Commission’s actions under investigation, DA says
Published 2:04 pm Saturday, January 10, 2015
An investigation is underway into alleged illegal actions taken by the Carter County Commission in setting the county budget, according to District Attorney General Tony Clark.
On Friday, Clark spoke with the Elizabethton Star and confirmed his office had received a formal request to initiate the investigation and his office has started conducting that investigation.
“I have received the packet and have looked through it,” Clark said. “This is important to me, and I take it seriously.”
The request referred to by Clark was filed in December by local community action group Carter County Citizens in Action.
The group submitted two packets, Clark said, one by mail and one in person to the District Attorney’s office in Elizabethton.
In addition to the requests from the citizen’s group, Clark said Carter County Attorney Joshua Hardin also spoke with him regarding the issue and gave him a packet of information.
Clark said, based on his understanding of the materials given to him, there was a dispute on the legality of actions taken during the budget process.
“What they are asking me to do is oust the county commission and file criminal charges,” Clark said.
In addition to investigating the actions of the commission, Clark said he will also have to look into the state laws which were allegedly violated and what procedure he must follow if the law was broken.
“I’m not a county attorney and I’m not someone who regularly works with county budgets,” Clark said. “It’s not my cup of tea so to speak.”
“I will be contacting the Attorney General and other state agencies to see how they want me to proceed with this,” he added.
On Wednesday, Tennessee Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery III weighed in on the subject when he issued a formal opinion saying the commission did in fact violate state statute regarding budget procedures.
That opinion came in response to a request from Humphrey asking for clarification on the law.
In his opinion, Slatery cites state law which says: “the county legislative body may alter or revise the proposed budget except as to provision for debt service requirements and for other expenditures required by law.”
Slatery opined the commission violated that law when it passed a budget during the July meeting which contained a debt provision allocation that had been altered from the budget committee’s proposal.
In his rendered opinion, Slatery also said enforcement of that law was generally the responsibility of the district attorney general but also outlined circumstances where private citizens could file suit regarding the alleged illegal conduct.
“I have not seen this new attorney general’s opinion,” Clark said on Friday. “I have not once been contacted by the attorney general’s office to say they feel something is criminal.”
Clark said he would be contacting the attorney general’s office for further information and guidance and, in the mean time, his office will continue its investigation. He said once the investigation is completed he will announce the results to the public.