Ethics Committees Should Never Be Used As Political Weapons

Ethics Committees Should Never Be Used As Political Weapons

By Steve Hunley

Knox County Law Director Bud Armstrong has released his findings in an ethics complaint filed by perennial political candidate Bo Bennett. Armstrong’s findings are set out in clear and direct language and leaves Bo Bennett with little or nothing to hang his hat on. Bennett filed a complaint with the Knox County Ethics Committee against County Commissioners Charles Busler and Bob Thomas, alleging the two accepted gifts in excess of what is permissible under the law.

To say that Bennett had scant evidence would be extraordinarily generous. The complaint was conspicuous for its lack of substance and evidence. Bennett, who lost to Busler for the county commission four years ago, submitted as his evidence vague information purportedly from two people who may or may not exist, along with a clipping from the Knoxville News-Sentinel. Bennett almost certainly thought he was impressing someone by citing the Tennessee Code Annotated, but Armstrong repeatedly pointed out the chapter and verse cited by Bennett did not apply. There was not a shred of evidence Commissioners Busler and Thomas violated any law or regulation. The source of Bennett’s grab for publicity was the kerfuffle created by the Sentinel’s story about the golf tournament preceding the vote to extend the life of Rural/Metro’s ambulance service contract in Knox County well in advance before the current contract had expired. As noted during the investigation by Armstrong’s office, the Sentinel reporter who wrote the story refused to cooperate in the law director’s attempt to get to the truth of the case. In fact, the Sentinel was one of two premier sponsors of the golf tournament at the heart of the matter, which is too dreary to reiterate here in full. Suffice to say, Bo Bennett’s “evidence” would have been laughed out of a court of law.

Bennett claimed the two individuals who provided him with information wished to remain completely anonymous and sadly said they refused to cooperate with the investigation conducted by Armstrong’s office. As noted by Bud Armstrong’s office, that particular “evidence” was mere hearsay and aside from the supposed information provided by people who may or may not exist purely in Bo Bennett’s mind, there was the article written by Sentinel reporter Tyler Whetstone. As indicated, Whetstone also refused to cooperate with the investigation conducted by the law director’s office.

It strikes me as mighty odd there are all these do-gooders running around out there seeking justice, although retribution would likely be more accurate, and yet none of these people want to actually participate in ferreting out the truth. What we are witnessing is a political hijacking of the ethics process. It also calls into question not only the purpose of the Knox County Ethics Committee, but also its very existence. Bennett didn’t even bother to complete the form for filing his ethics complaint and when one reads it, it is impossible not to be appalled by just how scanty it is; in fact, it is so flimsy it would blow away with a puff of wind.

It is not the first time an ethics committee has been used for political purposes. Mike McMillan, a member of the Knox County Board of Education, was the most vocal and persistent opponent of former Superintendent Jim McIntyre. McMillan was politically assaulted by McIntyre followers led by Indya Kincannon, that self-proclaimed paragon of virtue from the left who is currently maneuvering to succeed Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero. If Indya Kincannon ever utters the words she is not really political, you will recognize it for the hogwash that it is. The ethics complaint against Mike McMillan was filed specifically to intimidate and silence him.

The fact a former opponent would file a complaint of any kind four years after losing an election is hardly news, nor is it shocking there would be some hard feelings involved. Bennett, who has picked up a petition to run for Circuit Court Clerk, has revealed a shocking ignorance of both the law, especially those that apply to Knox County, which is one of two charter counties in the state, and the criteria for what constitutes a valid and legitimate ethics complaint. Maybe Bennett is just trying to get free publicity in the news media for his latest attempt at getting elected to public office. In my opinion, Knox County can ill afford to elect a clerk of the courts whose only acquaintance with the law is what he reads in the daily newspaper.

Bo Bennett did perform one inadvertent service to the community by focusing a spotlight on just precisely how the Knox County Ethics Committee will treat spurious and politically motivated complaints. If the ethics committee actually hears such an absurd complaint, it is an indication, as well as an invitation for a flurry of further politically motivated complaints to generate bad publicity for one’s opponent. If the ethics committee does the responsible and just thing and contemptuously dismisses the complaint, it will serve as notice to would-be politicians that they cannot pervert justice by misusing a committee that should perform a valid and important function.

We’ll soon know whether or not we are better off with or without an ethics committee in Knox County.

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