Despite lengthy discussion about assessing legal fees on city employees found to have violated the city code of ethics, the Bowling Green City Commission on Tuesday passed on second and final reading amendments to the code that didn’t include the provision regarding those fees.
The commissioners, meeting via teleconference, voted 5-0 to amend subchapters related to definitions, standards of conduct, conflicts of interest and other items but left out a provision that a city employee found to have violated the code of ethics could be required by the ethics board to “pay a portion or all the legal costs incurred ... which may be recovered by the City in a civil action in the nature of debt if the offender fails to pay the penalty within a prescribed period of time.”
That provision came before the commission last month, but a motion by Commissioner Joe Denning to remove it from the code of ethics amendments passed in a 3-2 vote.
The proposal to require paying of legal fees came roughly a year after an ethics investigation of Commissioner Brian “Slim” Nash.
In May 2019, Nash was arrested on public intoxication charges after he attended a concert at the Southern Kentucky Performing Arts Center. He later pleaded guilty and paid a $25 fine, plus court costs.
In October 2019, the city ethics board ruled Nash violated the city’s code of ethics. A settlement agreement between Nash and the ethics board called for a four-week leave of absence from his official duties, for Nash to donate his salary (roughly $1,200) from that time to a local substance abuse recovery center and for Nash to undergo counseling.
The city hired outside counsel to help with the investigation of Nash, and an open records act filing revealed the city’s bill for the ethics probe was $20,062.30.
In November, commissioners expressed a desire to investigate ways to not incur such costs in the future, and the idea of assessing legal fees was proposed by ethics board Chairman Barry Pruitt.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Nash questioned the need to hire outside counsel when he had pleaded guilty to the charges and paid his fines. Pruitt and ethics board member Debby Peeples explained that the city attorney has to be recused from ethics violations involving a city commissioner or the mayor.
“We had to have outside counsel,” Peeples said.
Commissioner Sue Parrigin indicated that the issue of assessing legal fees could come up again.
“My hope is that the commission will revisit this in January,” Parrigin said.
The commission did take action Tuesday on an item certain to have an impact for many local businesses affected by the coronavirus pandemic, voting 5-0 to create a BG Cares Small Business Grant Program.
City Manager Jeff Meisel said the city will use $1.885 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Recovery Act funds to create a fund to help local small businesses.
Brent Childers, director of neighborhood and community services for the city, said the program is for businesses with 50 or fewer employees. He said businesses with fewer than 25 employees are eligible for $2,500 grants and those with 26 to 50 employees are eligible for $5,000 grants.
“We anticipate 600 to 700 assistance grants,” Childers said. “These are for small mom-and-pop businesses.”
Childers said applications for the grants will be on the city’s bgky.org website.
– Follow business reporter Don Sergent on Twitter @BGDNbusiness or visit bgdailynews.com.