The Overton County Ethics Committee met with Overton County Nursing Home board members last Wednesday. According to County Attorney Daryl Colson, who was present at the meeting, the nursing home board has not violated bylaws and the ethics committee does not have jurisdiction over bylaw infractions.
He also said the committee violated a due process of handling complaints.
As previously reported in the Enterprise, the ethics committee passed a motion at a March 8 meeting to “investigate allegations and possible infractions of current bylaws and take it up with appropriate committees” in regards to a motion passed by the Nursing Home Board to change bylaws and add a liaison between the board and administrator.
But Colson told committee members bylaws were not violated.
“Looking at the allegation, there’s not even a violation of the bylaws,” he said.
Colson said according to the County Technical Assistance Service (CTAS), “violating a bylaw does not fall in a purview of an ethics violation.”
“We don’t have a broad definition of ethics. This model policy that CTAS developed that we adopted limits ethics violations to strictly public conflicts of interest issues.
“Since this occurred we’ve looked into the matter, and there’s no ethics violation here, nothing that falls within this board’s authority.”
Ethics Committee Member Rick Moles asked, “Then what legal body would that fall under? If violation of the bylaws is not part of the ethics, do we even have a committee to deal with something like that?”
Colson responded, saying there is not, and it is “ultimately up to the County Commission as a whole, whether or not there has been a violation of the bylaws.”
He also addressed an “issue” about nursing home board members meeting with him.
“It seemed to be a big issue that the people were talking to the county attorney,” Colson said. “I think the misunderstanding is, every county official, every elected officer in this county, can talk to the county attorney without anyone’s permission. That’s never a violation of the ethics policy…But violating bylaws doesn’t fall within the four issues that gives this board any authority to act.”
“I have not met any county commissioner outside the meetings regarding this,” he said.
Nursing home board member Donna Savage said, “We have not one time went to the county attorney without being in Jennifer (Bouldin’s) office.”
“There was no sneaking around, meeting with the attorney,” Nursing home board member Billie Phipps said.
As for why bylaw change recommendations were drafted, Colson said it happened because of an immediate jeopardy situation that reportedly happened in February 2012, when the home faced a possibly large violation fine.
“My recommendations were that we need some professionals on the board who understand the complications and the intricacies of these federal regulations.”
He said placing people with expertise on the board was to help prevent or reduce the chance of the same kind of situations happening in the future.
“But after we talked to them, Jennifer is in agreement with that, the board members are in agreement with that, and even Randall (Boswell, the chairman of the board) is in agreement with that. And the administration is in agreement on that.
“I think there was some confusion that we had to have a meeting on and clarify that this simply talks about simply adding professionals to the board to help educate the board about these complications about the federal regulations. That’s it, nothing more. Does not deal with personnel, does not deal with employees, that’s not what the board’s function is,” Colson said.
Colson also said that the ethics committee did not follow due process concerning an ethics complaint.
“Your policy requires a written complaint signed by the person before this committee has any authority.
“Whenever a complaint is made, the party accused has to be given notice and has to be given an opportunity to be heard before we take any action on that complaint.”
The ethics committee approved a motion to adopt procedural component of the ethics policy to comply with due process. James Clouse made a motion and Jean Moore seconded.
Also during the meeting, Ethics Committee Chairman Gregg Nivens said the State Comptroller’s Office stated the ethics committee did not give adequate notice for its called March 8 meeting.
“It said we didn’t have adequate public notice placed up for the public to know. Somebody called in that it wasn’t in the newspaper,” he said.
There was also a violation received regarding the notice.
Colson said, “The reason it was tagged as a violation was that a special meeting has to document in the notice the purpose of the special meeting, and that wasn’t done here.”
Nivens said posting notices on the bulletin board was how they’ve “always handled business,” but was told it is not adequate. According to Nivens, TCA states “A special called meeting requires a newspaper notice at least five days prior to the meeting contained in the agenda.”
“When we had this meeting, it probably wouldn’t have made it in the newspaper last time,” Nivens said. “Now we’re faxing it to the newspapers and we’re still hanging it up over here (bulletin board).”
The meeting adjourned. All Overton County Ethics Committee members were present.