January, told the Times-News Tuesday he disagree’s with the resolution.
Bailey said any insinuations that Freeman’s activities as solid waste director have been less than honorable are completely unfair and unfounded.
Records of recycled material sales are open and available to the public, and Bailey said they will also be heavily scrutinized during the annual county audit.
Some solid waste department employees addressed the full commission on Aug. 26 with complaints about Freeman, and allegations he made changes that decreased productivity.
“We’re going to have to look at that as a full time position,” Bailey said. “I think it was evidenced at that (Aug. 26) meeting that we’re going to have to have a person in charge. ... What I would like to see is a long term fix, and that means putting someone in there who certain qualifications who can grow with the job.”
A full time solid waste director position is funded in the proposed 2013-14 budget with an annual salary of $28,000.
Bailey added, however, that he believes Freeman is qualified to maintain the interim position until a full time director is hired.
“I trust him,” Bailey said. “At the (Aug. 26) meeting, Mr. Freeman said, ‘Look at the records’. There is nothing irregular. And if you read (Barrett’s) resolution, it doesn’t accuse him of anything. I think he’s just helping us out. He really enjoys doing that.”
Commissioner Charlie Newton, who chairs the Solid Waste Committee, said Freeman’s association with a recycling firm was enough to make commissioners uncomfortable, and Freeman should step down to avoid the appearance of impropriety.
Newton added that Freeman and the solid waste department employees are constantly at odds with each other, which Newton said is a poor reflection on Freeman’s management skills.
Commissioner Jon Metz is also in favor of Freeman’s removal.
“I don't understand the logic of appointing Commissioner Freeman as solid waste director,” Metz said Tuesday. “Hawkins County has had its share of political ethics concerns in the past and surely the members of the ethics committee, of which Mr. Freeman is vice-chair, can see the storm brewing on the horizon regarding this. If not, then perhaps we need more than just a change in leadership.”