Warren Commissioners Admit Sunshine Violation
Days after one Warren County commissioner accused the other two of violating the state’s Sunshine Law, those two admitted to a violation and said they were going to take steps to improve transparency moving forward.
On Wednesday, Commissioner Cindy Morrison said her colleagues, commissioners Jeff Eggleston and Ben Kafferlin, took official county action — signing a contract with a lobbying firm — in private.
Morrison said it was not easy for her to bring the Sunshine Law violation to light, but “I felt it was my duty to expose this type of behavior,” she said. “My silence might have been construed as acceptance. I will not be a party to backroom deals.”
“We all work for the citizens and they have a right to know what is going on,” she said. “The work we do for them should never be done behind closed doors. The citizens deserve transparency from their government.”
Eggleston and Kafferlin said their subsequent research showed that they were in the wrong.
“I thought this was good that we had renewed interest in Sunshine, as painful as it was,” Kafferlin said. “I confused going out to bid on professional services and having discussions about those contracts… with actually agreeing to it.”
“We have to go back and make it official,” he said. He asked that the lobbyist contract with Long, Nyquist & Associates be placed on the agenda for the regular meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 23.
Moving forward, “I’m going to be sharing my calendar with the newspaper,” Kafferlin said.
“I would propose that we get a camera and start telecasting our meetings,” he said. “It’s not that hard to put it up on the website and that way people could interact with us without having to actually be here.”
He also suggested that the commissioners sign purchase orders in public meetings.
“After executive meetings we should be announcing why we went into executive session,” he said. “Something that justifies the exemption.”
He also asked that, “in the future, if either of you or anyone in this room feels that I have done something wrong, please give me the chance to rectify it, make it right, and learn from it before going to the paper,” Kafferlin said.
Eggleston made a formal apology.
“I am here at this public meeting to formally apologize, to say that I was wrong and made a mistake, and also to promise you that this will not happen again,” he said. “Since the story regarding last week’s meeting broke I have consulted with various legal resources and done a great deal of reflection on everything that’s been said and done and come to the conclusion that I was wrong. At no point was my goal to mislead anyone or hide anything I was doing from the public.”
Eggleston said he and Morrison had previously signed a contract outside of the public eye with the accounting frim Schaffner, Knight, Minnaugh & Company, P.C. when in the midst of investigating the county’s tax claim bureau.
Eggleston said he acted on the lobbyist contract with that prior contract as a template, though he was willing and had asked that the issue be discussed in a public forum.
“That’s not how I was raised, nor how I want to conduct myself in this position,” he said.