Lawyers hired to vet ethics complaints

Blount County Mayor Jerry Cunningham has hired the firm of Andrews and Burgin to vet complaints filed with the Ethics Committee.

The move came after county attorney Rob Goddard recused himself when a complaint was filed with the committee against Cunningham.

“I’ve got the firm of Andrews and Burgin to vet any complaints to see if there is a legitimate complaint,” Cunningham said.

On April 1, the Ethics Committee sent five complaints to the county attorney to determine the validity of each one. The move was made simply to allow the attorney to test the veracity of each complaint but authority to rule on complaints remained with the committee.

Cunningham said the move was made to remove any conflicts that might appear when the committee needed legal assistance in determining the validity of ethics complaints. The mayor said the county attorney represented himself and commissioners and therefore independent legal counsel was needed when vetting ethics complaints. “Rob Goddard is the attorney hired by me to represent the county and that includes the commission,” he said. “The statute allows me to retain an attorney if one isn’t elected. When they’re saying it’s the mayor’s attorney, that’s wrong. He’s the attorney for the county.”

The mayor said every other complaint would go through that law firm for screening to determine if each is a legitimate complaint. Cunningham added that whatever move he made regarding this situation would probably be protested by some residents who he said always disagreed with whatever he did as mayor.

Cunningham said those individuals should form a new group, Citizens Against Virtually Everything. “I thought it would be good for these citizens groups always complaining to combine into one group,” he said tongue-in-cheek.

Regarding the complaint made against him by Linda King of Citizens for Blount County’s Future, he was more serious. “I’m not worried about the ethics complaint. It has no merit to it,” he said.

In March, King filed complaints against the mayor alleging he coerced the South Blount Utility into putting fluoride back in the water or risk him not naming new people to the board. King also filed a complaint regarding commissioner Mike Lewis, saying he still had a conflict because he didn’t sell shares in his bank where the county keeps millions but instead put them in his wife’s name. In March Assistant Chief Deputy Jeff French also filed a complaint against commissioner Wendy Pitts Reeves after the two had a disagreement before and after the February commission meeting.

Two other complaints were filed on March 31 by a Maryville couple accused of operating a plant nursery on Montgomery Lane without proper state certification. Wendy and William Albert Roseburgh complained Blount County Circuit Court Clerk Tom Hatcher entered a plea in her case when she hadn’t attended a hearing and District Attorney Mike Flynn took mail intended for Grand Jury.

As soon as the committee hears from the attorneys regarding the complaints, a meeting will be scheduled regarding the complaints.

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