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October 4, 2012

New Albany ethics commission may receive complaint regarding UEZ firing

Duggins accused of defamatory statements against Ladd

NEW ALBANY — The city’s ethics commission has yet to convene, but a complaint has already been prepared for the body’s review in regards to the firing of Mike Ladd, former executive director of the New Albany Urban Enterprise Zone Association.

Ladd was fired in March by the UEZ board at the request of New Albany Economic Development Director David Duggins, who was appointed to the board this year by Mayor Jeff Gahan. Duggins claimed Ladd had paid expenses without the board’s approval, and that it was no longer feasible to foot $60,000 annually in salary, benefits and building space costs associated with the executive director’s position.

In the subsequent meeting following Ladd’s dismal, Duggins said that based on further investigation, nothing appeared to be wrong with the payment of past expenses.

But he added that every claim should be reviewed by the UEZ board before it’s paid.

Yet New Albany resident and business owner Randy Smith feels Duggins “acted unethically in his role as a city employee” and has compiled a list of 10 allegations against Duggins that he said he will submit to the ethics commission once it is seated. Among the unethical acts Smith charges Duggins with is accusing Ladd of “criminal activity” by alleging he paid out claims without the board’s approval.

“Said accusation is false and defamatory and has resulted in real damage to Mr. Ladd’s reputation,” Smith stated in a letter submitted to the News and Tribune that’s addressed to the ethics commission.

The New Albany City Council agreed to form the commission in August, though it could be early 2013 by the time all the appointments are made and the body convenes to consider complaints.

When the commission does meet, Smith said he will present them with the complaint against Duggins.

“I believe it’s been damaging to [Ladd’s] ability to gain other employment,” Smith said in a phone interview.

Smith did handle communications duties for former New Albany mayoral candidate Jack Messer, who was defeated by Gahan last year.

As for the Ladd firing, It’s likely a lawsuit could be filed over the situation.  

When contacted for a comment by the News and Tribune for this story, Ladd said he could not speak because of pending litigation.

Duggins submitted a statement to the News and Tribune after being asked for a comment on the allegations.

“I am thankful that we have an ethics commission to handle issues such as these, and I look forward [to] meeting with them if they deem it necessary,” he said in the statement.

Smith accused Duggins of calling the meeting that Ladd was fired at during at an irregular time and place, though it was in the City-County Building.

But one of Smith’s more prominent allegations is that Duggins “attempted to blackmail Ladd” by telling former UEZ board member Roger Baylor that he should encourage Ladd to resign prior to the meeting where he was eventually fired.

According to Smith, Duggins asked Baylor the day before the meeting to tell Ladd to resign so that he would not have to “air [Ladd’s] dirty laundry.”

On Wednesday, Baylor said he had a conversation with Duggins and a comment to that effect was made. However, Baylor added he didn’t feel Duggins was trying to blackmail Ladd.

“I didn’t take it as a blackmail threat, I took it as a negotiating chip,” he said.

Baylor addressed the UEZ board in support of Ladd before he was fired, as well as the New Albany City Council. Baylor said he was trying to serve as an intermediary between Ladd and Duggins in hopes of remedying the situation.

Ladd’s relationship with the prior administration and Mayor Doug England had been rocky, Baylor said, as he added he didn’t feel Duggins had a good grasp on the history of the UEZ and what had transpired the previous four years.

“I think that the Gahan administration came in without a very clear, and I said so at the time ..., understanding of the way the England administration was screwing with [Ladd] at the end,” Baylor said.

One disagreement included the UEZ’s involvement in the rehabilitation of the Peter Weinmann Building at the intersection of Eighth Street and Culbertson Avenue. Some UEZ members stated they felt pressured into supporting the project by the administration.

As for Ladd’s involvement with finances while working for the UEZ, Baylor, who served on the board until 2010, said he never had a reason to question the bookkeeping or claims process. He said he couldn’t speak for what transpired after he was no longer on the board, but in reference to the time he did serve, Baylor touted Ladd’s and the UEZ’s “professionalism.”

“I never thought there was any sort of malfeasance like that,” Baylor responded when asked if he had any concerns about how Ladd handled claims while he was on the board. “I thought [Ladd] did a great job.”

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