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Campbell Ethics Board Chair Says County Attorney Has Conflict in Ethics Complaint

In a continuation of last month's meeting, the chair of the Campbell County ethics commission suggested that County Attorney Steve Franzen has a conflict of interest in a complaint filed about the hiring of a seasonal employee at A.J. Jolly Park.

At Wednesday's meeting, though, no one walked out of the meeting.

At last month's meeting, three of the ethics board meeting walked out following a dispute between board chair Andrea Janovic and Franzen as the board considered a complaint filed by Erik Hermes that suggested the hiring of Lisa Jolly's hiring by county golf pro Terry Jolly is an example of nepotism.

Lisa Jolly has been hired on a seasonal basis every year since 1999. 

Janovic, an attorney in Newport, has argued that Franzen, who advises the ethics commission, has a conflict since he is the legal counsel for the Campbell County Fiscal Court, which approves seasonal hires. She attempted to eject Franzen and a member of the media from Wednesday's meeting, arguing that pending litigation was a topic so the board had the right to meet in executive, or closed, session.

Franzen disagreed.

“Right now,” Franzen argued, “what we are discussing is if the ethics code was violated. There is no current or pending litigation.”

Last month, commission board members voted to send the ethics complaint for review by the Fiscal Court with reservation, and also cited its concern about a potential conflict of interest for Franzen.

The issue will be heard next week by the Fiscal Court, which has retained an independent counsel, attorney Jeff Mando, for the purpose of the review.

“I really feel that Mr. Mando should have been hired to represent us in this matter," Janovic said. "But, because of this, following the lead of the Fiscal Court feeling as though there is a conflict of interest with having Mr. Franzen represent them in this matter, I don’t think that we should allow Mr. Franzen to represent us either. We should have independent counsel as well.”

“Per our county’s ordinance,” Franzen said, “my job here is to advise this commission. A conflict of interest would only arise if this commission were proceeding to move forward with a complaint against the Fiscal Court. Then there would be a conflict of interest.”

“Even though you were the one who recommended to the Fiscal Court to hire Mrs. Jolly,?” Janovik said.

“Just to clarify,” ethics commission member Steve Stapleton said, “the Fiscal Court asked Mr. Franzen if he had a legal objection to hiring Mrs. Jolly and Mr. Franzen said, no.”

“I just want to make sure that this is conducted in a proper and professional manner,” Janovic said. “We owe the public the respect to conduct a proper and professional conclusion to this matter. This issue keeps popping up and we need it to conclude.”   

With Franzen staying on as counsel, the ethics commission will move forward with its preparations for next week’s hearing with the Campbell County Fiscal Court.

Written by Kareem Simpson, RCN contributor