Ethics Board Members Walk Out of Meeting for Nepotism Complaint
A fight over alleged nepotism in Campbell County led to a tense meeting of the ethics commission in Newport last week.
For the second time, the county ethics commission heard the complaint filed by resident Erik Hermes against the husband and wife employed at A.J. Jolly Park. Hermes complained that golf pro Terry Jolly's working with his wife, Lisa Jolly, who now occupies a seasonal role, is a violation of the county's ethics code.
Lisa Jolly has filled a seasonal role at A.J. Jolly Park since 1999.
Hermes's complaint in March was dismissed on account of a technicality. He re-filed the complaint, complete with the necessary signature this time, this month.
"Nepotism is a violation of the law," Hermes said at the meeting on Wednesday. "By allowing it in some cases and not others is not right. If there is going to be a rule, it should be enforced. It's not right just to amend it.”
He also went on to complain that, though ethics commission board meetings are open to the public, he received no notice that his complaint was being discussed, despite it being on the meeting’s agenda.
The Campbell County Fiscal Court approved the hiring of Lisa Jolly, who has been hired annually for twenty years.
Campbell County Attorney Steve Franzen said in the meeting that the complaint had no merit based on the county code of ethics. Citing section 35.03 of the Campbell County Code of Ordinances, Franzen explained that while hiring immediate family is discouraged, there are instances in which it may be beneficial to the county to proceed with such a hiring. The hiring process must include the opportunity for others to apply with the same consideration given to them, the ordinance states.
"This ethics board can only operate under the current ethics commission ordinance,” said Franzen. “In Mr. Hermes’s complaint, there is no evidence of an ethics violation.”
Ethics commission chair Andrea Janovic said that Franzen was not formally recognized to speak, and requested that he be silent. All three members of the commission exited the meeting until Franzen agreed to speak only when recognized.
“All I ask is for us all to be civil,“ asked commission member Steve Stapleton once the three members returned several minutes later.
The members voted to send the complaint for review by the Fiscal Court, though Stapleton suggested that it should be dismissed again.
“We don't need a complaint to move forward with an investigation,” Janovic said. “Also, in last month’s meeting concerning this matter, I think this body was more inclined to make our county’s nepotism clause more strict, more conservative, in order to prohibit nepotism.”
During the meeting, Campbell County Administrator Matt Elberfeld said that hiring an experienced worker, seasonal or otherwise, is a benefit to the county.
"The benefit to an employee working a seasonal position is that the employee does not have to pay into the retirement system.” Elberfeld said. “The benefit to the county in hiring Mrs. Jolly in this particular seasonal position is that the county gets an employee with twenty years of experience in that position. She is already trained and certified to perform duties associated with the position. There are several employees at A.J. Jolly that return to the same seasonal positions. In addition, it costs the county less to pay one single family insurance rather than two single county insurance policies.”
Elberfeld said that Lisa Jolly has been the only person to apply for the seasonal position in the past four years.
"We currently post all of our open job positions here at the county building, on our county website, and sometimes we use CareerBuilder to fill some of our hard-to-fill open positions,” Elberfeld said.
Commission member Joseph Powers said that the jobs should be advertised in the newspaper while Stapleton said they should also be posted to social media.
Moving forward, Janovic suggested that Franzen may not be suitable to represent the county and suggested that independent counsel be appointed. The other members of the ethics board voted against that idea.
Written by Kareem Simpson, RCN contributor
Photo: A.J. Jolly Park