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Hiring of Concessions Manager at Jolly Park Leads to 2+ Hour Ethics Hearing

The issue of hiring the wife of the golf pro at A.J. Jolly Golf Course returned to the Campbell County Administration Building in Newport this week.

The hearing was called in response to an ethics violation claim filed by resident Erik Hermes, who argued that the hiring of Lisa Jolly to work at the park violated county policy since her husband, Terry Jolly, is the golf pro there.

In April, the complaint was dismissed on a technicality. In May, the issue returned to the county ethics board where three of its members walked out amid a dispute with County Attorney Steve Franzen. Last week, the ethics board met again, and chairwoman Andrea Janovic argued that Franzen has a conflict of the interest in the case as legal adviser to the board and to the Fiscal Court that hired Jolly.

Nevertheless, a public hearing was held on Wednesday, the fourth such meeting about the hiring of Lisa Jolly, who has worked in this seasonal part-time role as concessions manager since 1999. Terry Jolly has been on staff at the golf course for more than four decades.

Ultimately, the ethics board's three members concluded that the county should do more to discourage the perception or actual cases of nepotism in hiring.

At Wednesday’s hearing, Hermes stood by his claim of nepotism and that the Campbell County Fiscal Court is not adhering to its own stance of “discouragement” when it comes to nepotism in the workplace.  

“To discourage,” Hermes recited during his testimony, “is to deprive of courage. The definition goes on to say that it means to express or make clear disapproval of. I have not seen any proof that the county did any of these in the hiring of Mrs. Jolly.”

In his cross examination, Campbell County’s special counsel Jeffery Mando wanted to clarify Hermes’s intentions for filing the suit.

“Mr. Hermes,” Mando asked, “before you submitted your signed complaint of nepotism to the Ethics Commission Board, did you research the facts of Mrs. Jolly's hiring?”   

“I do not recall,” replied Hermes.

The Campbell County Code of Ethics  states:

Hiring members of immediate family is discouraged. However, in those instances where it is beneficial to the county and/or office to hire a member of immediate family, under no circumstances shall that person receive compensation, benefits or other job consideration not given to other employees of similar classification or job requirements.

“It is not regular practice for the county to hire immediate family members,” Mando stated. “The fact that nepotism is only an issue with two county employees, out of more than 250 employees, lays claim to that fact.”

Mando also attempted to prove that county officials followed the rules established in the ordinance, by presenting evidence that Mrs. Jolly received no compensation, benefits or other job consideration not given to other employees of similar classification or job requirements which included presenting data indicating the number of times the open position of concessions manager was viewed online, documentation of higher pay scales in surrounding counties for the same position, Mrs. Jolly's employment application, and memos to the Fiscal Court requesting Mrs. Jolly's hiring.     

County Administrator Matt Elberfeld testified to the county’s hiring process and how Mrs. Jolly's hire is a benefit to the county. Elberfeld argued that hiring tenured employees with qualifications matching Mrs. Jolly’s, with a record exemplary job performances, is a great benefit for the county.

“Also,” Elberfeld went on to say, “the Affordable Care Act requires the county to pay for health insurance of our employees. Paying for one family insurance policy instead of two separate insurance policies is another benefit to the county.”

Terry Jolly also appeared at Wednesday’s hearing and was questioned under oath by Mando. Jolly was asked about his feelings as they relate to the ethics question about his wife's hiring.

"It’s probably the lowest point,” Jolly said.

Jolly argued that he does not determine his wife’s hiring or her pay, and stated that his wife was more than qualified to hold her position at the park.

"Lisa has taken care of flower beds around the park and the grounds, even while not employed at the park,” the golf pro said.

After the two-and-a-half hour meeting, the ethics board concluded that Lisa Jolly's hiring was beneficial to the county and that she received no special treatment, but also that the Fiscal Court does not do enough to discourage nepotism in this particular case.

Janovic, the board's chair, said that the board will continue to work on the issue.

“This commission has already begun deliberation on how to make the nepotism portion of the code of ethics clearer," she said. "Also, because there may be evidence of violation of the county’s administrative code, county employees should be better educated about the administrative code.”

Written by Kareem Simpson, RCN contributor