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Ex-commissioner files ethics complaint over school funding

Angie Mayes • Sep 12, 2018 at 5:15 PM

The Wilson County Ethics Committee received an official misconduct ethics complaint against Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto and county attorney Mike Jennings regarding funding of the new high school.

The complaint, filed by former commissioner Frank Bush, alleges that the two subverted rule 17, which states all resolutions must appear before the appropriate committees before they are submitted to the full commission.

Bush said the complaint “stands on its own” and alleges Hutto and Jennings approved the resolution be considered and voted on by the full commission, without it coming before the education or budget committees.

“The mayor, with the advice of the county attorney, chose to ignore what I believe to be a clear interpretation of rule 17,” Bush said. “This is the largest financial transaction in Wilson County’s history. If that is what the commission wanted, then they needed to do it properly. It might have been delayed a month, but it should have been considered by the committees.”

Jennings said Wednesday in an email he disagreed with Bush.

“This ethics complaint is totally unfounded,” Jennings said. “It is filed by a former county commissioner who was unsuccessful in his battle to stop construction of the new high school. The vote to proceed was 18-6. Neither Mayor Hutto nor I did anything unethical. We followed the rules of order. Mr. Bush was unsuccessful.”

Hutto agreed with Jennings.

“The question was from the floor, that Chairman Bush said that we didn’t follow rule, and the paperwork had not gone through committee,” Hutto said. “I asked [Jennings] his opinion.”

Hutto said Jennings told him the issue had been through the committees and discussed for a year.

“The resolution itself was the loan document,” Hutto said. “The real resolution [was about the] building [of] the school and how you’re going to fund it. The third resolution was to approve the [bond] document. Those two relate to the third one. That’s why [Jennings] said it had been sent through committee.”

Hutto said rule 17 exists “for [issues such as if] someone who says they want to buy three pickup trucks, and the issue had not been through committee for discussion.”

Bush said without the paper resolution before the committee’s members, it would be impossible to render a decision.

“First of all, we deal in documents,” he said. “Because the resolution was never presented to any committee, they were never able to properly discuss the issue. They never were able to consider the points that some of us were making [about the cost of the school].”

Bush said if Budget Committee chair Mike Justice was presented with the document, “and he chose to pass it on, then that’s OK,” Bush said. “It was not done that way. There have been any number of cases that the county mayor and county attorney have sent back to committee.”

Former Commissioner Jeff Joines said the Education Committee, which is one of the committees the information was submitted to, did see paperwork about the school and the cost. He said the Education Committee did consider it and passed it, along with a favorable resolution, to the Budget Committee.

Joines said resolutions do not come to committees. Rather, information is given to the commissioners, and they recommend or don’t recommend a project based on that information.

Education Committee chair Annette Stafford said in an email Wednesday she wants Commissioner Terry Ashe to recuse himself from the complaint.
The email was sent to commissioners, school board officials, school administrators and the media. 

“I strongly [request] that Commissioner Terry Ashe recuse himself entirely from this ethics complaint due to the fact, that Commissioner Ashe [has] voted against this resolution in the past, as this is a conflict of interest or lack of impartial opinion based on his votes he made in the past,” Stafford said.

“If Chairman Ashe [does] not see that he should recuse himself, I would like my request to be forwarded directly to District Attorney Tommy Thompson for his review and opinion, to see if any ethic violations had occurred during the August 2018 county commission meeting regarding the funding of the new high school.”

Bush said he disagreed with the way the funding measure for the new Green Hill High School in Mt. Juliet was presented to the commission. The approved bid for the cost of the project was $107 million, and Bush said he believes the school could be built for less than $80 million. He pointed out recently built schools were constructed for less than $80 million.

According to the Wilson County Schools website, Lebanon High School was built for $47 million, “but that project began in 2010, during a severe economic downturn, when construction costs were at rock bottom,” the site said.

Watertown High School cost $38 million, “but that project was bid in 2012, and the school is approximately half the size of the one being considered in Mt. Juliet,” the site said.

None of the commissioners on the Budget Committee were available for comment. Hutto also sits on the committee.

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