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by A.C. Hall

On Tuesday the White Settlement City Council held a preliminary hearing and voted to move forward with a final hearing in the matter of an alleged ethics violation by council member Mike Arnold.  Arnold was not at the meeting, receiving an excused absence from the council earlier in the evening at the City Council meeting.  

The complaint against Arnold comes from fellow council member Danny Anderson, and is rumored to center around alleged threats Arnold made towards Anderson at the May 13 City Council meeting during an executive session.  That rumor was not and likely will never be confirmed, however, as City Attorney Warren Spencer explained the nature of where the alleged incident took place puts the city in an “interesting situation.”

Since executive sessions are closed to the public and confidential, they can’t be released to the public unless directed by a judge.  Spencer explained what effect this will have on the situation.

“Since the council is sitting as the Ethics Review Commission, there is no necessity to disclose the contents of the tape to a third party,” Spencer said.  “If this proceeds to a final hearing, the evidentiary portion of the final hearing, which would involve viewing any kind of confidential executive session documents or tapes, will take place in executive session so as to comply with State law restrictions.”

Spencer stressed that this isn’t an attempt to keep the ethics investigation into Arnold out of the public eye.

“It has nothing to do with not wanting to have the hearing in a public forum, but we are placed in an odd position where the evidence comes from a confidential session and State law is clear that it can’t be released without a proper order from a district judge and there seems to be no basis for that order right now,” Spencer said.  “We really don’t want it to be that way, but we have to operate both under both the ordinance and under State law at the same time so this is the best way we could come up with to give proper due process to everyone involved and still not violate State law.”

Anderson was sworn in but couldn’t say much about his complaint.  He simply stated that the complaint turned in reflected his best recollection of the actions and events that happened at the May 13 meeting.

Council members had a chance to ask Anderson questions, but most declined since there was little that could be discussed in open session.  Council member Steve Ott asked if Anderson has reviewed the recording of the May 13 executive session.  Anderson stated that he had not, and the complaint was based on his recollection of those events.  Ott pressed, asking why Anderson hasn’t reviewed the recording, with Anderson saying he just hasn’t done it yet.

Council members were then given a chance to make a closing statement.  Hatcher declined to do so, making council member Elzie Clements next in line.  Clements is in the middle of an ethics review of his own, with the final hearing in his matter scheduled for later this month, and he referenced the precedents that have been set during the preliminary hearing looking into his alleged ethics violation.

“I think the Ethics Commission has already made precedents in bringing people before the final hearing if they deem that the ethics rules were broken,” Clements said.

Clements also took a moment to ask Ott if he has reviewed the May 13 recording, with Ott saying he has done so.

Ott was the final council member to speak.  He stated that he believes everyone is entitled to their day in court.

“I would like this to move forward for nothing more than to give Mr. Arnold a chance to present his case if he can.  It’s going to be extremely hard to do so because it happened in Executive Session, but he can sure present his side of the case to the council, so I would like to move forward with this,” Ott said.

Council members were told to vote yes if they’d like to see this move forward to a final hearing, and no if they don’t want it to move forward to a final hearing.  The vote was 2 in favor of moving forward, and 1 against.  Clements and Ott voted to move forward to a final hearing, with council member Gene Hatcher voting against it.  Anderson abstained from the vote, having been told earlier in the preliminary hearing that he would not be allowed to vote.

“As explained, you [Anderson] will not be able to vote after this point, by ordinance,” Mayor Burns told Anderson earlier in the hearing.

The ordinance Burns was referencing was not mentioned.  This is the first time one of the council members has been made to abstain from a vote in the ethics hearings, as Clements has been allowed to vote in the Ethics Review Commission matter regarding the complaints against himself.

A date for the final hearing regarding the alleged ethics violation by Arnold was not set.  Once a date is chosen, Arnold will have at his disposal two postponements that he’s allowed to use.